Close up view of a doctor wearing surgical mask and a face shield in hospital COVID-19 unit

COVID-19 Updates: New Hybrid Variant in Vietnam, COVID Response Ranking System, New COVID Discrimination Laws, and Other Coronavirus News

Close up view of a doctor wearing surgical mask and a face shield in hospital COVID-19 unit

At least 170 million cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been diagnosed worldwide as of Monday evening, May 31, 2021, including at least 3.54 million deaths. Healthcare officials in the United States have reported at least 33.3 million positive COVID-19 cases and at least 594,000 deaths. Source: Johns Hopkins University & Medicine

At least 1.9 billion individual doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide as of Monday evening, including at least 295 million in the United States. Source: GitHub

Vietnam sees cases of new hybrid COVID variant

Another new coronavirus strain is reportedly appearing in Vietnam. The variant is said to have characteristics from the existing Indian and United Kingdom variants. According to a recent report by CNN, health ministry officials in Vietnam detected the suspected new hybrid variant. Since late April, the country has reported a sharp increase in covid cases, with almost half the nearly 6,400 confirmed infections being reported in the past month, according to the report, which cited data from Johns Hopkins University.

It is not clear if the suspected new variant is behind the sudden rise in infections, which could suggest it being a more transmissible variant.

Officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) have said the organization’s Virus Evolution Working Group will be collaborating with officials in Vietnam to confirm the possible new variant.

Overall, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports a low level of COVID-19 in Vietnam, but still advises that all travelers going into the country to be fully vaccinated first. The CDC utilizes travel health notices to alert travelers and other audiences to healthcare threats around the world and advise people on how to protect themselves. The CDC reviews case data reported to the WHO to determine a destination’s COVID-19 level. Travel thresholds are based on the number of COVID-19 cases in a destination. Primary criteria for destinations with populations of more than 200,000 include the incidence rate (cumulative new cases occurring over the previous 28 days per 100,000 population) and new case trajectory (whether or not daily new cases have increased, decreased, or remained stable over the previous 28 days).

International outsourcing company devises COVID response ranking system

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to produce a downward arc across the United States, more attention is beginning to emerge about each individual state’s response measures and their effectiveness.

SYKES, a business process outsourcing company based in Tampa, FL, recently established a ratings system for the most effective mitigation strategies that have been initiated state by state. The methodology called for a review of what were identified as eight key metrics: 1) average COVID-19 case rate; 2) test positivity rate; 3) number of hospital admissions; 4) number of hospitals with a supply shortage; 5) vaccine distribution growth rate; 6) percentage of vaccine doses used; 7) implementation of mask mandates; 8) stay-at-home orders.

Based on these criteria, the top 5 performing states are:

  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Washington
  • Connecticut
  • Pennsylvania

States with the least effective response performance included Oklahoma, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina, New York, and Kentucky, which recorded the worst rating. Read the entire ratings results and study.

EEOC announces COVID discrimination laws, vaccination enforcement guidelines

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced federal laws that have been enacted to protect employees across the country from employment discrimination after an increase in some types of harassment have been reported in the workplace.

The EEOC’s Fact Sheet on the subject explains how these laws provide rights that can help employees at work during the pandemic. The laws take particular focus on harassment, those who are considered “high-risk” for illness, barriers to working, and the need for modifications of an employer’s COVID-19 safety requirements. The laws protect against retaliation of exercising certain employment rights and discrimination. According to the EEOC, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in some types of harassment in the workplace.

Additionally, the EEOC has recently clarified a few parameters regarding vaccination in the workplace:

  • Employers cannot be prevented from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with “reasonable accommodation provisions.” Employers are encouraged to be mindful that because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.
  • Employers are also not prevented from offering incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination obtained from a third party in the community, such as a pharmacy, personal healthcare provider, or public clinic.
  • Employers that are administering vaccines to employees may offer incentives for employees to be vaccinated, as long as the incentives are not coercive. Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information.
  • Employers may provide employees and their family members with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines and raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination.

Moderna’s teen vaccine study comes to an end

The TeenCOVE study, a Phase 2/3 study of the COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents, has concluded, according to officials with Moderna. No cases of COVID-19 were observed in participants who had received two doses of the vaccine, and a vaccine efficacy of 93% in seronegative participants was observed starting 14 days after the first dose using the secondary case definition of COVID-19, which tested for milder disease, set forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This study reportedly enrolled more than 3,700 participants ages 12 to less than 18 years in the U.S. The Company plans to submit data to regulators globally in early June, according to a recent press release.

“We are encouraged that [the vaccine] was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in adolescents,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna.

In the study, participants were enrolled and randomized 2:1 to two 100 µg doses of the vaccine or placebo. After two doses, no cases of COVID-19 were observed in the vaccine group using the case definition from the adult Phase 3 COVE study, compared to 4 cases in the placebo group, resulting in a vaccine efficacy of 100% starting 14 days after the second dose. Because the incidence rate of COVID-19 is lower in adolescents, a secondary case definition based on the CDC definition of COVID-19 was also evaluated to include cases presenting with milder symptoms. Using the CDC definition, which requires only one COVID-19 symptom and a nasopharyngeal swab or saliva sample positive for the virus, a vaccine efficacy of 93% after the first dose was observed.

The vaccine was also reportedly generally well tolerated, with a safety and tolerability profile generally consistent with the Phase 3 COVE study in adults. No significant safety concerns have been identified to date, officials said. The majority of adverse events were mild or moderate in severity. The most common solicited local adverse event was injection site pain. The most common solicited systemic adverse events after the second dose were headache, fatigue, myalgia, and chills.

Safety data continue to accrue, and the study continues to be monitored by an independent safety monitoring committee. All participants will be monitored for 12 months after the second injection to assess long-term protection and safety. Consequently, data are subject to change based on ongoing collection.

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