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A summary of important health news from the past week.

FDA Gives Emergency Authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine

By: Shawn Radcliffe

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J)COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. The Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted unanimously 22-0 in favor of the emergency authorization on February 26th, 2021. The vaccine is “fridge stable” which means it can be shipped and stored at standard refrigerator temperatures whereas both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be stored in ultracold freezers until being thawed prior to use. An analysis of J&J data by FDA scientists found that this vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19 infections, but it shows a lower overall effectiveness at about 66% against moderate-to-severe COVID-19 at least 14 days after infection. Efficacy also varied by region. J&J tested its vaccine in a phase 3 clinical trial involving almost 44,000 people in the United States, Brazil, and South Africa. It was 72% effective in the U.S, 68% effective in Brazil, and 64% effective in South Africa where a new coronavirus variant emerged in the fall. The scientists have also identified “no specific safety concerns.”

Rheumatoid Arthritis Meds May Help Fight Severe COVID

By: Steven Reinberg

A peer-reviewed study published by the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that rheumatoid arthritis medications tocilizumab and sarilumab may reduce the risk of death for patients suffering from severe symptoms of COVID-19 on Feb. 25. The trial, originally published in November, revealed that the risk of death could be reduced by 25% and shorten the length of hospital stays dramatically. After previous studies showed that the arthritis drugs showed no significant benefits in aiding COVID-19 patients, the clinical trial published by NEJM indicates that the drugs may help patients with severe cases of COVID-19. The trial placed patients with critical illnesses on organ support within 24 hours of enrollment, which scientists speculate may be the reason why the drugs have shown significant benefits on disease progress or survival in COVID-19 patients.

“It’s criminal”: A Texas community left without aid in the cold

By: Nicole Narea

Forest Bluff, a predominantly Hispanic community, has been forgotten by their local government. Gloria Vera-Bedolla is a Latina community organizer for Forest Bluff and also serves as a liaison between her community and the city government. She feels like her neighborhood continues to suffer from social injustice, food injustice, and systemic racism. Many of her community members live in poorly insulated homes and lack transportation to access food and essential supplies. These issues are exacerbated by the fact that many of the community members are undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for public benefits. They have no choice but to walk over 10 miles to the nearest major grocery store and pay absurd prices for expired food. These issues are not new nor surprising, but with the recent Texas blackouts, these issues have reached a boiling point for hard hit communities.