Covid-19 Updates: Nearly 2 Million Deaths Worldwide, Vaccine Distribution and the Study of Virus Beginnings

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More than 90.8 million cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been diagnosed worldwide as of Monday evening, including at least 1.94 million deaths. Healthcare officials in the United States have reported more than 22.6 million positive COVID-19 cases and at least 375,000 deaths. Source: Johns Hopkins University & Medicine

Biden Expected To Quicken Distribution of Vaccines

Upon taking office, President-elect Joe Biden will reportedly release more available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to his office representatives.

In a recent report by the Associated Press, Biden’s office confirmed that he believes the distribution of the vaccine must be accelerated while continuing to follow the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendations.

Biden’s plan will reportedly not result in cutting the two-dose vaccines in half, but will instead quicken shipment of first doses and “use the levers of government power to provide required second doses in a timely manner.”

The current administration has reportedly been holding back millions of doses of vaccine to guarantee that people can receive the second shot. There are questions being raised about the new strategy, according to the AP, including from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.


WHO Sending Experts To China To Study Virus Beginnings

The World Health Organization (WHO) will be sending experts to investigate the origins of COVID-19 this week, according to a recent report by the South China Morning Post.

The team is expected to work with Chinese scientists, but not many details have been confirmed. The investigation will seek to “uncover the animal origins of the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to the report. Officials in Beijing have also launched a campaign questioning whether the virus emerged in China or was only first identified there. According to the WHO, the investigation must start in Wuhan because the first known cases were identified there. WHO experts reportedly traveled to China in July to work with health authorities to set out terms of reference for the mission, including research to be conducted by Chinese scientists and an international team of experts.

U.S. Deaths Not Attributed To U.K. Virus Variant

Despite the winter surge of the coronavirus, scientists and public health officials in the United States do not believe that the United Kingdom variant is a link to deaths. However, according to a recent report by The Washington Post, more research is needed.

Some U.S. states have minimal capacity to conduct genomic sequencing that allows scientists to trace the random mutations that could give a virus variant some advantage over other strains, according to the report. All viruses mutate randomly and countless variants remain in circulation. Scientists have said that they cannot rule out the possibility that an undetected variant is accelerating the spread in the U.S. given the increase in the rate of new infections in recent weeks.
According to the report, CDC officials have said a new strain surveillance program is on track to more than double by week’s end the number of genomic sequences being uploaded to public databases compared with the sequencing rate in December. The CDC has reportedly organized virtual meetings with scientists and public health experts in an attempt to share information about variants of the virus in circulation.
“The general consensus is there’s no single variant driving current U.S. cases,” Duncan MacCannell, chief science officer with the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection, was quoted as saying in the report, estimating that less than 0.5 percent of current transmission in the U.S. involves the U.K. variant known as B.1.1.7.

HHS & CDC To Fund Billions For Vaccine Efforts

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced two upcoming actions by CDC to provide more than $22 billion in funding to states, localities, and territories in support of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as directed by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
According to a recent statement made by officials, funding will provide critical support for testing and vaccination-related activities to jurisdictions before Jan. 19.

More than $19 billion will be allocated to jurisdictions through the existing CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity cooperative agreement, according to the report. These awards will support testing, contract tracing, surveillance, containment, and mitigation to monitor and suppress the spread of COVID-19. Award recipients will include 64 jurisdictions including all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five major cities, and U.S. territories/islands. Consistent with Congressional direction, funds will be allocated by a population-based formula.

Over $3 billion will be made available in an initial award to jurisdictions through the existing CDC Immunization and Vaccines for Children cooperative agreement. These awards will support a range of COVID-19 vaccination activities across jurisdictions.

“This funding is another timely investment that will strengthen our nation’s efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic in America,” said Robert R. Redfield, MD, CDC director, in a prepared statement. “Particularly now, it is crucial that states and communities have the resources they need to conduct testing, and to distribute and administer safe, high-quality COVID-19 vaccines safely and equitably.”


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