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AstraZeneca Confirms Strong Vaccine Protection After US Rift

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FILE - In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021 file photo, a vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination on a table prior to Croatia's Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic being vaccinated, in Zagreb, Croatia. AstraZeneca says that its COVID-19 vaccine is strongly effective even after counting additional illnesses in its disputed U.S. study. The announcement late Wednesday was the latest in an extraordinary public rift with American officials. The drugmaker said it had recalculated data from that study and concluded the vaccine is 76% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, instead of the 79% it had reported earlier in the week. (Admir Buljubasic/Pool via AP, File)

CAMBRIDGE, UK (AP) — AstraZeneca insists that its COVID-19 vaccine is strongly effective even after counting additional illnesses in its U.S. study, the latest in an extraordinary public dispute with American officials.

In a late-night news release Wednesday, the drugmaker said it had analyzed more data from that study and concluded the vaccine is 76% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, instead of the 79% it had reported earlier in the week.

Just a day earlier, an independent panel that oversees the study had accused AstraZeneca of cherry-picking data to tout the protection offered by its vaccine. The panel, in a harsh letter to the company and to U.S. health leaders, said the company had left out some COVID-19 cases that occurred in the study, a move that could erode trust in the science.

Some experts said the new data provided by AstraZeneca was “reassuring” and that the information was likely solid enough for U.S. regulators to authorize the vaccine.

“AstraZeneca may have just been too hasty in submitting the earlier, incomplete interim analysis rather than waiting to analyze and submit the full dataset,” said Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester who was not connected to the research. He said the updated details didn’t look substantially different from what was published earlier this week.

Data disputes during ongoing studies typically remain confidential but in an unusual step, the National Institutes of Health publicly called on AstraZeneca to fix the discrepancy.

AstraZeneca had been counting on findings from a predominantly U.S. study of 32,000 people to help rebuild confidence in a vaccine that, despite being widely used in Britain, Europe and other countries, has had a troubled rollout. Previous studies have turned up inconsistent data about its effectiveness, and then last week a scare over blood clots had some countries temporarily pausing inoculations.

Most have since restarted after the European Medicines Agency said the vaccine doesn’t increase the overall incidence of blood clots, though it did not rule out a connection to some rare clots. On Thursday, Denmark announced it would continue its suspension of the vaccine, with officials saying they needed more information before making a decision.

The question now is whether the company’s newest calculations can end the tension in the United States. Even before the latest spat, experts had expressed concern that missteps in the vaccine’s rollout could undermine confidence in the shot, which is crucial to global efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic since it is cheap, easy to store and a pillar of the COVAX initiative aimed at bringing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

Earlier Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, told reporters he hoped that when all the data was publicly vetted by federal regulators, it would dispel any hesitancy caused by the spat. He predicted it would “turn out to be a good vaccine.”

AstraZeneca’s newest calculations were based on 190 COVID-19 cases that occurred during the study, 49 more than it had included earlier in the week. The vaccine appears especially protective against the worst outcomes, with no severe illnesses or hospitalizations among vaccinated study volunteers compared to eight severe cases among those given dummy shots, the company said. It didn’t provide a breakdown of the rest of the cases.

Some European authorities have questioned how protective the vaccine is in older adults. In the U.S. study, it was 85% effective in volunteers 65 and older, the company said. The study didn’t turn up safety concerns.

The updated information “confirms that our COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adults, including those aged 65 years and over,” AstraZeneca research chief Mene Pangalos said in a statement. He said the company looks forward to “the rollout of millions of doses across America.”

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$10 Million Gift from Dr. Phillips Charities to Bolster New College of Nursing Building at Lake Nona

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Leaders from Dr. Phillips Charities and UCF announced a $10 million donation to support the College of Nursing’s new building, which will help UCF graduate more nurses and combat the nation’s critical nursing shortage while fostering more innovation and collaboration in Lake Nona’s Medical City.

The new home of the College of Nursing will sit on the 50-acre property already home to the UCF College of Medicine and the UCF Lake Nona Medical Center.

“Our mission is to give with purpose, and the purpose could not be more clear here — nurses save lives and our community has a great need for more talented nurses,” says Kenneth D. Robinson, president and CEO for Dr. Phillips, Inc. and The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation. “Dr. Phillips Charities is excited to make this investment in UCF to build a stronger educational ecosystem, a pipeline that will provide nursing talent to our region for generations to come.”

“Both Dr. Phillips Charities and UCF are rooted in the mission to transform lives, and this generous gift will have a transformational impact on our future nurses and educators, and on all in our community who will be touched by their talents and compassion,” says Alex Martins, chair of UCF’s Board of Trustees.

The generous donation will accelerate a campaign to raise $30 million to support the creation of a 21st century building that will house the College of Nursing’s education and research activities. The Florida Legislature previously allocated $29 million toward the approximately $60 million building during the 2022 legislative session. The new building is anticipated to open during the 2025-2026 academic year.

“We have a bold vision for the future, which is to continue to provide the highest quality healthcare to our community. This innovation and impact would not be possible without this lead gift contribution of Dr. Phillips Charities, and for that we are very thankful,” says UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright. “Our strong foundation of partnership and deep commitment to our region will deliver a real impact to our community.”

The new building is a much-needed investment for the region and the state, both of which are facing a critical healthcare worker shortage. The Florida Hospital Association estimates that an additional 2,300 registered nurses (RNs) are needed to enter the workforce each year to address the projected state shortage of 37,400 RNs by 2035.

UCF currently graduates more newly licensed RNs annually than any other institution in the State University System, with approximately 260 Knight nurses entering the workforce each year. With the support of the Florida Legislature, UCF is already investing $6.9 million to increase the university’s ability to educate more nurses, and more space is needed for these new faculty and students.

Once the new building is complete, the college expects to increase enrollment for new nurses and future nurse educators, grow the number of existing UCF faculty, and ultimately graduate an additional 150 new nurses annually to enter the healthcare industry — primarily in Florida. With 13,000 alumni to date, more than 85 percent of Knight nurses live and work in Florida.

With additional faculty, staff and space, the college also will grow enrollment capacity for its doctoral and master’s degree programs. These programs help educate more advanced practice providers, nurse leaders and executives, and nurse educators who are essential to fueling the pipeline of nursing faculty required to combat the nursing shortage.

“As a leader in nursing education, no other university is better equipped to be a part of the solution to the nursing shortage, and the many other healthcare challenges we face today and will face in the future,” says Mary Lou Sole, dean of the College of Nursing. “Today we are so lucky to have an incredible community leader who is helping to accelerate our efforts, Dr. Phillips Charities.”

Preliminary plans for the new building include classrooms as well as state-of-the-art learning labs for health assessment, essential skills and virtual reality located in an expanded space for the College of Nursing’s accredited Simulation, Technology, Innovation & Modeling Center, an international leader in providing high-quality simulation experiences to prepare students for clinical practice.

The design also calls for new research space — to include wet and dry labs — along with a host of student study spaces. When the new building is complete, the College of Nursing will relocate from its current location in Research Park and will have almost double its current square footage.

The location at the UCF Academic Health Sciences Campus also will offer students and faculty new opportunities for collaboration and enhanced learning and research experiences.

“I am proud to be a UCF Knight nurse, joining thousands of UCF nursing graduates on the frontline to provide compassionate, quality care to our community. We are impacting human lives, your friends, your family, your neighbors here in Central Florida. I have never felt so fulfilled, as there is nothing more heartwarming or rewarding than when I provide comfort to a patient and bring a smile to their face,” says Sayid Yasin ’22, accelerated second degree BSN alumnus. “Without a doubt, our community needs more Knight nurses to care for our community, and Dr. Phillips Charities’ generosity is going to help make that possible.”

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Gates Foundation pledges $7B for health, farming in Africa

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Bill Gates, on a visit to Kenya, has announced his foundation will spend $7 billion to improve health, gender equality and farming in Africa.

The new pledge will be spent over the next four years and is in addition to existing Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funding to strengthen health systems across the continent.

“Africa’s young people have the talent and opportunity to accelerate progress and help solve the world’s most pressing problems,” Gates said.

The new funding comes as countries in East Africa and the Horn of Africa face the worst drought in decades.

“We will invest in local institutions and new collaborations that build the long-term resilience needed to make these crises less frequent and less devastating,” Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said.

On his visit to Kenya, Gates has been visiting primary healthcare centers, leading medical and agricultural research institutes, and smallholder farms.

During the visits he learned from partners about “what programs and approaches are making an impact, what obstacles remain, and how the foundation can better support future progress,” the foundation said in a statement.

“The foundation will continue to invest in the researchers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and healthcare workers who are working to unlock the tremendous human potential that exists across the continent,” he said.

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USDA program keeps extra COVID-era money for fruits, veggies

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U.S. agriculture officials proposed changes Thursday to the federal program that helps pay the grocery bills for low-income pregnant women, babies and young children, including extending a bump in payments for fresh fruits and vegetables allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The update also adds more whole grains, canned fish and non-dairy options to their shopping carts. The effort is aimed at expanding the number and type of healthy foods available to families who get assistance from the Agriculture Department’s program known as WIC, officials said.

“These proposals will promote healthier lifestyles and brighter futures for millions of children,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services.

The revisions would make permanent payments authorized by Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic that increased vouchers for fruits and vegetables to $25 a month for children ages 1 to 5 and to $49 a month for breastfeeding women.

“This increase in fruits and vegetables has really made it attractive for families to have their children in the program longer,” said Geraldine Henchy, director of nutrition policy for the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, who applauded the changes. “Kids really love fruit.”

At the same time, the plan would reduce the amounts of some foods, for example reducing or eliminating juice allowed for some recipients. It also reduces the amount of milk and cheese covered under the program, a move that drew immediate criticism from the dairy industry.

“It is unfortunate for WIC participants that the proposed rule would decrease access to dairy products and the unique nutrient profile they provide,” the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation said in a statement.

More than 6.2 million pregnant women, mothers, babies and young children participate in the program annually. The federal government currently pays about $5 billion a year to run the program, which is administered through states and other jurisdictions. The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children provides vouchers to mothers and children who qualify and specifically lists the amount and types of food they can buy.

“It reflects the fact that different people have different capacities to tolerate different kinds of food,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak said.

More canned fish, such as tuna, would be available as well as easy-to-prepare canned beans, in addition to dried beans, officials said. The plan would also change the amount of infant formula provided to partially breastfed babies.

Increasing the voucher for fruits and vegetables to $25 a month during the pandemic has allowed Elizabeth Loya, 28, of Los Angeles, to encourage her 4-year-old daughter, Gisselle, to sample new foods.

“She tried Brussels sprouts and, two weeks ago, she tried asparagus,” Loya said. “She liked them.”

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