The Morning Jolt

Health Care

Great News on the Vaccine Front

Vaccine trial participant David Rach is prepared to test coronavirus vaccine candidate BNT162b2, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., May 24, 2020. (Pfizer/Handout via Reuters)

On the menu today: Moderna announces their coronavirus vaccine works and will be easier to store and transport than Pfizer’s; the Georgia recount is almost done; and a sneak preview of Hunting Four Horsemen about how regularly human beings come in contact with new viruses.

What’s Better Than One Effective COVID-19 Vaccine? Two Effective Vaccines!

Arguably even better news than hearing that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is 90 percent effective: The pharmaceutical company Moderna announced this morning that the company’s “experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial” and — this has big consequences for shipping and distribution — it can be stored in regular refrigerator temperatures.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, said in a released statement, “This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters . . . I want to thank the NIH, particularly NIAID, for their scientific leadership including through years of foundational research on potential pandemic threats at the Vaccine Research Center that led to the discovery of the best way to make Spike protein antigens that are being used in our vaccine and others’. I want to thank our partners at BARDA and Operation Warp Speed who have been instrumental to accelerating our progress to this point.” (BARDA is the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

Between Pfizer and Moderna, the U.S. could have as many as 60 million doses of the vaccine ready by the end of the year. (Or at least started by the end of the year; both vaccines require two doses, administered about a month apart.) Late last week, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, said that Americans could be getting vaccinated as soon as next month: “We plan to have enough vaccine doses available for use in the U.S. population to immunize about 20 million individuals in the month of December, and another 25-30 million per month on an ongoing basis from there on,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is still in late-stage testing, but should have results by the end of the year. Back in October, J&J paused testing, and “after a thorough evaluation of a serious medical event experienced by one study participant, no clear cause has been identified.” The AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine testing also paused earlier this fall, but resumed after a few days. While nothing is guaranteed, the success of two vaccines suggests that other vaccines might work as well — or that, at minimum, one approach of neutralizing the virus is likely to illuminate other potential paths.

We’re almost out of this ordeal, my friends. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb summarizes it well: “The acute phase of the U.S. pandemic will end in 2021. We must work together to get through the next three months.

Meanwhile, in the States and in the Courtrooms . . .

In the state of Georgia, the hand recount began Friday and is continuing, although some counties have completed their recount: “Fulton, Georgia’s most populous county, finished recounting votes shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday. DeKalb County was almost done. Gwinnett County expected to cross the finish line Monday. Coastal Chatham County had counted all but a few absentee ballots, all but one precinct of Election Day ballots, and had started counting early voting ballots by early Sunday.” Counties will announce their results when all recounting is finished. The state government of Georgia, including Secretary of State, is scheduled to certify their election results Friday.

The recount is unlikely to satisfy the president, who declared on Twitter on Saturday, “The hand recount taking place in Georgia is a waste of time. They are not showing the matching signatures. Call off the recount until they allow the MATCH. Don’t let the Radical Left Dems STEAL THE ELECTION!”

In Arizona, the Trump campaign withdrew its lawsuit about stray marks on ballots being counted as overvotes in Maricopa County, concluding, “since the close of yesterday’s hearing, the tabulation of votes statewide has rendered unnecessary a judicial ruling as to the presidential electors.

On Friday, Wayne County Circuit chief judge Timothy Kenny on Friday denied a request for an independent audit of the votes cast by Wayne County voters:

Perhaps if Plaintiffs’ election challenger affiants had attended the October 29, 2002 walk-through of the TCF Center ballot counting location, questions and concerns could have been answered in advance of Election Day. Regrettably, they did not, and, therefore, Plaintiffs’ affiants did not have a full understanding of the TCF absent ballot tabulation process. No formal challenges were filed. However, sinister, fraudulent motives were ascribed to the process and to the City of Detroit. Plaintiffs’ interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible.

And then Sunday, the Trump campaign’s lawyers in Pennsylvania re-filed a lawsuit, dropping certain claims that observers were blocked from viewing the vote-counting, and now focusing solely on how absentee ballots were counted — reducing the number of ballots at stake to a few thousand. Biden currently leads in Pennsylvania by 69,000 votes.

In the future, when Trump rages that the election was stolen from him, keep in mind how his own campaign lawyers were not willing to make his sweeping allegations in courts of law. And also keep in mind how frequently his own lawyers conceded points and dropped argument when under the scrutiny of a judge and the legal requirements for evidence.

The fact that vote fraud does not exist in numbers sufficient to swing a presidential election does not mean it does not exist. However, the effort to eliminate vote fraud that does exist is undermined by allegations of vast conspiracies from losing candidates that sound like the whining of a sore loser.

Shortly before midnight, President Trump tweeted, “I WON THE ELECTION!

Pandemics Are an Inevitable Consequence of Interacting with the Natural World

The next novel, Hunting Four Horsemen, is coming this week. This is fiction with a lot of nonfiction in it, and about as Michael Crichton-y as I’m ever going to get. A quick preview of an early scene, where a prominent virologist, Dr. Allen Pittman, is trying to explain to a television interviewer the continuing risk of pandemics, even after SARS-CoV-2 has been beaten:

“Right now, all around the world, people are interacting with animals — hunting them, capturing them, raising them, and eating them. We fear malaria from mosquitoes and Lyme disease from ticks, but we are oblivious to the viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that live in all kinds of animals — bats, yes, but live- stock, fish, sea mammals, birds. There are millions of different kinds of viruses; if there were a thousand more virologists like myself in every major city in the world, we would never identify and classify them all. Thankfully, the vast majority are harmless to humans, but viruses evolve through mutation to survive. They are driven by the same survival of the fittest as all other life on earth. Once a virus jumps to humans, the viruses that are most contagious and most resistant to antibodies survive and reproduce. A virus is a much more efficient assassin than humanity could ever be.”

“Is this happening because of climate change?” the interviewer asked. Sharp-eyed viewers noticed a long blink from Pittman as he resisted rolling his eyes.

“The viruses are not occurring because of climate change, but as humans look for resources in places few people have gone before, it increases the odds they encounter a novel virus, meaning one no human body has seen before and has no built-in defenses to stop,” Pittman said with the patience of a teacher trying to explain the Pythagorean theorem to kindergarteners.

“Deforestation, expanded human development — all of this is basically an open invitation for more new viruses to enter human bodies. Every day, people go into jungles, forests, deserts, swamps, caves. They kill animals and eat them, collect bat guano for fertilizer, use all sorts of body parts for all kinds of medicines, both folk and real medicine. Wildlife trafficking is the fourth-largest illegal trade in the world. Wet markets like the one in Wuhan are still open all over Asia, animal guts and bacteria spilling into the street. The question is not ‘will there be another viral outbreak like this,’ but ‘when?’ and ‘how bad?’ My long history of fighting with government bureaucracies makes me believe that most of the world’s governments and publics will choose to believe that the next outbreak will be far-off and minor. Thus, when it happens again, most of the world will be unprepared. Again.”

ADDENDUM: In the middle (or hopefully final act) of a pandemic, we’ve developed two working vaccines, SpaceX sent four astronauts toward the International Space Station last night, we’ve found water on the moon, and we can train our immune systems to attack cancer tumors.

And if, in the middle of this age of miracles, you’re ever feeling sad and low, and feel like you’re never quite good enough, and that all your efforts end in disappointment, just keep in mind . . .  some team is going to win the NFC East division this year, and right now the Philadelphia Eagles are in the lead with a record of three wins, five losses, and a tie. The New York Giants are right on their heels, with three wins and seven losses.

In the right circumstances, your mediocre day can look downright heroic.

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