About Those First-Ever Covid-19 Vaccines Nearing Approval…

COVID-19; image courtesy of state.gov.

I think I’m like many Americans—probably many people worldwide—in my reactions to the news that two vaccines appear close to receiving FDA approval and the beginnings of distribution. A total of five are currently in phase 3 (safety trials).

With the numbers of people infected and dying seemingly out of control, we are clearly in dire conditions and in desperate need of effective interventions. No question.

My Concerns…

But the Trump administration’s politicization of the process sullied it—in all likelihood even as the people at work were doing their best to follow the science.

The fact that one of the manufacturers, Moderna, is an upstart company that’s never brought a single product to market also gave me pause. (I learned in researching this piece, however, that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, had encouraged the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center to work with Moderna on their vaccine.)

And “Operation Warp Speed,” the title of the government’s effort, sounded scary to me when we know that safe vaccines have previously taken at least four years to develop and implement.

What’s more, though I am emphatically pro-science, I have skepticism due to my experiences. For decades, I worked as a medical writer and editor.

When the Human Genome Project was gathering steam, I was the project editor for a federally funded corollary study of “ELSI”: the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications that were sure to arise from this exciting new direction in our scientific knowledge.

(I’ve done all this medical/scientific work armed with a master’s degree in English literature. Thus, I say with all humility that I have just enough knowledge to be a danger to myself and others—though I generally refrain from prescribing…)

But as I was teaching myself about genetics for the ELSI project, I was struck by what geneticists consistently referred to as “junk DNA.”

It seemed to me the height of arrogance that so many experts would just assume that because they hadn’t yet found a reason that portions of the DNA strands were non-coded for proteins, those parts must be “junk”—serve no function.

Eventually, the “junk DNA” was found to serve all sorts of important functions.

The skepticism I’d developed then returned when I learned that the two leading vaccines both use mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), which is a totally new approach to vaccine development.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide could be inoculated—ASAP—with a substance that has never been applied before.

Previous vaccines have been made from weakened viruses or purified proteins found within the virus—in both cases designed to direct the immune system to attack the virus.

I needed to know more about this new approach.

My Scientist Friend Responds to My Concerns

I expressed my concerns to my friend Terry, a PhD biologist and gifted teacher who guided me/us through the role of phytoplankton in climate change, a post that you can read here.

UPDATE: I inadvertently switched two paragraphs in the description below, thereby throwing the sequence out of whack. The corrected version is below.

This is what Terry said about the mRNA vaccines:

“First of all, it is an extraordinarily brilliant idea—and so simple that I should have thought of it, and so should have many professional biochemical researchers long before me.

“Briefly: Genes, normally composed of DNA (more on this in a moment) copy their code in the form of mRNA (M=messenger) which joins with a cellular organelle [a structure within a cell that has a certain function] called a ribosome, which translates the code into a protein.

“A slight complication is that the COVID virus uses RNA as its ‘genes’ and therefore has no DNA. But now the complication simplifies: the virus ‘gene’ RNA copies its code into mRNA, which joins with a ribosome in the cell the virus has invaded, and the viral mRNA is translated into a protein.

“Now here is the basis for the brilliant idea: An intact virus inside a cell uses special proteins called ‘spike’ proteins (made from the instructions, or code, in the invading virus’s ‘gene’ RNA) to attach to the surface of the next cell to be invaded.

“This act is the sine qua non of viral infection and, ultimately, disease! If there’s no attachment, there are no new viruses to attack other cells. And no disease! [Emphases mine]

“The brilliant idea is to make loads of mRNA for the spike protein and inject millions of mRNA molecules coded for making this protein [or proteins] within a human being.

“The mRNA will then be taken up by and enter certain cells of the person’s body, attach to ribosomes, and produce hundreds of copies of this protein in each of the millions of cells in the body that now have the mRNA in them.

“Large amounts of these proteins will then be excreted by the many cells into the blood stream, where white blood cells will make huge amounts of powerful antibodies to the spike proteins.

“Any whole COVID virus that enters a person’s body will immediately become covered with antibodies that will prevent the virus from attaching to body cells (see sine qua non above). The infection chain will be broken, and disease spreading will stop.

“Now, consider that all of this is what normally happens to viruses and cells—except for the injection of the COVID mRNA for the spike proteins. So it is difficult to see where things could go wrong and produce some sort of problem in the body of the person being injected.

“But, of course that is not enough: we need to try it out in humans using the tried-and-true method of Phase I, Phase II, Phase III.

Terry then discussed the trials that both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech (the small company that actually developed the Pfizer vaccine) have been doing for the past three or more months, with 30,000+ adult volunteers in each trial. (I just read the number 44,000 attributed to the Pfizer-BioNTech trials.)

“Nearly 95% of those receiving the MODERNA VERSION and 94% of those receiving the PFIZER VERSION have not gotten sick!

“The protocol for this experiment specifies that if the percent of people protected was small, the companies would have to carry out the experiment for many more months to be sure it was working.

“The fact that the effectiveness is so high permits them to stop the experiment now and get on with distributing the vaccine to the states. That is what they are now doing.

“Very few, if any, problems have been noted in the 60,000+ persons injected with the vac or they would have been reported already.”

Terry’s advice:

“GET VACCINATED BY ONE OR THE OTHER OF THESE AS SOON AS IT IS POSSIBLE!”

I asked Terry whether there had been any concerns due to the vast amounts of antibodies created, as we know that in some instances, particularly in elderly patients, the virus caused their immune systems to go haywire, producing multiple organ failure and often death. He said he believed such instances would have shown up in the clinical trials, but none had.

Note: The results thus far are interim data that haven’t yet been subject to peer review.

Persuading Those in Greatest Need of the Vaccine

There have been glitches along the way. Both Pfizer and Moderna were asked to include more minority individuals in their trials.

This is and will be a difficult issue for both individuals and our society. Black and Latino people have borne the worst brunt of Covid, with the highest rates of death and disease. Thus, they should be considered among the earliest recipients of the vaccine.

But for very legitimate reasons, there’s considerable skepticism of such government efforts, dating back to the infamous Tuskegee experiment in which the US Public Health Service studied the effects of untreated syphilis on Black men. Though the study began in 1932 and continued for forty years, when penicillin became available in the 1940s as an effective treatment, it was not given to the ailing men, even though it could have cured them.

There will be a need for considerable outreach to encourage understandably reluctant people to take the vaccine—in these communities and others.

After I spoke with Terry, I did a little additional research. The CDC has its own mRNA website. Among its key points: mRNA technology, though new, has been studied for more than a decade; since mRNA vaccines don’t contain live virus, they don’t carry the risk of causing the disease in the vaccinated person; and “mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA.”

The third point was particularly important to me: no messing around with the basis of our DNA. But the fact that the mRNA concept has been studied for a decade also reassured me. A lot of groundwork had been done.

Thus, after China had released the genetic sequence of the virus, the NIH Vaccine Center researchers had identified the particular gene for the virus’s “spike protein.” They sent it to Moderna, which had identified the same gene.

At that point, Moderna’s scientists plugged the data into its computers. Stephane Bancel, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times that it then took two days to design the vaccine. “This is not a complicated virus,” he said.

The development of the vaccines is a fascinating story, which The Times ran under the headline “Politics, Science and the Remarkable Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine.” The link is above.

An Interview With Dr. Fauci

Elisabeth Rosenthal, a physician and former New York Times reporter, interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the immunologist respected, even revered, worldwide (except in the eyes of Donald Trump).

Here’s part of their Q&A:

There are a number of vaccine candidates that are promising. But there’s also a lot of skepticism because we’ve seen the F.D.A. come under both commercial and, increasingly, political pressure. When will we know it’s OK to take a vaccine? And which?

It’s pretty easy when you have vaccines that are 95 percent effective. Can’t get much better than that. I think what people need to appreciate — and that’s why I have said it like maybe 100 times in the last week or two — is the process by which a decision is made.

The company looks at the data. I look at the data. Then the company puts the data to the F.D.A. The F.D.A. will make the decision to do an emergency use authorization or a license application approval.

And they have career scientists who are really independent. They’re not beholden to anybody. Then there’s another independent group, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. The F.D.A. commissioner has vowed publicly that he will go according to the opinion of the career scientists and the advisory board.

You feel the career scientists will have the final say?

Yes, yes.

And will the decisions that are being made in this transition period — like the vaccine distribution plan — in any way limit the options of a new administration?

No, I don’t think so. I think a new administration will have the choice of doing what they feel. But I can tell you what’s going to happen, regardless of the transition…, is that we have people totally committed to doing it right that are going to be involved in this.

So I have confidence in that.

My Final Thoughts…For Now

Thus, my scientist friend Terry says it’s safe to get vaccinated. When I’d asked the endocrinologist who treats me for osteoporosis, who’s run many clinical trials, how we’d know when a vaccine was safe, she said: “When Dr. Fauci says it is.” And Dr Fauci says it’s safe to get vaccinated.

We won’t know for a while, of course, if there are any long-term problems, any unusual side effects that may pop up in individuals that weren’t seen in the trials, and the length of time the vaccines confer immunity.

But those appear to be tradeoffs that we must make in facing an out-of-control and sometimes fatal disease that is rampaging through our country and the world, leaving some people who survive with serious lingering effects (the “long haulers”), and decimating our economies.

So when Dr Fauci gives the green light, count me in. We’ll surely have more safety data by then. The availability, however, will be limited: Pfizer said the first 6.4 million doses will go out in December.

We do know that storage and delivery problems on the massive scale needed will have to be resolved.

To ensure the stability of an mRNA vaccine, it must be kept well below freezing—in Pfizer’s case, at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. If simply refrigerated above freezing, it will degrade in just five days.

Many are concerned that lack of proper storage due to insufficient planning and equipment may result in the need to discard some otherwise life-saving vaccine. Moderna’s must also be frozen, but at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, where it will be viable for 30 days.

It will be important when one of the other vaccines that doesn’t require such handling becomes available—especially for the poorer areas worldwide.

In preparing this post, my intention is to inform and evoke discussion—not to persuade. If you have concerns, questions, other information, please let me know.

Annie

Continue reading “About Those First-Ever Covid-19 Vaccines Nearing Approval…”

A Doctor’s Mask Worn Awry Leads Me to Promising New COVID-19 Research

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Image courtesy of pixabay.com

I had an appointment with a substitute doctor this week. Attesting to his renown, his office walls were crowded with yearly awards demonstrating his leadership in his field.

He is a hematologist/oncologist. I was there to receive one of the twice-yearly injections I receive for osteoporosis. The same medication is given in greater strength and frequency to cancer patients to prevent bone fractures.

As he leaned forward to give me the injection, his mask was comfortably positioned beneath his nose.

I was distressed by his apparent carelessness: the man deals with cancer patients all day long, for goodness sake.

I was also amused, as it reminded me of a cartoon I’d seen, which I hope does not offend. I think it makes an important point in a memorable way.

Two roughly drawn panels—black outline, white interior. Inside the left panel is a sketch of a man with a long thin face and long thin nose. His mask is comfortably positioned beneath his nose. The legend reads: “Wearing your mask like this…” 

The right panel features a full-length sketch of the same man. That legend reads: “…is like wearing your underwear like this.”

But this was serious business, so I asked the doctor about his mask.

“I had COVID in March,” he told me. “I lost weight and slept a lot, and on the 14th day, I got up and could have run a marathon.”

He added that his wife, daughters, and one daughter’s boyfriend had also had mild cases and fully recovered. “And,” he said with certainty, “I’ll never get it again.”

I questioned him about the antibodies, which my reading had suggested was far from a settled matter. In fact, there are more than 100 vaccines in the works that are based on antibodies. But some people who recover never have antibodies, and others have them only briefly. 

“It’s not the antibodies,” he responded. “It’s the T cells. They carry memory of the virus and prevent it from reinfecting.”

He said he was so sure he’s safe that he often greets his elderly neighbor with a hug, unworried that he might infect her.

Huh! Or more specifically, Huh?

I had heard the T-cell theory, so I did a little research. In fact, there’s some exciting emerging research based on T cells and the coronavirus. Little had been known til recently about the role of the T cells in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

For much of the following, I’m relying on Derek Lowe, who writes about drug discovery and pharma for In the Pipeline, an “editorially independent blog from the publishers of Science Translational Medicine. 

In May, Lowe wrote:

“One of the big (and so far unanswered) questions about the coronavirus epidemic is what kind of immunity people have after becoming infected. This is important for the idea of ‘re-infection’ (is it even possible?) and of course for vaccine development.”

I’ll spare you Lowe’s careful explanation of the various and complex aspects of our immune systems; if you’re interested, you can read it via the above link.

Instead, we’ll focus on two primary types of T cells. One is CD8+ T cells (among other names), which kill the virus-infected cells “before they can break open and spread more viral particles,” writes Lowe. 

“And then there’s another crowd, the CD4+ T cells, also known as T-helper cells and by other names…The helper T cells have a list of immune functions as long as your leg, interacting with many other cell types.” 

Those immune functions include spurring the CD8+ cells and “activating B cells to start producing specific antibodies,” among other tasks.

Lowe describes what I think of as the “Goldilocks response” to COVID-19:

“What you want: a robust response that clears the virus, remembers what happened for later, and doesn’t go on to attack the body’s own tissues in the process.”

This was what a team from La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California and Mt. Sinai in New York was studying. Comparing infected patients who’d recovered with those who hadn’t been exposed to the virus, they found all the exposed patients had CD4+ cells that responded to three specific proteins: Spike, M, and N. 

Lowe suggested that this discovery made the prospect of a vaccine more likely, and that though most efforts have been focused on Spike, adding the other proteins to the mix might further strengthen a vaccine’s efficacy.

Another study suggested that the memory T cells may protect some people with COVID-19 because they “remember” previous encounters with other human coronaviruses.

Of the large family of coronaviruses, six of them have been found in humans. Four are responsible for the common cold. The other two are more dangerous; they caused SARS (SARS-CoV-1) and MERS (MERS-CoV). ( I assume that means SARS-CoV-2 is number seven.)

Here’s the cool part: in that second study, reported in Nature,  Antonio Bertoletti of the Duke NUS Medical School in Singapore and his team looked at blood samples from people who’d recently recovered from mild to severe COVID-19. They all produced T cells that recognized many parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Then they looked at blood samples from people who’d also survived SARS 17 years ago—and their memory T cells from that illness also recognized parts of SARS-CoV-1.

Apparently, their immune systems were still attuned to protecting against the disease 17 years later.

After that, they checked for these T cells in blood samples from healthy people who’d had neither SARS nor COVID-19—and more than half had T cells that recognize one or more of the proteins under study.

So it’s possible that there are people who have some immunity to COVID-19 based on their previous bouts with the common cold.

Writes Lowe:

“This makes one think, as many have been wondering, that T-cell driven immunity is perhaps the way to reconcile the apparent paradox between (1) antibody responses that seem to be dropping week by week in convalescent patients but (2) few (if any) reliable reports of actual re-infection. That would be good news indeed.”

Francis Collins, MD, who heads the National Institutes of Health, writes cautiously in the NIH Director’s Blog:

“It’s still not clear if this acquired immunity stems from previous infection with coronaviruses that cause the common cold or perhaps from exposure to other as-yet unknown coronaviruses.

“What’s clear from this study is our past experiences with coronavirus infections may have something important to tell us about COVID-19. Bertoletti’s team and others are pursuing this intriguing lead to see where it will lead—not only in explaining our varied responses to the virus, but also in designing new treatments and optimized vaccines.”

These studies may have huge implications in helping us combat COVID-19.

Bottom line for me: When I see that doctor again for my injection in 6 months, though I hope he’s wearing his mask properly, I won’t be quite as worried as I was this time. The degree of his certitude may not yet be warranted, but at least his decision is based on some solid emerging research.

Annie

Continue reading “A Doctor’s Mask Worn Awry Leads Me to Promising New COVID-19 Research”

A Mid-Pandemic, Anti-Panic, Slightly Manic Flight of…Oh, I Dunno

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Harlem Globetrotters image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Dribble is a silly word.

Maybe not when we’re talking about the Harlem Globetrotters—or kids in a schoolyard testing their prowess by bouncing, bouncing, bouncing that ball on unforgiving asphalt, then arcing skyward toward a topless/bottomless structure seemingly stitched by a gargantuan spider.

Or a baby’s slo-mo Vesuvius after imbibing squished bananas and squashed squash from a teensy spoon dipped too generously into a tiny glass jar by a harried automaton-a-mama whose patience is now pandemic-thin. In such instances, the word bib, found conveniently nestling within the words dribble and imbibing, is very useful indeed.

Or the moistened sand transformed into architectural castle-wonder, dropletted with exquisite precision by small fingers onto a soggy mound, defying the waves in what was once as close to ecstasy as a five-year-old could fathom.

Those three dramatic exceptions aside, dribble makes me giggle.

Giggle is also a silly word.

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Giggle also makes me giggle.

Giggling, at my age, is better than dribbling. Giggling can still be age-appropriate. But dribbling?

It is fine to giggle when alone indoors. Funny fauna and flights of fancy courtesy of Google make me giggle. Philosophizing canines and condemnatory felines make me giggle.

Sometimes, the images projected onto the inner walls of my cranium, like bunnies made by silhouetted hands, make me giggle.

It is fine to giggle on phone calls or Zoomfests. It is OK to faux-giggle when old friends tell old jokes that once upon a long ago yesterday evoked a natural giggle—indeed, a full-throated chortle. After all, my own stories have surely outlived their shelf-half-life as well.

It is not fine to giggle when ambling alone in 90 degree heat around one’s neighborhood while dodging others who are far too near. It is not tempting to giggle then either.

But if one is tempted to journey outside one’s yard, appropriately masked and distanced, and one finds the absurdity of our contemporary lives so bizarre as to be ticklish, there are always earbuds.

Whether attached to a cell phone or merely ornamental, protruding earbuds provide the appearance of sanity. Of normality. Of stasis. Connected only to oneself, while appearing otherwise.

Earbuds are the last refuge of the solitary giggler—assuming said person cares about appearances and wishes to avoid arousing neighborly concerns.

Once in a while, with timely intervals intervening, the heaviness of political/pandemical events is outweighed by the ineluctable desire to allow the mind to enter stream-of-drivelness.

Any time now, I just may surrender to that desire.

Annie

Continue reading “A Mid-Pandemic, Anti-Panic, Slightly Manic Flight of…Oh, I Dunno”

After Dogs Detecting COVID-19, What’s Next?

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Image courtesy of en.wikimedia.org

You may recall my recent post describing studies that demonstrate how accurately dogs can sniff out COVID-19. The answer to “What’s Next?” may be found on your wrist right now.

“Wearables” outfitted with artificial intelligence (AI) to report back health data may send a message to asymptomatic or presymptomatic people with the virus before they spread the disease. That means Fitbits, smartwatches, and heart rate monitors that cardiac patients strap to their wrists may help us fight against those dreaded spikes we’re seeing nationwide. The key is that these wristlets monitor heart rate.

In a fascinating discussion, Abraham Verghese, MD, Professor and Vice Chair in Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford in California, spoke with Eric J. Topol, MD, Professor of Genomics at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Topol is also the editor-in-chief of Medscape, which carried the video and transcript of their interview.

First, a couple of items that may seem surprising. You know how diligently everyone’s taking your temperature as a precaution? I’ve visited two doctors, my dentist, and my hairdresser over the past several weeks; each time, my temperature was dutifully taken before I’d stepped well into the reception area.

“But that’s so silly,” said Topol, “because…multiple prospective studies about fever and COVID-19 have found that large numbers of people don’t have a fever.”

Topol mentioned a large study published in Nature Medicine that found only 30% of COVID-19 patients had a fever. Another recent study, published by Color genomics, put that figure even lower: 12%.

So temperature taking may catch some potential COVID-19 infections, but not that many. However, it’s such a noninvasive and seemingly inexpensive method that it seemed to me worthwhile. Unless, of course, it’s causing a distraction, and that appears to be Topol’s objection.

Wth those study findings in mind,  consider that between 30% and 40% of COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic but are still shedding virus—and that presymptomatic people are also shedding virus and are as infectious, possibly even more infectious, than those with symptoms.

For these reasons, Topol calls temperature taking “a placebo.”

Verghese agrees.

“We learned too late that we didn’t emphasize masks enough and we overemphasized temperature measurements.”

Lest anyone be thinking, “Oh, these scientists; they don’t know what they’re doing,” I want to underscore here—because science and scientists are under such unjustifiable and dangerous fire now—that both men agreed the progress that’s been made with the coronavirus has been remarkable.

Said Topol:

“The science is moving at a pace that I’ve never seen—everything, from the structural biology of the virus and the antibodies to the virus from patient, to the design of drugs and vaccines and neutralizing antibodies. The sequence of tracing it temporally and spatially geographically through the world has been extraordinary.”

The point is that this is a very complex virus causing a worldwide pandemic. Equally important, scientific progress isn’t linear: there are bound to be erroneous assumptions, initial errors, blind alleys, and failed medication/vaccine clinical trials.

It’s always been that way. Many of us just haven’t followed the process so closely because we’ve never been in a pandemic before—in which there’s such pressure to move quickly and get things right (and in the US, I must add, ignorant political interference that has had lethal effect).

Topol did discuss testing problems, including the false negatives, the logistics of testing done appropriately to scale, and the expense and time limitation of all these one-time tests. He looks forward to home testing but believes that’s at least several months from now. (See also The New York Times for this article about better testing.)

The big question remains:

“How can we find people in a cluster or an emerging outbreak before it spreads more? Because we know, by the famous Pareto rule or principle, that 80% of transmission comes from 20% of the cases.”

Since we can’t test everyone constantly, the urgency is to locate and concentrate on those “early spreaders.” And that’s where the wearables show promise.

Apparently, such wearables had been generating great interest even before the pandemic, but are now attracting the attention of large research consortiums because of their potential to forewarn about infection with this tricky and highly contagious virus.

Acknowledging that the US is far behind most countries in controlling the spread, Topol said:

“Here is the opportunity to use sensors that get continuous data and would give us an edge.”

In a project named DETECT, begun in March, he and colleagues now have roughly 38,000 participants using a smartwatch or fitness band. Other studies are using rings.

In the first 30,000 people, they found changes in three indicators: increased resting heart rate, more sleep, and fewer steps. And all three indicators then correlated with symptoms and positive tests.

Topol’s group had previously used sensor technology in studying a flu-like illness. When their findings were published in January, a group in Germany developed a smartwatch app that’s being worn by more than 500,000 people; in China, 1.3 million are using such an app.

Verghese, impressed by the number of people involved in Topol’s study, asked two questions: have the results been rigorously tested?; and “do we get the signal early enough to make a difference in some way?”

Topol said they still have to validate the results, but in their Fitbit flu-like illness study, they saw the signal well before the CDC had even observed the presence of the illness. COVID-19 is even more suited to the technology, he believes, because of the large numbers of asymptomatic people.

Studies of asymptomatic people who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and in Korea found more than half of them showed the same lung abnormalities as people who’d had symptoms. The presumption is that their heart rates would have shown what they did not feel.

Amazingly, more than 100 million people in the US are currently wearing some kind of wrist sensor to monitor their heart rates. Twenty percent of Americans wear a fitness tracker, according to a Pew Research poll done in January.

I sense that if this approach is validated, it might escape the politicization we’re currently seeing over wearing masks!  Think that’s possible? Of course, it wouldn’t replace masks, but it might be acceptable to some of the diehard anti-maskers among us.

Topol points out that the measure isn’t as helpful on the individual level as it is in a neighborhood.

“If your heart rate goes up, you still don’t know why. But if COVID-19 is in your neighborhood, if there is a cluster, then that makes it more of a real signal.”

Then what? Suppose your Fitbit is yelling at you (digitally)—what do you do next? That’s when testing, tracing, isolation come in, says Topol—while we await more accurate home tests that could provide quick results.

As to the wearable alerts, he says:

“The issue is to get people to be citizen scientists….a lot of people like to get their data and like to get a notification that something in their neighborhood is showing a potential signal, without inducing anxiety. But I’d like to at least raise awareness. You don’t need everyone in the country to be a citizen scientist; you just need enough. We have every state covered but not densely enough yet, so that will be important.”

Verghese raised an important question about equity and access. Not everyone has a Fitbit, smartwatch, or heart rate monitor.

“How do we ensure that we truly are studying a representative cross-section of this country and that everyone has equal access to what is basically a public health issue?”

Acknowledging the gravity of the question, especially in terms of the statistics showing the far greater burden of the pandemic on minorities, Topol stressed that not everyone needs a device: if enough people in the area are alerted to a problem, “The people who don’t have this technology will still derive the benefit of knowing that there’s an outbreak potential in their area.”

I would hope that with this knowledge, there would be a concerted effort to ensure that sufficient numbers of wearables were available in areas most likely to see disease clusters.

But that’s not enough. Topol pointed out:

“The problem is that people in these underrepresented minorities and of lower socioeconomic status don’t have access to testing. They aren’t looked after. Many of them are afraid to come in because they could be deported, or who knows what could happen to them. We have a lot of collateral damage from the pandemic here because of our tenuous and, in many cases pathetic, framework of healthcare.”

It is deeply troubling that we continually confront the vast numbers of people, particularly poor and minorities, who are being deprived of decent health care in our still wealthy nation. But I was pleased to see that the question was at least asked and discussed in this conversation. I’ll be looking at additional ways healthcare has been inequitably skewed in the near future.

My questions for you: Do you currently wear a Fitbit, smartwatch, or heart rate monitor? If you do, would you like to have it inform you if you have possible COVID-19 symptoms? If you don’t wear one, would you be willing to for this purpose? And any other comments you’d care to add are, as always, most welcome!

Annie

Continue reading “After Dogs Detecting COVID-19, What’s Next?”

Mindfulness and Trumpiness–plus a little something extra…

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Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

In the world of the lovingly kind
I’ve found myself caught in a bind:
Consumed by my hate
It made my gut ache
’Twas a matter far over my mind.

Of course I can always deep breathe
Whenever I’m starting to seethe
But hate’s the wrong path;
There’s just too much wrath,
So my ideals I tried to retrieve.

This effort is surely ongoing
The seeds of contempt could keep growing
As malevolent eyes
Ignore COVID’s new highs
And the pain in the streets’ overflowing.

But one thing I’ve learned is that thoughts
If dwelt on can leave one distraught;
Accept that they’re there,
Make space for more air,
And allow them to flutter aloft.

Thus I’ve moved beyond being whiny
And reduced trump so he’s quite tiny
He’s gone from my head,
I don’t hear what he’s said…
My plan, on Day Two’s, working finely!

_______________

And, because my inner critic suggests this reflection is self-indulgent when there’s so much grief in the world, I’m adding a delightful, gently philosophical video that I hope you haven’t seen before and I think is guaranteed to make you smile.

Its title: “Amazingly simple theory for a happy life.”

Namaste!

Annie

Continue reading “Mindfulness and Trumpiness–plus a little something extra…”