"As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand." — Josh Billings

Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest by Bruce Brown

News & Commentary for People Planning to Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

New and interesting Updated September 18, 2020

  1. Injectable Biochip for SARS-CoV-2 Detection Near FDA Approval, Mercola.com
  2. NIH ‘very concerned’ about serious side effect in AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trial, CNN
  3. China’s coronavirus vaccine shows military’s growing role in medical research, Nature
  4. U.S. Army Marshals Resources To Aid In Race For Coronavirus Vaccine, NPR, 9/14/2020
  5. Near Misses at UNC Chapel Hill’s High-Security Lab Illustrate Risk of Accidents With Coronaviruses, ProPublica
  6. Russians Publish Early Coronavirus Vaccine Results, New York Times
  7. Herd Immunity Emerges!, Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest
  8. Coronavirus: Risk to children ‘tiny,’ study finds, BBC (England)

Do not fear the (coronavirus) wolf, by Bruce Brown
Do not fear the (coronavirus) wolf. The wolf will make us strong and clean… The wolf is preparing people for greatness again.” — Bruce Brown

Top commentary

Past Digests

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defor
The title page from Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year,” which describes London during the Bubonic plague — or “Great Visitation” — of 1665 in decidedly modern terms.

Historical context

The seven year journey from a bat cave to a lab in Wuhan, China
“1 April – May 2012 Six miners contract severe pneumonia after clearing bat faeces from an abandoned mine. Some worked for two weeks before falling ill, others just a few days. Symptoms mirror those of COVID-19…” Times of London infographic.

Articles in this issue in chronological order

Plague Doctor
A 1665 etching by Paul Fürst, entitled “Der Doctor Schnabel von Rom (“Doctor Nose of Rome), which depicts a plague doctor who treated victims of the medieval Bubonic plague, or Black Death. To ward off infection, the plague doctor wore a costume which cloaked and otherwise covered him from head to foot. The long, bird-like beak on the doctor’s face mask contained aromatic medicinals such as Thieves Oil, also called Venetian Treacle, which enabled the plague doctor to constantly breathe anti-infective vapors while treating the sick, an approach that might benefit modern plague doctors and nurses as well. A delightful detail is the little device at the end of the plague doctor’s wand: an hour glass with wings, signifying “time flies” (tempus fugat in Latin).

good news

August 15, 2020 – Russia produces first batch of COVID-19 vaccine: Interfax, Reuters

According to Reuters, Russia has produced the first batch of its new vaccine for COVID-19, the Interfax news agency quoted the health ministry as saying on Saturday, hours after the ministry reported the start of manufacturing.

Russia has said the vaccine, the first for the coronavirus to go into production, will be rolled out by the end of this month.

The vaccine has been named “Sputnik V” in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union. President Vladimir Putin has assured the public that it is safe, adding that one of his daughters had taken it as a volunteer and felt good afterwards.

Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, which developed the vaccine, said previously that Russia would be producing about 5 million doses a month by December-January, Interfax said.

bad news

August 17, 2020 — Although apparently still very low, CDC says number, rate of coronavirus cases in children rising, FOX News

FOX News reports that the number and infection rate of COVID-19 cases among children have “steadily” increased between March and July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in recently updated guidance.

The government agency said Friday that the true infection rate is hard to nail down due to the lack of widespread testing and the prioritization of testing for adults and those with severe illness.

As of Aug. 3, 7.3% of all reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States were among children, according to data obtained by the CDC. Children comprise roughly 22% of the U.S. population.

“While children infected with SARS-CoV-2 are less likely to develop severe illness compared with adults, children are still at risk of developing severe illness and complications from COVID-19,” the CDC said.

Although “hospitalization rates in children are significantly lower than hospitalization rates in adults,” hospitalization rates for children are also increasing.

Recent data shows that the rate of hospitalization among children is 8.0 per 100,000 compared, while the rate for adults is approximately 164.5 per 100,000.

The CDC said children have lower rates of mechanical ventilation and death than adults but cautioned that “1 in 3 children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States were admitted to the intensive care unit,” which is the same in adults.

It remains unclear if children are as susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2 compared with adults and if they can transmit the virus as effectively as adults. However, they can still unknowingly pass on the virus.

Evidence suggests about 45% of pediatric infections are asymptomatic, the CDC said.

Children with underlying medical conditions and infants may be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. To date, most children who have developed severe illness from COVID-19 had underlying medical conditions, the agency reported.

bad news

August 17, 2020 — Near Misses at UNC Chapel Hill’s High-Security Lab Illustrate Risk of Accidents With Coronaviruses, ProPublica

ProPublica reports that Reports indicate UNC researchers were potentially exposed to lab-created coronaviruses in several incidents since 2015. These incidents highlight the risks even in the most secure and respected research facilities.

The mouse infected with a lab-created type of SARS coronavirus was squirming upside down, dangling by its tail as a scientist carried it to a weighing container one day in February 2016. But the mundane task turned dangerous in seconds inside the North Carolina laboratory, which has drawn scrutiny for its partnership on similar research with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In that moment, it wasn’t enough that the experiment was taking place inside a biosafety level 3 lab, the second-highest security level, which was layered in high-tech equipment designed to keep dangerous pathogens from escaping. Or that the scientist was covered head-to-toe in gear to protect against infection: a full-body Tyvek suit, boot covers and double gloves, plus a powered air-purifying respirator.

As she carried the mouse, it climbed up its tail and bit her hard, breaking through the gloves and plunging its teeth — and potentially the virus — into her ring finger.

Then, instead of quarantining to wait for signs of infection, the scientist was allowed to go about her life in public for the next 10 days, wearing a surgical mask and reporting her temperature twice daily, newly obtained records show.

The scientist ultimately did not become ill, but the 2016 safety breach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s high-containment laboratories is one of several near-miss incidents at the university in recent years involving multiple types of genetically engineered coronaviruses, the records show.

While no one is suggesting that UNC created the virus that causes COVID-19, alone or with the Wuhan lab, such near misses highlight the potential risks of an infected lab worker exposing the public even in the most secure and respected research facilities as they search for treatments and vaccines.

The university has declined to publicly disclose key details about the incidents, including the names of viruses involved, the nature of the modifications made to them and what risks were posed to the public, contrary to National Institutes of Health guidelines.

“The University notified the proper oversight agencies about the incidents and took corrective action as needed,” UNC said in a statement, noting that its research has contributed to promising treatments for COVID-19. “It is absolutely critical to understand what viruses exist in nature and how they could affect human health.”

The nature of the safety breaches at UNC are particularly important now as the origins of COVID-19, which has killed more than 775,000 people worldwide and infected 21.7 million others, continue to elude public health officials and other investigators.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have publicly speculated, without offering proof, that a lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 cases first appeared, may be responsible for the current coronavirus pandemic. While that theory is dismissed by many as political blame-shifting and anti-China rhetoric, credible scientists have been concerned for years about the potential for a lab accident to cause a pandemic.

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University who has testified before Congress on lab safety issues, said the series of incidents with coronaviruses at UNC gives fuel to the possibility that this pandemic, or one in the future, could originate as a lab accident.

Since 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has repeatedly warned that the proliferation of high-containment biosafety level 3 and level 4 labs in the United States and around the world is increasing the risk of dangerous viruses, bacteria or toxins being intentionally or unintentionally released from the facilities. Over the years, Congress has held multiple hearings examining numerous serious incidents in elite U.S. labs, including mishaps with anthrax, deadly smallpox and Ebola viruses and dangerous strains of avian influenza.

In April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a public statement that while the U.S. intelligence community agrees with widespread scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not human-made or genetically modified, federal spy agencies and security organizations have not ruled out a lab accident as the source of the outbreak.

“The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the statement said.

Questions about a potential lab accident have focused on two large infectious disease labs in Wuhan: The Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Chinese government has said the labs had nothing to do with the pandemic.

“It is unfortunate that we have been targeted as a scapegoat for the origin of the virus,” Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology said in an interview this month with NBC News.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is China’s first research facility to operate biosafety level 4 labs, the highest safety level, which are built with special design features and equipment to prevent the most dangerous pathogens from getting out. The institute has specialized in the study of bat coronaviruses, research led by virologist Shi Zhengli, who has been nicknamed the “Bat Woman” for her team’s pursuit of specimens of wild SARS-like viruses in bat caves.

In July, Shi fired back at White House speculation about the institute, telling Science magazine that the institute had never had contact with or studied the virus that causes COVID-19 until Dec. 30, 2019, when it first received samples from patients who were sickened with an unknown type of pneumonia. “U.S. President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts,” she told Science.

Researchers like Shi and the team of scientists at UNC are attempting to determine which of the many coronaviruses that currently only infect animals have the potential to mutate in ways that would allow them to jump to humans, allowing for advance development of treatments and vaccines.

The February 2016 safety breach at the UNC’s high-containment laboratories drew scrutiny at the time from concerned federal health officials, records show. In its aftermath, UNC officials provided repeated updates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though neither the university nor the CDC will say what they were about. The university deleted the virus name from incident reports it released in response to a public records request. Federal lab safety officials at the NIH confirmed in an emailed response to questions from ProPublica that the 2016 incident, as well as several others where UNC redacted the pathogen name from reports, involved types of “SARS-associated Coronavirus.” But the NIH, which oversees experiments involving genetically modified viruses and bacteria, did not provide any further details about the nature or genetic composition of the lab-created viruses.

NIH, CDC and UNC officials declined to explain the potential risks to the public of the 2016 incident or why the researcher wasn’t quarantined until it was known she wasn’t infected. NIH said it is each research institution’s responsibility to assess the risks of an incident and respond to it appropriately.

After the researcher was bitten by the infected mouse, university officials initially discussed “options for isolation” of the scientist during the incubation period for the lab-created virus, the incident reports show. Instead, they allowed her to remain in public, only requiring that she wear a surgical mask and report her temperature twice daily.

While the researcher did not get sick, the case underscores the concerns that have been raised about the potential for a lab accident to unleash a dangerous virus — natural or human-made — into the surrounding community and beyond. It also illustrates how potentially infected lab workers could be allowed to move about in a city and the efforts that labs make to keep details of such safety breaches secret.

Records show that during the five years before the pandemic began, at least six UNC researchers were required to undergo medical monitoring following four incidents where they were potentially exposed to what the NIH now confirms were types of lab-created SARS coronaviruses. In addition, two other UNC researchers had to undergo medical surveillance because of their potential exposure to a type of lab-created MERS coronavirus. The monitoring involved reporting temperatures or any symptoms to university medical officials twice daily.

In each case, the reports indicate these workers were allowed to go about their lives while waiting for symptoms to appear. As the world has learned in recent months, it’s possible for people without symptoms to be infected with the coronavirus and unknowingly spread disease to others.

Safety incidents at UNC have continued in the wake of the pandemic as the university’s researchers have joined scientists worldwide studying the new SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

On April 21, a UNC researcher wearing full-body protective gear was bitten on their index finger while weighing a mouse infected with a genetically altered form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus adapted to grow in mice. In contrast to the 2016 mouse mishap, the researcher bitten this spring was told to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, records show. The local Health Department was also notified about the incident.

UNC officials declined to be interviewed and did not answer questions about the incidents sent to them in writing.

Research at UNC’s biosafety level 3 labs has come under scrutiny in the past because of controversial coronavirus experiments its scientists have done with partners at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In November 2015, UNC scientists published a research paper detailing how they had created a lab-made hybrid coronavirus with the potential to infect people. Their experiments involved inserting part of a coronavirus called SHC014-CoV found in Chinese horseshoe bats into a SARS virus to see if the lab-made hybrid virus — called a chimera — could efficiently infect human cells.

It could. And it prompted the research team — which included scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — to warn in their paper of the risks that the SHC014 coronavirus and others circulating in bat populations have to potentially emerge as a threat to humans. At UNC, a senior author of the paper was Ralph Baric, an epidemiology professor and international expert on coronaviruses. UNC said Baric was unavailable for an interview, but it noted the virus in the experiment was “a very different strain” than the one that causes COVID-19.

The potential risks posed by creating a virus not found in nature prompted criticism at the time from some scientists. The paper added to an ongoing international debate over risks and benefits of creating genetically modified pathogens that are potentially more dangerous than what’s found in nature, what’s known as “gain of function” research.

“If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, told Nature at the time the UNC paper was published.

UNC officials would not say whether the 2016 mouse-bite incident, which occurred three months after the paper was published, involved a SARS chimera virus like the one in the 2015 paper.

Experts who reviewed the incident reports at ProPublica’s request said it is difficult to gauge the risks of UNC’s coronavirus incidents because the university removed key details about the nature of the viruses involved.

“There is no reason for the public not to be informed about the nature of biological agents involved in lab research and accidents,” said Gregory Koblentz, director of the biodefense graduate program at George Mason University, who noted that the research is not classified and will eventually be published in scientific journals.

“Making these reports public ensures accountability for the labs and funders and encourages them to learn from mistakes and reduce risk of them occurring,” Koblentz said.

UNC is required as a condition of its federal research funding to release to the public on demand certain safety records, including incident reports, about its work with genetically modified viruses. After ProPublica filed a complaint about UNC’s removal of the virus names, NIH said it contacted UNC “to remind them of their obligations.” But UNC still didn’t release the pathogen names and genetic modifications it removed from the records.

While UNC wouldn’t discuss the 2016 incident, in its statement to ProPublica the university emphasized that the research for the 2015 paper was approved by NIH, that it followed all safety protocols and that it was deemed a “low-risk” experiment because of the strain of coronavirus being studied.

“It is because of our early work that the United States was in a position to quickly find the first successful treatment for SARS-CoV-2,” the university said in its statement. Research by UNC scientists has contributed to the development of a drug called EIDD-2801, which shows promise in preventing lung damage from COVID-19.

The source of the current pandemic remains unknown. Many scientific experts believe the virus that causes COVID-19 emerged in nature and is the result of people being exposed to bats or another type of animal that are natural carriers of it. Experts who have studied the virus’s genetic sequence have said it doesn’t appear to be genetically engineered.

Coronaviruses have jumped from animals to humans before. In 2002, the SARS coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome emerged possibly from bats in southern China to set off an international epidemic that was extinguished in 2003 through public health measures. In 2012, the MERS coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome was first identified in people sickened in Saudi Arabia and other countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula. It has been linked to exposure to camels.

But for the COVID-19 virus causing the current pandemic, more study is needed to know where and how the virus jumped from animals to humans.

“There have been extensive discussions about why the virus is almost certainly a naturally occurring strain, but the origin of the outbreak can only be determined — if it can ever be determined — by going through that more medical chain and examining those records,” said Gigi Kwik Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

While rare, outbreaks that spread from labs to people or animals in the surrounding environment have happened.

lab accident or mishap with a vaccine trial are considered to be likely explanations for how a strain of flu that appeared to have been genetically frozen in time since the 1950s emerged and infected people around the world in 1977-78.

In 2004, a small outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome was traced by Chinese authorities and the World Health Organization to lab workers at the National Institute of Virology Laboratory of China’s Center for Disease Control in Beijing, where experiments were conducted using live and inactivated SARS coronavirus. And in 2007, leaking drainage pipes at a vaccine research facility in England were blamed for an outbreak of foot and mouth disease among cattle.

For now, a team of experts from the World Health Organization is investigating the pandemic’s origins, with a focus on understanding the animal hosts for COVID-19 and how the disease jumped between animals and humans.

“Identifying the origin of emerging viral disease has proven complex in past epidemics in different countries,” the WHO said in a statement last month. “The process is an evolving endeavor which may lead to further international scientific research and collaboration globally.”

good news

August 18, 2020 — US COVID-19 cases drop, but schools, nursing homes still a problem, Center for Infectious Disease Research

The Center for Infectious Disease Research writes that yesterday the United States recorded its fewest COVID-19 cases in nearly 2 months, with 35,112 new cases and 445 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The new cases raise the total to 5,469,604 cases and 171,344 deaths. Though the decrease in cases is a sign that early summer hot spots, including Arizona, Texas, and Florida, are showing falling case counts, reports from schools that have opened across the country, as well as nursing home data, show congregate living is still a major contributor to COVID-19 outbreaks.

No centralized data collection on schools

There is no official tally, however, on outbreaks in public elementary and high schools, NBC News reports. Though schools that have opened in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Indiana, have had significant outbreaks, no data are being collected about how reopening has led to outbreaks, quarantine protocols, and number of cases.

Nine states are collecting data but not making it public. According to an NBC News poll, 15 states said they would collect data and make it public, 7 were still deciding, and the rest did not provide a comment. NBC confirmed that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not tracking cases.

Mississippi has some of the most schoolchildren with COVID-19 infections and was one of the first states to reopen schools at the beginning of the month. As of yesterday, Mississippi public schools have confirmed 199 cases among students and 245 among teachers, and school districts have ordered 2,035 students and 589 teachers to quarantine at home for 2 weeks after possible exposure to COVID-19.

Governor Tate Reeves said yesterday in a press conference that a statewide mask mandate and strict physical distancing rules will help kids stay in school and help the state see a return of college football in September.

Among Southern universities that have already opened their campuses, fraternity and sorority houses and parties are increasingly linked to clusters of cases. The New York Times reports that at least 251 cases nationwide have been linked to fraternities or sororities across the country, and more than 13,000 students, faculty and staff members at colleges have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a Times database.

Nursing home cases rose by 77%

Driven by large outbreaks in the  Sun Belt, US nursing homes saw an almost 80% increase in cases this summer, according to a report yesterday from the American Health Care Association (AHCA).

The report found 9,715 coronavirus cases in nursing homes the week starting Jul 26, a 77% increase from a low point the week of Jun 21.

“With the recent major spikes of COVID cases in many states across the country, we were very concerned this trend would lead to an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the AHCA and National Center for Assisted Living, said in a press statement. “This is especially troubling since many nursing homes and other long term care facilities are still unable to acquire the personal protective equipment [PPE].”

In addition to advocating for more PPE, Parkinson said nursing homes need to prioritize and expedite the processing of tests for nursing home residents and caregivers.

The AHCA also released results from a new survey of US nursing homes from Aug 8 through 10, which included 463 nursing home providers.

The survey found that 55% of nursing homes are operating at a loss. Seventy-two percent of nursing homes said they could not operate another year at the current pace, and 40% said they would not be able to operate for another 6 months. Seventy-seven percent said government funding was “extremely important” in helping with COVID-related costs and losses, including purchasing PPE, hiring new staff, and increasing pay for existing staff.

Other US developments

  • Texas has become the fourth US state to record more than 10,000 deaths due to COVID-19, according to the Texas Tribune. As of yesterday, 10,034 Texans have died from the virus.
  • bipartisan group of 10 governors, led by Maryland’s Larry Hogan, is ready to buy 5 million COVID-19 antigen tests to bring a centralized rapid testing approach to their states.
  • Quest Diagnostics, one of the biggest processors of COVID-19 tests in the country, said it cut down its turnaround time from 7 days to 1 to 2 days for all tests. Quest said a month ago the surge in US cases had made fast turnaround times impossible.

bad news

August 19, 2020 — University of Notre Dame pauses in-person learning after reporting more coronavirus cases, Washington Post

The Washington Post reports that The University of Notre Dame is halting face-to-face instruction for undergraduates for at least two weeks after a spike in confirmed novel coronavirus cases. Michigan State University also announced a pivot to virtual learning on Tuesday, joining the growing number of colleges that have reversed course on reopening for in-person instruction.

good news

August 20, 2020 — Coronavirus in India: Rates show move towards herd immunity, Times of London (England) (Commentary)

The Times of London reports that as many as one in four Indians may have been infected with coronavirus according to research, prompting some scientists to predict the nation is moving rapidly towards herd immunity.

The study showed that 24 per cent of a sample of 200,000 people taken from across the country had virus antibodies.

Separately, a study of people in Pune published on Monday showed that 51.5 per cent of residents in some areas of the city had Covid-19 antibodies. Last month, surveys showed that half the residents of a slum in Mumbai had had the virus and nearly a quarter of the 20 million people in New Delhi, the capital, had antibodies.

“If we are getting figures of one in four or over 50 per cent in urban areas — and all surveys show the same trend — India is moving towards herd immunity, but we need more data,” said Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist.

Arokiaswamy Velumani, the head of Thyrocare Technologies, which carried out the study, said: “Our results show India at 24 per cent positivity is getting closer to 35 per cent when the plateauing of cases happens. At 45 per cent of [having detectable antibodies], the curve takes a downward slope. With positivity anywhere between 45-50 per cent, the virus becomes less impactful.”

Herd immunity is reached when about 60 per cent of the population has been infected, leaving fewer people to transmit it. Several studies have indicated, however, that in some cases antibodies do not last leaving some people vulnerable to catching the virus again.

Other experts believed that surveys in a country as large and densely populated as India need to be treated with caution, saying that while daily positive test and mortality rates have fallen marginally, infections are rising in some districts where research into antibodies had been conducted.

Dr Preeti Kumar, vice-president at the Public Health Foundation, said: “We do not know what type of antibodies are being detected or what is the quantum of antibodies that confers immunity. We do not know how long the immunity will last.”

India recorded a record number of 69,672 new cases today, according to the federal health ministry. The death toll also rose by 997 to 53,886. More than 2.84 million people have tested positive in India since the start of the pandemic.

Commentary — Around the world now, in places that were really hammered by the coronavirus onslaught this spring, we are beginning to see the emergence of herd immunity.

Meanwhile, places where everybody wore masks have no increased herd immunity to COVID-19; they’re as vulnerable to the disease as they always were.

In New York City, the New York Times has reported that tests reveal coronavirus antibodies in 68 percent of residents of poor, hard hit areas of the city, compared to 13 percent antibodies for more affluent neighborhoods.

recent article in the Atlantic noted of New York:

“Essentially, at present, New York City might be said to be at a version of herd immunity, or at least safe equilibrium. Our case counts are very low. They have been low for weeks. Our antibody counts mean that a not-insignificant number of people are effectively removed from the chain of transmission.”

In Italy, the pattern is the same. Last month, the Local IT reported:

“In Lombardy, the northern region with the biggest number of infections by far, 7.5 percent of people tested had coronavirus antibodies – three times the national average. In the worst affected province of Bergamo, the rate was as high as 24 percent.”

And now in India, we find in this Times of London story that:

“a study of people in Pune published on Monday showed that 51.5 per cent of residents in some areas of the city had Covid-19 antibodies. Last month, surveys showed that half the residents of a slum in Mumbai had had the virus and nearly a quarter of the 20 million people in New Delhi, the capital, had antibodies.”

“If we are getting figures of one in four or over 50 per cent in urban areas — and all surveys show the same trend — India is moving towards herd immunity, but we need more data,” said Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist.

Adding further optimism to the prospects for herd immunity is the fact that some scientists have recently lowered their estimate for the percentage of the population that needs to be immune from 65 percent to 20 percent, or lower.

This summer, it has also become apparent that antibodies comprise only a part of a body’s immunological response to COVID-19. T-cells and other defenders (such as so-called “immunological dark matter”) are now believed to play a significant role in many cases. So the antibody test results are really only a partial measure of immunity; a person’s immunity may be significantly higher than their antibodies reveal.

And now those age-old natural human immunity weapons have begun to assert themselves against COVID-19 everywhere around the world — except where terrified politicians ordered people to wear masks and block the natural human immunological process of creating herd immunity!

bad news

In disappointing news, the FDA put a hold on blood plasma use for COVID-19, Poynter Resources, 8/20/2020

Poynter Resources reports that the nation’s largest study of blood plasma as a COVID-19 treatment produced results that Dr. Anthony Fauci said were too weak to be dependable.

Researchers had hoped blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 might be full of antibodies that would speed recovery in sick patients. Antibodies are proteins that the body uses to fight off infections. The blood from people who’ve recovered is called “convalescent plasma” (plasma is the liquid portion of the blood).

The study, run by the Mayo Clinic, involved about 35,000 critically ill patients. Just over half of those patients, 52.3%, were in the intensive care unit and 27.5% were receiving mechanical ventilation at the time of the plasma transfusion. A week after the infusion, 8.7% of the patients were dead.

The number of people infused with plasma to treat COVID-19 as part of the treatment protocol has risen to more than 66,000 at 2,700 locations involving close to 14,000 physicians.

Researchers are not giving up on blood plasma as a treatment, but they say they need more data to know more about whether and how to use it. The Food and Drug Administration could still approve plasma’s use as a COVID-19 therapy within the next few months if new data shows it is safe and effective, according to Dr. H. Clifford Lane, deputy director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

good news

August 20, 2020 — COVID-19 cases continue to break single-day records across globe, Daily Sabah

The Daily Sabah writes that global coronavirus cases continue to surge, with India reporting a new single-day record as Germany and France recorded their worst daily infection rates in months.

Nearly a third of New Delhi residents have been exposed to the coronavirus and have developed antibodies, a study released Thursday showed, as India reported nearly 70,000 cases in one day. It has the third-most cases in the world, behind the U.S. and Brazil, and has the fourth-highest number of deaths behind the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.

Samples of 15,000 residents were collected for the survey, which was conducted in the first week of August, New Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain told reporters. Jain said a “29.1% prevalence of the virus has been found in the second serological survey,” adding that this meant that 5.8 million people in the city had developed antibodies. The survey shows that infections in New Delhi are much more widespread than the number of confirmed cases indicates. The city has recorded 151,904 cases, less than 1% of its approximate population of 20 million.

In the first survey last month, 23.48% of Delhi’s population was found to have been exposed to the coronavirus. Many scientists say herd immunity is achieved when 70% of the population has developed antibodies to prevent an outbreak.

In Europe, Germany on Thursday reported 1,707 new cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest daily toll since the peak of the pandemic in April. The country has fared better than many European neighbors in suppressing the virus so far but like elsewhere, the number of cases has jumped significantly over the summer holidays.

Much of the rise has been blamed on returning holidaymakers as well as parties and family gatherings. Schools already resumed last week in parts of Germany. Faced with the surge in cases, Germany earlier this month introduced free, mandatory tests for anyone returning from areas deemed at high risk for COVID-19 infections. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned this week there could be no further relaxation of coronavirus restrictions.

France on Wednesday recorded new coronavirus cases at the fastest daily rate since May. Almost 3,800 COVID-19 infections were confirmed in the past 24 hours, the health ministry’s public health division (DSG) said. “All indicators continue to climb and transmission of the virus is intensifying,” the DGS said in a statement. Toulouse on Wednesday became the first French city to declare face masks compulsory outdoors. Masks are already mandatory on public transport in France and indoors in public places, amid fears that a mass movement of people as the summer break draws to a close will lead to a spike in infections.

On Wednesday, Spain recorded 6,700 new infections in 24 hours, bringing the total to more than 370,000, the highest caseload in western Europe. Ukraine on Thursday also reported a record daily increase in coronavirus cases, exceeding 2,000 new infections for the first time.

In Asia, South Korea’s coronavirus infections are back “in full swing” and spreading nationwide after members of a church attended a political demonstration, authorities said Thursday, threatening one of the world’s COVID-19 success stories. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 288 new cases as of Wednesday midnight, marking a week of triple-digit daily increases, although down slightly from the previous day’s 297.

good news

India Study Suggests Millions More May Have Caught Coronavirus, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE (France)

Agence France-Presse reports that more than a quarter of New Delhi’s 20 million residents may have caught the novel coronavirus without showing symptoms, a study released Thursday indicated, raising fresh doubts about India’s official case numbers.

Extrapolated, the antibody study on 15,000 residents means 5.8 million people in the bustling capital could have caught the virus — more than 37 times the official tally of 156,139 infections.

India is already officially the third worst-hit country after the US and Brazil, and the health ministry reported a record daily jump of 69,652 new infections on Wednesday — taking the total to 2.84 million.

On Thursday, Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain said blood tests on 15,000 residents conducted earlier this month found 29.1% of them had virus antibodies.

Scientists say, however, that antibody tests should be treated with caution because they also pick up other coronaviruses, not just the latest Covid-19.

A similar survey in June-July said 23% of people tested had been exposed to the virus in the city.

Surveys in other Indian cities have also suggested more infections than the official numbers suggest. 

In the western city of Pune, 51.5% of respondents in five badly affected pockets had antibodies in their blood, a recent survey showed.

Another in late July found 57% of those tested in Mumbai’s slums had the infection — far more than official data suggests.

“Such studies are useful and necessary but it is important how it is interpreted,” said Rajib Dasgupta, who heads the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“It can’t be applied to the whole city,” he said, noting that the Pune study was done in a very densely populated area of the city.

Another survey released this week, testing sewage water in Hyderabad, estimated that some 6.6% of the city of over nine million may have been infected — also far higher than the official data suggests. 

good news

Inside the “very cautious” U.S. human trial of a COVID-19 vaccine, CBS News, 8/21/2020

CBS News reports that two U.S. pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and Moderna, are in the final phase of coronavirus vaccine development, and Oxford University is expected to start large-scale human trials of its vaccine in the U.S. this month. CBS News got an inside look at what happens during this phase, before the vaccine is approved for public use.

For Dr. Victoria Smith, who practices family medicine near New Orleans, COVID-19 is personal. She’s lost three patients to the virus.

“I wanted to be part of the solution,” she told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. So in late July, Smith became one of the first of 30,000 participants in Pfizer’s Phase 3-vaccine trial. 

“I’m not an immunologist, but by being part of a trial, I can be part of that research front as well,” she said.

She received her first dose at Ochsner Medical Center in Louisiana. It’s a double-blinded study, meaning neither she nor the researchers know whether she received the vaccine or just a placebo.  

Every week, Pfizer sends packages of the vaccine and placebo to the Ochsner Phase 3 trial site. The vaccine is then stored in a freezer at a temperature of at least -60 degrees celsius (-76 Fahrenheit) to keep it stable.

Smith said she didn’t have any doubts about the trial. “I trust the process,” she said.

To be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a COVID-19 vaccine must prevent or decrease the severity of the disease in at least 50% of vaccinated people. 

“There’s no evidence that the vaccine makes the disease worse at all. So that’s really, really very encouraging,” said Dr. Kathryn Edwards, who is on Pfizer’s vaccine safety committee.

Once a week, the five members of the committee video chat to carefully look over data and scan for any adverse effects — especially serious ones that lead to hospitalizations.

“We’re very, very cautious in how we look at the data,” Edwards said. “Certainly if there were severe reactions, we would get that information right away.”

Edwards said there’s no evidence so far that the vaccine causes serious reactions, but that mild reactions are common, and should not deter anyone from getting vaccinated.

“You may have a sore arm or you may have a little tenderness or you may have a little headache or you may have a little fever. So those are things to be expected,” she said. “It’s just your immune system getting tweaked and you’re making a better response.”

Trial participants are required to self-monitor and log their symptoms on an app, recording their temperature and any reactions every day for a week after each injection. They will be asked to continue logging any symptoms on a weekly basis for two years.

On Wednesday, after 21 days, Smith received her final dose. Early trial results show a second shot boosts neutralizing antibodies that block the virus’ ability to attack our bodies.

“If you look at the immune responses in the people that got one dose and two, the two doses, their immune response was higher. So I think that… they’re probably going to need two doses,” Edwards said.

But a vaccine is not expected to mean an immediate return to the way things were.

“If the vaccine’s 50% effective, it’s not going to reduce all the disease,” Edwards said. “There’s social distancing, the masks, these things may need to continue and people will continue to need to have some thought about what their activities have and the implications that they have for the rest of the community.”

good news

August 24, 2020 — Covid-19 deaths have dropped below 1,000 a day as summer surge tails off, CNN

CNN reports that declines in the average number of daily Covid-19 deaths and in new cases indicate that the virus’ summer surge through the US is waning.The 7-day average of coronavirus deaths dropped below 1,000 a day over the weekend for the first time since late July. Also, the average number of new cases dipped to about 42,600 as of Sunday, well below its peak in mid-July of around 67,000 daily cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Although the trends are in the right direction, the US remains the world leader in total cases and deaths. For comparison, the European Union is experiencing a worrying surge in coronavirus; on Sunday, all 27 countries reported a total 7-day average of 17,000 new cases per day.Will these US declines continue? And how low will the totals go?

he answers to those questions are complicated by the planned reopening of schools, which has already led to outbreaks at universities in at least 19 states.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said earlier this month that he wanted to see cases drop below where they were in spring.

“When you look at our curve, it’s telling. And that’s the thing that bothers me. We went way up and we came down. We came down to a plateau of 20,000 cases per day. That is not a good baseline. We needed to get further down,” Fauci said on August 5.

Many outbreaks are tied to large group gatherings like parties, leading some schools to suspend students and organizations for breaking social distancing rules on and off campus.The University of Notre Dame and the University of Alabama both have seen increases in Covid-19 cases on their campuses. Notre Dame has moved to online instruction, according to its website. Meanwhile, local and university police at the University of Alabama will partner to monitor bars, restaurants and off-campus housing to ensure the city’s Covid-19 ordinances and university guidelines are followed, university President Stuart R. Bell said.

“Violations to our health and safety protocols, both on and off campus, are subject to harsh disciplinary action, up to and including suspension from UA,” Bell wrote in a letter to the campus community on Sunday.The University of Kentucky began a second phase of testing Sunday after a roughly 3% positivity rate for Covid-19 among fraternities and sororities in initial testing, which is triple the roughly 1% positivity rate for the general student population. And Central Michigan University has threatened to fine or suspend students who host large gatherings.

Penn State suspended its second fraternity this week for social distancing violations, according to a Sunday statement from the university.Pi Kappa Alpha has been suspended for “hosting a large social gathering” on Saturday, that included about 70 students, the university said. The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity was previously suspended from the campus following an August 18 gathering that violated school policy, the university said.Despite the rise in cases, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto cautioned against blaming students for the higher positivity rate on the school’s campus.”Let me be clear: This is not an act to blame the students who reside in these facilities or who belong to these organizations,” he wrote. “We believe a number of factors associated with communal living spaces likely contributed to the high positivity rates in these residences.”Across the US, there are 5.7 million cases of coronavirus and more than 176,000 people have died, according to the JHU database.

On the K-12 front, school districts are still trying to figure out how to navigate the academic year during the pandemic.Many schools across the country have implemented increased measures to protect students and staff against the virus, even though researchers are still learning how the virus spreads among young children.The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its school guidance Friday emphasizing the importance of keeping schools open if possible. One big change in the guidelines was how schools can handle a positive case.

The CDC encouraged schools to work closely with local and public health leaders if there is an infected person on campus. But rather than shut everything down immediately for a long period of time, the guidelines said one option is an initial short-term class suspension and cancellation of events and after-school activities, so that public health leaders can get the time they need to determine how widespread the infections are.If schools are using a pod system, keeping certain students together, administrators may only need to close certain parts of the building where an infected person had been.A school district in Michigan canceled all classes and after-school activities for Monday — its first day of school — after “receiving a threat” on Sunday, according to an alert on the district’s website.The Leslie Public Schools District did not offer details on the nature of the threat, but said it will work with law enforcement to assess it.In Florida, a 6-year-old girl became the youngest person in the state to die from coronavirus complications. Health officials say they still don’t know if the child contracted the virus from a known case or if it was travel related.

good news

August 24, 2020 — First Documented Coronavirus Reinfection Reported in Hong Kong; Reinfected Patient Was Asymptomatic, New York Times

A 33-year-old man was infected a second time with the coronavirus more than four months after his first bout, the first documented case of so-called reinfection, researchers in Hong Kong reported Monday.

The finding was not unexpected, especially given the millions of people who have been infected worldwide, experts said. And the man had no symptoms the second time, suggesting that even though the prior exposure did not prevent the reinfection, his immune system kept the virus somewhat in check.

“The second infection was completely asymptomatic — his immune response prevented the disease from getting worse,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who was not involved with the work but reviewed the report at The New York Times’s request. “It’s kind of a textbook example of how immunity should work.”

People who do not have symptoms may still spread the virus to others, however, underscoring the importance of vaccines, Dr. Iwasaki said. In the man’s case, she added, “natural infection created immunity that prevented disease but not reinfection.”

“In order to provide herd immunity, a potent vaccine is needed to induce immunity that prevents both reinfection and disease,” Dr. Iwasaki said.

Doctors have reported several cases of presumed reinfection in the United States and elsewhere, but none of those cases have been confirmed with rigorous testing. Recovered people are known to carry viral fragments for weeks, which can lead to positive test results in the absence of live virus.

But the Hong Kong researchers sequenced the virus from both of the man’s infections and found significant differences, suggesting that the patient had been infected a second time.

“I believe this is the first reported case that is confirmed by genome sequencing,” said Dr. Kelvin Kai-Wang To, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong.

The study is to be published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The Times obtained the manuscript from the university.

Dr. Iwasaki … noted that the man had no antibodies after the first infection but produced them after the second exposure. Immunity is expected to build with each exposure to a pathogen exactly in this way, she noted.

“Again, it’s what the textbook says should happen,” she said. “When you have second exposure to the same pathogen, you should elevate the antibody, and that’s what’s happening.”

Most people who are infected with the coronavirus produce detectable antibodies that would be expected to protect against the virus. Even people who had only mild symptoms, including this man, may also have immune “memory” in the form of B and T cells that prevent symptoms on second exposure.

“The majority of patients likely have a cocktail of immune responses that activate on second exposure,” said Brian Wasik, a virologist at Cornell University. “This Hong Kong patient also seems to have been asymptomatic on second infection, perhaps due to some immune response.”

But the researchers said it’s also possible that in some people, a second exposure will prove more severe. “It cannot be generalized yet, because there’s still a possibility that the second infection can be worse,” Dr. To said.

Building immune memory is not unlike boosting memory of a person, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The initial bout with the new coronavirus is likely to result in “non-sterilizing immunity,” but the virus will elicit a stronger response with each exposure, he said: “It is often these second and third exposures that help to solidify the memory response for the long term.”

good news

Virus’s retreat in Brazilian Amazon upends notions of herd immunity, Seattle Times, 8/24/2020 (Commentary)

The Seattle Times writes that the hospital system was coming apart. Coronavirus patients were being turned away. Basic necessities – beds, stretchers, oxygen – had run out. Ambulances had nowhere to take patients. People were dying at home. Gravediggers couldn’t keep up.

The human destruction in the Brazilian city of Manaus would be “catastrophic,” physician Geraldo Felipe Barbosa feared.

But then, unexpectedly, it started to let up – without the interventions seen elsewhere.

Hospitalizations of coronavirus patients plummeted in the state from a peak of more than 1,300 in May to fewer than 300 in August. Excess deaths in Manaus fell from around 120 per day to practically zero. The city closed its field hospital.

In a country devastated by the novel coronavirus, where more than 3.2 million people have been infected and over 105,000 killed, the reversal has stunned front-line doctors. Manaus never imposed a lockdown or other strict containment measures employed successfully in Asia and Europe. And what policies did exist, many people ignored.

In the spring, the Amazonian city became a global symbol of the devastation the disease can wreak in the developing world. But now it has returned to near normalcy – far sooner than many expected – and scientists and public health officials are asking why. The question is part of a broader debate among scientists and public health officials over the mechanics of herd immunity and the level of transmission that must be crossed before the disease starts to recede.

European cities that were pummeled by the disease have begun to reopen without crippling second waves. In Guayaquil, the Ecuadoran metropolis where bodies were left on the streets, scientists have cautiously speculated that collective immunity has been reached. Some researchers are now suggesting the same about New York City.

The factors that are helping to keep the virus at bay in Manaus and other cities remain unclear. Changed behaviors and individual community characteristics surely play a role. Manaus is testing far more than it once did. But whatever the dynamic, scientists and health officials are starting to wonder whether early prognostications about herd immunity overshot the mark.

It was initially believed that between 60 and 70% of the population needed to develop antibodies to reach collective immunity. But Guayaquil never broke 33%. Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, never got past 20.

“Manaus is an interesting case, indeed,” said Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization. “The hypothesis – and this is just a hypothesis – is that the peak we had in Manaus was very strong, and there was such widespread community transmission that it may have produced some kind of collective immunity.”

Draconian restrictive measures reduce the disease sharply, Barbosa said. But in Manaus, the reduction has been gradual, with a steady progression of new cases still arriving every day. That curve suggests the disease followed a “natural dynamic,” Barbosa said.

Manaus, he said, “paid a very large price” to get there. During the spring, it suffered three times as many deaths as normal. In all, the city of 2 million along the Amazon River buried some 3,300 people more than usual.

“This was not a strategy,” Barbosa said. “It was a tragedy.”

– – –

The idea of herd immunity has long been used to justify and explain the purpose of mass vaccination campaigns. Scientists would plug the disease transmission rate – or how many people one sick person infects – into a calculation to determine the percentage of people who should be inoculated. For particularly infectious diseases, such as measles, that’s as high as 95%. For others, it’s lower.

But researchers say collective immunity works differently in a live outbreak. The disease doesn’t simply vanish when a magic number is crossed. Instead, as the pool of potential victims shrinks, transmission decelerates until it’s gone. Containment policies can lower transmission further. But regardless of whether they’re adopted, once the pool of potential victims reaches a critical mass, an explosive resurgence is unlikely. Too many people would have already contracted the disease.

“In Italy, it struck the Milan region very badly,” said Tom Britton, a mathematician at Stockholm University. “But not Rome very much. If I had to bet money that there was a second wave, I would bet all of my money on Rome, rather than Milan.”

Britton and other researchers have been studying what’s known as “heterogeneity in susceptibility.” Early herd immunity models – and vaccination campaigns – have operated from the assumption that everyone’s the same. But individuals vary: Some people are more socially active, others are more physically vulnerable. Heterogeneity, researchers say, reduces the percentage of infection at which herd immunity may be achieved. The people most likely to get the disease and pass it on – the most socially active, the most susceptible – catch it first. But once they’re out of the pool of potential victims, the risk is less for everyone else.

“The effect of their immunity will be bigger,” Britton said.

In a paper published in Science in June, he and other researchers estimated that population heterogeneity shaves the coronavirus herd immunity rate to 43%. Others say it might be lower.

Gabriela Gomes, a mathematician at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, has scrutinized European cities overwhelmed by the disease. In a paper she wrote with nine other researchers, which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, she arrived at a striking conclusion: Herd immunity could be lower than 20%.

“Without immunity, you would have expected the cases to start growing very soon after interventions were lifted,” she said. “That’s what we were saying at the time: ‘It’s premature to lift interventions. Cases will start going up.’ But they didn’t. And in most cases, they continued going down. It was quite unexpected.”

But with the stakes so high – more than 770,000 dead worldwide and so much about the virus still unknown – many researchers have been reluctant to say whether they believe the worst in some of the hardest-hit cities has already passed. No one knows how long immunity lasts. The virus could mutate.

“In Manaus, maybe we’re done with it, and that’s it,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an environmental health scientist at Columbia University. “I would love that as well. But the reality is that it’s wishful thinking. It’s confirmation bias. We can’t pick evidence we hope is true. We have to be very careful about this because it could blow up in your face very quickly.”

– – –

Pietro Pinheiro Alves, a physician in Manaus, knows how quickly that can happen. Despite its physical remoteness in the rainforest, Manaus is one of Brazil’s most international cities. Drawn by a free-trade zone, companies from all over the world have put down roots in the Amazon. As the coronavirus spread worldwide, strains from China, Europe and the United States were soon circulating, unseen.

It didn’t take long for the patient surge to overwhelm the hospital system.

“People are dying in their houses,” Pinheiro Alves wept into the phone in early May, when things were at their worst. “They can’t get any help in the hospitals.”

He felt hopeless. People were still crowding the streets. Officials weren’t willing to impose a lockdown. In impoverished Manaus, where many already live on the brink, the mayor said it would lead to social chaos and violence. So Pinheiro Alves spent his off hours trying to jury-rig ventilators.

Manaus Mayor Arthur Virgílio Neto said he “fought for social isolation.”

“The attempt failed,” he said. “There wasn’t real social isolation. People still went out, and it wasn’t understood why. In the most difficult hours, I’d go to the field hospital, get stuck in a traffic jam and think, ‘Why aren’t people home? What are they doing out?’ “

Physician Uildéia Galvão saw the result: Every day, there would be a line of ambulances outside her hospital in central Manaus, each holding a patient in need of a bed. Sometimes they sat for hours, waiting for someone to die and relinquish their bed.

At the height of the city’s outbreak, there would be three or four lined up. Then one day, it was two. Then one.

“It was the first sign that the number of emergency calls were dropping,” Galvão said.

Intensive care units started to clear. Emergency coronavirus calls slowed, dropping from 2,410 in April to fewer than 180 in July. The wail of ambulances quieted. Some scientists said victory was in sight.

“Why Manaus will be the first Brazilian city to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote a group of researchers from the Federal University of Amazonas.

Street activity returned to pre-pandemic levels. People flocked to the river to swim and party. Appeals to wear masks: widely ignored. Private schools opened up. Then public. Cases continued to number in the hundreds every day, but far fewer were serious enough to warrant hospitalizations.

“There isn’t a concrete explanation,” said Henrique dos Santos Pereira, a scientist at the Federal University of Amazonas. Maybe there’s an unseen biological immunity in the population. Or the city’s relative youth staved off the worst.

“The problem is that we don’t know how many people are susceptible,” dos Santos Pereira said. “In the beginning, we were thinking it was everywhere, but it doesn’t seem like the whole world is susceptible. . . . It is causing us to reconsider the theory of herd immunity.”

Virgílio, the mayor, hopes the scientists are right. The medical system in Manaus has failed once. If a second wave does come, he has little doubt what would happen.

“Our capacities would be overwhelmed.”

Note: This story was originally published by washingtonpost.com.

Commentary — This is exceptionally good and timely story that is the bearer of exceptionally good news. Coming on the heels of similarly encouraging herd immunity news this week from the United States, Italy and India, I believe this Washington Post story by Terrence McCoy and Heloísa Traiano — about the spontaneous, medically unassisted defeat of COVID-19 by an provincial capital in the Brazilian Amazon — marks an important turning point in the battle against the coronavirus.

Three hearty, heartfelt cheers for everyone at the Washington Post who was involved in this story!

good news

August 25, 2020 — No new COVID-19 deaths in NYC, WABC-TV, 8/25/2020

WABC-TV reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday no new deaths were reported in New York City, but two deaths were announced from COVID-19 in New York — matching the state’s previous low.

New York State has had a rate of positive tests below 1% for 18 straight days.

bad news

August 26, 2020 — Obesity increases risk of Covid-19 death by 48%, study finds; Comprehensive study suggests vaccine may not work as well for overweight people, Guardian (England)

The Guardian reports that obesity increases the risk of death from Covid-19 by nearly 50% and may make vaccines against the disease less effective, according to a comprehensive study using global data.

The research from leading global experts warns that the risks for people with obesity are greater than previously thought.

The study, commissioned for the World Bank, will increase the pressure on governments to tackle obesity, including in the UK where the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has put himself at the head of a drive to reduce the nation’s weight.

The US and the UK have some of the highest obesity rates in the world. US government data shows more than 40% of Americans have obesity. In England, it is more more than 27% of adults.

The study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill finds that people with obesity, with a BMI over 30, are at greater risk from the coronavirus in every way. Their risk of ending up in hospital with Covid-19 is increased by 113%, they are more likely to be admitted to intensive care (74%) and have a higher risk of death (48%) from the virus.Advertisement

The study is led by Prof Barry Popkin, of the department of nutrition at the UNC Gillings Global School of Public Health, who told the Guardian he was shocked by the findings. The risk of dying from Covid-19 for people with obesity was significantly higher than anyone had thought.

“That’s a pretty big effect, for me,” said Popkin. “It is a 50% increase essentially. That’s a pretty high scary number. All of it is actually – much higher than I ever expected.”

The risk of being admitted to hospital for people with obesity was doubled, he said, at 113%. “That, ICU admission and mortality are really high,” he said. “They all shocked me, to be honest.”

The study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, is a meta-analysis, bringing together data from many studies carried out around the world, including Italy, France, the UK, the US and China. Obesity is a global problem that no country has yet successfully tackled.

People with obesity often have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity can cause metabolic changes, such as insulin resistance and inflammation which make it harder for the body to fight off infections.

“All of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus,” said co-author Prof Melinda Beck. “Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnoea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.”

Any vaccine developed for Covid-19 may not work as well in people with obesity, say the authors.

“We know a Covid vaccine will have a positive effect on obese people but we suspect from all our knowledge from tests on the Sars vaccine and the flu vaccine it will have a diminished benefit compared to the others,” said Popkin.

People with obesity often have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity can cause metabolic changes, such as insulin resistance and inflammation which make it harder for the body to fight off infections.

“All of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus,” said co-author Prof Melinda Beck. “Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnoea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.”

Any vaccine developed for Covid-19 may not work as well in people with obesity, say the authors.

“We know a Covid vaccine will have a positive effect on obese people but we suspect from all our knowledge from tests on the Sars vaccine and the flu vaccine it will have a diminished benefit compared to the others,” said Popkin.

They had convinced the Centers for Disease Control which oversees public health in the US that people with obesity were not getting the full benefit of standard flu vaccines, he said. “We now have a stronger flu vaccine for overweight people,” he said.

The recommendation was brought in this year after a long campaign. There is now an extra booster shot for people who are overweight as well as the elderly, whose immune systems weaken with age.

Popkin said vaccine developers should look at the data from their clinical trials for the obesity effect, even where they have an overall benefit. “They might just then have to consider this and do some testing in the vaccine to get it to work better for obese people.”

The hardship caused by lockdowns and loss of income for people around the world is also increasing the risk of people becoming obese, say the authors.

“We’re not only at home more and experience more stress due to the pandemic, but we’re also not visiting the grocery store as often, which means the demand for highly processed junk foods and sugary beverages that are less expensive and more shelf-stable has increased,” Popkin said.

“These cheap, highly processed foods are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat and laden with highly refined carbohydrates, which all increase the risk of not only excess weight gain but also key non-communicable diseases.”

good news

August 27, 2020 — Coronavirus: Vaccine front-runner China already inoculating workers, BBC

The BBC reports that earlier this month, the head of a well-known, privately-owned Chinese conglomerate told his staff that a vaccine for Covid-19 was expected to come to market by November.

The boss, whose firm has a healthcare division, said that he saw it as a portent of economic recovery; a chance for his firms to sell more, according to a person privy to the comments. Within a few weeks the Chinese government was forced to go public with its apparent progress.

The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 originated in humans in China, before it spread ceaselessly across the world. Now China is using its global footprint in a relentless effort to win the race to develop and deploy an effective vaccine.

Last week one of the developmental vaccines was pictured in state-run media; a small branded box was shown, held up by a smiling woman in a lab. Sinopharm said it hopes to have it ready to go on sale by December. It even named a price, equivalent to about $140 (£106).

Official and secret trials

China’s determination is out there for all to see.

We know that half of the leading six candidate vaccines being tested in the final stage of mass trials across the world are Chinese. These global trials are a necessity.

Ironically, China is not in a position to test the vaccines on the required scale at home because it’s been so successful at containing the spread of the virus within its borders.

“All vaccine manufacturers are looking for sites for their phase three trials (in which the vaccine is given to thousands of people) where Covid-19 is still circulating at relatively higher rates,” Professor Ben Cowling from the Hong Kong University Public School of Health told me.

He’s optimistic about all the vaccines currently in development, including the Chinese ones.

“I think all of the vaccines currently in phase three have a good chance of being found to be effective.”

China – like Russia, and like some in the White House want to – has gone a step further though.

A senior Chinese health official revealed the extent of that last weekend when he confirmed that China has been secretly testing vaccines on key public workers since last month.

Zheng Zhongwei from the National Health Commission told state-run television that emergency powers permitting the use of unapproved developmental vaccines allowed officials at the border and in other areas to be given a vaccine.

Being first may not be everything, ability to scale up will be key. “I think there could be a few vaccines that come to market by December but I’m not sure if they will be available in large quantities,” Prof Cowling said.

He thinks summer 2021 is more likely to be the time when entire populations can be immunised against Covid-19.

There are varying levels of experimentation. China has already confirmed it is involved in official, advanced trials of a vaccine on thousands of people in countries including the UAE, Peru and Argentina.

This is part of a series of well-documented global collaborations between governments and pharmaceutical firms.

Then there’s unpublicised trials. In what appears to be linked to the emergency powers vaccination experiments, and not the official phase three trials, a group of Chinese miners were refused entry to Papua New Guinea recently after their employer revealed it was using them for vaccine trials.

The PNG authorities were concerned they’d been kept in the dark and that some of the workers may have tested positive for Covid-19.

‘Vaccine diplomacy’ as propaganda?

There is ambiguity about what China will do with the vaccine if and when it has it. The English language version of the official government report into how China tackled the outbreak states “the Covid-19 vaccine [is] to be used as a global public product once it is developed and deployed in China”.

China has signalled that countries in Africa and its nearby neighbours in South East Asia would be the first to benefit from a Chinese-developed vaccine, once it has been rolled out in China. But some also see diplomatic leverage at play.

One senior European diplomat pointed to what they saw as China’s clumsy propaganda efforts during its “mask diplomacy” in Serbia and Italy, where it had sent health kits as the outbreak worsened.

They warned that “vaccine diplomacy”, with China potentially in a hugely influential position, could be far more calculated.

“They have invested a great deal in vaccine research,” Prof Cowling said about China, “and it is paying off now”.

good news

August 28, 2020 — Coronavirus: Risk to children ‘tiny,’ study finds, BBC (England)

The BBC reports that parents should be “reassured” Covid-19 has not caused the deaths of any otherwise healthy schoolchildren in the UK, researchers say.

Children’s risk of needing hospital treatment for coronavirus is “tiny” and critical care “even tinier”, they say.

However, black children, those who are obese and very young babies have a slightly higher risk.

The BMJ study looked at 651 children with coronavirus in hospitals in England, Wales and Scotland.

It covers two-thirds of all children’s admissions in the UK due to Covid-19 between January and July and confirms what is already known about the minimal effects of the virus on children.

A “strikingly low” 1% of these 651 children and young people – six in total – had died in hospital with Covid-19 compared with 27% across all other age groups, the study found.

Eighteen per cent of the children needed intensive care.

And the six who had died had had “profound” underlying health conditions that had often been complex and themselves life-limiting.

Children with such conditions remained vulnerable to the virus and must take precautions, the researchers said.

But for others, the risk was extremely low.

“There have been no deaths in otherwise healthy school-age children,” said study author Prof Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool.

“There is no direct harm from children going back to school,” he added.

Co-author Dr Olivia Swann, from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, in Edinburgh, said she hoped the findings would be “extremely reassuring for parents across the UK”.

The most common symptoms in children admitted to hospital were a fever, cough, nausea or vomiting and shortness of breath.

Older children were more likely to have stomach pain, headache and a sore throat.

Of the 651 children in the study, 42% had an underlying health condition – the most common ones being illnesses affecting the brain and nervous system (11%), cancer (8%) and asthma (7%).

But having asthma – unlike being obese – had not made the children more likely to need intensive care.

Of the children studied, 52 were also diagnosed with a multisystem inflammatory syndrome linked to coronavirus, with the first case seen by doctors in mid-March.

These children – none of whom died – were more likely than the others to be older, about 10, and from ethnic minorities.

And they were five times more likely to be admitted to intensive care, where they responded well to treatment.

‘Higher incidence’

Based on their study, the definition of this syndrome could now be broadened to include symptoms such as fatigue, headache, sore throat and muscle pain, the researchers said, on top of the symptoms already listed by the World Health Organization.

Dr Liz Whittaker, of Imperial College London, said the findings echoed other studies of Covid-19 in children.

“Very low numbers of children have been admitted to critical care and the researchers reported a very low death rate – particularly in comparison to adults but also in comparison to the death rate due to other infections, influenza, chicken pox, meningitis, group-A-strep[tococcus] sepsis etc, and other causes of childhood death – for example, road traffic accidents,” she said.

The fact black children were more commonly affected by the very rare inflammatory syndrome “reflects the higher incidence of coronavirus infection in these communities”, Dr Whittaker added.

bad news

August 31, 2020 — Symptoms can last much longer than expected, CNN

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said most people who tested positive for Covid-19 can return to work or school 10 days after the onset of symptoms, unless the illness requires hospitalization.But new research suggest the virus and its symptoms are often nowhere near finished by that benchmark.

Patients might need to wait over a month before being retested to know whether they have cleared the virus, according to research published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.The study also suggests about 1 in 5 negative test results are actually false negatives, meaning many infected people are still spreading the virus without knowing it after testing negative.And even after testing negative, many patients have said their symptoms last months longer. Such symptoms include brain fog, body aches, mood problems and the loss of smell.”We think that this long-term damage may in part be due to vascular damage — kind of a footprint that the virus leaves even when it’s gone from the body,” said Dr. William Li, president and medical director of the nonprofit Angiogenesis Foundation.Researchers have found the virus damaging blood vessels that connect the entire body, Li said. It isn’t clear when “long haul” patients will be back to the lives they had before, he added.

good news

While Covid-19 cases spike among children, Fauci says colleges shouldn’t send infected students home, CNN, 9/2/2020

CNN reports that new Covid-19 hot spots keep popping up across the US, with worrying trends in the Midwest and at colleges nationwide.More than 25,000 cases of Covid-19 have been reported from colleges and universities in 37 states, according to a CNN tally through Wednesday.

But it’s not just college students getting more infections. The number of new cases among children has jumped 17% in two weeks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.While Covid-19 deaths are rare among children and young adults, many young people are suffering long-term effects from the disease. And even those without symptoms can easily spread coronavirus to others.

That’s why colleges and universities shouldn’t send infected students home, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”Keep them at the university in a place that’s sequestered enough from the other students. But don’t have them go home, because they could be spreading it in their home state,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show in an interview aired Wednesday.

Campuses shouldn’t shut down after an outbreak because it would scatter and spread the virus further, Fauci said. “It’s the worst thing you could do,” he said.

70,000 new child cases in 2 weeks

From the beginning of this pandemic through August 27, more than 476,000 children have been infected, according to the report from the AAP and the hospitals group.Children at that time represented 9.5% of all coronavirus cases, up from 9.3% a week earlier, the report said.And from August 13 through August 27, 70,330 new child cases were reported, it said. That’s a 17% increase in child cases over two weeks.Nationwide, more than 6 million people in the US have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 184,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

good news

September 4, 2020 — Russians Publish Early Coronavirus Vaccine Results, New York Times

The New York Times writes that the first batch of public data from the “Sputnik V” vaccine showed that it was safe and produced an immune response. No one knows yet whether it prevents coronavirus infections.

On Friday, a team of Russian scientists published the first report on their Covid-19 vaccine, which had been roundly criticized because of President Vladimir Putin’s decision last month to approve it before clinical trials had proved it safe and effective.

In a small group of volunteers, the scientists found that the vaccine produced a modest level of antibodies against the coronavirus, while causing only mild side effects. The research has not yet shown, however, whether people who are vaccinated are less likely to become infected than those who are not.

In August, Mr. Putin announced with great fanfare that the vaccine — called Sputnik V — “works effectively enough” to be approved. He declared its approval to be a “very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”

But vaccine developers denounced the decision, observing that no data had been published on the vaccine. In addition, the critics pointed out, the Russian scientists had yet to run a large trial of tens of thousands of people, which is required to demonstrate that a vaccine works.

The new paper, published in the Lancet, contains the first batch of public data from Sputnik V’s clinical trials. Independent scientists were impressed by the rigor of the work.

“The science looks like it was done impeccably well,” said Naor Bar-Zeev of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is the co-author of a commentary on the new paper. Still, he cautioned that no one will know if Sputnik V is safe and effective until the larger trials are completed.

“We should welcome a Russian vaccine if it’s successful, and we should welcome other vaccines if they’re successful,” Dr. Bar-Zeev said. “But they should all be equally rigorously evaluated.”

Researchers at the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow used a design for the vaccine that they had previously developed and tested for MERS, a disease caused by another coronavirus.

The Sputnik V vaccine stimulates the immune system by coaxing a person’s cells to make a protein normally found on the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The researchers loaded the gene for this viral protein into a second virus, called an adenovirus.

When injected into the arm, the adenovirus slips into muscle cells. It has been genetically engineered so that it cannot make copies of itself or cause illness. But once it delivers the coronavirus gene into a cell, the cell starts making the protein.

bad news

September 11, 2020 — China’s coronavirus vaccine shows military’s growing role in medical research, Nature

Nature writes that the largest armed force in the world, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is not known for its cutting edge medical research. But since 2015, it has ramped up recruitment of scientists, and investment in the field as part of its strategy to modernize its military. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is showcasing the PLA’s growing expertise in medical research, including a major role in developing the coronavirus vaccine that was the first in the world to be approved for restricted use.

“China is definitely trying to leverage the crisis from a PR perspective,” says Abigail Coplin, who studies China’s biotechnology industry at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Medical researcher Major General Chen Wei at the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology — part of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences — led the team that developed the vaccine, which included collaborators from government agencies, universities and the Tianjin-based pharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics.

In July, the team became one of the first in the world to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal that showed a coronavirus vaccine to be safe and capable of eliciting an immune response1. By then, the Chinese government had already approved the vaccine, based on a common cold adenovirus and

called Ad5-nCoV, for limited use in military personnel, before large-scale testing to prove its efficacy. Wei and members of her team were among the first — of thousands in the military so far — to receive the vaccine. Chen and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology did not respond to Nature’s request for comment about the vaccine work.

Should the vaccine win approval for more widespread use before efforts backed by other countries, especially the United States, “it will be a pretty big propaganda victory” for Beijing, says Adam Ni, a China analyst from the Australian National University in Canberra who studies the PLA.

As well as its contributions to the development of a coronavirus vaccine, the PLA has also taken a high-profile role in controlling the pandemic in China, sent assistance with pandemic response in a host of countries and used the vaccine to forge new links with countries.

Other militaries, including the United States, work on vaccines and conduct medical research. But the sheer size of the PLA and the speed at which reforms are taking place make its scientific transformation noteworthy, and for some, a cause for concern, especially given the growing political tensions between the United States and China, he says.

In the past few months, US security officials revealed that China has tried to spy on and steal information from US pharmaceutical companies and university research groups working on coronavirus vaccines. Scientists have also raised concerns about the ethics of approving a vaccine that is still being trialled for use in the military.

Science a priority

In 2015, China’s President Xi Jinping announced reforms that made science and innovation a key element of modernizing its armed forces, says Elsa Kania, who analyses Chinese military strategy at the Center for a New American Security in Washington DC.

The PLA established electronic-, cyber- and space-warfare branches alongside its more conventional army, navy and air force. And in 2016, a Science and Technology Commission, which decides what research is funded, became one of 15 newly formed military ‘sections’.

“It’s gone from a fairly backward military in the 70s and 80s — large but certainly not professional and not technologically advanced — to a much more formidable military,” says Ni.

The reforms also brought the Academy of Military Medical Sciences — which led development of the Ad5-nCoV vaccine — under the umbrella of the Academy of Military Sciences, the PLA’s main military strategy institution, which oversees nine other research institutions.

Civilian recruits

Before the reforms, the PLA recruited scientists either internally or from military universities, partly because civilian scientists didn’t find research positions in the military attractive, says Ni. Uniformed members of the military must fulfil fitness obligations, and working conditions were less flexible than in civilian institutions.

But since 2018, the PLA has been recruiting more civilian-trained scientists,making research positions more appealing — and, in particular, has upped its recruitment of medical scientists.

The Academy of Military Medical Sciences has recruited 213 civilians for scientific research positions since 2018, making it the second-highest recruiter of scientific talent in the Academy of Military Science’s 10 research institutions, according to an analysis posted online by Kai Lin Tay at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. The Academy of Military Sciences “now relies more on civilians than military cadres to fulfil its scientific research needs,” writes Tay.

The military is also increasing its ties to civilian universities in China, as part of a policy known as military–civil fusion, which the Chinese government also announced in 2015. Graduate students affiliated with the PLA and a civilian university are becoming more common. The military–civil fusion strategy highlights biology as a priority research area. The PLA has also been bolstering its scientific expertise by sending researchers abroad.

And partnerships between the PLA and the medical-science companies have accelerated since the start of the pandemic, according to Tay’s report. As well as collaborating with CanSino Biologics to develop the Ad5-nCoV vaccine, the PLA has partnered with Beijing Chieftain, which makes disinfecting and medical equipment, since March.

On show

The pandemic has provided China with an opportunity to highlight the military’s scientific achievements on the domestic and international stage. For instance, PLA epidemiologists and medical workers have had an important role in treating the sick, monitoring the outbreak and overseeing distribution of medical supplies in Wuhan. The military has also assisted with the pandemic responses in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Italy, by deploying units and supplies.

The PLA-developed vaccine could give China additional geopolitical influence with favoured countries being given priority access to the vaccine, says Ian McCaslin, a China military analyst affiliated with Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute in Washington DC. CanSino Biologics already has agreements to conduct phase III trials in Russia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The PLA’s renewed science focus is helping to advance existing military-research projects — in particular in brain science, says Kania. In 2018, PLA neuroscientists published a review outlining how military brain science could influence future wars, for example by using brain-computer interfaces to enhance soldiers’ capabilities and by deploying psychological warfare against enemy nations2.

Limited insight

Because analysts who study the Chinese military have not traditionally focused on the medical research conducted by the PLA, its true impact remains unknown, says Kania. “We’re still trying to get a handle on how to understand the scope and scale of their activities as well as the quality and competitiveness of their research,” she says.

Some research is similar to that conducted by other military forces. The US military, for instance, is developing its own coronavirus vaccine and conducts basic research into trauma and infectious diseases.

And some of the PLA’s medical research is designed to maintain a healthy armed force, says McCaslin. “You have a medical need to take care of your soldiers during peacetime,” and to prepare for injuries that might occur during warfare, he says.

It’s also important to bear in mind that the PLA’s scientific efforts represent only “a small minority of work being done in biotechnology, both within China and globally”, adds Coplin.

Cause for concern?

Still, some China experts and foreign governments are concerned about the participation of PLA researchers in medical research.

In July, the US Justice Department indicted two Chinese nationals for spying on three US-based entities involved in medical research to fight the coronavirus. The US biotech company Moderna, which is trialling one of the world’s leading coronavirus vaccine candidates, later told Reuters that it was one of the companies that hackers had targeted. Chinese officials have denied any involvement.

“Tech transfer is clearly a policy and priority of the Chinese government at the highest levels and has involved fairly egregious instances of hacking, for purposes of data theft,” says Kania. “This pattern of behaviour is unique to China in the scale and scope as well as the severity of these incidents and the extent to which they contravene the norms of scientific and commercial engagement.”

Scientists are also concerned about China’s lack of safeguards to ensure that research on people is conducted ethically, says Kania. It is unclear whether military personnel were given a choice to have the PLA-backed coronavirus vaccine, she says. The researchers who worked on the vaccine did not respond to Nature’s request for comment on such ethics issues.

These are legitimate concerns, says Coplin, but she cautions the United States against using them as a reason to stymie otherwise productive collaborations with China.

bad news

September 11, 2010 — ‘Don’t be frightened by this:’ San Antonio doctor talks coronavirus vaccine hiccup, KSAT-TV San Antonio

KSAT-TV San Antonio reports that recently a coronavirus vaccine put on trial by AstraZeneca was halted after a participant developed an “unexplained illness.”

In the latest KSAT Q&ADr. Ruth Berggren with UT Health San Antonio’s Long School of Medicine explains what this means for the future of a potential vaccine.

According to AstraZeneca, a woman who received the experimental vaccine reported symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal cord. The symptoms are neurological and Berggren said it’s hard to tell if they were caused by the vaccine.

“The company did the right thing. They halted the trial and they’ll be reviewing it. So don’t be frightened by this. Be encouraged that clinical trials are being done with transparency and there are stopgaps and backstops to make sure that every one safety is protected,” she said.

This doesn’t change your hope and optimism that we are eventually going to get a vaccine?

“No, not at all,” Berggren said. “I believe at least 29 different vaccines being studied. So the fact that one trial got halted for one event that may or may not be related to the vaccine, that doesn’t change anything.”

What needs to happen for us to actually get this vaccine once it’s available?

The whole country needs to start getting serious about that planning,” she said. Berggren said getting Americans to stay update with vaccinations has always been a challenge. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than half of Americans get the flu shot each year.

“And so to get, as a nation, 300 million people promptly vaccinated [for the coronavirus] is going to take some time. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but we need to start focusing on those logistics and on a very local level, working with our metro health authorities and our state health authorities to make sure that we’ve got a plan in place so we can execute it rapidly when we get the vaccine,” Berggren said.

good news

September 11, 2020 — Will herd immunity end the coronavirus?, World

In an opinion piece in World Magazine, Charles Horton, M.D., writes that in the COVID-19 debates, one topic manages simultaneously to be the most and least controversial: “herd immunity.” The concept of herd immunity is uncontroversial, and simply states that when enough members of a population develop immunity to a virus, the bug will fizzle out for lack of people to infect. The controversy, though, echoes every child’s favorite road-trip question: Are we almost there yet?

Two developments have raised the question with new vigor. One is in Washington, where Dr. Scott Atlas has become the newest White House adviser on the coronavirus task force. Atlas advocated for herd immunity in his May Senate testimony, saying, “If infection is still prevalent, socializing among these low-risk groups [younger, healthy adults] presents the opportunity for developing widespread immunity and eradicating the threat.” (His recommendations assume viral spread among low-risk groups will remain largely confined to those groups and won’t have serious long-term health consequences.)

The second development was summarized by a recent Washington Post article: Researchers are now questioning where the threshold for coronavirus herd immunity actually lies. So at what point can we argue that we’ve reached herd immunity?

Viruses spread at different rates in different populations. In a March letter to the editor in the Journal of Infection, a Hong Kong–based team attempted to calculate the coronavirus herd immunity threshold for various countries. The authors started with the basic idea that the more easily the virus spreads within a given population, the further that population must be from the immunity threshold. They based this on estimates of Rt, a figure measuring the “effective reproductive number.” (Think of weeds in gardens: They spread freely in general, but they may spread even better—or worse—depending on their circumstances. An Rt value below 1.0 would mean weeds are decreasing.)

The Hong Kong team estimated the U.S. herd immunity threshold was 69.6 percent, assuming no masks or social distancing—meaning about 7 out of 10 Americans would need to get the coronavirus (and survive) in order to stop its spread.

However, a Brazilian team’s new study (not yet peer reviewed) argues that individual variation in susceptibility or exposure could lower the threshold for herd immunity. That’s an interesting hypothesis, and the logic behind it makes sense up to a point. Clearly people who spend much of their time in crowded indoor places, such as the unfortunate folks who “get every cold that goes around,” are at higher risk than others. But—there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?—the Rt already takes that into account: It’s a population-level figure, and it considers those susceptible people along with the happy souls whose immune systems (or introverted lifestyles) mean they seemingly haven’t caught a virus in years.

The Brazilian team argues that under optimal circumstances, herd immunity could require as little as 20 percent of the population to be immune. Wonderful news if true—but is it? And how close can we get to those optimal circumstances? The fact is, we can do things to change effective reproductive number: America’s calculated Rt value, for example, went from an extreme high of 3.8 in some states down to slightly above 1.0 with social distancing, masking, contact tracing, and full-then-partial shutdowns.

We thus end up in another good news, bad news situation. The good news is that being able to change Rt means we can also temporarily, by all working together, get the benefits of herd immunity—reduced case numbers, reduced deaths, sustained reopening—even without having enough people contract SARS-CoV-2 to obtain true herd immunity. This is how distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, contact tracing, and staying home have held Taiwan’s population of 23 million people to a total of seven COVID-19 deaths. The Taiwanese are not unusually immune to the coronavirus. They simply worked together to pull Rt down to a level where the virus couldn’t spread.

The bad news comes if we mistake the good news for a get-out-of-jail-free card. The virus hasn’t changed, and the outbreaks at college campuses show just how easily it still spreads. A vaccine should be mass-produced soon—God willing, within the next six months. Observing that Rt is currently low, or that the infection and death figures are more reassuring now, should encourage us to stay the course with measures like masking and social distancing, not abandon them prematurely.

bad news

September 14, 2020 — U.S. Army Marshals Resources To Aid In Race For Coronavirus Vaccine, NPR

NPR reports that Agi Hajduczki, a research scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Infectious Diseases, opens a large freezer and takes out boxes of DNA. She is part of a team making a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hajduczki places a small, clear plastic tray under a piece of white paper on the table of her lab. The tray is dimpled. Pale yellow fluid can be seen under the dozens of dimples.

Some of the dimples are clearly more yellow than others.

“More yellow means more protein,” she explains. “So we’re basically trying to get mammalian cells to generate this protein for us, which would then eventually be used as the vaccine in a clinical trial so it kind of looks like the spike, the way it does in the real virus.”

The idea is that the immune system would get to know this protein — through the vaccine — and when the real virus hits, the immune system would know how to fight it.

Hajduczki became fascinated with viruses as a young girl in Hungary, watching her pathologist mother work on AIDS victims back in the early 1980s.

“So even, you know, when the world didn’t necessarily know about that this virus is happening like that was our dinner table conversation,” she says.

Now she has a young daughter, and has brought her to the lab during this pandemic, because like many parents around the country, Hajduczki and her husband are scrambling between work and childcare duties. Her voice breaks when she talks about the effect the virus is having on her work and family life.

“It’s hard because like our whole lives have been upside down,” Hajduczki says. “We work in shifts, crazy hours, super amount of stress. But then, you know, when I go home, then dealing with the whole thing, like going to Trader Joe’s is like a two-hour excursion now, and I have a kid who has been at home from school…I have to kind of explain to her what’s going on.”

The vaccine Hajduczki’s working on will take some time, and won’t just target the current coronavirus. Human trials aren’t expected to start until later in the fall.

“The most cost effective and impactful public health tool”

A supply cart rolls down the long corridors at the institute just outside Washington, D.C, past labs and displays picturing nineteenth century scientists, letters and artifacts. There are closed doors with small signs on the wall. One says “Viral diseases.” Another simply, “Malaria.”

Inside one of these offices is the scientist heading Army efforts to aid in the race for a vaccine for the current pandemic: Kayvon Modjarrad, a civilian doctor. He’s a large man, with wireless glasses and an easygoing manner. His parents came from Iran to New York City back in the 1970s. He became interested in vaccines after taking a class as a medical student.

“I decided that I wanted to work on vaccines,” he says, “because it is the most cost effective and impactful public health tool that we have to saving lives.”

bad news

September 15, 2020 — NIH ‘very concerned’ about serious side effect in AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trial, CNN

CNN Reports that the Food and Drug Administration is weighing whether to follow British regulators in resuming a coronavirus vaccine trial that was halted when a participant suffered spinal cord damage, even as the National Institutes of Health has launched an investigation of the case.”The highest levels of NIH are very concerned,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, intramural clinical director and a leader of viral research at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an NIH division. “Everyone’s hopes are on a vaccine, and if you have a major complication the whole thing could get derailed.”

A great deal of uncertainty remains about what happened to the unnamed patient, to the frustration of those avidly following the progress of vaccine testing. AstraZeneca, which is running the global trial of the vaccine it produced with Oxford University, said the trial volunteer recovered from a severe inflammation of the spinal cord and is no longer hospitalized.AstraZeneca has not confirmed that the patient was afflicted with transverse myelitis, but Nath and another neurologist said they understood this to be the case. Transverse myelitis produces a set of symptoms involving inflammation along the spinal cord that can cause pain, muscle weakness and paralysis. Britain’s regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, reviewed the case and has allowed the trial to resume in the United Kingdom.

AstraZeneca “need[s] to be more forthcoming with a potential complication of a vaccine which will eventually be given to millions of people,” said Nath. “We would like to see how we can help, but the lack of information makes it difficult to do so.”Any decision about whether to continue the trial is complex because it’s difficult to assess the cause of a rare injury that occurs during a vaccine trial — and because scientists and authorities have to weigh the risk of uncommon side effects against a vaccine that might curb the pandemic.

bad news

September 15, 2020 — Injectable Biochip for SARS-CoV-2 Detection Near FDA Approval, Mercola.com

Dr. Joseph Mercola writes that:

  • Profusa, in partnership with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has created an injectable biosensor capable of detecting the presence of an infection in your body
  • Injectable hydrogel biosensors are not rejected as foreign bodies like earlier implants, instead becoming one with your own tissue
  • The technology consists of three components: the implanted sensor, a reader placed on the surface of the skin, and the software that allows the reader to send the collected data via Bluetooth to your phone or tablet, which in turn can be connected to other online sources such as your doctor’s website
  • Profusa’s DARPA-backed technology will be able to detect the presence of flu-like infections — including SARS-CoV-2 infections — in the population before they become symptomatic. As such, the biosensors may become part of future pandemic detection systems
  • Mass surveillance of biological data will require massively increased bandwidth in cellphone and Wi-Fi networks, and it’s possible that this is why governments are rushing implementation of 5G networks around the world without giving potentially adverse effects a second thought

The Silicon Valley company, Profusa,1 in partnership with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),2 has created an injectable biosensor capable of detecting the presence of an infection in your body.3

In early August 2019, months before COVID-19 became a household word, DARPA granted Profusa additional funding “to develop an early identification system to detect disease outbreaks, biological attacks and pandemics up to three weeks earlier than current methods.”4

As discussed in “Will New COVID Vaccine Make You Transhuman?” we appear to stand at the doorway of a brave new world in which man is increasingly merged with technology and artificial intelligence, and COVID-19 may well be the key that opens that door, in more ways than one.

For starters, many of the COVID-19 vaccines currently being fast-tracked are not conventional vaccines. Their design is aimed at manipulating your own biology, essentially creating genetically modified humans.

Combined with hydrogel biosensors — which do not suffer from rejection as foreign bodies like earlier implants, instead becoming one with your own tissue5 — we may also find ourselves permanently connected to the internet-based cloud, for better or worse.

Hydrogel Chip Will Connect You to the Internet

Hydrogel is a DARPA invention that involves nanotechnology and nanobots. This “bioelectronic interface” is part of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines’ delivery system.

The biochip being developed by Profusa is similar to the proposed COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in that it utilizes hydrogel. The implant is the size of a grain of rice, and connects to an online database that will keep track of changes in your biochemistry and a wide range of biometrics, such as heart and respiratory rate and much more.

A September 2019 paper6 describes how the injectable sensor can help improve monitoring for peripheral artery disease. However, while it might be convenient, this kind of technology will also have immediate ramifications for our privacy. Who will collect and have access to all this data? Who will be responsible for protecting it? How will it be used, and when? As noted in a SteemKR article discussing the implants:7

“Along with the advent of in-body nanotechnology, and sensors which tie the human body to an artificial intelligence platform, the possibilities for misuse by totalitarian governments has not been lost on technology watchdogs. With advanced biosensors, artificial intelligence may be able to read the subject’s every mood and activity, heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, even sexual activity.”

How the Biosensor Works

In a March 3, 2020, article, Defense One explains the basics of how the biosensor works:8

“The sensor has two parts. One is a 3mm string of hydrogel, a material whose network of polymer chains is used in some contact lenses and other implants. Inserted under the skin with a syringe, the string includes a specially engineered molecule that sends a fluorescent signal outside of the body when the body begins to fight an infection.

The other part is an electronic component attached to the skin. It sends light through the skin, detects the fluorescent signal and generates another signal that the wearer can send to a doctor, website, etc. It’s like a blood lab on the skin that can pick up the body’s response to illness before the presence of other symptoms, like coughing.”

So, to recap, the technology consists of three components:9 the implanted sensor, a reader placed on the surface of the skin, and the software that allows the reader to send the collected data via Bluetooth to your phone or tablet, which in turn can be connected to other online sources such as your doctor’s website.

Detecting Outbreaks Before They Spread

As reported by Defense One,10 Profusa’s DARPA-backed technology will be able to detect the presence of flu-like infections — including SARS-CoV-2 infections — in the population before they become symptomatic. As such, the biosensors may well become part and parcel of future pandemic detection systems. Profusa hopes to gain Food and Drug Administration approval by early 2021.11

March 3, 2020, Profusa announced12,13 the launch of a study to investigate the technology’s effectiveness for early detection of influenza outbreaks. Collaborators include Duke University, the Imperial College of London and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute that develops algorithms for disease detection. According to the press release:14

“The study, conducted at Imperial College London, will examine how sensors monitoring physiological status, including the Lumee Oxygen Platform which measures tissue oxygen levels, provide potential indicators of human response to infection or exposure to disease in healthy volunteers.

The goal of the study is to develop an early identification system to detect not only disease outbreaks, but biological attacks and pandemics up to three weeks earlier than current methods. The results of the study are anticipated to be available in 2021.

‘This research marks an exciting step forward in the development of game-changing preventive care,’ said Ben Hwang, chairman and CEO of Profusa.

‘The Lumee Oxygen Platform can potentially function as a sort of canary in a coal mine for infectious disease, since subtle changes in oxygen at the tissue level may signal trouble and can help clinicians course correct quickly to avoid outbreaks.’”

Privacy Questions Remain Unanswered

Many questions remain, however. If your cellphone can receive information from your body, what information can your body receive from it, or other sources, and what effects might such transmissions have on your physical functioning and psychological health?

So far, such crucial questions have not been answered, and they must be, considering the nightmarish possibilities. Writing for the technology journal The New Atlantis, technology critic Adam Keiper points out that:15

Aside from nanotech’s potential as a weapon of mass destruction, it could also make possible totally novel forms of violence and oppression. Nanotechnology could theoretically be used to make mind-control systems, invisible and mobile eavesdropping devices, or unimaginably horrific tools of torture.”

One of my favorite independent journalists, Whitney Webb, wrote an article16 about this: “Coronavirus Gives a Dangerous Boost to DARPA’s Darkest Agenda.” In it, she reviews some of the more nefarious possibilities inherent in this technology:

“Technology developed by the Pentagon’s controversial research branch is getting a huge boost amid the current coronavirus crisis, with little attention going to the agency’s ulterior motives for developing said technologies, their potential for weaponization or their unintended consequences …

Profusa, which has received millions upon millions from DARPA in recent years, asserts that the information generated by their injectable biosensor would be ‘securely shared’ and accessible to ‘individuals, physicians and public health practitioners.’

However, the current push for a national ‘contact tracing’ system based on citizens’ private health data is likely to expand that data sharing, conveniently fitting with DARPA’s years-old goal of creating a national, web-based database of preemptive diagnoses. Profusa is also backed by Google, which is intimately involved in these new mass surveillance ‘contact tracing’ initiatives …”

Department of Defense Is Deeply Invested in Nanotech

It’s worth considering the possibility that the transfer of data may be able to go both ways, seeing how the Department of Defense is also working on nanotechnologies aimed at creating veritable “super-soldiers” equipped with augmented situational awareness and other battlefield survivability capabilities.17,18,19

Such technologies may also include gene-based weapons designed to undermine the enemy’s health and well-being.20 In “Coronavirus Gives a Dangerous Boost to DARPA’s Darkest Agenda,” Webb reviews several DARPA initiatives that stretch the imagination:21

“Another long-standing DARPA program … is known as ‘Living Foundries’22 … Living Foundries ‘aims to enable adaptable, scalable, and on-demand production of [synthetic] molecules by programming the fundamental metabolic processes of biological systems to generate a vast number of complex molecules that are not otherwise accessible’ …

The types of research23 this ‘Living Foundries’ program supports involves the creation of ‘artificial life’ including the creation of artificial genetic material … artificial chromosomes, the creation of ‘entirely new organisms,’ and using artificial genetic material to ‘add new capacities’ to human beings (i.e. genetically modifying humans through the insertion of synthetically-created genetic material) …

DARPA also has a project called ‘Advanced Tools for Mammalian Genome Engineering,’24 which … is focused specifically on improving ‘the utility of Human Artificial Chromosomes (HACs)’

Though research papers often focus on HACs as a revolutionary medical advancement, they are also frequently promoted25 as a means of ‘enhancing’ humans by imbuing them with non-natural characteristics …

Reports on these programs also discuss the other, very disconcerting use of these same technologies, ‘genetic weapons’ that would ‘subvert DNA’ and ‘undermine people’s minds and bodies.’26

As noted in the SteemKR article,27 mass surveillance of everyone’s biological data would also require “enormously increased bandwidth in cellphone and Wi-Fi networks,” and it’s possible that this is part of why governments around the world are so hell-bent on implementing 5G networks across the globe without giving potentially adverse effects a second thought.

Nanotech Adjuvants in Vaccines

The U.S. Department of Defense is also looking at using nanotech-based adjuvants in vaccines in lieu of conventional adjuvants known to cause health problems. As described on the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies’ website under strategic research areas No. 1:28

“Another project focuses on novel means to protect the Soldier against infections. The approach is to safely intervene in the human immune system through the design of novel lymphoid- and leukocyte-targeting nanomaterials that concentrate adjuvant compounds and immunomodulators in immune cell populations to respectively enhance prophylactic vaccines and anti-microbial therapies.”

The project page 1.6 expounds on the research further, stating:29

“Protein vaccines do not typically elicit an immune response on their own, and must combined with adjuvants, compounds that provide inflammatory cues or promote the immune response to a co-administered antigen. Adjuvant design is made challenging by the need to strongly drive specific aspects of the immune response while maintaining a rigorous safety profile for administration to healthy recipients.

Nanotechnology-based approaches that target vaccine adjuvants or immunomodulators to lymph nodes have the capacity to enhance both the potency and safety of vaccines, by focusing adjuvant activity in tissues where immune responses are initiated and avoiding systemic exposure …

Project 1.6 proposes to develop two platform technologies that safely and efficiently promote immune responses in the vaccination and therapeutic settings: lymph node targeting amphiphile-adjuvants and immune-targeting amphiphilic ligand-coated metal nanoparticles.

These two approaches are ideally suited to targeting adjuvant compounds to lymphoid tissues and immunomodulators to immune cells during infection, respectively.

In preliminary studies performed with colleagues at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), promising results have been obtained in mouse models of Ebola virus infection using lymph node targeting adjuvants.

Nanotechnology-based adjuvants/immunomodulators focusing particularly on enhancing affinity maturation and cytotoxic T-cell induction will be developed, and the research team will partner with USAMRIID to apply these technologies to Ebola and other vaccines.”

While much of this may still seem too far-fetched to be true to the average person, we’re at a point now where we need to face the transhumanist agenda head-on, because it’s being implemented whether we are aware of it and agree with its prospects or not. And mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 appear to be one way to get a large portion of the global population caught in the “net.”

— Bruce Brown
Editor, Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest

Princess of the Universe, a novel by Hale FellowMountain in the Clouds by Brucve BrownSaga In Itself - The Filming of Never Cry Wolf by Bruce Brown100 Voices from the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown
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5 thoughts on “Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest by Bruce Brown

  1. This is a difficult topic — how to handles such a virulent “bug”?

    Spanish flu wiped out young; this one wipes out people as they age.

    Increasing numbers of people on FaceBook are describing being extremely sick and in pain for two weeks or more. A common phrase is: “I’ve never been so sick or felt so bad.”

    If the death rate is over 50% for the elderly and they all die off, that group will never achieve herd immunity.

    Again, this is a difficult topic…

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