Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ 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)

“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” new CDC head says

January 25th, 2021
A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021.

Enlarge / A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021. (credit: Getty | Grant Hendsley)

With the country’s vaccine rollout in utter disorder, health officials in the Biden administration are cautiously trying to both manage expectations and express optimism.

In a series of interviews over the weekend, officials warned that states could face vaccine shortages in the short term, with some states’ supplies already running low—or completely running out. On the other hand, the officials remained convinced that they would be able to achieve the administration’s goal of getting 100 million doses in arms in their first 100 days in office—a goal that has been criticized as being both too ambitious and not ambitious enough.

With 95 days to go until their goal’s deadline, the officials have made clear just how much work they face in getting vaccinations on track.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, Infectious disease, public health, science, vaccine | 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)

“Complete incompetence:” Biden team slams Trump’s COVID work

January 21st, 2021
A man in a suit holds up a laminated binder while speaking at a microphone.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden releases his strategic COVID-19 plan at the White House on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Just a day into office, President Joe Biden and his administration have unveiled a comprehensive, 200-page strategic plan and over a dozen executive orders and actions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic currently rampaging across the country.

With the running start, the administration hopes to finally get control over the virus, which has already taken the lives of more than 408,000 Americans. The number of deaths is expected to top 500,000 next month, Biden said in an appearance Thursday to unveil his strategic plan.

"Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better," he said, calling his approach to the pandemic a "full-scale wartime effort."

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Posted in Biden, COVID-19, fauci, Infectious disease, public health, science, strategy, vaccines, WHO | Comments (0)

Amazon offers Biden help to speed up vaccine distribution

January 20th, 2021
The Amazon logo on the side of a multistory window.

Enlarge / An Amazon warehouse on a sunny day in Germany on April 2, 2020. (credit: Patrick Pleul | picture alliance | Getty Images)

Amazon is one of the country's largest businesses—and despite its faults and flaws, the company overall excels at logistics and distribution at scale. Therefore, Amazon suggests, the brand-new Biden administration should give the company a call to help ramp up COVID-19 distribution nationwide.

"Amazon stands ready to assist you in reaching your goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of your administration," Dave Clark, the head of Amazon's consumer business, wrote in a letter (PDF) to President Joe Biden Wednesday.

Amazon's more than 800,000 employees should be in the vaccine queue as soon as possible, Clark noted, as individuals working in Amazon warehouses, AWS data centers, and Whole Foods stores are essential workers who cannot work from home. The company has inked a deal with a third-party health care firm to administer vaccines on-site at Amazon-owned facilities, Clark added—if they could just get vaccines to administer.

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Posted in amazon, Amazon.com, coronavirus, COVID-19, Policy, vaccination | Comments (0)

The persistence of memory in B cells: Hints of stability in COVID immunity

January 20th, 2021
Cartoon diagram of some of the cells of the immune system.

Enlarge / The immune response involves a lot of moving parts. (credit: BSIP/Getty Images)

There's still a lot of uncertainty about how exactly the immune system responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But what's become clear is that re-infections are still very rare, despite an ever-growing population of people who were exposed in the early days of the pandemic. That suggests that, at least for most people, there is a degree of long-term memory in the immune response to the virus.

But immune memory is complicated and involves a number of distinct immune features. It would be nice to know which ones are engaged by SARS-CoV-2, since that would allow us to better judge the protection offered by vaccines and prior infections, and to better understand whether the memory is at risk of fading. The earliest studies of this sort all involved very small populations, but there are now a couple that have unearthed reasons for optimism, suggesting that immunity will last at least a year, and perhaps longer. But the picture still isn't as simple as we might like.

Only a memory

The immune response requires the coordinated activity of a number of cell types. There's an innate immune response that is triggered when cells sense they're infected. Various cells present pieces of protein to immune cells to alert them to the identity of the invader. B cells produce antibodies, while different types of T cells perform functions like coordinating the response and eliminating infected cells. Throughout this all, a variety of signaling molecules modulate the strength of the immune attack and induce inflammatory responses.

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Posted in B cells, Biology, COVID-19, immunology, medicine, SARS-CoV-2, science, t cells | Comments (0)

First task for Biden’s CDC director: Fix everything Trump broke

January 20th, 2021
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

Midday today, January 20, Dr. Rochelle Walensky will take over as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and one of her top priorities will be to try to undo all the harms done to the agency by the Trump administration.

“How is it that I make sure that the people who are there—these incredible scientists, these incredible civil servants for their entire career—understand and feel the value that we should be giving them? They have been diminished. I think they’ve been muzzled, that science hasn’t been heard,” Walensky said in a brief, but wide-ranging interview with JAMA Tuesday. “This top-tier agency—world renowned—hasn’t really been appreciated over the last four years and really markedly over the last year. So, I have to fix that.”

Part of her plan to do that is unmuzzling those scientists and getting their science out to the public where it can make a difference. And that blends into the next challenge: “We obviously need to get this country out of COVID and the current pandemic crisis,” she said. And that will also entail increasing communication with the public, as well as state and local health authorities and members of Congress.

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Posted in Biden, CDC, COVID-19, Infectious disease, public health, science, vaccines, variants, Walensky | 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)

There is no COVID vaccine reserve. Trump admin already shipped it

January 15th, 2021
Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who allegedly deceived states on the vaccine supply, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center on Tuesday, December 22, 2020.

Enlarge / Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who allegedly deceived states on the vaccine supply, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The Trump administration announced Tuesday, January 12, that it would begin shipping reserved vaccine supplies, raising hopes that states may see their vaccine supply potentially double as they work to accelerate the sluggish immunization campaign. But according to a report by The Washington Post, that promised vaccine stockpile doesn’t actually exist—it was already shipped out—and the limited vaccine supply available to states will remain as it is for now.

The news has not only left state health officials angry and confused by the false promises, they’re also left scrambling to sort out distribution changes. In addition to claiming they would release the (non-existent) stockpile, Trump administration officials told states to expand access to vaccines—now allowing anyone over age 65 to get vaccinated and people under 65 who have a documented underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The expanded eligibility covers around 152 million people in the US. But administration officials had previously estimated that it wouldn’t be until the end of March before they would have 200 million doses—enough to vaccinate only 100 million people—as STAT noted earlier.

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Posted in azar, COVID-19, HHS, science, Trump, vaccine | Comments (0)

Trump tries to claw back billions from COVID vaccine distributor

January 15th, 2021
A picture taken on January 15, 2021, shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

Enlarge / A picture taken on January 15, 2021, shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19. (credit: Getty | JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)

With mere days left in office, President Donald Trump has proposed $27.4 billion in brutal budget cuts—including clawing back 5.1 billion from global public health amid a raging pandemic. Of the proposed health cuts, $4 billion would be slashed from a vaccine alliance playing a central role in helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries.

The proposed cuts are part of a recession request, which has no chance of being enacted by Congress, as Politico reports. However, the proposed cuts—particularly to the vaccine alliance—are likely to add insult to injury to the global public health community, which continues to battle the out-of-control pandemic.

Worldwide, the total number of COVID-19 cases is over 93 million, and deaths are approaching 2 million. In the US alone, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases is over 235,000, with 129,000 people currently hospitalized. Around 4,000 people have died each day for the past three days, bringing the US death toll to around 380,000.

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Posted in COVID-19, gavi, global public health, infectious vaccine, public health, science, Trump, vaccines, WHO | Comments (0)