Coronavirus update: Moderna vaccine effective after six months, Johnson & Johnson vaccine under review

Photo (c) Evgenia Parajanian - Getty Images

The FDA wants to provide more N95 face masks

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 31,350,848 (31,280,880)

Total U.S. deaths: 563,520 (562,655)

Total global cases: 137,603,448 (136,857,385)

Total global deaths: 2,962,611 (2,949,096)

Moderna vaccine still effective after six months

Moderna says its vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been shown to be 90 percent effective against all variants of the disease after six months. Results show that it also protects 95 percent of patients against severe forms of COVID-19.

The efficacy rate, while still quite high, is slightly less than the 94 percent rate reported when the vaccine began to roll out in December. Health experts say the spread of new variants could have caused a slight decrease in efficacy. The company’s announcement was the result of its ongoing Phase 3 clinical trial involving more than 30,000 people across the U.S. 

“The new preclinical data on our variant-specific vaccine candidates give us confidence that we can proactively address emerging variants,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna. “Moderna will make as many updates to our COVID-19 vaccine as necessary until the pandemic is under control.”

Advisory panel to review Johnson & Johnson vaccine

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is meeting today to discuss Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after six women who received it had severe cases of blood clotting. One woman died and another is in critical condition.

While use of the vaccine is on “pause,” scientists will review data and try to confirm its safety. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has said the blood clotting threat appears to be extremely rare.

In all six cases under review, the patients developed symptoms one to three weeks after receiving the vaccine. The symptoms included headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, and neurological symptoms.

A year later, a glut of face masks

After over a year of pandemic conditions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking additional steps to beef up the market for new N95 masks for health care workers and to expand their use in other industries. The move comes after scientists argued that the highly protective masks are essential to keep workers safe from the virus.

The move is welcome news to the industry that produces face masks. There was a severe shortage a year ago when the pandemic hit. Now, there is a supply glut that threatens the financial health of some companies.

To spur demand, the FDA is considering a move to revoke its approval of the widespread crisis-era practice of decontaminating N95 respirators and returning them to front-line workers to use again.

Post-pandemic housing market may be more stable

The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the housing market. With most people working from home for the last 12 months, millions of Americans started looking for more space and, as a result, have driven home prices to record highs.

But what happens after the pandemic? In a new report, real estate marketplace Zillow says housing economists expect remote work to remain a factor in the market for years to come, with homeowners in one state working for a company located in another. They also expect sellers to return to the market in larger numbers.

"That increased inventory would ease buyer competition that has driven prices higher during the pandemic, but expect a steady pace of home value growth to persist into the near future,” said Zillow economist Arpita Chakravorty. “Mortgage rates have risen some but are still low by historical standards, adding to people's purchasing power and helping to keep competition for homes revved up."

Scientists promote plasma device as new way to disinfect surfaces

Still can’t find disinfectant wipes at the supermarket? Not to worry -- scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) say they have an alternative.

They say they’ve demonstrated the first flexible, hand-held, device based on low-temperature plasma — a gas that consists of atoms, molecules, and free-floating electrons and ions — that consumers can quickly and easily use to disinfect surfaces without special training.

Recent experiments show that the prototype, which operates at room temperature under normal atmospheric pressure, can eliminate 99.99 percent of the bacteria on surfaces, including textiles and metals, in just 90 seconds. Scientists think it will be similarly effective against viruses.

“We’re testing it right now with human viruses,” said PPPL physicist Sophia Gershman, first author of a paper in Scientific Reports that describes the device and the research behind it.

Around the nation

  • California: Schools are trying to get back to normal, but some parents are complaining to the media that what’s billed as a school reopening isn’t even close. Specifically, they say kids in San Francisco are returning to classrooms with laptops and headphones while their teachers instruct them from home.

  • Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear says he would be comfortable lifting some of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions when 2.5 million Kentuckians are vaccinated. At the moment, the state is almost a million short of that goal.

  • Connecticut: Gov. Ted Lamont says the pause in administering Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will have almost no effect on the state’s vaccination efforts. He also said it’s no cause for alarm. "There have been six severe side effects out of 6.8 million J&J doses that have been administered in the United States over these many months," Lamont said during a news conference. "That's a one-in-a-million chance of having a severe side effect."

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