Thursday Miscellany

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

President Biden has issued a blizzard of executive orders over the last day and a half. The Hill summarizes them in this article, and for more details you can find the text of each order on Whitehouse.gov.

STAT News reports that

The Biden administration is willing to consider almost anything to boost the nation’s dwindling supply of Covid-19 vaccines.

A new strategy document released Thursday, totaling nearly 200 pages, offers the first clear list of the options President Biden has before him, though it doesn’t specifically say he’ll actually take all of the steps. On the list are some controversial ideas, like cutting the amount of vaccine being administered to each American. He’s also made it clear he wants to utilize the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of key supplies, and some more straightforward options like buying more doses.

Governors and mayors around the country have complained in recent weeks that they do not have enough vaccines to meet current demand. Biden, too, has acknowledged that the supply of physical vaccines is not where it needs to be to vaccinate a majority of Americans. Already, the Trump administration stopped holding vials in reserve, in hopes of releasing more vaccines to the public.

As of today, the CDC reports that nearly 38 million doses of the two dose vaccines have been distributed and around 17.5 million have been administered. 2.1 million of those doses have been administered at long term care facilities.

In that regard, the AP reports that

Drugmaker Eli Lilly said Thursday its antibody drug can prevent COVID-19 illness in residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

It’s the first major study to show such a treatment may prevent illness in a group that has been devastated by the pandemic. 

Residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19 compared to others at the same facility who got a placebo, the drugmaker said. Among nursing home residents only, the risk was reduced by up to 80%.

The study involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations like assisted living homes. The vast majority tested negative at the start of the study. Some were assigned to get the drug, called bamlanivimab and which is given through an IV, and others got placebo infusions.

Also on the prescription drug front, STAT News informs us that

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a monthly injectable medication, a regimen designed to rival pills that must be taken daily.

The newly approved medicine, which is called Cabenuva, represents a significant advance in treating what continues to be a highly infectious disease. In 2018, for instance, there were approximately 36,400 newly infected patients living with HIV in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1.7 million people worldwide became newly infected in 2019, according to UNAIDS.

Although several medicines exist for treating HIV, ViiV Healthcare is banking on the improved convenience of getting a monthly shot, even if it must be administered by a health care provider. The company, which is largely controlled by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), gathered data showing nine of 10 patients in pivotal studies claimed to prefer the shot over taking pills each day.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a phenomenon that has attracted the FEHBlog’s attention — the low levels of flu infections this winter across the Northern Hemisphere, including the U.S.

The WHO says the measures people and governments are taking to prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as wearing masks and limiting public gatherings, have probably helped keep the flu in check. Increased flu vaccination rates may also be contributing, it says.

Another hypothesis holds that the broad spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in countries like the U.S. may play a role in blocking the flu by lifting people’s immunity against other viruses. One study in the spring of 2020 in New York City found that people testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 were far less likely to be carrying other common viruses such as influenza viruses. Still, research into that hypothesis is just beginning.

What is clear is the historically low number of people with the flu.

The FEHBlog also ran across another interesting Cyberscoop article with more of the backstory on the SolarWinds backdoor hack as uncovered by Microsoft.

Attackers behind an espionage campaign that exploited software built by the federal contractor SolarWinds separated their most prized hacking tool from other malicious code on victim networks to avoid detection, Microsoft said Wednesday.

The findings make clear that, while the hackers have relied on a variety of tools in their spying, the tampered SolarWinds software functioned as the cornerstone of an operation that Microsoft described as “one of the most sophisticated and protracted” of the decade. Multiple U.S. federal agencies focused on national security have been breached in the campaign, which U.S. officials have linked to Russia. * * *

After the SolarWinds trojan was delivered to organizations, the attackers spent about a month pinpointing victims, according to Microsoft. As early as May 2020, the hackers were doing the “real hands-on-keyboard activity” of moving through victim networks for valuable data, Microsoft said.

The hackers were meticulous in covering their tracks. They prepared unique malicious code implants for each victim machine, according to Microsoft, and changed timestamps of the digital clues they left behind to complicate the recovery process for organizations. Microsoft called the former technique an “incredible effort normally not seen with other adversaries and done to prevent full identification of all compromised assets.”

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