Solving COVID
3:28 p.m.

There could one day be a COVID-19 equivalent to a carbon monoxide detector.

General Electric is developing a new sensor which could potentially detect the coronavirus and other viruses in the air, on a surface, or on someone's breath, Fast Company reports. The National Institutes of Health awarded the company a two-year research grant to work on the project, which will build upon two papers published by GE's principal scientist, Radislav Potyrailo, and his team.

The sensor that would detect the virus would be a microchip "smaller than a dime," Fast Company reports. Potyrailo is hopeful about the long-term prospects of the project, but he acknowledged the system is hard to build because it needs to be small enough to keep larger contaminants like pollen out to ensure only the right particles are detected.

If a prototype is available in the next couple of years, GE reportedly envisions the sensors in grocery stores, hotel rooms, and perhaps even within individuals' phones and watches. An actual GE COVID-19 sensor is a long way off, and there are many questions to answer, such as how long one would remain reliable before breaking down. But it's in the works. Read more about how the sensor could detect viruses like the novel coronavirus at Fast Company. Tim O'Donnell

April 9, 2021

After recently unveiling positive trial results, Pfizer and BioNTech are looking to get their COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in adolescents between 12 and 15 before the next school year.

Pfizer announced Friday that it has submitted a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve its COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15.

The request came after the companies last week said a phase 3 study showed the vaccine, which has already been approved for those 16 and older, to be 100 percent effective in this age group. The study consisted of 2,260 adolescents between 12 and 15, and there were no COVID-19 cases reported among the group that was vaccinated, with the vaccine demonstrating "robust antibody responses, exceeding those recorded earlier in vaccinated participants aged 16 to 25 years old," the companies said.

Pfizer's goal, it says, is to make the vaccine available to adolescents between 12 and 15 before the start of the 2021 school year. Meanwhile, according to NBC News, the company is also studying the vaccine in children between 6 months and 11 years old, and the first participants in that trial were dosed last month. Brendan Morrow

April 8, 2021

About 56 percent of Israel's 9.2 million citizens are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and another 15 percent have recovered from the disease, putting Israel squarely in herd immunity territory, Israeli public health experts tell the news and travel site Israel21c. Herd immunity, or the point at which enough people in a population have developed antibodies to a disease that non-immune people are protected, is estimated to kick in at about 65 percent to 70 percent with COVID-19, explained Dr. Eyal Leshem at Israel's Sheba Medical Center, the country's largest hospital.

"We're seeing a decline in the number of cases now despite the return to mass gatherings and schools following the third lockdown, because most of the people the infected person will meet are immune by now," Leshem said. Israel has an aggressive, very successful immunization program, but children aren't yet vaccinated and neither are all adults, so it isn't out of the woods entirely.

Currently, Israel is closed to most non-citizens, and when tourism resumes, "Israel is expected to be a very safe place for travelers because of our lower risk of transmission," Leshem told Israel21c. As long as travelers are fully vaccinated or test negative for the virus, tourism will have "a reasonable risk-benefit balance" for Israel, too, but "there are no magic tricks here," he added. "If unvaccinated people travel without full quarantine and testing, we will increase the risk of reintroducing the disease to Israel." Peter Weber

April 4, 2021

At the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services, Johnson & Johnson will take charge of the Baltimore contract plant that ruined 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, senior federal health officials told The New York Times. Johnson & Johnson confirmed the news Saturday night.

The doses were spoiled because of a mistake at a facility run by Emergent BioSolution, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which has also developed a COVID-19 vaccine, albeit one that has yet to be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Workers at the plant accidentally mixed up the ingredients of the two shots, delaying future shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though reportedly not enough to force Johnson & Johnson to modify its goal of delivering 100 million doses to the U.S. government by the end of May.

The error was caught and none of the contaminated doses made it out of the plant, but the Biden administration isn't taking any more chances — production of the AstraZeneca vaccine will move to an alternative site, the company said in a statement. Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

April 3, 2021

For the first time since the United States' COVID-19 vaccine drive began, 4 million doses were reported administered in a single day Friday, signaling that the campaign is continuing to ramp up. BuzzFeed News' vaccination tracker shows the 7-day average of doses given is now above 3 million, another milestone for the country.

The pace of vaccinations is crucial given that COVID-19 infections are trending upwards, as well. More than 104 million people in the U.S. have now received at least one dose of the three available vaccines, while nearly 60 million people are fully vaccinated, data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. Tim O'Donnell

April 2, 2021

The CDC has a remedy for both spring fever and cabin fever in their updated traveling guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday gave people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 the green light to travel within the U.S. without getting tested or self-quarantining. They should, however, still wear a mask in public areas, avoid crowds, and practice personal hygiene. The rules for those who are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated have not changed.

The new guidelines are based on studies of "real-world'' effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. The CDC estimates nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, meaning they are two weeks out from their final dose of an FDA-approved vaccine.

Friday's update is a major shift from earlier this week, when Walensky said she had a feeling of "impending doom." Walensky clarified Friday the CDC is "not recommending travel at this time." Taylor Watson

April 1, 2021

The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is highly effective against symptomatic COVID-19 for at least six months after a second dose, a new analysis has shown.

The companies on Thursday announced that in an analysis of its phase 3 study that included 927 symptomatic COVID-19 cases, the vaccine was 91.3 percent effective "measured seven days through up to six months after the second dose." It was also 100 percent effective against severe disease as defined by the CDC, as well as 95.3 percent effective against severe disease as defined by the FDA, the companies said. There were no serious safety concerns.

Additionally, Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine was 100 percent effective against COVID-19 cases in South Africa, where a concerning variant has been spreading.

The analysis comes after a CDC study earlier this week showed the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to be highly effective at preventing infections in real-world conditions, as well as after Pfizer said Wednesday a trial showed its vaccine to be 100 percent effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15.

"It is an important step to further confirm the strong efficacy and good safety data we have seen so far, especially in a longer-term follow-up," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said. "These data also provide the first clinical results that a vaccine can effectively protect against currently circulating variants, a critical factor to reach herd immunity and end this pandemic for the global population." Brendan Morrow

March 31, 2021

The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech was 100 percent effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15 in a phase 3 study, the companies announced.

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that the vaccine, which is currently in use in the United States for adults, demonstrated 100 percent efficacy in the trial. It also demonstrated "robust antibody responses, exceeding those recorded earlier in vaccinated participants aged 16 to 25 years old, and was well tolerated."

This study consisted of 2,260 adolescents in the United States between 12 and 15, and there were 18 cases of COVID-19 reported in the placebo group, but no cases in the group that was vaccinated.

"The initial results we have seen in the adolescent studies suggest that children are particularly well protected by vaccination, which is very encouraging given the trends we have seen in recent weeks regarding the spread of the B.1.1.7 UK variant," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said.

This was the latest piece of encouraging data surrounding the Pfizer vaccine after the CDC released a study showing both it and the Moderna vaccine were "highly effective" in real-world conditions, preventing about 90 percent of infections two weeks after both doses in adults.

Experts quickly hailed the trial results released Wednesday, with Yale University immunologist Akiko Iwasaki telling The New York Times, "Oh my god, I’m so happy to see this — this is amazing." Iwasaki added that the fact that the study showed the group "getting even better levels" of antibodies than young adults was "really incredible. Pfizer and BioNTech say they will submit this new data to the FDA with "the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year." Brendan Morrow

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