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Coronavirus

South Africa Halts AstraZeneca Vaccine After Study Questions Effectiveness Against Variant

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South Africa has suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on front-line workers after a small trial suggested it isn’t effective against the country’s dominant variant.

What We Know:

  • The small study tested 2,000 people, most of which were young and healthy as the average age was 31. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.
  • The study suggests that the AstraZeneca vaccine offers only “minimal protection against mild-moderate disease” against the Covid-19 variant in prominent in South Africa. This variant is said to be more infectious and now accounts for more than 90 percent of the Covid cases in the country, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine appeared effective against the original strain but not against the variant,” Mkhize said. “We have decided to put a temporary hold on the rollout of the vaccine. … More work needs to be done.”

  • According to NBC News, the country received its first 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week and was expected to be administered to healthcare workers beginning mid-February. Mkhize stated that South Africa will begin rolling out other vaccines to inoculate as many people as possible in the coming months. Scientists have said that clinical trials for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are showing promising results against the new variant.
  • The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s lead researcher, Sarah Gilbert, told the BBC on Sunday that their developers expect to have a modified shot to combat the country’s variant by autumn.
  • Moreover, South African health officials are concerned about this variant because it includes a mutation of the coronavirus’s spike protein, which is targeted by existing vaccines. However, officials say the variant is more contagious, and evidence is emerging that symptoms may be more severe.

The disappointing early trial results have far-reaching implications as countries around the globe have been depending on the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the near future. One of the countries is England, where more than 100 cases of the South African variant have been found.

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Coronavirus

Schools Are Disciplining Kids With Virtual Classes, Advocates Say That Could Violate Their Rights

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Advocates are calling these actions the “new face of denial of access to public education”.

What We Know:

  • A six-year-old named Raynardo Antonio Ocasio has been banned from his classroom since September. Raynardo was banned from in-person learning for failing to wear a mask. The school, Zeta Charter School in Manhattan, has stated that pushing Raynardo out was necessary to keep teachers and students safe during the pandemic. Administrators and other schools across the country made similar decisions during the reopening process.
  • Raynardo has a speech and language impairment that makes it challenging for him to comply with instructions. He had difficulty expressing himself while wearing a mask. A psychologist was brought to the school in order to support Raynardo, but after numerous efforts, his school decided to send him home for virtual classes. The decision to send Raynardo home wasn’t intended to be permanent.
  • Student advocates in six states informed NBC News that they’re working with students impacted by these actions. Critics argue that removing students because of their behavior is a violation of students’ rights. Federal law requires public schools to provide all students with the support they need to succeed. This could entail bringing in a counselor or working with parents to improve a child’s behavior.
  • Advocates argue that the students they’ve seen removed from in-person classes are the same ones who’ve traditionally been more likely to be removed from class. These kinds of students include children with disabilities, those with a hard time following some rules, and Black or Latino children who are more likely to be punished for their behavior than their white classmates. Those students were already more likely to struggle in school than their peers according to civil rights and educational justice advocate, Lorraine Wright.

Raynardo has been attending school virtually for more than seven months and advocates say what happened amounts to an informal removal.

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National Pharmacy Chains Have Wasted Hundreds of Thousands of Covid Vaccine Doses

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Two nationwide pharmacy chains trusted with handling vaccinations are largely responsible for the majority of wasted doses.

What We Know:

  • According to the CDC, there were 182,874 wasted doses of the covid vaccine as of late March. The pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens are responsible for 128,500 wasted shots. According to Kaiser Health News, CVS accounted for nearly half of those, with Walgreens representing 21%.
  •  The CDC data indicates that the two companies wasted more shots of the vaccine than all of the states, territories, and federal agencies combined. The data, however, does not indicate how the pharmacies were able to waste so many of the vaccine doses. Many critics cited the disorganized rollout of the vaccine as the primary factor contributing to the waste.
  • The Trump administration heavily leaned on the two pharmacies to vaccinate those long-term care facilities during the early phase. A CVS representative stated “nearly all” of its wasted vials came during this period.
  • The report found that freezer malfunctions were the most common source of wasted vials. The Pfizer was the first to be distributed in December. The vaccine initially required that it be kept in ultra-cold storage, making it difficult to transport and store properly. The report found that the Pfizer vaccine made up 60% of all lost doses.
  • In a statement, CDC spokesperson Kate Fowlie said, “though every effort is made to reduce the volume of wastage in a vaccination program, sometimes it’s necessary to identify doses as ‘waste’ to ensure anyone wanting a vaccine can receive it, as well as to ensure patient safety and vaccine effectiveness.”

According to the CDC, nearly 250 million doses of the covid vaccine have been administered. Over 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated so far, which amounts to about 32% of the population.

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Some Health Insurers Ending Waivers for COVID Treatment Fees

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As several pandemic restrictions are lifted across the country, health insurers are looking to roll back on waivers for coronavirus treatment.

What We Know:  

  • During the height of the pandemic, many health insurance companies voluntarily waived deductibles, copayments, and other added fees for insured patients that contracted COVID-19Patients who became severely ill and required hospitalization or medical treatment also had their fees waived
  • Those in the industry were applauded for aiding customers during a physically, emotionally, and financially difficult time. But as more aspects of normality return to how they used to be, the less coverage health insurers are giving to COVID-19 patients. 
  • Starting at the end of 2020 and continuing onward, a number of health insurance companies are quietly ending their fee waivers for covid treatment policies. Sabrina Corlette, research professor and co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, said, When it comes to treatment, more and more consumers will find that the normal course of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance will apply. 
  • Even so, federal law prevents insurers from charging for coronavirus testing and vaccination, ensuring clients are still able to know if they have contracted the virus. However, if a person is to be hospitalized with coronavirus, they may receive a hefty bill.  

Robert Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant in Maryland, called the ending of the waivers for treatment “a big deal” if you become severely ill. On top of that, he adds, “and then you find out you have to pay $5,000 out-of-pocket that your cousin didn’t two months ago.” 

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