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Daily Archives: January 15, 2022

In Pictures: 1932 Ford Roadster

Source : Bring A Trailer

Infographic: A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Expect More Worrisome Variants After Omicron, Scientists Say

Laura Ungar wrote . . . . . . . . .

Get ready to learn more Greek letters. Scientists warn that omicron’s whirlwind advance practically ensures it won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.

Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and omicron has an edge over its predecessors: It spreads way faster despite emerging on a planet with a stronger patchwork of immunity from vaccines and prior illness.

That means more people in whom the virus can further evolve. Experts don’t know what the next variants will look like or how they might shape the pandemic, but they say there’s no guarantee the sequels of omicron will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them.

They urge wider vaccination now, while today’s shots still work.

“The faster omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants,” Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, said.

Since it emerged in mid-November, omicron has raced across the globe like fire through dry grass. Research shows the variant is at least twice as contagious as delta and at least four times as contagious as the original version of the virus.

Omicron is more likely than delta to reinfect individuals who previously had COVID-19 and to cause “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people while also attacking the unvaccinated. The World Health Organization reported a record 15 million new COVID-19 cases for the week of Jan. 3-9, a 55% increase from the previous week.

Along with keeping comparatively healthy people out of work and school, the ease with which the variant spreads increases the odds the virus will infect and linger inside people with weakened immune systems – giving it more time to develop potent mutations.

“It’s the longer, persistent infections that seem to be the most likely breeding grounds for new variants,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s only when you have very widespread infection that you’re going to provide the opportunity for that to occur.”

Because omicron appears to cause less severe disease than delta, its behavior has kindled hope that it could be the start of a trend that eventually makes the virus milder like a common cold.

It’s a possibility, experts say, given that viruses don’t spread well if they kill their hosts very quickly. But viruses don’t always get less deadly over time.

A variant could also achieve its main goal – replicating – if infected people developed mild symptoms initially, spread the virus by interacting with others, then got very sick later, Ray explained by way of example.

“People have wondered whether the virus will evolve to mildness. But there’s no particular reason for it to do so,” he said. “I don’t think we can be confident that the virus will become less lethal over time.”

Getting progressively better at evading immunity helps a virus to survive over the long term. When SARS-CoV-2 first struck, no one was immune. But infections and vaccines have conferred at least some immunity to much of the world, so the virus must adapt.

There are many possible avenues for evolution. Animals could potentially incubate and unleash new variants. Pet dogs and cats, deer and farm-raised mink are only a few of the animals vulnerable to the virus, which can potentially mutate within them and leap back to people.

Another potential route: With both omicron and delta circulating, people may get double infections that could spawn what Ray calls “Frankenvariants,” hybrids with characteristics of both types.

When new variants do develop, scientists said it’s still very difficult to know from genetic features which ones might take off. For example, omicron has many more mutations than previous variants, around 30 in the spike protein that lets it attach to human cells. But the so-called IHU variant identified in France and being monitored by the WHO has 46 mutations and doesn’t seem to have spread much at all.

To curb the emergence of variants, scientists stress continuing with public health measures such as masking and getting vaccinated. While omicron is better able to evade immunity than delta, experts said, vaccines still offer protection and booster shots greatly reduce serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

Anne Thomas, a 64-year-old IT analyst in Westerly, Rhode Island, said she’s fully vaccinated and boosted and also tries to stay safe by mostly staying home while her state has one of the highest COVID-19 case rates in the U.S.

“I have no doubt at all that these viruses are going to continue to mutate and we’re going to be dealing with this for a very long time,” she said.

Ray likened vaccines to armor for humanity that greatly hinders viral spread even if it doesn’t completely stop it. For a virus that spreads exponentially, he said, “anything that curbs transmission can have a great effect.” Also, when vaccinated people get sick, Ray said their illness is usually milder and clears more quickly, leaving less time to spawn dangerous variants.

Experts say the virus won’t become endemic like the flu as long as global vaccination rates are so low. During a recent press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that protecting people from future variants — including those that may be fully resistant to today’s shots — depends on ending global vaccine inequity.

Tedros said he’d like to see 70% of people in every country vaccinated by mid-year. Currently, there are dozens of countries where less than a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics. And in the United States, many people continue to resist available vaccines.

“These huge unvaccinated swaths in the U.S., Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere are basically variant factories,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “It’s been a colossal failure in global leadership that we have not been able to do this.”

In the meantime, new variants are inevitable, said Louis Mansky, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota.

With so many unvaccinated people, he said, “the virus is still kind of in control of what’s going on.”


Source : AP

Chart: Euro Challenges U.S. Dollar as Global Currency

Source : Statista

A Texas Team Comes Up with a COVID Vaccine that Could be a Global Game Changer

Joe Palca wrote . . . . . . . . .

A vaccine authorized in December for use in India may help solve one of the most vexing problems in global public health: How to supply lower-income countries with a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe, effective and affordable.

The vaccine is called CORBEVAX. It uses old but proven vaccine technology and can be manufactured far more easily than most, if not all, of the COVID-19 vaccines in use today.

“CORBEVAX is a game changer,” says Dr. Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health in Washington, D.C. “It’s going to enable countries around the world, particularly low-income countries, to be able to produce these vaccines and distribute them in a way that’s going to be affordable, effective and safe.”

The story of CORBEVAX begins some two decades ago. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi were medical researchers at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where they worked on vaccines and treatments for what are called neglected tropical diseases, such as schistosomiasis and hookworm.

When a strain of coronavirus known as SARS broke out in 2003, they decided to tackle that disease. After moving to Houston to affiliate with Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, they created a vaccine candidate using protein subunit technology. This involves using proteins from a virus or bacterium that can induce an immune response but not cause disease.

“It’s the same technology as the hepatitis B vaccine that’s been around for decades,” Hotez says.

Their SARS vaccine candidate looked promising, but then the SARS outbreak petered out. No evidence of disease, no need for a vaccine.

When a new strain of coronavirus triggered the COVID-19 pandemic, Hotez and Bottazzi figured they could dust off their old technology and modify it for use against COVID-19. After all, the virus causing COVID-19 and the virus causing SARS are quite similar.

Hotez says they tried to interest government officials in the vaccine, but they weren’t impressed.

“People were so fixated on innovation that nobody thought, ‘Hey, maybe we could use a low-cost, durable, easy-breezy vaccine that can vaccinate the whole world,’ ” Hotez says.

“We really honestly couldn’t get any traction in the U.S., but our mission is always to enable technologies for low- and middle-income countries production and use,” Bottazzi recalls.

So they turned to private philanthropies. A major donor early on was the JPB Foundation in New York.

“The rest were all Texas philanthropies: the Kleberg Foundation, the [John S.] Dunn Foundation, Tito’s Vodka,” Hotez says. The MD Anderson Foundation also chipped in.

“When people say, ‘Why did we move [from Washington, D.C.] to Texas?’ Well, we knew that this was a great philanthropic environment. So this is really very much a Texas vaccine,” although there were other, smaller donors from all over the country.

Hotez says that unlike the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and the viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, protein subunit vaccines like CORBEVAX have a track record. So he and Bottazzi were relatively certain CORBEVAX would be safe and effective.

“And it’s cheap, a dollar, dollar fifty a dose,” Hotez says. “You’re not going to get less expensive than that.”

Clinical trials showed they were right to be confident CORBEVAX would work. An unpublished study conducted in India involving 3,000 volunteers found the vaccine to be 90% effective in preventing disease cause by the original COVID-19 virus strain and 80% against the delta variant. It’s still being tested against omicron.

But CORBEVAX is already entering the real world. Last month, the vaccine received emergency use authorization from regulators in India. An Indian vaccine manufacturer called Biological E Ltd is now making the vaccine. The company says it is producing 100 million doses per month and has already sold 300 million doses to the Indian government.

“The real beauty of the CORBEVAX vaccine that Drs. Hotez and Bottazzi created is that intellectual property of this vaccine will be available to everybody,” Keith Martin says. “So you can get manufacturers in Senegal, and South Africa and Latin America to be able to produce this particular vaccine.”

By contrast, the makers of Pfizer and Moderna, for example, are not sharing their recipe.

One drawback to the CORBEVAX technology is that it can’t be modified as quickly as mRNA vaccines can to adjust to new variants.

That forces public health officials to make difficult choices.

“Something which can be adapted the fastest versus something that can be adapted relatively quickly, but then more importantly can be manufactured at a large global capacity and at a cost of production which is much lower,” says Prashant Yadav, senior fellow at at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. The thought is some protection may better than no protection.

Of course, the ideal vaccine would have both qualities, and Hotez is at work trying to develop technologies that can do that.

“There’s no issue with pushing innovation,” he says. “I think that’s one of the really positive features of the U.S. vaccination program for COVID. The problem was it wasn’t balanced with a portfolio or oldies but goodies.”

Hotez is hoping his oldie but goodie will usher in a brighter future for the world.


Source: npr