COVID-19 Update: New Naming System, Support for Investigation and More


News continues to come out about COVID-19, including support for an investigation into the origins of the virus, a new naming system, and legal discussions of whether employers can mandate vaccination. Here’s a look.

WHO Creates Naming System for COVID-19 Variants

The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a new way to identify COVID-19 variants. The rationale was to get away from place-of-origin names, such as South African variant or UK variant, which can be stigmatizing as well as potentially inaccurate. For example, researchers now believe the 1918 Spanish flu may have originated in Kansas or France. 

The other reason is the complexity and potential confusion of the scientific system, where the UK variant is G.1.1.7, the South African is B.1.351, for example. The new system will use Greek letters so that the UK variant will be Alpha, the South African variant will be Beta, and the India variant will be Delta, and so on. You can expect the media to continue referring to the variants by their perceived country of origin while adding the Greek letter.

Scientists Support Full Investigation of Viral Leak Theory

What first began as something of a conspiracy theory during the Trump administration, governments and scientists are supporting a fuller investigation into the possible origins of COVID-19 as a leak from a laboratory, for example, China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

The predominant theory has been that the virus originated from bats, jumped to an animal, such as a pangolin or civet cat, then to humans. But so far, researchers have been unable to identify an intermediate viral strain. 

Meanwhile, more circumstantial evidence supports the possibility of a laboratory leak. Peter Hotez, professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and a leading expert on COVID-19, said he believed concrete conclusions about how the virus emerged were “absolutely essential” to prevent future pandemics. 

“I’m personally of the opinion we’ve pushed intelligence as far as we can. What we need to do is an outbreak investigation,” Hotez said. 

Bipartisan support in the US has grown for a congressional probe into the virus’s origin. President Biden ordered a 90-day investigation by US intelligence agencies.

Texas Re. Mike McCaul, apparently with no supporting evidence, said that it was “more likely than not” that COVID-19 came from a lab accident and called it the “worst cover-up in human history.” McCaul is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, although he admitted that any investigation would be inconclusive because “they (the Chinese) have destroyed everything at the lab.” He also suggested that in order to punish China for the alleged cover-up, the US should begin a trade embargo on certain Chinese goods. 

US Companies Can Legally Mandate Vaccinations

ON FRIDAY, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that US companies could require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. No EEOC laws prevent that as long as the companies comply with reasonable accommodation aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other labor laws. They may also offer incentives to employees “as long as the incentives are not coercive.”

New Variant from Vietnam is Highly Contagious

Vietnam reported a new COVID-19 variant that they believe is highly contagious. It appears to be a hybrid of strains first isolated in India (Delta) and the UK (Alpha). The country reported more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths in the last few weeks. The country was often touted as an example of how to contain the virus due to its early screenings at airports and strict quarantine measures. But since late April, the numbers have grown rapidly.

Moderna Initiates Rolling Submission to FDA for Full Approval of COVID-19 Vaccine

Moderna announced that it had begun the rolling submission of its Biologics License Application (BLA) to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in people 18 years of age and older. So far, it was granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on December 18, 2020, which is not a full approval and licensure. It expects to submit data over the next several weeks with a request for a Priority Review.

“We look forward to working with the FDA and will continue to submit data from our Phase III study and complete the rolling submission,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer.

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