Health Highlights: March 12, 2021

Novavax's COVID-19 Vaccine Highly Effective in Clinical Trials

A COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax was 96% effective against the original strain of the coronavirus in preventing mild, moderate and severe cases of illness and 100% effective against severe disease caused by new, more contagious variants, two new clinical trials show.

However, its effectiveness against mild and moderate illness fell to 86% against the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom and to 55% against the B.1.351 variant that's become dominant in South Africa, the Washington Post reported.

The new findings, which haven't been peer-reviewed or published yet, support an interim analysis released in January.

"Our take on this is this is a very good result. It is important to prevent severe disease; it would be ideal to prevent all disease," said Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax, the Post reported.

"A trend we're seeing, even with these variants, is that these vaccines are retaining high efficacy against severe disease," said Kathleen Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "I really loved seeing the 100 percent efficacy against severe disease."

The company said it will present the data to regulatory agencies worldwide, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A large, 30,000 person trial is ongoing in the United States and Mexico.

Millions of Women Lost Access to Birth Control Due to Pandemic

Millions of women worldwide lost access to birth control and other family planning services due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says.

The agency estimates that 12 million women in 115 low- to middle-income countries were "unable to access family planning services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," and that the disruptions lasted an average of 3.6 months and resulted in about 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies in 2020, CBS News reported.

The UNFPA said the "severe social and economic impacts of COVID-19 demand intensified action for women and girls."

"Once again, the fundamental story is that COVID has indeed wrought devastation on women's bodies and their lives," Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA executive director, told CBS News. "Women who face this disruption could face a lifelong impact."

Kanem said creative solutions helped many women get contraceptives despite lockdowns and quarantines. In Uganda, a UNFPA-led project redirected ride-share drivers to help shuttle reproductive health items from pharmacies to patients.

But Thursday's report says that even the reduced numbers are still a "concern" and that "severe social and economic impacts of COVID-19 demand intensified action for women and girls."

Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine 97% Effective Against Symptomatic Disease

Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine is 97% effective in preventing symptomatic disease in actual use, which is better than previously thought.

The analysis of data gathered from Jan. 17 to March 6 from Israel's vaccination campaign also showed that the vaccine is 94% effective against asymptomatic disease, CBS News reported.

"We are extremely encouraged that the real-world effectiveness data coming from Israel are confirming the high efficacy demonstrated in our Phase 3 clinical trial and showing the significant impact of the vaccine in preventing severe disease and deaths due to COVID-19," said Luis Jodar, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Pfizer Vaccines.

A previous real-world study found that the vaccine was 94% effective against symptomatic disease and 92% effective against asymptomatic disease, CBS News reported.

The new study comes on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic. More than 525,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and over 2.6 million people have died worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.

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