Novavax Reports Vaccine 90% Effective; Supply Questions Remain

Another highly effective vaccine is poised to join the fight against COVID-19.  But its impact may be blunted by supply issues. The manufacturer expected to produce the bulk of the doses is in India, where the government has banned vaccine exports.  FILE – A car drives past the sign for vaccine developer Novavax at the company’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Nov. 30, 2020.”Many of our first doses will go to … low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with,” Novavax CEO Stanley Erck told The Associated Press. The vaccine does not have the special cold storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. That means low- and middle-income countries “can use the cold chain that they have already set up for routine childhood vaccines,” said William Moss, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University International Vaccine Access Center. “They don’t need to make modifications to handle the cold chain requirements” of the Pfizer and Moderna shots. Doses in limbo Novavax also has a deal with the Serum Institute of India (SII) to manufacture an additional 750 million doses of the vaccine.  SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and the main supplier of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to COVAX. But the Indian government has barred the company from exporting those doses as the country suffers through a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections.  People register their names to receive a coronavirus vaccine at a free camp in Kolkata, India, June 14, 2021.”Considering the situation in India, there are still a lot of questions …

WHO Chief: New COVID-19 Cases Decline for 7 Weeks

The World Health Organization said Monday that while the number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen steadily for seven straight weeks, the virus continues to spread and kill people in Africa, a region with little or no access to vaccines and treatments.Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the overall decline in new cases, the longest since the pandemic began, was certainly welcome news. But he said deaths overall were not falling as quickly and declined only slightly last week.Tedros said the decline in cases also masks the fact that the virus continues to spread and kill in regions such as Africa, which has limited access to vaccines and treatments such as oxygen and diagnostic equipment.FILE – A medical team rolls a coronavirus patient from a bed onto a stretcher in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Kenyatta National Hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya, April 14, 2021.He cited a recent study in the British medical journal The Lancet showing Africa with the highest global mortality rate among critically ill COVID-19 patients, despite it having fewer reported cases than most other regions. Tedros said that available evidence suggests new variants have substantially increased transmission globally, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. The risks have increased for people who are not protected, which is most of the world’s population, he said. “Right now, the virus is moving faster than the global distribution of vaccines.”The WHO chief expressed his gratitude to the leaders at the G-7 summit last …

Cameroon Begs Civilians to Donate Blood on World Blood Donor Day

Medical authorities in Cameroon marked World Blood Donor Day on Monday with continued pleas for blood donors, after a dramatic drop in donations over the past year. Donations fell by half in 2020, then by nearly half again so far this year, worsening the country’s blood shortage.Officials in Cameroon point to 32-year-old Alphonse Suh Chia as a good example of a determined, voluntary blood donor.  Chia says he became a blood donor in February, after he watched as a 6-year-old boy died of severe anemia in the Central Hospital in Yaounde. He says the medical staff members on duty told him that the blood bank was dry and there was no one to donate blood to save the child’s life. Chia says he was being treated for malaria at the hospital and could not donate blood at the time.But since then, he says, he has joined an association called Green Hearts that donate blood to people in need. Cameroon says it needs 400,000 pints of blood each year to meet the medical needs of its 25 million people. But in 2020, people donated just 48,000 units of blood, down from 103,000 units in 2019. The central African state says blood donations have fallen again so far this year. Dora Ngum Suh Mbanya, director general of Cameroon’s National Blood Transfusion Center, says COVID-19 scares people away from donating blood.”With the COVID pandemic in 2020, there was a deficit of 44 percent in blood donation,” Mbanya said. “What we gathered is that COVID had a huge …

Novavax Reports its COVID Vaccine is 90 Percent Effective

U.S.-based biotech company Novavax announced Monday that Phase 3 clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine show it to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing the disease and provide good protection against variants. A release from the company said the study enrolled 29,960 participants across 119 sites in the United States and Mexico with an emphasis on recruiting a representative population of communities and demographic groups most impacted by the disease. While demand for COVID-19 shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, the need for more vaccines around the world remains critical as many developing nations are just getting vaccine programs going or have yet to start. The Novavax vaccine, which is easy to store and transport, is expected to play an important role in boosting vaccine supplies in the developing world. In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck said, “Many of our first doses will go to … low-and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with.”   The White House’s top adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told The Washington Post the vaccine is “really very impressive,” saying it is on par with the most effective shots developed during the pandemic. “It’s very important for the world’s population to have, yet again, another highly efficacious vaccine that looks in its trial to have a good safety profile.” The company intends to file for regulatory authorizations in the third quarter, upon completion of the final phases of …

US TikToker Leads Global Campaign to Clean Up Oceans 

Elizabeth Sherr had always had a passion for the ocean since she was young so trying to clean up the trash that litters beaches and the sea seemed a natural move. When she moved to live next to the sea in Barcelona, the native New Yorker posted some videos on TikTok encouraging others to help rid the beach of cigarette butts and plastic bottles but did not hold out much hope it would catch on. This undated handout photograph released on Jan. 14, 2021 by the University of Barcelona shows an underwater view of a Posidonia Oceanica seagrass meadow in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP photo / University of Barcelona / Jordi Regas)To her surprise, after one video went viral, Sherr became the face of a global cleanup operation that removed almost 800,000 pieces from public spaces worldwide in ten days. The FILE – Two Belgian fans, wearing the Belgian colors, walk through plastic cups and other garbage after taking part in a celebration in Antwerp, Belgium, June 18, 2016.Single-use plastics are responsible for 49% of all marine pollution, while 27% is caused by plastics linked to fishing, according to data from the European Parliament. The 24-year-old campaigner said people from 33 countries from Peru to Honduras and Jordan to Cyprus joined in. “Many people got in touch to tell me that their attitude to sea pollution has completely changed since taking part in this challenge,” she said.  Sherr, who grew up in Manhattan, revealed the success of the challenge was due, in part, to a literary …

Chinese Lab-Leak Investigators Demand Inquiry into Role Science Journals Played During Pandemic

Scientists who have been challenging the theory that the coronavirus emerged naturally and couldn’t have leaked from a Chinese lab are calling for an inquiry into the role played during the pandemic by leading Western science and medical journals, including Nature and The Lancet. They say the editors of the influential journals rebuffed dozens of critical articles which raised at least the possibility of the coronavirus being engineered and that it might have subsequently leaked from a lab in Chinese city of Wuhan.  “The managers of these journals may have wanted to appease the Chinese Communist Party, as China is where an increasing proportion of their revenue comes from, and China has made it clear that those journals it supports must agree to adhere to its policy agendas,” Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor of medicine at Australia’s Flinders University, told VOA. “So many papers questioning the origins were quickly rejected by the journal editors at Nature and Lancet, etc. without even being sent for review. This early rejection was therefore presumably largely not on scientific grounds but on political or other grounds determined at a high level within those journals,” he says.  The editors of The Lancet and Nature reject the complaints, saying scientific merit determines the submissions they pick to publish and not politics. FILE – Workers in PPE spray the ground with desinfectant in Baishazhou market during a visit of World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in WuhanA World Health Organization-led team earlier this year ruled …

Trip to Space with Jeff Bezos Sells for $28 Million

A mystery bidder paid $28 million at auction Saturday for a seat alongside Jeff Bezos on board the first crewed spaceflight of the billionaire’s company Blue Origin next month.The Amazon founder revealed this week that both he and his brother Mark would take seats on board the company’s New Shepard launch vehicle on July 20, to fly to the edge of space and back.The Bezos brothers will be joined by the winner of Saturday’s charity auction, whose identity remains unknown, and by a fourth, as yet unnamed space tourist.”The name of the auction winner will be released in the weeks following the auction’s conclusion,” tweeted Blue Origin following the sale.”Then, the fourth and final crew member will be announced — stay tuned.”Saturday’s successful bidder beat out some 20 rivals in an auction launched on May 19 and wrapped up with a 10-minute, livecast frenzy.Bidding had reached $4.8 million by Thursday, but shot up spectacularly in the final live auction, rising by million-dollar increments.The proceeds — aside from a 6% auctioneer’s commission — will go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.Taking off from a desert in western Texas, the New Shepard trip will last 10 minutes, four of which passengers will spend above the Karman line that marks the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.After lift-off, the capsule separates from its booster, then spends four minutes at an altitude exceeding 100 …

Saudi Arabia Limits Hajj to 60,000 in Kingdom

Saudi Arabia announced Saturday this year’s Hajj pilgrimage will be limited to no more than 60,000 people, all of them from within the kingdom, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.The announcement by the kingdom comes after it ran an incredibly pared-down pilgrimage last year over the virus, but still allowed a small number of the faithful to take part in the annual ceremony.A statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted the kingdom’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry making the announcement. It said this year’s Hajj, which will begin in mid-July, will be limited to those ages 18 to 65.Those taking part must be vaccinated as well, the ministry said.”The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is honored to host pilgrims every year, confirms that this arrangement comes out of its constant concern for the health, safety and security of pilgrims as well as the safety of their countries,” the statement said.In last year’s Hajj, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part. Two-thirds were foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the Hajj. One-third were Saudi security personnel and medical staff.Each year, up to 2 million Muslims perform the Hajj, a physically demanding and often costly pilgrimage that draws the faithful from around the world. The Hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lifetime, is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and bring about greater humility and unity among …

Ice Shelf Breakup Causes Antarctic Glacier to Melt Faster; Sea Levels at Risk

The recent breakup of an Antarctic ice shelf is speeding up the ocean-bound descent of a glacier holding back at least a meter of sea level rise, Ice front of the ice shelf in front of Pine Island Glacier, a major glacier system of West Antarctica.”The real question is, how fast is that going to happen, and how much time do we have to adapt?” said Pierre Dutrieux, an oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey and a co-author of the study. When ice from the ice sheet enters the ocean, it raises sea levels, which will eventually make coastal cities unlivable.The worrying activity prompted researchers at the University of Washington and British Antarctic Survey to study the reasons behind the glacier’s accelerated movement. They shared their results June 11 in Science Advances.”We naively thought that the ocean was going to be the main driver of the retreat and the acceleration,” Dutrieux said. “And maybe at some point the atmosphere, if it continues to warm up, was going to play a role.”The authors first used satellite images to observe changes in how fast the ice was moving. When they ran a computer model to simulate ice flow, the results suggested that the loss of the ice shelves could better explain the glacier’s speedup than warming ocean temperatures.”Ice shelves tend to hold back the flow of ice into the ocean. So if you remove an ice shelf, the glaciers will move faster,” said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s …