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Pfizer Tests COVID-19 Pill As Preventive Medicine

NEW YORK — Pfizer has started testing its potential COVID-19 treatment as a preventive medicine aimed at warding off the virus if a close contact gets it.

A patient receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a registered nurse. Credit: AP Photo

NEW YORK — Pfizer has started testing its potential COVID-19 treatment as a preventive medicine aimed at warding off the virus if a close contact gets it.

The drugmaker said Monday that it will study the pill it is developing in combination with a low dose of the HIV drug ritonavir in people who are at least 18 years old and live in the same household with someone who is infected.

Pfizer plans to enroll 2,660 people in the late-stage study. Those participating will get either the treatment combination or a fake drug orally twice a day for five to 10 days.

Researchers expect that the use of ritonavir will help slow the breakdown of the potential treatment so it remains active longer to help fight the virus.

"If successful, we believe this therapy could help stop the virus early – before it has had a chance to replicate extensively," Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Dr.Mikael Dolsten said in a statement from the drugmaker.

Pfizer Inc. also is studying its potential treatment in people who are already infected with the virus. It's designed to be prescribed at the first sign of infection without requiring patients to be hospitalized. The drugmaker expects to see results from those studies by the end of the year.

The pill aims to block a key enzyme that the virus needs to replicate.

MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. has enough COVID-19 vaccines for boosters, kids' shots
— Rowdy celebrations erupt in Norway as COVID restrictions end
— EXPLAINER: Who's eligible for Pfizer booster shots in US?

HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LYON, France — French President Emmanuel Macron and the World Health Organization chief have kicked off construction of a multimillion-dollar "WHO Academy" that aims to educate health workers and others in-person and virtually, after COVID-19 has upended school systems across the globe.

The French leader and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus launched a groundbreaking for the site in the southeastern city of Lyon on Monday ahead of a planned opening of the campus in 2024.

But before then, WHO Academy hopes to churn out 100 "major learning programs" by 2023 – through online classes – and use virtual reality, educational games and artificial intelligence to help WHO's workforce and health care workers and educators globally. Major programs will include vaccine equity for coronavirus vaccines, universal health coverage and health emergencies – all key projects for WHO.

The WHO Academy aims to reach millions of people, not just those in the healthcare world, to help keep pace of the blistering pace of scientific change in health care.

The academy is headed by former French health minister Agnes Buzyn, and France has contributed more than 120 million euros ($140 million) to the project.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The coronavirus patients that fill the intensive care unit at a Rapid City hospital are forcing other patients in need of an ICU bed to wait.

The director of the ICU nursing unit at Monument Health hospital, George Sazama, said one man in need of open heart surgery was told he would have to wait longer than expected.

"That's one of the hardest things we have to do right now because of all the COVID-19 patients needing care first," said Sazama.

The man was angry, but at least understanding, Sazama said.

"He's been trying to get in to have open heart surgery for over a month and we can't get him in to do (it)," Sazama said.

ICU nurse Daniel Warnke says those infected with coronavirus are staying longer in the unit than regular patients, the Rapid City Journal reported.

"Most of our ICU patients that are non-COVID we'll have here today or two days, sometimes a little bit longer. For our COVID patients, we are sitting on them for 20 to 30 to 40 days. And you know, we just had one pass yesterday that's been with us for awhile," Warnke said.

Warnke doesn't know what the light at the end of the tunnel may be.

"We thought the vaccine would be in all honesty," Warnke said. "I think the people in health care, myself personally, thought that was it."

BANGKOK — Thailand's state agency for combating the coronavirus announced plans Monday to ease the quarantine period for arrivals from abroad and shorten a curfew.

The measures announced by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration are set to take effect Friday. They must first be approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday.

In a bid to revive the country's moribund tourism industry, vaccinated foreign visitors to 10 provinces popular with tourists, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya, need not quarantine from Nov. 1. A pilot program instituted in July allowed visitors to Phuket and Samui to forgo quarantine.

In the run-up to the November reopenings, fully vaccinated people arriving from abroad from Oct. 1 will have to quarantine for seven days, a reduction from the currently mandated 14 days.

Those arriving by air or sea without proof of being fully vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days, while visitors entering by land — generally migrant workers — will have to quarantine for 14 days.

The center also announced that a 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew currently in effect in 29 provinces with significant numbers of coronavirus infections will henceforth start at 10 p.m.

Many institutions made to close to fight the spread of the virus, including libraries, spas and nail salons, will be allowed to reopen.

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will finally meet with members of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaigning group, who have criticized his handling of the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year.

Johnson's Downing Street office confirmed that the prime minister will hold a "private meeting" with members of the group Tuesday.

The group said family members will tell the stories of how their loved ones caught the virus and reiterate their calls for a statutory inquiry into the pandemic to start soon.

The group has also asked for the meeting to take place outside and that social distancing is observed.

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said it has "over a year since the prime minister first said he would meet us and in that time over 100,000 people across the country have lost their lives with COVID-19."

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand's prime minister says the government will start a pilot program of home-isolation for overseas travelers, ahead of what she expects to be increasing vaccination levels.

Currently New Zealanders have to quarantine in hotels for two weeks when they return home from abroad.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday a pilot program that will allow New Zealanders to quarantine at home will include 150 business travelers who arrive between Oct. 30 and Dec. 8. The program will involve monitoring and testing.

"The only reason that we are running this self-isolation pilot now is in preparation for a highly vaccinated population," Ardern said.

"The intention is that in the first quarter of 2022 when more New Zealanders are vaccinated, it will be safer to run self-isolation at home," she added.

Of the eligible population in New Zealand aged 12 and older, 43% had been fully vaccinated, Ardern said.

In Auckland, the nation's most populous city which has been locked down since Aug. 17 after the highly-contagious delta variant leaked from hotel quarantine, 82% of the eligible population had at least a single dose of the double-shot Pfizer vaccine, she said.

New Zealand has taken an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus and has been trying to completely eliminate the delta variant.

SYDNEY — Australia's prime minister says he expects his country to open its international border well before the end of the year.

Australian governments have agreed to ease tight restrictions on overseas travel when 80% of the population aged 16 and older was fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the first steps would allow Australians to leave and fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to return home.

"That will occur before the end of the year. It could happen well before that," Morrison told American broadcaster CBS News.

More than 90% of the target age group in Australia's most populous state and the worst impacted by the nation's COVID-19 outbreak, New South Wales, will be vaccinated by the end of November, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

New South Wales reported 787 new locally acquired infections on Monday and 12 deaths in the latest 24-hour period.
Sydney's lockdown would ease on Oct. 11 after 70% of the state's population had received second doses of vaccine, Berejiklian said. With 85% of the target population already injected with at least a single vaccine dose, the 80% target is expected to be reached two weeks after the 70% benchmark.

On Dec. 1, unvaccinated people are expected to have their pandemic restrictions lifted.

State Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said she expected 92% of the target population would eventually be vaccinated.
New South Wales has the fastest vaccination rollout in Australia after the Australian Capital Territory.

SEATTLE — A Washington state trooper who helped develop the agency's use of drones has died after a battle with COVID-19 contracted on duty.

The Washington State Patrol said Detective Eric Gunderson died Sunday surrounded by his family and friends. He was 38. Gunderson frequently traveled around the country to speak about the state patrol's use of drones.

The patrol said he contracted COVID-19 on one of those trips. Gunderson helped investigate the 2017 Amtrak derailment in DuPont and his work is credited with reopening roads more quickly after crashes.

He is survived by a wife and two sons. Gunderson's death is the first line of duty death for the agency since it marked its 100th anniversary a few weeks ago, Chief John Batiste said. "How I had hoped our second century of service would be more forgiving. But serving the public, as we do, has inherent dangers and this pandemic has been a foe to our agency and indeed our state and nation," he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted his condolences to Gunderson's family, friends and colleagues.

LOS ANGELES — Public health officials have identified more than 200 coronavirus outbreaks at police or fire agencies throughout Los Angeles County since the start of the pandemic, according to data obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The 211 outbreaks, accounting for more than 2,500 cases between March 2020 and last month, represent 9% of total workplace outbreaks across the county, the newspaper reported Sunday. However, they have continued to occur regularly even as vaccination rates increased among police and fire personnel and the number of individual coronavirus cases per outbreak has fallen since last winter.

The data showed 38 outbreaks at public safety agencies were identified in April of this year — the most in any month since the start of the pandemic. A month later, 35 outbreaks — the second most — were recorded by the county Department of Public Health.

Overall, more than half of the outbreaks occurred at the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department, where some employees have filed lawsuits challenging a new rule requiring them to be vaccinated by next month. Thousands have filed notice that they intend to claim a medical or religious exemption from the mandate.

Vaccination rates for LAPD an LAFD employees generally lag behind the 68% of eligible county residents who have gotten their shots.

Critics have accused the police officers and city firefighters of ignoring public safety — and their sworn duties to uphold it — by refusing to get vaccinated.

 

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