First pill to treat COVID approved in UK; cases edge higher in 24 states: Live COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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Britain on Thursday became the first nation to approve a pill to treat COVID.

British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the treatment will be a “game changer” for those most vulnerable to symptoms of the virus. The tablet, called molnupiravir, was developed by New Jersey-based Merck and will be given twice a day to patients recently diagnosed with the disease. Javid said the drug, initially developed as a treatment for the flu, can cut the risk of hospitalization or death in half. 

“Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for COVID-19,” Javi said. “This will be a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment.”

Merck said in a statement that the antiviral medicine was authorized for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who have at least one risk factor for developing severe illness. The company said it is submitting  applications to other regulatory agencies around the world.

Dr. Mark Denison and his team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, along with colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Emory University, led the development of molnupiravir starting in 2016. Here’s a look at how it happened.

Also in the news:

►Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s reigning MVP, tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss Sunday’s marquee game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Rodgers is not vaccinated and lied to the media about it

►The National Institutes of Health will sponsor a four-year study to assess the long-term effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their children.

►The World Health Organization granted emergency use authorization to an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, that had been used for months in the country. It is the eighth vaccine to which the WHO has given use authorization.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded 46.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 750,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 248.2 million cases and 5 million deaths. More than 192.9 million Americans — 58.1% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: A study of deer in Iowa that have contracted the coronavirus suggests they could become “a major reservoir host” that allows the virus to mutate and re-enter humans.

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Workers at big companies face Jan. 4 deadline for vaccination or testing

Workers at larger businesses must get vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face regular testing under federal rules being released Thursday. Workers who choose the testing option may have to bear the cost. They also will be required to wear a face mask on the job, beginning Dec. 5. The rules fill in the details for the vaccination requirement President Joe Biden announced in September for businesses with 100 or more employees.

“COVID-19 continues to hold back our workforce and our economy – and it will continue to do so until more Americans are vaccinated,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, wrote in an opinion piece for USA TODAY.

Maureen Groppe

Infections rising in 24 states

COVID-19 infections appear to be creeping higher in about half of U.S. states as winter approaches, suggesting that the nation may not have seen the last of the delta variant surge of the virus that throughout the pandemic has killed more than 750,000 Americans.

Cases rose week-over-week in 24 states in the seven-day period that ended Wednesday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data suggests. The rolling average of seven-day case counts nationwide has stabilized around 500,000 over the last 10 days after a month of steady declines.

Cases were rising primarily in colder states that hadn’t been as hard-hit in the worst of the delta wave. They included Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.

– Mike Stucka

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COVID-19 claims 750K U.S. lives, deadliest event in nation’s history

The U.S. has surpassed 750,000 COVID-19 deaths, which is more than the populations of Vermont, Wyoming or Alaska.


US life expectancy takes hit from pandemic

U.S. life expectancy fell by almost two years in 2020 from 2019 as the pandemic shook the world, according to a study of 37 nations published in the BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal. Life expectancy fell by about 2.3 years for American men, while Americay women lost 1.6 years. Russia had the steepest drop, 2.33 years for men, 2.14 years for women. The U.S. was second. The study, led by an Oxford University public health researcher, looked at 37 upper-middle and high income countries or regions “with reliable and complete mortality” data. A handful of countries were able to minimize the decline.

“More than 28 million excess years of life were lost in 2020 in 31 countries, with a higher rate in men than women,” the authors said in summary.

Infected deer could bring altered virus to humans

The coronavirus appears to have infected many of Iowa’s deer, posing risks the virus could mutate in the animals and then re-enter the human population in an altered version, a new study says. The paper, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, has been posted online. The findings were a surprise to the researchers, including veterinary microbiologists  Suresh Kuchipudi and Vivek Kapur who led the Penn State study. 

“Our results suggest that deer have the potential to emerge as a major reservoir host” for the coronavirus, the Penn State University study says.

– Andrea May Sahouri, Tony Leys and Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register

COVID a killer for patients infected in hospitals

More than 10,000 patients were diagnosed with COVID in a U.S. hospital last year after they were admitted for something else, according to federal and state records analyzed exclusively for KHN. The number is certainly an undercount, since it includes mostly patients 65 and older, plus California and Florida patients of all ages.

About 21% of the patients who contracted the virus in the hospital from April to September last year died, the data shows. In contrast, nearly 8% of other Medicare patients died in the hospital at the time. Read more here.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News

Suicide rate fell overall during pandemic

The overall number of suicides in 2020 was 3% lower than in 2019 despite the pandemic, according to the study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. However, the report found the suicide rate among Hispanic males increased 5% from 2019 to 2020. And rates increased for all males ages 10 to 14 by 13%, and 5% among those 25 to 34. 

“Suicide is complex and multifaceted and just having an increase in risk factors does not translate to more deaths by suicide,” said the study’s lead author Sally Curtin, a health statistician at NCHS. “The findings illustrate the complexity of suicide.”

Adrianna Rodriguez

Vaccinations underway for kids as young as 5

Young children began receiving COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday in what was a moment of joy not only for their parents but the kids themselves. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, a group of immunization and public health scientists from California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective for children aged 5 to 11 on Wednesday. The workgroup’s decision reinforces the FDA’s authorization of the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, and officially allowed California to start vaccinating young children.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that 20,000 sites nationwide would be available by next week to administer the children’s vaccine, and he pointed out that minors make up one-fourth of the COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 and boosters (to) provide additional protection for seniors and others are two major steps forward that are going to accelerate our path out of this pandemic,” Biden said.

Risk of myocarditis appears small for kids

Now that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in children 5 through 11, there’s concern that some will develop myocarditis, a swelling of the heart muscle. But it’s not clear how many – and millions of children will have to be vaccinated before it is known. Trials in younger children have been too small to show the rare side effect, just as trials in adults did not reveal myocarditis as a possible side effect of the shots.

“Getting COVID I think is much riskier to the heart than getting this vaccine, no matter what age and sex you are,” Dr. Matthew Oster, a  pediatric cardiologist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told an advisory committee Tuesday. “The risk of having some sort of bad heart involvement is much higher if you get COVID than if you get this vaccine.”

Karen Weintraub

Contributing: The Associated Press