7 July 2021

• The global death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed four million. Overall, 26 percent of these deaths occurred in India and 18 percent in Brazil, highlighting the deadly consequences of unequal access to coronavirus vaccines. In sharp contrast, deaths in the vaccine-rich UK and US have plummeted. Source

• Indonesia reports record-breaking totals of new cases of, and deaths from COVID-19 -34,379 and 1,040, respectively. Source

• Indonesia’s COVID-19 epidemic has left hospitals overwhelmed and created oxygen shortages, leaving people to find oxygen for friends and family members being cared for at home. Source

• The New England Journal of Medicine publishes a study assessing the effectiveness of CoronaVac among 10.2 million people who were inoculated through Chile’s public health system. Full vaccination was 65.9 percent effective at preventing COVID-19; 87.5 percent effective at preventing hospitalization; 90.3 percent effective at preventing ICU admission and 86.3 percent effective for preventing death from COVID-19. A single dose of the vaccine was less effective for preventing COVID-19 (15.5 percent) and hospitalization (37.4 percent), ICU admission (44.7 percent), and death from COVID-10 (45.7 percent). Overall, vaccine effectiveness was similar for people under and over age 60. Source

• A critical review of the origins of COVID-19 reports that Wuhan’s Huanan market was an early and major epicenter. Notably, the researchers did not find any link between cases and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV); specifically, all staff in Dr. Shi Zhengli ‘s laboratory were reported as seronegative for  SARS-CoV-2. The authors concluded that the epidemiological history of SARS-CoV-2 is comparable to previous animal market-associated coronavirus outbreaks – with “…striking similarities to the early spread of SARS,” adding that there is “… no evidence that any early cases had any connection to the WIV, in contrast to the clear epidemiological links to animal markets in Wuhan, nor evidence that the WIV possessed or worked on a progenitor of SARS- CoV-2 prior to the pandemic. The suspicion that  SARS-CoV-2 might have a laboratory origin stems from the coincidence that it was first detected in a city that houses a major virological laboratory that studies coronaviruses.” Source

• A surge in coronavirus cases in Tokyo prompt the government to place the city under a state of emergency and raise the possibility of spectator-free games. “It will be an unusual way of staging the event amid a state of emergency,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said during a press conference, adding that he wants to “…show from Tokyo that the human race can overcome great difficulty through hard work and wisdom.” Source

• After a 10-fold increase of coronavirus infections since April, Thailand is considering whether to impose additional restrictions in some of the country’s hardest-hit areas, including Bangkok. Anan Jongkaewwattana, Director of the research unit at Thailand’s National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, said  “…current restrictions won’t help contain the outbreak. If we don’t tighten restrictions, the infection rate will rise exponentially. A strict lockdown is the only way out. It might hurt the economy now, but things will be better in the long run once we can contain the spread.” Source

• As the pandemic worsens in Haiti, WHO warns that the country’s current political chaos may make it more difficult to stop the spread of coronavirus. Source

• The US CDC estimates that the Delta variant has become dominant, now accounting for 51.7 percent of coronavirus cases in the country – and uneven vaccine coverage may lead to increasing cases among unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people. Source

• The New York Times reports that COVID-19 mortality among people in US prisons and jails may be undercounted. Prison systems are using different methods to publicly disclose – and attribute – COVID-19-relaed mortality, despite CDC recommendations for calling  deaths in which COVID-19 is listed as a “contributing cause” on the death certificate as coronavirus deaths, even if other causes also are noted. Jails do not always count COVID-19 deaths among inmates who were transferred or released after they fell ill. Some officials said that they are responsible for tracking “in custody” deaths, noting that it would be impractical and potentially inaccurate to include deaths among people who were recently in their care. Kathy Hieatt, a spokesperson for the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s office said,  “It is unfair to expect jails to somehow take ownership of what happens to people once they are released from our custody.  We follow the law and the extensive standards set by the Virginia Department of Corrections, which include the investigating and reporting of anyone who dies while in custody. Neither require reporting of deaths of former inmates. It is asinine to think that we could somehow keep tabs on those thousands of people and take responsibility for them.” Source

• Fiji is facing one of the world’s fastest-growing epidemics of COVID-19; more than 1,000 patients have been sent home from medical facilities as hospitals are swamped. Less than five percent of Fiji’s residents are fully vaccinated; efforts have been complicated since the country relies on Australia and New Zealand for vaccines but New Zealand has not authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Fiji is using – instead, it has sent PPE and $28 million. Source

• The US is sending a million doses each of the J& J coronavirus vaccine to Bolivia and Paraguay. Source

• Australia extended its lockdown for another week as the Delta variant continues to spread. Source

• Spain is reporting its highest totals of new coronavirus cases since February, many among young, asymptomatic people. Source

• Novilia Sjafri Bachtiar, the lead scientist for trials of Sinovac’s coronavirus vaccine in Indonesia, dies of COVID-19. Source 

• Singapore is excluding people who were received Sinovac’s CoronaVac from its count of  vaccinated people. The country’s Minister of Health, Ong Ye Kung, said, “We don’t really have a medical or scientific basis or have the data now to establish how effective Sinovac is in terms of infection and severe illnesses on Delta.” Source 

Science publishes a commentary about a controversial pre-print publication which reported on a trial of proxalutamide, an experimental prostate cancer drug that is not approved in any country. The paper claims that proxalutamide reduced deaths among hospitalized COVID-19 patients by 77% in Brazil – and that the drug cut the average hospital stay by five days. Just over a month after the trial started, Dr. Cadegiani, the lead investigator (who has a history of promoting other unproven treatments for COVID-19) tweeted, “A doctor has to see their patients with proxalutamide to truly understand what we have seen. It is unfeasible to describe through words or translation into scientific language the dramatic response.” Alleged irregularities in the clinical trial have led to an investigation by a national research ethics commission in Brazil, and the paper has been rejected by top medical journals. 

Some scientists think the basis of the study makes sense, but others believe the results are too good to be true, such as Eric Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research Translational Institute, who said. “There are almost no medical interventions in the history of medicine that have this magnitude of benefit, no less with COVID-19.” Source

• Germany announces that it will donate all remaining doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine – estimated at 500,000 – to developing countries, with 80 percent going to COVAX. The rest will go to the to countries in the Western Balkans (to offset a diplomatic coup by China, which has been donating its coronavirus vaccines there); to members of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine);  and to Namibia, a former colony. Germany is not planning to buy more of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and has already offered second doses of mRNA-based vaccines to people who received a first dose of AstraZeneca. Source

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