Vaccine is Working

New research suggests that for people who previously had COVID, just one dose of the vaccine may be enough to boost their immune systems to provide complete protection against reinfection.

COVID cases have dropped 77% in six weeks. Experts should level with the public about the good news, says John Hopkins doctor Marty Makary. Dr. Makary also predicts the American population will achieve herd immunity by April.

In other news:

  • The Rational Grounds team is hosting a free webinar this Thursday, February 25th at 9:30 pm ET/6:30 PT. We will share the tools and tactics you need to take back your school. Register here.
  • The Cuomo administration’s alleged misreporting of nursing-home deaths in New York is serious, perhaps meriting federal criminal charges, says John Daukas, a high ranking Justice Department official. 
  • A new Harvard report reveals 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.”
  • A leaked scientific report jointly prepared by Israel’s health ministry and Pfizer claims that the company’s COVID vaccine is stopping 9 out of 10 infections and the country could approach herd immunity by next month.
  • In Britain, COVID deaths have fallen by 62% among over-80s since January 24th.

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COVID News

For Covid-19 Survivors, One Shot May Be Enough, Preliminary Studies Show

https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-covid-19-survivors-one-shot-may-be-enough-preliminary-studies-show-11613903400

Covid-19 survivors who have gotten a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine are generating immune responses that might render a second shot unnecessary, potentially freeing up limited vaccine supply for more people, several new research papers suggest.

The research, while preliminary, found that the previously infected people generated protection against the disease quickly and at dramatically higher levels after a first shot of the current two-shot regimens when compared with people who were vaccinated but hadn’t been sick.

“Everyone should get vaccinated. Not everybody needs two shots,” said Viviana Simon, a professor of microbiology at New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and an author on one study. “As long as we can’t deliver as much vaccine to everybody who wants it, I think it’s an important consideration.”

The research, which has been posted on preprint servers but not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, comes as other findings into the two-shot regimen to healthy members of the general population highlight immune benefits after the first injection. On Friday, researchers in Israel reported a single shot of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE is 85% effective in preventing symptomatic disease 15 to 28 days after being administered.

‘Politics was always in the room.’ WHO mission chief reflects on China trip seeking COVID-19’s origin

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/politics-was-always-room-who-mission-chief-reflects-china-trip-seeking-covid-19-s

The World Health Organization (WHO) mission to China to probe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic had a bumpy start, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the team’s departure from China didn’t go entirely smoothly either. A 9 February press conference in Wuhan to summarize the mission’s findings was widely hailed within China, but criticized elsewhere.

During the press conference, WHO program manager and mission leader Peter Ben Embarek and team member Marion Koopmans praised China’s cooperation during the 4-week investigation. They said it was “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a Chinese laboratory and said the team would not investigate that hypothesis further. But they kept open the possibility that the virus arrived in Wuhan on frozen food, a route promoted aggressively by Chinese media to suggest the virus was imported from elsewhere in the world.

Some journalists and scientists called the event a double win for China and demanded more evidence for the rejection of the lab theory. And on 12 February, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appeared to publicly push back against the team, saying, “All hypotheses are on the table” with respect to the pandemic’s origins. Meanwhile, media reports have suggested WHO team members were disappointed about not getting access to certain data, for instance on Chinese patients with respiratory symptoms who may have been some of the earliest COVID-19 cases.

Pandemic Loneliness Is Hitting Young Adults Especially Hard

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pandemic-loneliness-is-hitting-young-adults-especially-hard-11614104792

The coronavirus pandemic has caused another kind of pervasive affliction, Harvard researchers say: loneliness.

More than one-third of 950 Americans reported feeling lonely at least “frequently” in the previous four weeks, according to a newly released survey by researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, conducted in October. That’s higher than the quarter of respondents who recalled feeling serious loneliness in the two months before the pandemic, and 28% of respondents said they had experienced increases in the frequency of their loneliness. Young adults and mothers felt especially isolated, the survey reported.

Social disruption has hit people in myriad ways: A college student living back at home may feel disconnected from their normal social life, while an overworked parent may feel detached from their usual support system. And even people managing to cultivate an active Zoom-led social life may still feel disconnected.

But it is possible to take steps to reduce loneliness, says Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who directs the Making Caring Common project, which has studied community and interfamily relationships over the course of the pandemic.

Commentary/Analysis

We’ll Have Herd Immunity by April

https://www.wsj.com/articles/well-have-herd-immunity-by-april-11613669731

Amid the dire Covid warnings, one crucial fact has been largely ignored: Cases are down 77% over the past six weeks. If a medication slashed cases by 77%, we’d call it a miracle pill. Why is the number of cases plummeting much faster than experts predicted?

In large part because natural immunity from prior infection is far more common than can be measured by testing. Testing has been capturing only from 10% to 25% of infections, depending on when during the pandemic someone got the virus. Applying a time-weighted case capture average of 1 in 6.5 to the cumulative 28 million confirmed cases would mean about 55% of Americans have natural immunity.

Now add people getting vaccinated. As of this week, 15% of Americans have received the vaccine, and the figure is rising fast. Former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimates 250 million doses will have been delivered to some 150 million people by the end of March.

Why Cuomo Should Be Worried About a Federal Probe

https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-cuomo-should-be-worried-about-a-federal-probe-11613945987

The Cuomo administration’s alleged misreporting of nursing-home deaths in New York is serious, perhaps meriting federal criminal charges.

On March 25, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring New York nursing homes to admit hospitalized patients who had tested positive for Covid-19. The order also prohibited nursing homes from requiring hospitalized residents deemed “medically stable” to be tested before admission or readmission. By the end of the summer New York had more than 32,000 Covid deaths, the highest in the nation and more than double any other state. If New York were its own country, it would have ranked among the top 10 for Covid deaths. The number of deaths translated to the country’s second-highest death rate—more than three times the national average.

What caught the Justice Department’s eye was Gov. Cuomo’s claim that New York’s nursing-home deaths were lower than many other states’ and that his March 25 order didn’t contribute to the extremely high number of New Yorkers who died from Covid. Given the virus’s disproportionate effect on the elderly, sick and frail, this seemed unlikely. On Aug. 26, Justice’s Civil Rights Division, relying on its jurisdiction to investigate government-run facilities under the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, asked the Cuomo administration for data on New York’s publicly run nursing homes, which account for less than 5% of nursing homes in the state.

The ZeroCovid Movement: Cult Dressed as Science

This past year has given rise to some strange and novel methods of disease containment, including lockdowns and mask mandates. It is unsurprising that the natural next step in this progression has been the development of a movement known as “ZeroCovid.” Its growing influence is, perhaps, predictable given that for nearly a year we have been inundated by the views of so-called experts seeking to legitimize their myopic worldview that public health is determined solely by prevention of Covid-19. 

Rather than acknowledge to a weary public that their approach has been a failure, they are doubling down and attempting to save their reputations by claiming that the problem is not that lockdowns do not work, but that they have not gone far enough. 

There is, apparently, some diversity of opinion among the ZeroCovid crowd as to whether the term is to be interpreted literally, as some of its most impassioned and vocal proponents argue, or whether it simply means a more extreme version of the ideology that has dominated societies around the globe for the past year: the belief that suppressing the coronavirus is a singularly important goal, to replace all others and to be pursued with no or only minimal consideration of the effects of doing so.

Research

Early rate reductions of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 in BNT162b2 vaccine recipients

https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2821%2900448-7

In December, 2020, the Israeli Government approved the BNT162b2 COVID-19 vaccine and initiated a national immunisation campaign prioritising health-care workers (HCWs), as in other countries.This campaign coincided with a third wave of COVID-19, peaking at 10 116 daily new cases by mid-January, 2021. The Sheba Medical Centre, Israel’s largest hospital with 9647 HCWs, began staff vaccination on Dec 19, 2020. All HCWs, excluding those with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, were eligible for vaccination. Clinical trial data of BNT162b2 vaccine estimated an early vaccine efficacy in preventing COVID-19 of 52·4% before dose two, and 90.5% on days 2–7 after dose two. A recent analysis of BNT162b2 vaccine data estimated vaccine efficacy of 89–91% during days 15–28 after the first dose. We examined early reductions in SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 rates in vaccinated HCWs.

Loneliness in America: How the Pandemic Has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do About It

https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america

The global pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness in America. 

Our new report suggests that 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.” Not surprisingly, loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic. 

The report also explores the many types of loneliness, various causes of loneliness, and the potentially steep costs of loneliness, including early mortality and a wide array of serious physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. While Americans clearly need to adopt distancing measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the report authors argue that we also must take steps to alleviate loneliness, particularly for the populations the survey suggests are most affected.

The report is based on an online survey of approximately 950 Americans in October 2020. Because of certain data limitations, the data should be considered preliminary. More information is available in the report’s methodology section.

Charts and Graphics

Dr. Eric Topol: “The good news is that South Africa is back to its pre-B.1.351 baseline in covid cases. There’s no proof this variant is more infectious. Its immune evasion is enough to explain how it took off. And the descent occurred without vaccines.”

International News

A leaked report shows Pfizer’s vaccine is conquering covid-19 in its largest real-world test

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/02/19/1019264/a-leaked-report-pfizers-vaccine-conquering-covid-19-in-its-largest-real-world-test/

A leaked scientific report jointly prepared by Israel’s health ministry and Pfizer claims that the company’s covid-19 vaccine is stopping nine out of 10 infections and the country could approach herd immunity by next month.

The study, based on the health records of hundreds of thousands of Israelis, finds that the vaccine may sharply curtail transmission of the coronavirus. “High vaccine uptake can meaningfully stem the pandemic and offers hope for eventual control of the pandemic as vaccination programs ramp up across the rest of the world,” according to the authors.

The nationwide study was described by the Israeli news website Ynet on Thursday, and a copy was obtained by MIT Technology Review.

The findings are important because Israel is leading the world in vaccinating its population, turning the country into real-life laboratory to understand if vaccines can end the pandemic.

‘Encouraging’ signs for Covid vaccine as over-80s deaths fall in England 

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/16/encouraging-signs-covid-vaccine-over-80s-deaths-fall-england

The success of the UK’s vaccination programme is beginning to be felt, with jabs appearing to cut deaths among the country’s oldest and most vulnerable people, one of the world’s leading statisticians has said.

Deaths from coronavirus have fallen by 62% among over-80s since 24 January, the point at which a third of that age group had some level of immunity against coronavirus, having received their first vaccine dose at least two weeks earlier, data analysis by the Guardian showed.

This drop was larger than among groups with a lower level of vaccination. Among people aged between 20 and 64 the drop in deaths was 47%, while the drop among those aged 65 to 79 was 51%.

Prof David Spiegelhalter, the chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said the effect was significant enough not to be a result of lockdown alone.

“Deaths in over-70s are now falling faster than in younger age groups, which is very encouraging and is likely to be influenced by vaccination – there has been a steep decline in outbreaks in care homes,” he said.

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