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Merck ends development of two potential COVID-19 vaccines

Merck is giving up on two potential COVID-19 vaccines following poor results in early-stage studies.

The drugmaker said Monday that it will focus instead on studying two possible treatments for the virus that also have yet to be approved by regulators. The company said its potential vaccines were well tolerated by patients, but they generated an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines.

Merck entered the race to fight COVID-19 later than other top drugmakers.

It said last fall that it had started early-stage research in volunteers on potential vaccines that require only one dose. Vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna were already in late-stage research at that point.

The Food and Drug Administration allowed emergency use of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines late last year. Each requires two shots.

Since vaccinations began in December, nearly 22 million doses have been delivered to people nationwide, according to the

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Biden’s early approach to virus: Underpromise, overdeliver

It’s a proven political strategy: Underpromise and overdeliver.

President Joe Biden, in his first three days in office, has painted a bleak picture of the country’s immediate future, warning Americans that it will take months, not weeks, to reorient a nation facing a historic convergence of crises.

The dire language is meant as a call to action, but it’s also a deliberate effort to temper expectations. In addition, it is an explicit rejection of President Donald Trump’s tack of talking down the coronavirus pandemic and its economic toll.

Chris Lu, a longtime Obama administration official, said the grim tone is aimed at “restoring trust in government” that eroded during the Trump administration.

“If you’re trying to get people to believe in this whole system of vaccinations, and if you want people to take seriously mask mandates, your leaders have to level with the American people,” he said.

Biden said

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Avocado a day keeps the doctor away

Forget the apple, how about an avocado a day to keep the doctor away?

New research in the Journal of Nutrition—albeit funded by the Hass Avocado Board—suggests eating the fruit daily—yes, it is a fruit—can greatly improve gut health.

“We know eating avocados helps you feel full and reduces blood cholesterol concentration, but we did not know how it influences the gut microbes and the metabolites the microbes produce,” Sharon Thompson, graduate student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois and lead author on the paper, said in a news release.

Researchers studied 163 adults ages 25 to 45 who were either overweight or obese, but otherwise healthy. They were split into two groups and given one identical meal per day, with a major exception—one group was given an avocado daily. The participants provided blood, urine, and fecal samples throughout the 12-week study. 

The daily avocado

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Health experts blame rapid expansion for vaccine shortages

Public health experts Thursday blamed COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.

Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around.

The vaccine rollout so far has been “a major disappointment,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

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Biden to sign virus measures, requires mask use to travel

Deep in the deadliest coronavirus wave and facing worrisome new strains, President Joe Biden will initiate a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks — including a requirement that Americans mask up for travel.

Biden also will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday.

Biden has vowed to take far more aggressive measures to contain the virus than his predecessor, starting with stringent adherence to public health guidance. He faces steep obstacles, with the virus actively spreading in most states, slow progress on vaccination and political uncertainty over how willing congressional Republicans will be to help him pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief and COVID response package.

“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the

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FCC Chairman Pai on funding telehealth, 5G and the digital divide

Over the past four year, the Federal Communications Commission has made headlines over voting to repeal net neutrality rules, has pushed Congress for more funding for broadband expansion and has faced the ire of lawmakers who said the FCC should do more to assist low-income Americans to have digital access. The agency’s chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to the FCC in 2011 by President Barack Obama has also been vocal about the role telehealth played during the pandemic.

Modern Healthcare technology reporter Jessica Kim Cohen caught up with Pai to talk about challenges and opportunities for the agency’s connected healthcare work in 2021, closing the digital divide for internet access—increasingly considered a social determinant of health—and why he hopes to continue working on telehealth issues. The following is an edited transcript.

Modern Healthcare: We’ve seen a rapid rise in telehealth use amid COVID-19. From your vantage point, what was

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