What We’re Reading: J&J, Novavax Release COVID-19 Vaccine Data; Undercounted Nursing Home Deaths; Experts Encourage Double Masking

Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, release positive results from phase 3 trials on their respective coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines; report indicates undercounted nursing home deaths in New York; experts push for improved mask practices.

J&J, Novavax Announce COVID-19 Vaccine Data

Both Johnson & Johnson and Novavax announced positive results of phase 3 trials demonstrating efficacy of each company’s respective coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be 72% effective in the United States and 66% effective overall at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, 28 days after administration. However, the efficacy rate dropped to 57% in South Africa, where nearly all cases were due to infection with COVID-19 variant B.1.351. In comparison, the Novavax vaccine, which is given in 2 doses, demonstrated 89.3% efficacy in a United Kingdom trial but dropped to 49% in a trial conducted on 4400 volunteers in South Africa. On January 28, the highly transmissible variant B.1.351. was reported for the first time in the United States, in 2 cases in South Carolina.

Report Finds New York Nursing Homes Undercounted Deaths

According to a new state attorney general’s report, the New York State Department of Health undercounted deaths from COVID-19 among nursing home residents by approximately 50%, CNN reports. The findings are based on a survey of 62 nursing homes across the state, accounting for a 10% sample of total facilities in New York. Data suggest the undercount is due to the fact that nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 in hospitals after being transported from nursing homes were not recorded in the department of health’s published data. Underreporting to the department by some nursing homes regarding deaths that occurred in the facilities also appears to have taken place. The New York state health commissioner Howard Zucker, MD, JD, denied there was an undercount in a statement.

Experts Encourage Improved Mask Practices

In light of new highly transmissible variants of COVID-19 spreading around the globe, experts are pushing for the public to either wear 2 masks or upgrade the quality of single masks to curb transmission, The Washington Post reports. Either putting a second mask on top of one or donning a fabric mask on top of a surgical mask can help better protect against the variants. Some experts recommend buying high-quality KN95 or N95 masks originally reserved for health-care workers. Both Singapore and South Korea have mass-produced high-quality masks to distribute to residents while several European countries have begun mandating medical-grade masks to be worn in public. CDC guidance does not currently call for double masking or using N95s.