The Briefing provides an at-a-glance view of some important developments in the information universe surrounding COVID-19. The views presented here are solely those of ECRI Horizon Scanning and have not been vetted by other stakeholders.

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Enough COVID-19 vaccines might be available for all US adults by the end of May, rather than July, now that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is funding the use of Merck manufacturing facilities to join the global network that is manufacturing Johnson & Johnson’s recently cleared single-dose vaccine. New cases in the United States have also declined sharply since mid-January.

Some states are responding to this potentially good news by rapidly relaxing public health measures. Yet, nationwide vaccination is a slow and steady process. ECRI projects that herd immunity could be reached between August and November 2021. Removal of mask and social distancing mandates could cause a surge in cases before enough people are vaccinated. In addition, caution is warranted as emerging coronavirus variants may cause reinfections or new infections in people inadequately protected and who might require reformulated vaccines (See Topics to Watch).

The study of long COVID is ramping up through new research programs and advocacy actions. The National Institutes of Health has launched 2 initiatives to study what it is now calling post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and a group of organizations has launched the Long COVID Alliance to advocate for more research on all postviral illnesses. The growing number of post-COVID clinics opening for both adults and children with long COVID is also creating more care options for long COVID patients.

SMART Health Cards to Provide Digital COVID-19 Immunization Records

At a Glance

  • After people receive a COVID-19 vaccine, they are issued a written card that includes their protected health information (eg, name, date of birth), vaccine name, and when the next dose is due.
  • Several smartphone apps are being developed to maintain a digital record of people’s vaccination status. This could facilitate return to work, school, and travel, while protecting other sensitive information.
  • The SMART Health Cards project by the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) would provide individuals with verifiable access to their COVID-19 vaccination records and laboratory results via digital wallet apps such as Apple Wallet or Google Pay. Users can add their health records by linking the app directly to laboratory or health care provider websites.
  • VCI is also developing a paper printout (PDF) of a QR code containing verifiable credentials for people without smartphones.

Variant-Specific Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19

At a Glance

  • The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants has prompted researchers to evaluate whether COVID-19 vaccines specific to the new variants with mutations in the spike protein will be needed to ensure protection against COVID-19. 
  • Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine has a 6-fold reduced neutralization against the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa. Neutralization of B.1.351 by Pfizer and BioNTech’s BNT162b2 was reduced by 3-fold compared with early COVID-19 isolates.
  • Moderna announced a phase 1 trial to determine the neutralizing ability of the vaccine candidate mRNA-1273.351, specific for B.1.351. Pfizer and BioNTech are also planning to study an mRNA vaccine with a variant sequence.
  • These trials are crucial for promoting adaptable vaccine platforms and regulatory processes for use against B.1.351 or other emerging variants.

Commentary in this COVID-19 Scan reflects preliminary views of ECRI Horizon Scanning and internal ECRI stakeholders.
The information contained in this document has not been vetted by other stakeholders.

We welcome your comments on this Scan. Send them by email to [email protected].

Posted: March 11, 2021

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