• Merck, which has announced that it will enter into non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with generics manufacturers to enable access to molnupiravir, its experimental COVID-19 antiviral treatment, is also in talks with several countries who wish to purchase it. Singapore, which is facing a severe outbreak of coronavirus despite an 80 percent vaccination rate among its residents, has signed a deal with Merck. South Korea, which has earmarked 36.2 billion won ($30.31 million) for oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment, has purchased 20,000 courses of molnupiravir. Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand are currently negotiating with Merck while government officials in the Philippines hope that Merck’s ongoing clinical trial will facilitate access to the antiviral in their country. Source

• The British Journal of Dermatology publishes findings on “COVID toes” (which can also affect the fingers) – swelling, red or purplish discoloration, sometimes with painful bumps or rough skin, which occurs most frequently among children and teenagers. Researchers studied blood and skin tests from 50 people with suspected “COVID toes”, comparing them to results from 13 people with similar lesions unrelated to COVID-19, finding that “COVID toes” were linked with SARS-CoV-2- fighting immune responses, and changes in the cells that line small blood vessels in affected areas. Source

• In Israel, which has administered coronavirus boosters to 2.8 million people, Tel Aviv’s Mayor, Ron Huldai, says that boosters have reduced new cases and hospital admissions, allowing the city to re-open, adding, “On the streets of Tel Aviv now, it’s like there’s no COVID.” Source

• Following US FDA approval of a rapid antigen test from Acon Laboratories, the Biden administration announces that it will spend $1 billion on these home  SARS-CoV-2 tests, which will quadruple the number of available tests by December. Source

• According to Dr.Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization, COVAX will not meet its year-end target for delivering coronavirus vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean. Overall, 37 percent of the region’s population has been fully vaccinated – although access is very uneven. While Chile, Cuba and Ecuador are among the world’s most vaccinated countries, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua have vaccinated less than 10 percent of their populations. Most countries in the region have only received 30 percent of the supply expected from COVAX, because pharmaceutical companies have prioritized bilateral agreements with wealthy countries that pay higher prices -and are buying up most of the available vaccines. Source

• The value of Moderna’s stock has quadrupled over the past year, elevating Noubar Afeyan, the company’s co-founder and chairman, co-founder Robert Langer, and early investor Timothy Springer onto the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in the US. Appearing on the list requires a minimum net worth of $2.9 billion (up $800 million from a year ago); each of Moderna’s trio are now worth over $3.5 billion. Source

New England Journal of Medicine publishes research from Israel finding a higher than anticipated incidence of myocarditis post-mRNA-vaccination in a large healthcare organization. The study used data from 2.5 million vaccinated people over age 16 years. They found 54 cases of myocarditis, which were most likely to occur three to five days after the second vaccine dose. The overall estimated incidence of myocarditis was 2.13 cases per 100,000 people who received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with the highest incidence among males ages 16-29 years, which reached 10.69 cases per 100,000. Overall, 76 percent of myocarditis cases were mild, and 22 percent were intermediate, with one death in a person who had pre-existing heart disease (from unknown causes). Source

• Lumen Biosciences issued a press release to announce that it has received additional funding from the US government to develop LMN-301, a spirulina-based cocktail of antibody-like proteins that prevent the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein from entering gastrointestinal tract cells. The funding will support a phase II trial which is expected to start before Q2, 2022, which could inhibit symptoms and disease progression, while accelerating recovery from COVID-19. Source

• Researchers present data from a 58-person study on treatment of post- COVID-19 depression at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology meeting in Lisbon. Noting that 30 to 40 percent of COVID-19 survivors experience depression at one, three, and six months after acute illness, the authors speculated that immune responses and severe inflammation appear to be the main mechanisms of post-COVID depression. They hypothesized that treatment with antidepressants could be effective, based on emerging SARS-CoV-2 research suggesting that these medicines have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Overall, they reported that 91 percent (53/58) of people treated with antidepressants (sertraline [n=26], citalopram [n=18], paroxetine [n=8], fluvoxamine [n=4], and fluoxetine [n=2]) responded after a month of treatment – achieving a 50 percent reduction of the Hamilton Depression Rating Score, regardless of their age, sex, mood disorder history, and severity of COVID-19. Source

• Health officials in Sweden announce that they are pausing use of Moderna’s mRNA coronavirus vaccine – Sweden, in people born in or after 1991, because it may carry a higher risk of rare cardiovascular side effects (inflammation of the heart or its lining) than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (which is also based on mRNA technology). Sweden is continuing to use the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is based on a lower dose than Moderna’s vaccine (30 micrograms versus 100 micrograms). Source

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