Covid Vaccines and Delta Variant News and Updates

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Credit…Julien Warnand/EPA, via Shutterstock

The European Union announced on Wednesday the creation of a new biomedical authority designed to better respond to future pandemics, as it seeks to avoid repeating the mistakes that plagued its early response to the coronavirus.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, also pledged to donate 200 million extra coronavirus vaccine doses to middle- and low-income countries by mid-2022, in addition to 250 million already promised by the end of the year.

In her annual speech on the state of the union, Ms. von der Leyen described vaccination discrepancies as one of the greatest geopolitical issues facing nations.

“The scale of injustice and the level of urgency are obvious,” Ms. von der Leyen said in front of lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in eastern France. E.U. member countries had only donated 18 million doses as of early September, a fraction of the 200 million promised.

While most developing countries have yet to administer a single dose of a coronavirus vaccine, including in the European Union’s immediate neighborhood, more than 70 percent of adults across the bloc have been fully vaccinated. Ms. von der Leyen said that puts the bloc among the world’s leaders in vaccinations.

“We delivered,” she said, although she conceded that the bloc faced wide discrepancies domestically, as several Eastern European countries have been lagging behind.

Ms. von der Leyen’s confident tone on Wednesday came in great contrast with her speech last year, when new Covid-19 cases were picking up across the bloc and coronavirus vaccines were months away.

“When I stood here in front of you a year ago, I didn’t know when and if we could have a safe and effective vaccine against the pandemic,” she said.

The European Commission, which negotiated for vaccines on behalf of member countries, was heavily criticized for the sluggish beginning of its vaccination program. The commission signed its first deal on behalf of member nations months after the United States, hampering vaccine deliveries and, later, inoculation campaigns.

Yet the rollout gained speed in recent months, and many E.U. countries have now overtaken other rich nations like the Britain, Israel and the United States, and have started administering booster shots to millions of older and vulnerable residents.

On Wednesday, Ms. von der Leyen said the new agency, known as the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, or HERA, would aim to “make sure that no virus will ever turn a local epidemic again into a global pandemic.”

The new authority is set to become the European equivalent of the United States’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, the federal health agency that focuses on vaccine development and pandemic preparedness.

It is set to receive 50 billion euros (about $59 million) in funding by 2027 and will function alongside the E.U.’s existing health agencies, the European Center for Disease Control and the European Medicines Agency.

Credit…Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News, via Associated Press

Alaska’s largest hospital announced Tuesday that a relentless coronavirus outbreak driven by the highly contagious Delta virus variant has left emergency room patients waiting hours in their vehicles and forced medical teams to ration care.

At Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the hospital said it was now operating under “crisis standards of care” — procedures put in place to prioritize resources in a way that may leave some patients with substandard care.

Alaska, where 60 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, is just one state among many where the Delta variant has run rampant, straining hospitals to their breaking points. Last week, Idaho announced that medical centers in the northern part of its state would move to crisis standards of care. In Alabama, all I.C.U. beds are occupied, as hospitals in Southern states run dangerously low on space in intensive care units.

In Mississippi, where 51 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, state officials tried to outsource “I.C.U.-level-care patients” to Kentucky. And in North Dakota, an executive at the state’s largest health care system said it could use as many as 300 additional nurses to help treat Covid-19 patients.

In Anchorage, Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, a senior leader at the Providence hospital, wrote in a message to the community that the hospital did not have the necessary staff, space or beds to keep pace with demand.

“Due to this scarcity, we are unable to provide lifesaving care to everyone who needs it,” Dr. Solana Walkinshaw wrote.

The hospital said that with an emergency room overflowing, patients have to wait in their cars for hours to see a physician for emergency care. Elective surgeries continue to be postponed. Dr. Solana Walkinshaw said rationing care may include dialysis and “specialized ventilatory support.”

Providence Alaska Medical Center is a critical hub for patients from all over the state, serving as the destination for many people who need a higher level of care that can’t be provided in their home communities. Dr. Solana Walkinshaw said the hospital has been unable to accept patients from other facilities.

Alaska has been reporting record hospitalization numbers in recent days. New daily case numbers have also been on the rise, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy has resisted implementing mitigation measures — such as mask mandates — that other states have embraced.

On Tuesday, Dr. Solana Walkinshaw pleaded with members of the public to wear masks, even those who are vaccinated, and encouraged more vaccinations. She also encouraged people to avoid potentially dangerous activities because people who get seriously injured may not get access to a bed at the hospital’s trauma center.

Dr. Solana Walkinshaw said the hospital expects an escalation in Covid hospitalizations in the coming weeks.

“What is already a stressful situation could rapidly progress to a catastrophe,” Dr. Solana Walkinshaw wrote.

Credit…Jillian Freyer for The New York Times

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of centralized, national data on schooling has made it difficult for parents, educators, policymakers and researchers to make decisions and analyze trends.

On Wednesday, a team at Brown University led by Emily Oster, an economist and author, is launching the Covid-19 School Data Hub, a site that includes data from about 56,000 schools across 31 states. It is one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to document how schools operated during the pandemic, and, eventually, the researchers hope, measure the impact on children and the education system itself.

The site’s data will show when school buildings were open, closed or operating in hybrid mode. In 11 states, the hub can tally the number of students who participated in each mode of learning. It also includes counts of coronavirus cases discovered in schools in 30 states.

In the coming months, Professor Oster said, her team hopes to add data on student achievement and school enrollment to the site, tracking whether students who left local schools last year returned. In the future, researchers may be able to answer if and how school closures affected high school graduation rates, crime, obesity and mental health needs, she noted.

Professor Oster emerged early in the pandemic as a well-known voice in favor of in-person learning. In addition to her scholarly research on economics and public health, she is the author of a series of popular parenting books.

She is not without controversy, casting doubt on whether students need to wear masks or remain physically distanced at school, contrary to longstanding C.D.C. guidance.

In an initial analysis using the new data hub, posted Wednesday, Professor Oster demonstrated that third- through eighth-grade test scores in Virginia declined the most at schools that operated predominantly online last year, and that the impact was greater in math than in reading.

Those findings fit within a broader, emerging body of research showing that millions of students experienced academic setbacks during the pandemic, with Black and Latino students, as well as students from low-income families, affected most heavily. Those groups also had the least access to open classrooms.

The data hub will fill an important information gap. There is no federal database of coronavirus cases discovered inside school buildings or during extracurricular activities such as sports.

The federal government has conducted a limited survey on when various schools operated in-person or online, and how many students participated in each setting. But the survey focuses only on fourth grade and eighth grade in 4,000 schools.

The hub is funded by several high-profile philanthropies: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; Emergent Ventures, a program at George Mason University supported by Peter Thiel, the technology venture capitalist; and Arnold Ventures, founded by hedge fund billionaire John D. Arnold and his wife, Laura.

While the effort is broad, some pressing questions may be hard to answer, Professor Oster said. States are not collecting data on school quarantining policies or virus-related closures this academic year, for example. And there is not yet much concrete information on how individual schools plan to help students recover academically from the pandemic.

“When kids are far behind, how do you get them caught up?” Professor Oster asked. “That’s not just a pandemic problem.”






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