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As the US enters its second Halloween in a pandemic, COVID-19 is surging again in other parts of the world. But potential treatments continue to crop up, and officials are learning more about how to effectively vaccinate populations. Here’s what you need to know this week.

A generic antidepressant might reduce COVID-19 symptoms in severe cases 

The antidepressant fluvoxamine, a generic, cheap drug, might reduce severe COVID-19 symptoms by up to a third, according to a trial conducted in Brazil. The drug, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, is typically used for obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, but can have effects on inflammation and clotting in the body. In the study of roughly 1,500 participants, 11 percent of those who were given the drug required hospitalization from severe COVID-19, compared to 16 percent of those who were given a placebo. The drug requires further study before officials would consider it for treatment of the virus, though,

Immunocompromised individuals might get a fourth vaccine dose 

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that individuals who are immunocompromised get a third dose of the vaccine if they had received Pfizer or Moderna to bring their resistance up to levels seen in people with healthier immune systems. Now the CDC has updated their guidelines, indicating that an immunocompromised person can receive an additional dose of any of the vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson. Not all immunocompromised individuals will need this fourth dose, however, as the efficacy of all the vaccines is high; many Americans, including those with weakened immune systems, are protected enough with just two or three doses. Individuals should speak directly with their doctors if they believe they could benefit from another dose.  

The Merck antiviral pill is ready for distribution in US, if authorized 

The Merck antiviral pill, known as molnupiravir, is set to be reviewed by an FDA panel on November 30th. But this week, Merck officials said their antiviral pill is ready to be produced by the millions by the end of this year. Internal data from the pharmaceutical company found that the medication reduces hospitalizations by half. Molnupiravir would be the first approved COVID-19 treatment in a pill form, and could be used globally to help mitigate symptoms for those who contract the virus. Merck has already granted a royalty-free license to a nonprofit backed by the United Nations to manufacture the drug in 105 different nations. 

Knowledge of relative COVID-19 risk factors still seems low in the US

According to a recent poll by Axios and Ipsos, Americans’ understanding of relative COVID-19 concerns seems low. The poll, which included just over 1,000 participants, showed that most people’s comprehension of their relative risks before and after vaccination is low for various scenarios presented. Only one in four individuals polled understood that the COVID-19 risk was higher for a vaccinated 80-year-old than an unvaccinated 30-year-old, and only 40 percent knew that vaccinated and unvaccinated people in general are not equally likely to test positive for COVID-19. This confusion of relative risks might mean that people aren’t making well-informed decisions surrounding COVID-19.

COVID-19 surges are sweeping China, Russia, and Singapore

Vaccinations are helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but the virus is still spiking in some populations across the globe. In Russia, the 24-hour death toll from COVID-19 hit 1,000 individuals again for the first time since the pandemic. China canceled the Beijing marathon amidst a surge of 133 new cases, despite their zero-tolerance policies for the virus. And just yesterday in Singapore, there were reports of more than 5,000 new cases in a few hours, the highest number for the country since the beginning of the pandemic. The global coronavirus case count has now passed 245 million.

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