The Latest: Trial of arthritis drug for COVID-19 is halted

LONDON — An arthritis drug tried in patients with severe COVID-19 showed no benefit in a study that was stopped early because of safety concerns. The study was published Wednesday in the British journal The BMJ.

The drug tocilizumab hadn’t been recommended outside a clinical trial, but some less rigorous research had suggested it could help.

The study found more deaths in patients who received the drug. The deaths were attributed to COVID-19 related breathing problems or organ failure.

The drug is sold by Switzerland-based Roche as Actemra and RoActemra for treating rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases. It lowers inflammation by tamping down a protein called interleukin-6 that’s often found in excess in COVID-19 patients.

The study involving 129 patients at nine hospitals in Brazil found no benefit for those who got the arthritis drug along with standard care. Two weeks later, 11 patients who received the drug had died, against two in the other half who didn’t.



Britain hits another record daily virus deaths. Ontario’s leader asks Biden for 1 million vaccine shots due to Pfizer shortfall for Canada. India to start delivering Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to neighboring countries. Expert panel says both China and the WHO should have acted faster to prevent the pandemic. Surging infections give Spain’s new emergency hospital in Madrid a chance for use. Italy ponders suing Pfizer for vaccine delays.

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ATLANTA — Judges say Georgia’s court system could take years to dig out of a backlog of jury trials delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton told lawmakers during hearings Wednesday that it could take one to two years to catch up. Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett estimated it could be more like three years.

Under state law, Melton has been renewing a declaration of judicial emergency every 30 days, limiting what court cases can happen in person. He says he’s eager to resume jury trials as soon as possible.

For a period late last year, Melton allowed some jury trials to go ahead. But Melton says rising infection rates forced another shutdown.


SACRAMENTO — California reported its second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths Wednesday but also a dip in hospitalizations below 20,000 for the first time since Dec. 27.

The California Department of Public Health has reported the total of 694 new deaths is second to the record 708 reported on Jan. 8. Hospitalizations stood at 19,979.

California officials are pinning their hopes on President Joe Biden as they struggle to obtain coronavirus vaccines to curb a coronavirus surge that has packed hospitals and morgues.

Doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been arriving haphazardly as they make their way from the source to counties, cities and hospitals.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health has said a pharmacy responsible for distributing the coronavirus vaccine to Ohio nursing homes failed to document storage temperatures for leftover shots, resulting in 890 doses being wasted.

The agency said on Wednesday that it suspended SpecialtyRx in Columbus from the distribution system and ordered it not to administer any of the wasted doses.

Officials said SpecialtyRx received an initial 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine late last year for distribution to eight nursing homes and had 890 leftover.

The state said the company failed to properly record the minimum and maximum refrigerator and freezer temperatures for the leftover doses each day during transportation.

Department spokesperson Melanie Amato said the doses are considered wasted because the monitoring wasn’t done properly.

An official with New Jersey-based SpecialtyRx said Wednesday she wasn’t aware of the problem but promised a company response.


NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he expects the state to exhaust its supply of vaccine available to people receiving their first dose within two or three days.

“What’s clear now is we’re going to be going from week to week and you will see a constant pattern of basically running out, waiting for the next week’s allocation, and then starting up again,” the Democrat said.

He urged health care facilities to be careful not to schedule appointments to give away vaccine they haven’t been allocated yet, “because we don’t know what we’re going to get next week and we don’t know where we’re going to distribute it next week.”


OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Wednesday that it is seeking volunteers to help at vaccination sites in the state.

The department’s Medical Reserve Corps said Wednesday that both medical and non-medical volunteers are needed to give vaccinations, handle registration and other tasks. The volunteers work at points of dispensing sites at more than 50 locations in the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Oklahoma has administered 242,093 vaccinations, including 30,919 to people who have now received the required two doses of vaccine. The CDC reported the state has received 455,275 doses thus far.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Oklahoma had the fourth highest number of new cases per capita in the nation Wednesday with 1,270 per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks. The health department reported 1,986 new cases Wednesday and 48 more deaths due to the virus.


TOPEKA, Kan. — The top health official in Kansas has told lawmakers that the state will likely see a small uptick in immediate supply of the COVID-19 vaccine with the change in presidential administrations.

In a joint hearing Tuesday before Senate and House health panels, Dr. Lee Norman, head of the state health department, said he has been told the state will probably get a 1% or 2% increase in its vaccine supply in the short run.

The federal government allocates vaccines to states based on population. Kansas, with its population of 3 million, receives 1% of the nation’s allocated vaccines, he said, adding that the state has at times been shorted as much as half of its anticipated supply.

The state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout prioritizes health care workers and nursing homes in its first phase, which is almost complete. About a third of the state’s population will be covered in the second phase, which covers people ages 65 and older, those in congregate settings such as prisons, and high-contact critical workers.


MADRID — Spain’s government is resisting calls by regional health authorities to let them impose earlier curfews amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

Spain’s hospitals are filling up again after a third rise in infections since the start of the pandemic. Another 464 people were reported dead on Wednesday, increasing the confirmed death toll to 54,637.

Some regions want the government to allow a change of the curfew to 8 p.m., instead of the current 10 p.m. allowed under a state of emergency.

Health Minister Salvador Illa says the ministry would “evaluate” the request, even though he insisted it wasn’t needed because of current measures.

Spain registered another 41,000 cases on Wednesday in the midst of rolling out its vaccination program. Despite the recent hiccups in the shipments the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Spain broke 1 million vaccines administered on Wednesday.

Spain has 2.4 million confirmed cases, eighth in the world. It has registered more than 54,000 deaths, 10th globally.


RIO DE JANEIRO — At 106, Zélia de Carvalho Morley rolled up a sleeve and looked stoically to the side as a nurse slid in a COVID-19 shot.

She was one of thousands in Brazil to get the vaccine on Wednesday, but one of very few old enough to recall a viral pandemic that swept her nation and the world a century ago.

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1914, Morley was a girl when the Spanish flu killed millions around the world in 1918-1920, when no vaccines were available.

“The whole of Brazil caught it. Too many people died,” Morley told The Associated Press. “I think this vaccine is going to be very good.”

She displayed a generous smile before placing her light blue mask back on her face.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s top health official expressed his optimism that the government can get about one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by March.

Faisal Sultan says Pakistan’s talks with the manufacturers of Sinopharm and Cansino vaccines are at an advanced stage. He says Sinopharm’s vaccine has been used in several countries and it had an efficacy of 80% to 85%.

He says clinical trials of Cansino’s vaccine are near completion in Pakistan and their results will be available soon. Sultan says health workers will get vaccine first and 400,000 health workers had registered for it.

Pakistan reported 48 new deaths from coronavirus and 1,772 cases in the past 24 hours. Pakistan has registered 11,103 total confirmed deaths and 524,783 cases.


LONDON — For the second day running, Britain had another record increase in coronavirus-related deaths.

The government says another 1,820 people died in the 28 days after testing positive for the coronavirus. That takes the confirmed total to 93,290, which is Europe’s highest virus-related death toll and fifth highest in the world.

The lockdown restrictions across the U.K. have helped reduce the number of people contracting the virus, although the U.K. is still recording high levels of infections when compared with other nations in Europe, such as France or Germany.

On Wednesday, the U.K. recorded another 38,905 new cases. That’s up from the previous day’s 33,355. However, it’s below the seven-day average of nearly 60,000 earlier this month.


NEW YORK — The incoming CDC director is arriving at an agency that’s been relegated to the sidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky arrives at the CDC this week as the U.S. coronavirus death toll eclipses 400,000, and the nation’s largest vaccination campaign is wracked by confusion and delays.

Experts say while the agency has retained some of its top scientific talent, it needs protection from political influence, a review of its own missteps and more money.

Last week, President-elect Joe Biden said he would ask for $160 billion for vaccinations and other public health programs, including an effort to expand the public health workforce by 100,000 jobs.

Walensky, 51, an infectious-diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. An HIV researcher, she has emerged as a prominent voice on the pandemic, sometimes criticizing aspects of the state and national response.

She will succeed Dr. Robert Redfield, 69, who came to the CDC with a similar resume as an outsider from academia.


PARIS — French university students are protesting on the Left Bank of Paris to be allowed back to class.

They also want to call attention to suicides and financial troubles among students cut off from friends, professors and job opportunities amid the pandemic. Carrying a banner reading “We Will Not Be the Sacrificed Generation,” hundreds of university students gathered in the French capital to march on the Education Ministry.

Other student protests were planned Wednesday elsewhere in France. The government ordered all universities closed in October to stem resurgent coronavirus infections.

France tightened its curfew last week as virus hospitalizations grew. Prime Minister Jean Castex made a gesture toward college students, allowing first-year students to start returning to partial classes next week.

France has 2.9 million cases, sixth in the world, and more than 71,000 confirmed deaths.


LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has the highest seven-day average rate of new cases per capita and the second-highest rate of new deaths in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The daily new cases per 100,000 population rose from 51 on Jan. 5 to 98 on Tuesday. The average daily deaths per capita rose from 0.75 to 1.63 during the same period.

Portugal is in lockdown, but the government is reluctant to close schools. Authorities have launched a program of rapid coronavirus tests at schools in the hardest-hit areas of the country. They say if schools close, some children won’t get proper meals, have computer access or help with their studies.

Some teachers are unhappy about the policy, pressing for a national school closure.

The surge is pushing the public health system, especially hospitals, to capacity. The Health Ministry expects to open a field hospital Wednesday with 58 beds on the grounds of the Lisbon University campus. Authorities are opening more temporary medical installations at sites outside the health sector, including hotels, university residences and churches, with 2,300 beds.

Portugal reported 10,455 new confirmed cases and 218 deaths in the last 24 hours. That increased the overall totals to 566,958 cases and 9,246 deaths.

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