Four items of recent pandemic news: Some people are skipping their second shots; Europe may open to vaccinated American travelers; the vaccinated can stop wearing masks outdoors; and J&J resumes going into arms. Plus news briefs and a frippery.
Johnson & Johnson resumes
Last Friday, while I was putting together the previous edition of this newsletter, the CDC’s committee of outside advisors, the ACIP, was meeting to decide whether and how to restart distribution of the Johnson & Johnson / Janssen vaccine. You have almost certainly heard by now that J&J is back on. Despite a handful of new instances of blood clots (now numbering 15 cases) that had come to light in the 10 days since the vaccine was paused, the committee concluded that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks, and the CDC and FDA concurred.
Some 9 million doses of J&J were waiting at states’ health departments and vaccination sites, and they had resumed going into people’s arms by Sunday. The company’s manufacturing woes mean that doses beyond those may be slow to emerge from the pipeline.
The vaccinated can skip masks outside
President Biden announced this afternoon that the CDC has relaxed its guidance on mask wearing. Those who are fully vaxed can omit the mask if outside — unless in crowded conditions.
Examples of outside activities that now don’t require masking up:
- Dining at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households
- Attending a small outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends
- Attending a small outdoor gathering with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people
- Walking, running, hiking, or biking outdoors alone or with members of your household
Vaccinated Americans might be able to travel in Europe
Discussions are ongoing between US and EU officials aiming at a policy allowing any American protected with an EU-authorized vaccine — and all three of the ones in use here are — to travel in 27 member states.
Such an opening would require a positive pandemic situation on both ends of the agreement, so it would seem that summer would be the earliest feasible time.
At the moment Europe is not in similar discussions with any countries other than the US; and the NY Times’s coverage does not suggest that the US is moving towards a reciprocal opening at this time.
Since children are not being vaccinated on either end now, it’s likely that they would be exempt from such a requirement.
Individual countries in Europe might reserve the right to impose local limitations, such as requiring quarantines or refusing US visitors entirely.
The Times mentions the possibility of some kind of vaccine passport for use across Europe, but it seems unlikely that all the wrinkles in any such program could be ironed out as soon as this summer. Denmark, which leads the pack on developing a passport app, probably won’t have anything useful much before August.
The above summary is full of “mights” and “maybes,” but that is the situation now. Nothing has been finally agreed. While many countries dependent on tourism Euros are pushing hard to get that spigot flowing once again, I frankly don’t know how many takers they will get. I can’t see a great many Americans being anxious to travel like it’s 2019.
Some people are skipping their second shots
As of April 9, about 8% of those in the US receiving Pfizer or Moderna vaccines have missed their second dose. Various outlets (NY Times, Business Insider, Daily Voice) report that the CDC issued this news, but I have been unable to find a confirming link on cdc.gov.
The overall rate of missed second shots has increased since the beginning of the vaccination campaign in December. In the early days the targets of vaccination were health-care workers and nursing-home residents and staff, and these people proved easier to pin down for a followup shot than the general population has.
A 92% completion rate for a two-shot series is not bad. By comparison, the rate for the series of a vaccine against shingles is about 75%. It may make a difference that for most people Shingrix is not free (far from it), as the Covid vaccine is.
That 8% figure is most likely on the high side, because people who got two shots in different venues — say a state-run operation followed by a CVS pharmacy — would probably be counted as having missed the second.
Some of the gap results from logistical problems such as people being sent for a second shot to a location that was not offering the brand they needed. The coverage linked above particularly called out Walgreens, whose website signup process seems to have been deficient in this way for a time. Some people just found it too difficult to arrange for a second shot; others seem to believe that they are adequately protected after one shot.
- Sanofi agrees to help manufacture Moderna — The latest vaccine manufacturing hookup makes Sanofi the first company signed up to help all three of the US-authorized vaccine makers to meet their “fill and finish” needs. (See the figure depicting virus makers’ manufacturing agreements — it is updated frequently.)
- Profile of Youyang Gu — We met this young data scientist (pictured above left) last month through his Path to Normality website. Technology Review has a profile of Gu in which he outlines the lessons learned in a year in which he taught himself epidemiology and emerged as one of the most accurate infectious disease modelers anywhere.
- Malaria breakthrough — From the lab that brought you the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine: Phase II results for a candidate malaria vaccine show its efficacy to be 77%. This puts the candidate in breakthrough territory — existing shots are at most 55% efficacious. The trial was run in Africa with 450 children and followed for a year. A Phase III is gearing up to recruit 5,000 volunteers on that continent.
Frippery: pandemic dance
The reward for your patience: two fripperies today, choreography for our times. The first is a single dancer, Dagmara Barbale, performing Decorate the Sun, a Latvian folk dance in the manner of Zoom. The second is Murmuration, choreography by Sadek Berrabah (@sadeckwaff) for a masked troupe. Sadeck’s video is bundled with a brief and energetic “making of” clip.
Here is how Dagmara Barbale explains the genesis of Decorate the Sun (via Google Translate):
Decorate the Sun: