January 15, 2021

COVID-19 Weekly Newsletter: Biden Announces Ambitious Vaccination Plan

With Inauguration Day rapidly approaching, President-elect Biden has announced an ambitious vaccination plan, and the federal government has signaled a change to its vaccine distribution process, among other COVID-19 developments from the past week.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations

For the first time in weeks, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has stayed flat, which is thought to be due to the end of the holiday incubation period. However, experts do not expect this to remain true for long with at least 10 states already reporting cases of a new, highly contagious variant. In another troubling trend, the hospitalization rates for children — which vary by state — have nearly tripled over the course of six months, according to a recently published JAMA Pediatrics research letter that analyzed data from 22 states. Similar findings were also noted in the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

COVID-19 Vaccination News

  • Biden’s 100 Million Vaccinations in First 100 Days: President-elect Joe Biden’s promise of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days appears, to some, to be a heavy lift given the sluggish start of vaccine distribution efforts that started three weeks ago. On Thursday, January 14, President-elect Biden proposed a roughly $1.9 trillion COVID-19 response plan which includes $350 billion to help state and local governments, including to support first responders, expand testing and reopen schools. The proposal would create a national vaccination program, provide funding to expand the health workforce by 100,000 people to conduct outreach and contact tracing, offer $50 billion to expand national testing, and provide $40 billion for supplies. On Friday, January 15, Biden has planned to name former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler as the top scientist of Operation Warp speed, the U.S. government initiative to invest in the development and disbursement of the COVID-19 vaccine. Also on Friday, President-elect Biden announced his administration will retire the “Warp Speed” name.
  • Vaccine Syringes Problem: Previously, pharmacists were applauded for discovering extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine able to be drawn from a given vial. The efficient, low-dead volume syringes are designed to maximize vaccine extraction; however, the supply kits sent from Operation Warp Speed to states include a mixture of syringe types, making it difficult for the sixth, extra dose to be extracted. Providers and hospitals have alerted state officials on this issue.
  • Leaked Pfizer and Moderna Data: The European Medicines Agency (EMS) in December had a cyberattack and earlier this week confirmed that some of its data related to Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines had been leaked on the internet by hackers. An Italian cybersecurity firm, Yarix, found Pfizer’s vaccine’s authorization and commercial processes on the dark web which prompted the agency to look further. Fortunately, the agency has been able to proceed with no interruptions in evaluating and approving COVID-19 medications and vaccines.
  • States to Get Shipments From the Feds Based on 65-and-Over Population: States were originally sent shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine based on their adult population, but now it will depend on the size of the state’s over 65 population and how quickly they can be administered. The new strategy will take effect in two weeks, after the new administration has taken office. As of Thursday, 11.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given. At least 1.46 million Americans have received their second dose.
  • Educational Videos and Online Events for the General Public: There are numerous educational sources for the public to go to regarding COVID-19 and vaccines. Last week, the Black Coalition Against COVID held another installment of “Making It Plain,” its town hall-style virtual public education series, providing information on COVID-19 and vaccines. Leaders from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), FDA, CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and medical, faith and social organizations participated and answered audience questions. These online town halls are primarily hoping to reach the Black community; the intent is to convey information in clear, straightforward terms to increase engagement and decrease health inequalities. Topics addressed include explanations about the current state of the pandemic and impacts on the Black community, viruses and virus mutations, descriptions of the currently authorized vaccines in the U.S. and their efficacy, special populations, side-effects, the vaccine roll-out, and public communication and engagement. Watch the recording of the town hall here. A Yale University physician and professor, Dr. Howard Forman, also produced a video explaining how herd immunity is achieved through vaccines.

More Than Half of SARS-CoV-2 Transmissions Occur From Asymptomatic Individuals

A recent analysis of available data from epidemiological studies indicates that more than half of all SARS-CoV-2 transmissions have been passed on by individuals who themselves were asymptomatic at the time, meaning they were either in the early pre-symptomatic stage of COVID-19 or never had any noticeable symptoms despite being infected and infectious to others. This finding underscores the critical importance of social distancing and face masking as long as the population-wide immunization levels remain below the herd-immunity threshold. It also raises questions about potential “silent” transmissions from vaccinated individuals who may be harboring the virus without necessarily becoming ill. 

Additional Resources

Global COVID-19-Related Patent Office Status and Deadline Extension Updates

Information regarding the status of each foreign patent office and the availability of extensions of time in each jurisdiction.

Government Actions: COVID-19

Tracking executive orders, legislation, and other government actions related to COVID-19 by state and major locality across the U.S.

Tracking Fraud Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tracking federal and state law enforcement and regulatory actions taken against bad actors who have exploited the COVID-19 emergency to defraud consumers and payers.

Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center is available to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.
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