Archive for the ‘pandemic’ Category

“We’re failing”: Ex-Warp Speed leader proud, deflects blame on vaccines

January 26th, 2021
President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

Moncef Slaoui, the former head scientist for the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, is proud of his team’s work in helping to develop and distribute vaccine in an unprecedented timeframe amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to immunizing the population, “overall, we’re failing,” he says.

The immunologist and former head of vaccines for GlaxoSmithKline resigned from his role on Warp Speed at the request of the Biden Administration nearly two weeks ago. Though the Administration also quickly scrubbed away the “Warp Speed” name—which was repeatedly criticized for giving the impression that vaccines would be hastily developed without proper testing—Slaoui agreed to stay on into February to help with the transition. With his time in the federal position dwindling, he sat down for an interview with Science magazine to review how things have gone.

Overall, Slaoui is proud of his work, his team, and the monumental tasks they accomplished, he said. “Between May [2020] and now, we’ve moved five vaccines into Phase III trials, two have been authorized, two are completing Phase III—and one of those could be approved imminently… By all standards, this is absolutely exceptional,” he said.

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Posted in COVID-19, Infectious disease, operation warp speed, pandemic, public health, science, Slaoui, Trump, vaccines | Comments (0)

The art and science of boarding an airplane in a pandemic

January 23rd, 2021
During the pandemic, several airlines have switched boarding procedures to create more distance between passengers.

Enlarge / During the pandemic, several airlines have switched boarding procedures to create more distance between passengers. (credit: Nicholas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Jason Steffen studies planets in other solar systems. His most famous work—OK, second-most famous work—was with NASA’s Kepler Mission, a survey of planetary systems. But you’re more likely to have heard of Steffen, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, in a very different context: as a student of the airplane boarding process. Years ago, after waiting in yet another line on a jam-packed jetway, the physicist thought to himself, “There has to be a better way than this.”

Airlines are invested in boarding times—and to a lesser extent, offboarding—because time equals money. Flying people around the world is a low-margin business, and the faster you can get a flight loaded, into the air, and then emptied on the ground, the faster you can get the next round of paying customers into the air.

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Posted in air travel, Airlines, COVID-19, pandemic, science | Comments (0)

With Trump’s vaccine rollout in chaos, Biden unveils five-point plan

January 15th, 2021
US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Wilmington, Delaware on January 15, 2021.

Enlarge / US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Wilmington, Delaware on January 15, 2021. (credit: Getty | Angela Weiss)

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday unveiled a five-point plan to try to rescue the country’s beleaguered COVID-19 vaccination campaign and achieve his stated goal of reaching 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

The five steps include, in brief:

  • Working with states to open and clarify eligibility for vaccination
  • Help set up additional vaccination sites
  • “Fully activate” pharmacies to act as vaccination sites
  • Ramp up manufacturing of vaccine and supplies
  • Commit to transparency and rollout a massive public information campaign to combat disinformation

“The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said in speech. These five things are an attempt to turn things around, to “turn frustration into motivation.”

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Posted in Biden, COVID-19, FEMA, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science, Trump, vaccination | Comments (0)

“Selfish Idiocy:” Infected lawmaker blasts Republicans for bunkering maskless [Updated]

January 12th, 2021
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, July 29, 2020.

Enlarge / Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, July 29, 2020. (credit: Getty | Graeme Jennings)

UPDATE 1/12/2021, 11:15am EST: And now there is a third. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill) announced Tuesday morning that he, too, has tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering with maskless Republican colleagues.

In a statement, Schneider said that during the insurrection, he was "forced to spend several hours in a secure but confined location with dozens of other Members of Congress," and "several Republican lawmakers in the room adamantly refused to wear a mask."

Schneider reported that so far, he has not experienced symptoms but was nevertheless concerned. "Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff," he said. “Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is public health guidance, common courtesy, and simply what should be expected of all decent people."

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Posted in capitol, congress, coronavirus, COVID-19, Infectious disease, insurrection, pandemic, public health, science | Comments (0)

Biden plans to release full vaccine supply, reversing Trump policy

January 8th, 2021
President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks January 07, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Enlarge / President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks January 07, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly planning to ditch the current Trump administration policy of withholding half of all available COVID-19 doses to ensure that the requisite second doses are available, according to a report by CNN.

Instead, the incoming administration plans to release the full available supply to states and jurisdictions.

"The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible. He supports releasing available doses immediately and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans' arms now," TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden's transition, told CNN. "He will share additional details next week on how his administration will begin releasing available doses when he assumes office on January 20th."

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Posted in Biden, COVID-19, dose, fauci, fda, HHS, immunization, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science, Trump, vaccine | Comments (0)

Private party app pulled from App Store by Apple

December 30th, 2020
Private party app pulled from App Store by Apple

Enlarge (credit: Hinterhaus Productions | Getty Images)

Despite over 82 million cases and over 1.75 million deaths due to COVID-19, many people are bound and determined to carry on with normal life. For some, that includes attending Saturday night ragers, just like they did in the Before Times. Reports of yet another secret party being broken up by law enforcement have become distressingly common.

Getting guests for these secret parties is at least slightly more difficult now that Apple has pulled Vybe Together—an app with a tagline that invited users to "get their party on"—from the App Store. The Verge pointed out that the app had largely been flying under the radar until a tweet from Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times brought some unwelcome, but much-needed scrutiny to the app. One of Lorenz's tweets highlighted Vybe Together's TikTok account, which had posted videos of unmasked people partying indoors while advertising New Years Eve parties. According to Business Insider, TikTok has since removed Vybe Together's account for violating community guidelines.

Vybe Together's FAQ at least acknowledged the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We are aware that Covid is a major health problem to the country, our communities, our friends and family. If we could all just be in isolation this could actually go away." So far, so good.

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Posted in App Store, apple, COVID-19, pandemic, Party, Policy, science, Tech, Vybe Together | Comments (0)

For Biden administration, Fauci’s in, but Birx is not

December 23rd, 2020
Image of a woman speaking in front of charts.

Enlarge / White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx speaks during a press briefing in November 2020. (credit: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx announced that she will end decades of government service after the Biden transition is completed. The move comes after controversy over how she spent her Thanksgiving and articles suggesting that the incoming administration was uncertain about whether to retain her. Birx was a widely respected public health official until taking over the coronavirus response, which has left her associated with the misinformation provided by Trump and many other members of his administration.

Damaged legacy

Birx's government career started in the 1980s, when she was in the Army and Army Reserve, ultimately reaching the rank of colonel. During this time, she frequently worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center but also spent time in the lab of Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health. But much of her reputation is based on her work fighting AIDS, first at the CDC, and later as the US Global AIDS coordinator, where her work was widely praised.

That reputation earned her a prominent place in the US' response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Trump naming her the Coronavirus Response coordinator and giving her an influential place on the White House's Coronavirus Task Force. This, however, ultimately placed her in an untenable position, as Trump himself was a frequent source of misinformation about the pandemic, and much of the White House staff frequently ignored public health guidance originating elsewhere in the government. Birx was left with what turned out to be an impossible task: maintain her job and influence by not publicly contradicting Trump's misstatements and policies while attempting to ensure that the public got quality information.

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Posted in anthony fauci, Biden, birx, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Policy, SARS-CoV-2, science, Trump | Comments (0)

“America’s doctor,” Anthony Fauci, gets Moderna vaccine

December 22nd, 2020
A masked man rolls up his sleeve to receive an injection.

Enlarge / Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, receives the Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center Masur Auditorium in Bethesda, Maryland, on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, received his first dose of Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during a livestreamed event Tuesday at the National Institutes of Health.

Fauci, who will turn 80 this December 24, has been the country’s steady public health advisor throughout the pandemic, and many people have hinged their acceptance of any vaccine on Fauci’s personal approval.

The esteemed doctor is also director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, which co-developed the vaccine with Moderna.

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Posted in COVID-19, fauci, pandemic, public health, science, vaccine | Comments (0)

$50-per-month emergency broadband subsidies approved in pandemic stimulus

December 22nd, 2020
Overhead view of a mother and daughter sitting at a table, with the mother using a laptop and daughter using a tablet.

Enlarge / A mother and daughter using Internet-connected devices at home. (credit: Getty Images | Tang Ming Tung)

Americans who have low incomes or who lost their jobs during the pandemic will be eligible for $50-per-month broadband subsidies under the stimulus package passed by Congress last night. Congress is providing $3.2 billion from the US Treasury for a new Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund that will be administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

Subsidies won't be distributed immediately, as it could take a couple of months or more for the FCC to start the program. The $50 monthly payments won't go directly to broadband users but will be paid to ISPs that provide free or reduced-cost broadband under the program. ISPs will be responsible for verifying each household's eligibility and seeking reimbursement from the FCC.

The bill text defines the "emergency broadband benefit" as "a monthly discount for an eligible household applied to the actual amount charged to such household, which shall be no more than the standard rate for an Internet service offering and associated equipment, in an amount equal to such amount charged, but not more than $50." The monthly per-household subsidy is $75 on Tribal lands.

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Posted in broadband subsidies, COVID-19, pandemic, Policy, stimulus | Comments (0)

Looking into the genetics of severe COVID-19

December 17th, 2020
A medical worker in protective gear stands beside a bedridden patient hooked into all manner of machines.

Enlarge / Researchers have looked at whether there are genetic influences on who experiences a case of severe COVID-19. (credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI / Getty Images)

The body's response to SARS-CoV-2 infection range from imperceptible to death, raising an obvious question: what makes the difference? If we could identify the factors that make COVID-19 so dangerous for some people, we could do our best to address these factors, and provide extra protections for those who are at highest risk. But aside from the obvious—health disparities associated with poverty and race seem to be at play here, too—we've had trouble identifying the factors that make a difference.

A recently published study takes a look at one potential influence: genetics. In a large study of UK COVID-19 patients, researchers have found a number of genes that appear to be associated with severe cases, most of them involved in immune function. But the results don't clarify how immune function is linked to the disease's progression.

All in the genes

The work took place in the UK, one of the countries involved in the GenOMICC (Genetics Of Mortality In Critical Care) project, which has already been exploring the genetics underlying hospitalization for communicable diseases. For the new study, the researchers worked with over 200 intensive care units in the UK to identify study participants. All told, they managed to get genetic data for over 2,700 critical COVID-19 patients. These were matched with people in the UK's Biobank who had similar demographics in order to provide a control population. The one weakness of this design is that some people in the Biobank may be susceptible to severe COVID-19 but simply haven't been infected yet, which would tend to weaken any genetic signals.

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Posted in Biology, COVID-19, Genetics, medicine, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)