December 6, 2021

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Storm Delays for Vaccines, Expanded Virus Sequencing, and More Coronavirus News

Vaccinations continue across the country amid weather complications, the US expands genome sequencing, and vaccine distribution takes shape worldwide. Here’s what you should know:

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Headlines

US vaccinations continue even as some shipments are stalled by winter storms

This week, harsh winter weather swept the country and caused a huge number of problems, including delaying the shipments of hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses across the country. In Texas, where conditions have been particularly brutal, a shipment of more than 700,000 doses was postponed due to weather. Despite these hiccups, vaccination has continued to accelerate in the US. As of Thursday, more than 41 million people have received their first dose, and more than 16 million have been fully vaccinated. And earlier this week Biden announced that his administration is increasing the number of doses being shipped to states and pharmacies.

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As more time passes, new research is coming out that refines our understanding of how these shots work. Two new studies suggest that one vaccine may be enough to boost antibody production and protect people who have already had Covid-19. And a peer-reviewed study conducted in Israel has found that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 85 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease. It appears that the vaccine can also be stored in regular freezers instead of being kept at ultracold temperatures.

US funnels more resources into virus genome sequencing to track mutations

According to the CDC, more than 1,200 infections caused by the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected stateside. That’s more than double the number reported two weeks earlier, and it’s probably still far lower than the actual count. Since the start of 2021, US scientists have more than doubled the number of viral genomes being sequenced each week, but to stay on top of new viral mutations, we’ll need even more robust sequencing efforts. Earlier this week, similar efforts in Japan led to the discovery of a new variant.

This week, the Biden administration announced it would provide almost $200 million to ramp up sequencing further. And if the president’s proposed $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passes, more funds will soon be available for genomic surveillance..

Biden pledges $4 billion to worldwide vaccine distribution as other countries explore solutions

The Biden administration will pledge $4 billion to COVAX, the WHO’s program for ensuring equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide, at today’s G7 Summit. This funding has already been approved by Congress, and comes at a time when the COVAX program is in need of additional resources. Officials have added that the US won’t donate any of the actual vaccine doses it has purchased to poorer countries until most Americans have been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, other countries and regions are also in the process of executing their own vaccine plans. Cuba says one of the four vaccines being developed within the country will enter its final phase of testing next month, bringing it one step closer to producing its own shot. And on Friday, Russia offered the African Union 300 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine. The proposition comes at a time when only a handful of countries in the continent have begun rolling out vaccine programs.

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One Question

What new possibilities has the pandemic opened up for teaching higher ed?

Learning online has its downsides (hello, Zoom fatigue) but it also creates a host of exciting opportunities for teachers and students. Nearly one year in, many instructors have found that shorter, asynchronous lectures make material more digestible. Virtual learning also breaks down geographical barriers, allowing students to learn with people from all over the world. And using technology makes any given session more scalable: You can tailor discussions based on what’s best for the conversation rather than the size of the lecture hall. Virtual classrooms also break down barriers of formality. All of these things could actually stand to make higher education more accessible—and not just during the pandemic, but afterwards as well.


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