April 23, 2021

COVID-19 Weekly Newsletter: Public Health Emergency Extended

The Biden administration extended the COVID-19 public health emergency through July 20, in the same week that the U.S. State Department added nearly 90 countries to its “Do Not Travel” advisory list as public health experts begin to highlight the need for a more international COVID-19 response.

Public Health Emergency Extended

When the Biden administration took office in January, the acting Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary at the time announced the intention to renew the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) to the end of the year. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed the PHE on April 15. The 90-day the extension began April 21, putting the next expiration at July 20. It will be extended in these 90-day increments through the end of the calendar year, at a minimum.

President Biden Encourages Employers to Provide Time Off for COVID-19 Vaccination

On Wednesday, April 21, the administration released a new tax credit aimed to incentivize businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid time off to workers for getting vaccinated — a policy included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which was signed into law last month. Additionally, businesses and nonprofits may receive a tax credit for up to $511 per day of paid sick leave that employees take to get the shot or recover from its side effects from April 1 through Sept. 30.

115 Countries on the ‘Do Not Travel’ Advisory

This week the U.S. State Department added nearly 90 countries onto their highest travel advisory risk tier — Level 4: Do Not Travel level. They plan to expand the list to include nearly 80% of the world’s countries. Though vaccination rates have been on the rise, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned infection rates are at their highest.

All Individuals 16+ Eligible for Vaccination in US

As of Monday, April 19 all individuals in the United States became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of today, 41% of the U.S. population are at least partially vaccinated.

Vaccine Inequality Between Richer and Poorer Countries

As more and more vaccines become available worldwide, there is a gap between high-income and lower-income countries in vaccinations of their population. In fact, high-income countries such as the U.S. have secured enough vaccine to fully vaccinate all of its residents twice over. Furthermore in the U.S., there will come a time in the next month or two where vaccine supply will exceed demand, and experts are recommending the US distribute excess vaccines where they are needed. This is in stark contrast to low-income countries which have only been able to secure enough doses to fully vaccinate a fraction of their populations.

The growing danger of new COVID-19 variants is exacerbated the longer the disease can spread unchecked, making it critical to world health for countries to look beyond its borders and contribute to worldwide vaccination efforts. The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative was formed to address this. Funded mainly by high-income nations along with donations from private sector and philanthropic organizations, COVAX is working to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the poorer countries in the world.

Indoor Air Exchange Is Critical for Preventing Respiratory Diseases

Experts in public health are calling for enhanced standards for indoor air ventilation and filtration. In a recently published review, they remind us that current standards were developed to meet basic comfort needs — not to prevent infections. SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs with highest probability inside poorly ventilated buildings. The current minimum standard for air changes per hour (ACH) ranges from 0.3 in single-family homes to 1.7 in retail buildings to 2.8 in elementary schools. ACH values of at least 4-6 are needed to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19, flu or other diseases caused by viruses spreading through exhalations.

Regular Physical Activity Associated With Lower Risk of Severe COVID-19

Almost 50,000 adults who had contracted COVID-19 were examined in a study that concluded that individual physical fitness pre-COVID correlated with a reduced risk of severe disease outcomes. The authors recommend that clinicians include guidance on appropriate physical activity when advising their patients. 

Simple Injection Might Protect Against COVID-19 Post-Exposure

Vaccines are the best protection against COVID-19 when administered prophylactically (before exposure). For individuals who are not immunized for any reason, having a drug that could protect them against the disease post-exposure is an important public health goal. Now there is a promising drug candidate, which is a combination of monoclonal antibodies formulated such that they could be administered as a simple subcutaneous (under the skin) injection rather than an hour-long infusion in a hospital. The drug developer is applying for an EUA in the U.S.

Real-Time Tracking of Viral Mutations Supports Development of Targeted Treatments

A helpful and information-rich public website aggregates data on viral mutations for key human pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2. The importance of unflagging attention to the viral evolution was recently underscored by a large study from the U.K. that revealed a 2.4-times increased risk of death from COVID-19 in individuals with the B.1.1.7 variant.

Protecting Zoo Animals From COVID-19

Before SARS-CoV-2 infected humans, it circulated in wild animals. Since the start of the pandemic, several reports have emerged about the virus infecting animals cultivated by humans (such as minks) or raised in zoos. Now stories are appearing about the efforts to vaccinate and treat zoo animals. More work needs to be done both to understand the course and nature of the disease in various animal species as well as to develop veterinary vaccines and therapeutics.

mRNA Vaccines Are Safe and Effective in Special Populations

Now that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to millions of people, data are becoming available about real-world evidence of vaccine’s impact in various populations, including in subpopulations with special health conditions. These data are demonstrating that vaccines are safe and effective in pregnant individuals as well as in immunodeficient individuals such as cancer patients and those receiving immunomodulating drugs for other conditions. Further prospective studies in select groups, ongoing surveillance of already-vaccinated populations, and continued fundamental research are important to building the knowledge base and deeper understanding of the vaccines impact and longer-term consequences in a wide variety of health circumstances.

Side Effects With Adenovirus-Based Vaccines Under Active Investigation

An editorial co-authored by clinicians from two academic institutions provides an overview of the current state of medical knowledge about the rare and unusual blood clots observed in some recipients of the adenovirus-based vaccines. Another group of researchers published their original investigation into such vaccine-induced thrombosis and thrombocytopenia, and proposed an algorithm for rapid identification of patients at risk for these events, which should help clinicians guide their treatment. The authors of both pieces outlined the gaps in our understanding of the biology of the virus and the immune system’s response, pointing to the need for further active research in this area. At the same time, they emphasized that the “side effects” of COVID-19 and the vaccines’ ability to prevent them should not be overlooked.

More COVID-19 Insights

Health Care

Labor & Employment

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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