Hope: Vaccination Begins in America

Last Friday, the FDA officially issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Over the weekend, Pfizer trucks carrying the vaccine made their way to distribution sites across the United States. On Monday, Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse in New York, became the first person in the country to receive the vaccine.

In other news:

  • A watchdog organization released a report finding COVID was used as a pretext to curtail civil rights and liberties across the world. 
  • A growing body of evidence suggests kids’ immune systems seem better equipped to eliminate COVID than are adults.
  • A new JAMA meta-analysis of 54 studies with 77,758 participants finds household secondary attack rate (chance an infected person will infect one or more people at home) is 18% if the index case is symptomatic and 0.7% if asymptomatic.
  • Writing in the New York Times, pediatrician Aaron Carroll reminds us that denouncing others might make you feel good about yourself, but it rarely corrects bad behavior.
  • Across the pond, things are also getting worse before they get better. Britain, the Netherlands, and Italy are following Germany and reimposing stricter lockdowns on nonessential businesses, travel, and social life through early January.

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Additionally, we just released an update on how COVID-19 is playing out on university campuses.

COVID News

FDA grants historic authorization to a Covid-19 vaccine, setting stage for rollout

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued an emergency authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, a seminal moment in the effort to curb a pandemic that has so far infected an estimated 16 million people and killed nearly 300,000 in the United States.

The decision means vaccinations will begin in a matter of days in individuals 16 years of age or older, though the FDA said the vaccine should not be given to individuals with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component. Such reactions were reported once vaccinations began outside of clinical trials in other countries. Initial supplies of the two-dose vaccine are expected to be used primarily in two groups most at risk of getting infected or developing severe disease: health care providers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

COVID-19 vaccine shipments begin in historic US effort

https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-united-states-d4525c56fd2606f1c0dae46ac3c96405

PORTAGE, Michigan (AP) — The first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials made their way to distribution sites across the United States on Sunday, as the nation’s pandemic deaths approached the horrifying new milestone of 300,000.

The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ushers in the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — one that health officials hope the American public will embrace, even as some have voiced initial skepticism or worry. Shots are expected to be given to health care workers and nursing home residents beginning Monday.

Quick transport is key for the vaccine, especially since this one must be stored at extremely low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero. Early Sunday, workers at Pfizer — dressed in fluorescent yellow clothing, hard hats and gloves — wasted no time as they packed vials into boxes. They scanned the packages and then placed them into freezer cases with dry ice. The vaccines were then taken from Pfizer’s Portage, Michigan, facility to Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, where the first cargo plane took off amid what airport officials called a “jubilant” mood.

Commentary/Analysis

Covid used as pretext to curtail civil rights around the world, finds report

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/09/covid-used-as-pretext-to-curtail-civil-rights-around-the-world-finds-report

The state of civil liberties around the world is bleak, according to a new study which found that 87% of the global population were living in nations deemed “closed”, “repressed” or “obstructed”.

The figure is a 4% increase on last year’s, as civil rights were found to have deteriorated in almost every country in the world during Covid-19. A number of governments have used the pandemic as an excuse to curtail rights such as free speech, peaceful assembly and freedom of association, according to Civicus Monitor, an alliance of civil society groups which assessed 196 countries.

By using methods such as detention of protesters, excessive use of force, censorship, attacks on journalists, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, many governments have used Covid-19 to “introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms”, the report said.

The group categorised fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression as either “closed”, “repressed”, “obstructed”, “narrowed” or “open”, based on a methodology which combines several data sources.

Yes, People Are Traveling for the Holidays. Stop Shaming Them

Last month, a war erupted in America over whether to celebrate Thanksgiving if it involved visiting family and friends. My Twitter feed was filled with people railing against scenes of crowded airports, as if those traveling to see loved ones were attacking them personally.

These angry judgments put people on the defensive. They fear they will be reproached for their choices. They’re not wrong. When we see people gathering in groups or going about without a mask or engaging in other activities we deem unsafe, we condemn them. Too often, we do so publicly.

Shaming occurs in private, too. I see family and friends scolding people for certain activities they engage in. Some of the activities are easy to denounce, like attending large indoor rallies. Others are smaller perceived infractions, like getting a massage or playing on a sports team. The anger is there either way.

All of this judgment is counterproductive, even when the behavior in question is indisputably reckless. For one thing, drawing attention to aberrant unwanted behavior risks “normalizing” it. Although very few parents refuse to immunize their children (only about 1 percent get no vaccines at all), widespread condemnation of the so-called anti-vaxxers makes it seem as if they are a significant movement. The same is true of the anti-lockdown protesters: They were small in number — indeed, most Americans were perfectly willing to comply with shelter-in-place policies — but the disproportionate news coverage of them made it seem otherwise.

Research

People Power Under Attack 2020

https://civicus.contentfiles.net/media/assets/file/GlobalReport2020.pdf

COVID-19: a pretext for repression

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. Governments across the world began taking extraordinary measures and enacting emergency legislation, with the stated aim of protecting people’s health and lives. While limitation on certain rights are allowed by international law in response to health emergencies, international law is clear that those limitations must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory. However, our research suggests that repressive governments used the pandemic as an opportunity to introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms. 2019 had been a year of protests as growing inequality, dire economic conditions and the urgent need to demand fundamental rights led people across the world to the streets. In 2020, people continued to mobilise, using creative and alternative forms of protest, including online and masked and distanced protests. Despite the pandemic, urgent demands for rights brought people onto the streets to demand political and structural change, including in Chile, Hong Kong and Nigeria. In the USA , massive protests to demand racial justice and police accountability erupted across the country following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer

Many others around the world joined their cause and drew attention to their own issues of racial injustice. In Belarus and Kyrgyzstan people joined protests for free and transparent elections after their democratic freedoms were denied. As the pandemic further exacerbated already dire economic conditions in many countries, people raised their voices to demand food, basic services and better working conditions in many countries, including Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Rather than addressing the root causes of people’s discontent, governments often focused on curtailing rights and meting out repression. According to the 516 CIVICUS Monitor updates over the period covered by this report, the fundamental right to peaceful assembly continues to be under attack. Our data shows that the detention of protesters and the excessive use of force against them are the most common tactics being used by governing authorities to restrict the right to peaceful assembly. This is not a new trend; it was consistently seen during 2019, but what changed in 2020 was that multiple governments used the pandemic as an excuse to restrict democratic activities and challenge civic freedoms. 

How kids’ immune systems can evade COVID

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03496-7

Young children account for only a small percentage of COVID-19 infections1 — a trend that has puzzled scientists. Now, a growing body of evidence suggests why: kids’ immune systems seem better equipped to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 than are adults’.

“Children are very much adapted to respond — and very well equipped to respond — to new viruses,” says Donna Farber, an immunologist at Columbia University in New York City. Even when they are infected with SARS-CoV-2, children are most likely to experience mild or asymptomatic illness2.

Another clue that children’s response to the virus differs from that of adults is that some children develop COVID-19 symptoms and antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 but never test positive for the virus on a standard RT-PCR test. In one study, three children under ten from the same family developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies3 — and two of them even experienced mild symptoms — but none tested positive on RT-PCR, despite being tested 11 times over 28 days while in close contact with their parents, who had tested positive.

Household Transmission of SARS-CoV-2A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2774102

Findings: In this meta-analysis of 54 studies with 77 758 participants, the estimated overall household secondary attack rate was 16.6%, higher than observed secondary attack rates for SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Controlling for differences across studies, secondary attack rates were higher in households from symptomatic index cases than asymptomatic index cases, to adult contacts than to child contacts, to spouses than to other family contacts, and in households with 1 contact than households with 3 or more contacts.

Charts and Graphics

Secondary Attack Rates of SARS-CoV-2 From Symptomatic and Asymptomatic or Presymptomatic Index Cases to Household and Family Contacts

If you are asymptomatic, your chances of passing the virus are 25x lower than someone showing symptoms.

International News

London faces tightest restrictions; sees new virus variant

https://apnews.com/article/international-news-england-london-coronavirus-pandemic-b6c78f2173016d7df2e6f4121091a2d6

LONDON (AP) — London and its surrounding areas will be placed under Britain’s highest level of coronavirus restrictions beginning Wednesday as infections rise rapidly in the capital, the health secretary said Monday, adding that a new variant of the virus may be to blame for the spread.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government must take swift action after seeing “very sharp, exponential rises” in Greater London and nearby Kent and Essex. He said in some areas cases are doubling every seven days.

The surge of COVID-19 cases in southern England may be associated with a new variant of coronavirus, Hancock told lawmakers. He said officials are assessing the new strand, but stressed there was nothing to suggest it was more likely to cause serious disease, or that it wouldn’t respond to a vaccine.

Netherlands and Czech Republic to enforce strict Christmas lockdowns

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/14/italy-likely-to-follow-germany-with-covid-christmas-lockdown

The Netherlands and the Czech Republic have said they will follow Germany into strict second lockdowns over the holiday period, with Italy weighing similar measures to avoid a fresh surge in coronavirus infections over Christmas and new year.

In a rare television address, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said non-essential shops and businesses, gyms, museums, cinemas and theatres would close for five weeks after the country’s seven-day new case average rose by more than 40% in the past week.

Bars and restaurants in the Netherlands have been closed since mid-October but the partial lockdown has not slowed the spread of the virus enough, Rutte said, as anti-lockdown protesters booed and whistled outside his office.

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