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After weathering four distinct surges since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, the United States appears to be moving toward a decline in acceleration and a turnaround of cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a White House news conference Wednesday.

The comments from the White House’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases come amid a decline in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, sparking hope that the summer surge fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus is ebbing.

Although the numbers are dropping, Fauci said, the virus is not yet under control. He cautioned that rates have surged from low points in the past.

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“We need to get that curve to go much further down than it is because we’re dealing with a situation where you have a highly transmissible virus,” he said. “When the dynamics of the virus are at 80,000 to 90,000 cases a day, that’s not where you want to be.”

According to data from the Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker, in the past week, daily reported cases fell by almost 12 percent — averaging 89,886 cases as of Wednesday. Hospitalizations have dropped by 7.7 percent. Deaths, too, are down to a seven-day moving average of 1,715, after peaking at 3,347 on Jan. 17.

The nation’s top infectious disease doctor said that fully eradicating the virus would prove difficult, noting the world has managed to eliminate only one disease — smallpox. However, reaching “the kind of normal that we are all craving for” would be possible through a greater vaccination rate, he said.

“We can get to control, without a doubt,” Fauci said. “It is within our power and within our capability. These vaccines work, because when you look at the real-world efficacy … [the immunized] have a five-times-the-lesser likelihood of getting infected, a 10-to-12-times-less likelihood of being hospitalized, and a more than 10-times-less likelihood of dying.”

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Washington Post


WHO names 26 scientists to coronavirus-origins team

The coronavirus pandemic has been with us for almost two years, claiming the lives of more than 4.8 million people across the globe. Yet its origins remain unknown.

Hoping to fill this knowledge gap, the World Health Organization on Wednesday named 26 scientists to a new multinational advisory team tasked with understanding the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The formation of the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens comes more than six months after the conclusion of a joint WHO-China mission that has since been mired in controversy for its inconclusive results. China, where the virus appears to have originated, has reacted angrily to investigations on its soil.

The advisory group is also tasked with investigating the emergence of any future pandemics — an objective that stems from lessons derived from the mistakes of the early days of the current one.

Washington Post


US to allow nonessential travelers at Canadian, Mexican borders in November

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions at the borders with Canada and Mexico starting in November for fully vaccinated travelers, reopening the door of the United States to tourists and separated family members who have been sealed out of the country during the pandemic.

Foreign travelers who provide proof of vaccination and are looking to visit families or friends or shop in the United States will be allowed to enter, senior administration officials said Tuesday, weeks after the administration said it would soon lift a similar sweeping restriction on foreigners traveling to the country from overseas.

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The lifting of the bans will effectively mark the reopening of the United States to travelers and tourists, signaling a new phase in the recovery from the pandemic after the country closed its borders for nearly 19 months.

But the new requirements also indicate that the United States will welcome only visitors who are vaccinated. Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be banned from crossing the borders with Mexico or Canada, officials said. Those who were never banned from traveling across the land borders, including commercial drivers and students, will also need to show proof of vaccination when crossing starting in January, giving them some time to adjust to the new rules, officials said.

The travel restrictions, imposed in March 2020, only applied to “nonessential travelers” — relatives looking to visit family members, or shoppers, whom border communities relied on for profits. Politicians representing such communities have pleaded with the Biden administration to lift the restrictions to provide a reprieve for suffering businesses.

New York Times


Democrats call for White House to share Moderna vaccine tech

Congressional Democrats on Wednesday called on the Biden administration to bring new pressure on Moderna and potentially disclose details of the company’s mRNA vaccines, as tensions build over whether the company has sufficiently shared its know-how with the developing world.

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“Despite receiving huge sums of public funding from American taxpayers, Moderna has refused calls to share its technology, including from the US government,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, and her colleagues wrote to Biden administration officials in a letter shared with the Washington Post.

Moderna — which had not brought a product to market before the coronavirus pandemic — received nearly $10 billion in federal funding to expand its vaccine manufacturing capacity, execute trials, and produce shots, the lawmakers note. The federal government also supported the company’s vaccine development.

The Democrats argued that those federal contracts appear to grant the US government the power to disclose Moderna’s production details, even if the company does not willingly comply.

“The contract Moderna entered into with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) may give the federal government legal authority to access and share the ingredient list and manufacturing instructions for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine,” the Democrats wrote. They specifically cite a contractual provision that specifies that BARDA has “unlimited rights to data funded under this contract.”

Warren was joined by Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat; and others. The letter was sent to David Kessler, chief scientific officer for COVID-19 response, and Gary Disbrow, director of BARDA. Moderna is headquartered in Cambridge, which is represented by Warren.

Biden administration officials are skeptical that the Moderna contract could be used to compel disclosure, said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

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“The contract did not require Moderna to deliver information about the know-how necessary to make the vaccine,” the official said. “Even if the government were in possession of the manufacturing records, that information could not be shared publicly.”

Moderna has pledged to provide as many as 500 million doses of its vaccine to distribute through Covax, a World Health Organization-backed campaign to share shots around the globe. The company also has announced plans to build a manufacturing hub in Africa.

But advocacy groups have criticized Moderna for not doing more to immediately share its vaccines with developing countries, and administration officials have privately raised similar concerns. Tom Frieden, who was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration, argued in a Post op-ed published Tuesday that Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA technology should be more widely distributed.

Washington Post


China rolls out booster shots for high-risk people

Chinese authorities are rolling out third shots of coronavirus vaccines for high-risk groups in at least 10 regions, according to state media, as the country races to meet its goal of fully vaccinating 80 percent of its population by the end of the year.

After a series of outbreaks of the Delta variant, Wang Huaqing, chief expert for China’s immunization program at the Chinese Center for Disease Control, recommended last month that additional shots be administered to people in frontline professions, including medical workers; people with weaker immune systems; those age 60 or older; and travelers going to countries deemed at high risk.

By Sunday, more than 40,000 people in Hubei, the province encompassing Wuhan where the virus first emerged, had received booster shots, according to state media reports.

New York Times