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Dr. Fauci Tries To Dispel Vaccine Hesitancy After U.S. Officials Question AstraZeneca Trials

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  • Dr. Anthony Fauci reaffirmed the safety of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday after U.S. health officials accused the company of providing “outdated and potentially misleading” data to make the shot appear more effective.
  • On Monday, AstraZeneca said clinical trials found its vaccine to be 79% effective, but the group of independent experts overseeing the trial said that data did not include an additional month of testing that actually placed the efficacy rate at between 69% to 75%.
  • The drugmaker issued another statement Tuesday claiming the 79% rate came from a partial report that was consistent with the full analysis and promised to publish that information within 48 hours.
  • While Fauci criticized AstraZeneca for publishing a statement that “wasn’t completely accurate” and could contribute to vaccine hesitancy, he argued the data was still sound and the shot will prove very effective.

AstraZeneca Accused of Misrepresenting Data

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, continued his efforts to dispel vaccine hesitancy and restore confidence in the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot on Wednesday after U.S. health officials cast doubt on its most recent clinical trials.

In a press release Monday, AstraZeneca announced that the large U.S. clinical for its COVID vaccine found the shots to be 79% effective. However, just hours later, a group of medical experts overseeing the trial wrote a letter essentially accusing the company of cherry-picking its data.

According to outlets that saw the letter, the experts said they were concerned that the drugmaker had provided “outdated and potentially misleading” data on its inoculation to make it seem more effective than the full data showed. 

Reportedly, the independent monitors pushed back on AstraZeneca’s claim that the jab was 79% effective because that figure did not include an additional month of testing, which, when taken into account, made the effectiveness range from 69% to 75%.

AstraZeneca responded in another statement Tuesday, claiming that the numbers published the day prior were indeed based on “an interim analysis with a data cut-off” of Feb. 17. That data, the company claimed, was still consistent with the full analysis of their vaccine trials. They promised to release the complete trial within 48 hours.

Public health experts reiterated their apprehension, with many also expressing concern that the situation will cause more scrutiny from regulators and erode public trust in the inoculation at a time when there is already doubt.

Last week, a European regulator reaffirmed the vaccine’s safety after over a dozen countries paused their rollout of the shot citing concerns it caused blood clots. The U.S. clinical trial, which is the largest trial to date, did not turn up any signs of this problem.

Experts Work to Instill Public Confidence

While speaking on Good Morning America Tuesday, Dr. Fauci criticized the drugmaker for issuing a press release that “wasn’t completely accurate,” but emphasized the solidity of the data and the need for experts to reify public trust in the jab. 

“This is really what you call an unforced error because the fact is this is very likely a very good vaccine,” he said. “This kind of thing does really cast some doubt about the vaccines and maybe contribute to the hesitancy. It was not necessary.”

“If you look at it, the data really are quite good,” he added. “We have to keep essentially trying as hard as we can to get people to understand there are safeguards in place.”

As Dr. Fauci and other public health officials have also noted, the 69% to 75% efficacy rate widely believed to represent the actual effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine is still quite good and similar to others on the market, like the one-shot Johnson & Johnson product.

Some experts have also said the AstraZeneca jab is arguably the world’s most important vaccine right now. The low cost and relatively easy storage compared to other COVID inoculations have made the AstraZeneca version especially accessible and thus absolutely critical in the global fight against the coronavirus. Currently, the COVID-19 shot is the most widely used globally, having been authorized in more than 70 countries.

While it has not yet been approved in the U.S., during a press conference Wednesday, Dr. Fauci assured Americans that the Food and Drug Administration’s review of the jab will be transparent.

“Hopefully, that will dispel any hesitancy associated with this little bump in the road we happened to have most recently with AstraZeneca,” he said.

“At the end of the day,” he added, the data shows that the AstraZeneca shot, “is going to turn out to be a good vaccine.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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