Experts Optimistic in Search for COVID-19 Vaccine

By Serena Gordon

Health Day Reporter

MONDAY, June 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Americans are ready to rip off their face masks and just have a nice dinner in a restaurant, but the best shot at returning to normalcy — vaccines to prevent COVID-19 — will be in clinical trials for months or longer. 

The good news is that there are more than 100 vaccines of varying types and in various stages of development. As of this month, eight of these vaccine candidates were already in early human trials. One research team hopes to have a vaccine available in September. Another is hoping their vaccine will be available by the start of 2021.

Because there are so many vaccine candidates of varying types, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Journal of the American Medical Association he’s “cautiously optimistic” that there will be at least one that works against the novel coronavirus. 

“The majority of people make an immune response which clears the virus. If the body is capable of producing an immune response, that’s a pretty good proof of concept to say that you can get an immune response from a vaccine,” Fauci said. 

But, he added, there’s no guarantee. And Fauci said he’s somewhat concerned about how long a vaccine might keep working. Natural immunity to coronaviruses that cause common colds often lasts less than a year, he noted.

Still, Fauci and other experts believe there will ultimately be several vaccines available to combat the novel coronavirus.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll have a lot of vaccines,” Dr. Paul Offit told the Journal of the American Medical Association. He’s director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Vaccines will likely need to be given in two doses, he said. And, whether or not booster shots will be needed to ensure continued immunity against the virus remains to be seen.

The hurried pace of the research may leave some concerned about the safety of these vaccines.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards, scientific director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville and a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said, “We’re working very hard to generate a safe and effective vaccine. Every single vaccine that I recommend is one I would give my children and grandchildren. We may be going fast, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t being meticulous.”

Vaccine testing a rigorous process

Edwards said there are systems in place, along with numerous checks and balances to ensure safety.

Vaccines generally go through lab and animal research, and then three phases of human trials, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Phase 1 trials are typically very small and look mostly for safety. Phase 2 trials are a bit larger and continue to evaluate safety and its effectiveness. Phase 3 trials are much larger, with a placebo group and at least one group receiving the vaccine to better measure how effective a vaccine is.

Here are some of the vaccines currently in human trials:

·         Moderna. This two-dose vaccine is currently in a phase 2 trial with 600 participants, and is scheduled to move to a phase 3 trial with 30,000 participants in July. It’s a type of vaccine called a messenger RNA vaccine. Essentially, it delivers a message to the body on how to make the antibody that can prevent the infection, according to Edwards. If the clinical trials go well, the company hopes to make the vaccine available by the end of 2020 or the start of 2021.

·         University of Oxford/AstraZeneca. This vaccine — a modified virus that can trigger the production of antibodies — is currently in a phase 2 trial with 500 participants. A phase 3 trial with about 30,000 is planned to begin in early summer. Edwards said this vaccine is likely going to be given in a single dose.

·         Pfizer/BioNTech. This partnership is currently testing four vaccines in phase 1 or 2 trials in Germany. Their vaccines are messenger RNA vaccines. Each trial will include about 200 people.

·         Inovio. This company had already been working on a vaccine for MERS (another infection caused by a coronavirus), which allowed them to quickly switch to working on a vaccine for SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Their vaccine is a DNA vaccine (a type of vaccine that contains the DNA coding specifically for making the antibodies against a particular virus), and phase 2 and 3 trials are expected to begin this summer in the United States. Inovio believes it can have 1 million doses by the end of 2020.

There are also a number of other vaccines in upcoming or ongoing phase 1 trials, including vaccine candidates from Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Sinovac, CanSino Biologics and a collaboration between the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

So, if one or more of these vaccines works well and is safe, how can companies or governments quickly ramp up production?

Fauci explained that the government isn’t waiting.

Millions of vaccine doses will be made before testing is complete

“We’re going to start manufacturing doses of vaccine way before we even know that they work, so that by the beginning of 2021, we will have a couple of million doses,” Fauci said. That way, if testing shows a vaccine works, an initial supply will already be available.

Offit noted that producing tens of millions of doses before it’s known if a vaccine works isn’t unprecedented — it was done with the polio vaccine.

He also urged caution. “There’s a lot at stake here. If we rush it, if we put something out there into people’s arms before we know what we need to know — or as much as we can reasonably know, then I think we could do harm,” he said. 

Still, Offit thinks if everyone pays attention to the science, there is “every reason to think that vaccines will be the heroes of this story.” 

What remains to be seen, however, is whether Americans will embrace a new vaccine. 

The most recent poll, published June 2 and conducted by the Washington Post-ABC News, found that roughly 7 in 10 Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine if immunizations were free and available to everyone.

More information: Learn more about COVID-19 prevention from the World Health Organization
SOURCES: Kathryn Edwards, M.D., fellow, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and professor, pediatrics, and scientific director, Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, Nashville, Tenn.; June 1, 2020, 
Journal of the American Medical Association livestream with Paul Offit, M.D.; June 2, 2020, Journal of the American Medical Association livestream with Anthony Fauci, M.D.; June 2, 2020, Washington Post

Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Most Americans Still More Worried About COVID-19 Spread Than the Economy

By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell

HealthDay Reporters

MONDAY, June 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As the number of U.S. coronavirus cases neared 1.8 million on Monday, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans still think it’s more important to control the virus’ spread than to restart the economy.

While nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the pandemic has taken a heavy economic toll on their communities, a majority of a divided country still believes that containing COVID-19 infections is paramount, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows.

Overall, 57 percent of all Americans and 81 percent of Democrats say trying to control the spread of the coronavirus is most important right now. But only 27 percent of Republicans agree, while 66 percent of them say restarting the economy is more critical. Nearly 6 in 10 independents say their priority is trying to control the virus’s spread, the survey found.

And nearly 7 in 10 Americans say they are worried about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall, the poll showed.

Even as Americans continue to worry about the spread of COVID-19, protests erupted in cities nationwide over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Those protests could become new “super-spreader” events for coronavirus, public health experts worry.

While the spread of coronavirus has slowed in some of the hardest-hit areas of America, other parts of the country were seeing worrying spikes in cases last week.

New York City, once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, is about to ease restrictions after 10 weeks under lockdown, the Post reported.

But even as the New York area began to emerge from strict social distancing measures, other states were seeing jumps in COVID-19 cases, the New York Times reported.

Wisconsin saw its highest single-day increase in both cases and deaths just two weeks after the state’s highest court overturned a stay-at-home order; Alabama, Arkansas, California and North Carolina are seeing some of their highest case numbers and death tallies yet; and metropolitan areas like Fayetteville, Ark.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Roanoke and Charlottesville, Va., may soon see new highs in cases and deaths.

As the U.S. coronavirus death toll passed 104,000 on Monday, jobless numbers released last week show the number of unemployed has now passed 40 million.

Concerns about hydroxychloroquine continue

Meanwhile, safety concerns over a malaria drug that President Donald Trump has touted as a coronavirus treatment prompted the World Health Organization to remove the medication from a global trial of potential COVID-19 therapies last week.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the international health agency’s director-general, said that the WHO decided to take a “pause” in testing hydroxychloroquine after a study published recently in The Lancet medical journal found people who took the drug were more likely to die, the Times reported. Several other studies have found the medication has no benefit and could possibly harm COVID-19 patients.

Regardless, Trump has finished taking a two-week course of the malaria drug to guard against COVID-19 infection after two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus.

And on Sunday, the White House announced it has sent 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to Brazil to battle the spread of coronavirus in that country. Not only that, the two countries are embarking on a joint research effort to study whether the drug is safe and effective for the prevention and early treatment of COVID-19, the Trump administration said.

Disappointing drug trials

Hopes for another drug being tested against coronavirus infection have dimmed, after a major, new study found the drug on its own won’t be enough to significantly curb cases and deaths.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that, “given high mortality [of patients] despite the use of remdesivir, it is clear that treatment with an antiviral drug alone is not likely to be sufficient.”

The remdesivir study involved 1,063 COVID-19 patients and was led by Dr. John Beigel and Dr. Clifford Lane at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The researchers found that the drug, delivered by infusion, did help ease the illness: Patients who got the antiviral recovered after an average of 11 days versus 15 days for those who hadn’t received it.

Patients who were so sick they required supplemental oxygen, but did not need a ventilator to breathe, appeared to benefit most from remdesivir.

But the difference in the overall death rate — 7.1% of patients on the drug vs. 11.9% of those who didn’t get it — did not reach statistical significance, the researchers added.

The study does suggest that early treatment works best. “Our findings highlight the need to identify COVID-19 cases and start antiviral treatment before the pulmonary disease progresses to require mechanical ventilation,” the researchers said.

Early evidence had suggested that remdesivir might help fight coronavirus illness, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave it “emergency use authorization.”

Already, combinations of remdesivir and other drugs are being tried, to see if dual-drug treatments might boost outcomes even more. For example, one federally funded clinical trial is combining remdesivir with a potent anti-inflammatory drug called baricitinib, while a trial from biotech firm CytoDyn is pairing it with an antiviral called leronlimab.

Vaccine efforts continue

Meanwhile, the search for an effective vaccine goes on. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said May 22 it would provide up to $1.2 billion to the drug company AstraZeneca to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University, in England.

The fourth, and largest, vaccine research agreement funds a clinical trial of the potential vaccine in the United States this summer with about 30,000 volunteers, the Times reported.

The goal? To make at least 300 million doses that could be available as early as October, the HHS said in a statement.

However, many experts have said that the earliest an effective, mass-produced vaccine would be available won’t be until sometime next year, and billions of doses would be needed worldwide.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck has also jumped into the fight against the coronavirus, announcing two separate efforts to develop a vaccine and a partnership to develop a promising antiviral drug that can be taken as a pill, the Times reported.

The United States has already agreed to provide up to $483 million to the biotech company Moderna and $500 million to Johnson & Johnson for their vaccine efforts. It is also providing $30 million to a virus vaccine effort led by the French company Sanofi, the Times reported.

According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Monday are: New York with more than 375,500; New Jersey with over 160,000; Illinois with over 120,500; California with more than 113,000, and Massachusetts with nearly 97,000.

Nations grapple with pandemic

In Asia, where the coronavirus first struck, several countries are finally returning to a new normal.

In China, 16 new coronavirus cases were reported on Sundaythe country’s highest daily spike in almost three weeks, Newsweek reported.

The National Health Commission (NHC) said all of the new infections were imported cases, with 11 in the Sichuan province. A further three cases were confirmed in Inner Mongolia, while two more were recorded in Guangdong province, Newsweek reported.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported its biggest jump in cases in more than 50 days last week, the AP reported.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 67 of the 79 new cases reported were from the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. The government has shut public facilities such as parks, museums and state-run theaters in the metropolitan area for the next two weeks, to stem any further spread of the virus.

Elsewhere, the situation remains challenging. On Monday, the United Kingdom’s coronavirus death count neared 38,000, the second highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Britain has now surpassed Italy, Spain and France for COVID-19 deaths in Europe. With Prime Minister Boris Johnson easing lockdown measures, schools across England will begin reopening Monday amid fierce debate over whether the move is premature, the Post reported.

Brazil is fast becoming the next hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Monday, the South American country had reported over 29,000 deaths and nearly 515,000 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally. Only the United States has more cases. Last week, Trump issued a ban on all foreign travelers from Brazil because of the burgeoning number of COVID-19 cases in that country, CNN reported.

Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Monday, that country reported the world’s third-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at nearly 415,000, the Hopkins tally showed. 

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 6 million on Monday, with over 372,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

 SOURCES: New England Journal of Medicine, May 22, 2020; Associated PressThe New York TimesWashington PostCBS NewsNBC NewsThe LancetNew York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygeine
Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Keeping Kids Slim, Fit During Lockdown Isn’t Easy: Here Are Some Tips

THURSDAY, May 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Lots of TV time, no PE classes, and a fridge full of food: It’s a recipe for weight gain for kids under “stay at home” rules.

But there are ways parents can help them stay healthy, says registered dietitian Audrey Koltun.

“During quarantine, we hear we should try to stay healthy, not overeat, and exercise, but it is easier said than done,” said Koltun, who’s also a diabetes care and education specialist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

When it comes to kids’ diets, having to stay at home might have some advantages, she noted. “Many people are cooking much more than they ever did,” Koltun said, and “this allows more control over caloric intake and possibly healthier options.”

Children just don’t have the same access to fast food or fattening snacks. “The kids that go out to get an 800-calorie smoothie, a 400-calorie iced coffee, or a 500-calorie slice of pizza are not having this now — or not as much,” Koltun said.

But if chips, cookies and other snacks crowd kitchen cupboards, the battle against weight gain can easily be lost, the nutritionist stressed.

“Your kids can only eat what you buy, so if you are buying a year’s worth of snacks, they will eat them all day and night,” she said. While chowing down on unhealthy snacks might seem comforting, “these foods are addicting and hard to stop eating,” Koltun said.

Her advice: “Make a family plan. Plan ahead for meals, plan for exercise, plan for junk food. We need structure.”

Turning quarantine into a goal-setting opportunity for health could be key.

“Have a family meeting to discuss there is going to be a new plan to try to eat healthier and to exercise,” Koltun suggested. “Make a grocery list and plan the meals for the week. Try to be consistent with meal and snack times. Eat at least one meal together. Make a list of snacks: healthy and unhealthy.”

On the healthy snacks list: fruits, vegetables with a dip, guacamole or hummus, nuts, light popcorn, lower-sugar yogurts, yogurt parfaits, homemade smoothies — there are many options, Koltun said.

Letting kids choose those healthy snacks makes it more likely these foods will get eaten, she said. And a total ban on fatty or sugary foods isn’t necessary.

Instead, “have the kids choose what healthy snacks they want in the house and keep these in the front of the refrigerator or cabinet. Limit treats to one salty snack and one sweet snack to have each day, at most,” Koltun said.

As for drinks, “keep sugary drinks out of the house — soda, sweet tea, fruit juice, punch, lemonade, sports drinks,” Koltun said. “Water, seltzer and low-fat/fat-free milk are better choices.”

And don’t forget the other half of the healthy lifestyle mix: exercise.

“For exercise, make a plan to get up and move every day for a minimum commitment of 15 minutes to start, if possible,” Koltun said. “Physical activity should be scheduled. This can be taking a walk, jumping on a trampoline, online videos, going up and down stairs, even dancing.”

More information

There’s more on helping kids eat right and stay slim at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
— E.J. Mundell

SOURCE: Audrey Koltun, R.D.N., registered dietitian/nutritionist, diabetes care and education specialist, Pediatric Endocrinology, Cohen Children’s Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Updated APWU Health Plan COVID-19 Coverage Enhancements

As we work together to slow down the spread of COVID 19, our lives continue to evolve and change in ways we could have never expected. The APWU Health Plan will continue to evaluate coverage enhancements as a result of COVID-19. Because the spread of the virus has slowed down considerably, we are removing the inpatient prior authorization wavier. Initially, the Health Plan wanted to remove this administrative burden as hospitals were overwhelmed. As we get back to the new “normal,” authorizations should be obtained. 

The APWU Health Plan will continue to evaluate benefit enhancements as a result of COVID-19. For the most up-to-date information visit our website at

The Health Plan will:

  • Cover telehealth (medical and mental health) visits at no cost* to member when visits are performed through the Health Plan’s telehealth providers:
    • High Option: Medical visits through Amwell are available at at no cost* to the member and mental health vists through MDlive are available at www.mdlive/apwu at no cost* to the member
    • Consumer Driven Option: Virtual visits through AmWell, Teladoc, and Doc on Demand are available at at no cost* to the member
  • Cover telehealth visits to network providers at no cost* to member when related to COVID-19
  • Cover COVID-19 testing at no cost* to the member when testing is prescribed by a clinical professional including antibody testing once it becomes widely available
  • Cover health care provider office visits, urgent care center visits and emergency room visits that result in an order for or administration of a diagnostic test for COVID-19 at no cost* to the member**
  • Cover in-network inpatient and outpatient care for COVID-19 treatment at no cost* to the member
  • Reminder: Members are encouraged to use mail order for maintenance medications which provides a 90-day refill and the delivery is free

*All deductible, coinsurance and copays will be waived
**Your provider should be aware of this Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CDC guideline. If you are charged a copay or coinsurance at the time of your visit, you will be reimbursed by the Health Plan

APWU Health Plan COVID-19 Coverage Enhancements

The Health Plan will:

Cover COVID-19 testing at no cost* to the member when testing is prescribed by a clinical professional

  • Cover telehealth visits at no cost* to member when visits are performed through the Health Plan’s telehealth providers:
    • High Option: Visits through Amwell are available at at no cost* to member
    • Consumer Driven Option: Virtual visits through AmWell, Teladoc, and Doc on Demand are available at at no cost* to the member
  • Cover telehealth visits to network providers at no cost* to member when related to COVID-19
  • Waive inpatient prior authorization requirements related to COVID-19
  • Reminder: Members are encouraged to use mail order for maintenance medications which provides a 90-day refill and the delivery is free

*All deductible, coinsurance and copays will be waived




The APWU Health Plan is closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The cost of testing is a rising concern among postal and federal employees and retirees.

APWU Health Plan members will have access to coronavirus testing, as prescribed by a health care professional, and the Health Plan will waive the deductible and coinsurance. Containing the outbreak is the Health Plan’s number one priority.

Testing is available at LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics.

Any individual who suspects they may have been exposed to the coronavirus or is exhibiting symptoms should consult with their health care professional to make the appropriate testing recommendation, in line with CDC guidelines.

To lessen your risk of exposure, members should use your telehealth options. As a reminder, virtual visits are a great option when you need to see a doctor without leaving home. With a virtual visit, you can see and talk to a doctor from your phone, tablet, or computer—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition to providing a consultation and diagnosis, doctors can send a prescription to your local pharmacy.

High Option Members

Virtual visits are available at a reduced copay of $15. Visit American Well online at or call 1-855-818-DOCS for medical care. Health epidemics can increase feelings of stress, anxiety and sleeplessness, visit MDLIVE online at or call 1-888-430-4827 for help.

Consumer Driven Option Members

To get started, call 1-855-615-8335 or log in to® and choose Connect with a doctor online.

Toys for Tots

The APWU Health Plan exceeded our goals and collected 518 new unwrapped toys to donate to local children. $1,172.50 was raised by raffle and cash donation.  All money raised was used to purchase toys.

The Toys for Tots program was established in 1947. According to the the organization has distributed 566 million toys to 258 million children. The APWU Health Plan employees are proud to support this charity

To thank our employees for their generosity a pizza party was held on December 11, 2019.  I would like to personally thank our employees who chose to contribute to this campaign. Due to their efforts less fortunate children in the Baltimore area had a brighter holiday season.


APWU Health Plan Helps Those in Need

The APWU Health Plan Employees continue our annual food drive that benefits the Maryland Food Bank. The 2018 drive employees donated 1,956 items the equivalent of 1,304 meals.

As part of our Employee Appreciate Rewards for reaching our Maryland Food Drive Weekly Goals, APWU Health Plan received a visit from the Kona Ice Truck on May 01, 2019!

The drive is scheduled to end on May 10, 2019. The Health Plan is on track to exceed our 2018 contributions helping families in need throughout the Baltimore areaKona Ice Truck.

Postal Worker Magazine Article

Recently I received the feedback from a reader of the Postal Worker Magazine and this blog. The readers comments are paraphrased below to protect the their identity and personal health information.

I found your March/April Postal Worker Magazine article to be unbalanced. Your article should have featured resources for your members that have dependents who will age out of FEHB coverage. Specifically information about COBRA and how the insulin dependent diabetics could have continued to have identical health coverage.

Thank you to everyone who reaches out to the APWU Health Plan Directors Blog. Input of any kind is always appreciated as that is how we stay so well connected to the membership, by allowing direct communication with the highest level of our management.

As far as the comments above, I stand by my article in the APWU Postal Worker magazine. The cost of injectable drugs has increased 15% per year from 2008-2016 making insulin and other lifesaving drugs unaffordable for the insured and uninsured alike.

I understand your point but unfortunately members of a FEHB insurance plan DO NOT have the ability to participate in COBRA benefits. The APWU Health Plan only insures Postal, Federal active employees and Retirees. Our members are not allowed to invoke COBRA benefits. However I appreciate your point and the opportunity to educate everyone on what the options are if one loses FEHB coverage due to aging out of the plan.

If you lose Federal Employee Health Benefit coverage because you no longer qualify as a family member you may be eligible for TCC (Temporary Continuation of Coverage.) Full details about TCC are available on the OPM website

The employing office is not obligated to inform you of your child’s eligibility for TCC and conversion rights when he/she is no longer eligible for coverage. You must contact your Human Resources Office within 60 days of your child’s 26th birthday to inform them that your child is turning age 26 and that you are interested in enrolling them in TCC or a conversion plan.

According to children and former spouses can continue TCC for up to 36 months after the date of the qualifying event when the child was covered under regular FEHB enrollment. Also, OPM enrollees are responsible for the full costs of the TCC plan, this is the enrollee share, the government share and a 2% administration charge which makes these plans very expensive which is not helpful to working Americans. The guide that lists premiums is located on the OPM website

Information on enrolling in the Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC) is available directly from OPM at Get the RI 79-27, which describes TCC, from your employing or retirement office or from guides. It explains what you have to do to enroll.

Another option is a person losing FEHB coverage may elect to enroll in and ACA marketplace plan. More information about the marketplace is available at , information about our conversion plan is at  , or on page 12 of our federal brochure


APWU Health Plan Celebrates Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month and is an ideal time to celebrate the brave, bold and fearless women who have influenced history. The important role women have played in shaping this country our world cannot be overlooked. It is important that we honor the impressive contributions women have made to the APWU Health Plan, the union movement, our country and the world we share.

Today we are proud to provide a token of our appreciation to the women of the APWU Health Plan for all they do on behalf of our membership and to celebrate women’s history month. Team members received a Women’s History Month special edition newsletter and a gift in our cafeteria. Monitors throughout the APWU Health Plan have been displaying a special Women’s History Month Message. This celebration was well received and a great success.

If you would like to learn more about Women’s History Month visit