Wednesday, June 16, 2021

How modern science and engineering produced the mRNA covid vaccine - and what is next for modern medicine.

Take time to read this one! Inside Pfizer’s race to produce the world’s biggest supply of covid vaccine.

At the Washington Post Christopher Rowland tells the story of how “Pfizer engineers used a ‘bulldozer’ approach to go from ‘utter failure’ to 3 billion doses.”

Here is the short version of two miracles of science and engineering and the high stakes for modern medicine.

After the “miracle of science” to develop the mRNA vaccine, [President Joe] Biden said, the Pfizer accomplishments in Kalamazoo were “a second miracle — a miracle of manufacturing — to produce hundreds of millions of doses.”

Pfizer and other companies are building mRNA vaccine pipelines for influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, rabies, rotavirus, malaria, and Zika, according to an analysis by the investment advisory firm Berenberg Capital Markets. BioNTech and Moderna are conducting extensive work on the use of mRNA against cancer.

Katie Hobbs in the Washington Post - 'Democracy Is Under Siege'

AZ Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote this op-ed: I’m leading the fight for voting rights in Arizona. We need the Senate to step up, now. Here it is in full, reprinted from the Washington Post.

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PHOENIX — Democracy is under siege in Arizona. As part of the “big lie” that Republicans have been pushing about electoral fraud, they’re conducting an “audit” in our largest county, Maricopa, to dig up nonexistent evidence. It’s an absurd spectacle. The proliferation of conspiracy theories is staggering: ballots are being disqualified because of Sharpies; ballots were shipped in from China; ballots were burned in a chicken-farm fire.

My office won a court order to send impartial observers to the audit, and I try to keep the public informed about its dangers. For insisting on straightforward truths, I and my family have received death threats. Armed protesters have shown up at my home. Twice, I’ve been assigned a security detail to protect me.

Most Arizonans — Democrats, Republicans and independents — understand that the audit is a farce. They saw the 2020 election with their own eyes, and they don’t want their ballots scrutinized by a shadowy, partisan company.

But Republicans aren’t just protesting the results of our most recent presidential election; they are laying the groundwork to steal the next one. They are sowing doubt about our electoral process to justify a crackdown on voting rights: The 2020 election was insecure, they say, and so our next election must be airtight. This twisted logic has propelled voter-suppression laws across the country, in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Montana and other states.

Here, Republicans just got rid of one of Arizona’s most effective voting measures: the Permanent Early Voter List. Previously, anyone who signed up for the list would automatically receive a mail-in ballot at their home for each election they are eligible to vote in. This law, enacted by a Republican-controlled state legislature in 2007, is hugely popular: Some 75 percent of eligible voters relied on the list to receive their mail-in ballots in 2020, and nearly 80 percent decided to vote by mail.

Last month, though, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation that removes people from the list if they do not vote by mail in two election cycles — even if they choose to vote by other methods. This subtle adjustment — changing the Permanent Early Voter List to the Active Early Voter List — could prevent more than 100,000 Arizonans from receiving their ballots. And Republicans will not stop there. Several other bills, each designed to further restrict access to voting, are under consideration in the Arizona legislature.

I am working with our legislators to defeat those bills, many of which are designed to depress turnout of minority and lower-income voters. But with Republicans in control of both chambers of our legislature, my options on a state level are limited. So I am sounding the alarm and appealing to my Democratic colleagues in Washington for help.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering two voting rights bills. One, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would prevent states from passing further measures to restrict ballot access that disproportionately target minority voters. But that legislation would do nothing to roll back anti-voting laws that are already on the books. Republicans have instituted 22 voter-suppression laws in 14 states so far this year. To simply let these regressive measures stand would be to abandon our duty as public officials.

Another federal bill, the For the People Act, would strike down the senseless restrictions that Republicans have rushed to impose. What’s more, the bill includes many long overdue, common-sense ideas that would expand voting rights such as automatic national voter registration. Passing these provisions would be a huge victory — not for Democrats specifically but for democracy.

Yet the For the People Act is in jeopardy because 50 Republican senators and several Democratic ones are not taking the steps needed to pass it. Democrats including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona either do not support the bill or refuse to touch the filibuster — an arcane Senate rule that has often been used to block voting rights — in order to bring the bill to a vote.

Sinema and I serve the same state. We both know that if we do nothing now, Arizonans’ access to the ballot will be stripped away by Republican legislators. If Republicans want to make the right to vote a partisan issue, that’s their problem. I know — and I believe that U.S. senators know, too — that access to the ballot isn’t a red or blue policy but a basic American value.

Voter-suppression efforts in Arizona are part of a nationwide dismantling of voting rights — the most sustained and egregious assault on U.S. democracy since the Jim Crow era. I am taking what steps I can to fight back on a local level. But I cannot succeed without help from Congress. Please, act decisively and pass the For the People Act. We are running out of time.

END QUOTE

Research reports - Vaccines are effective against the 'delta variant' of COVID-19

Regarding the COVID–19 from the Washington Post: Your questions, answered

“Are current vaccines effective against the delta variant of covid 19?” — Colleen in Ohio

Yes, coronavirus vaccines have been shown to be effective against the highly transmissible delta variant.

Following are summaries of supporting research from the Post.

BEGIN QUOTE

The delta variant, which has been listed as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, was first seen in India and has since been reported in dozens of other countries. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, recently told reporters that the delta variant, also known as B.1.617, is “essentially taking over as the dominant variant” in the United Kingdom. But he said vaccines seem to be slowing the variant’s spread in the United States, where it currently accounts for some 6 percent of new infections.

Fauci said the two-dose messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are doing “very well” in being able to protect against the variant. He said Johnson & Johnson’s single shot is likely doing well too, but there is not as much data as with the mRNA vaccines.

Some early research has shown that vaccination was somewhat less effective against the delta variant.

However, a preprint released last month by Public Health England showed that when the vaccines series were completed, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were highly effective against B.1.617.2, the delta sub-variant that’s in Britain.

The vaccines were 33 percent effective against symptomatic infection from the delta variant after the first dose. But after the second dose, the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective and the AstraZeneca vaccine, an adenovirus-vectored vaccine, was 60 percent effective, according to the findings.

“We expect the vaccines to be even more effective at preventing hospitalization and death,” said Mary Ramsay, who is head of immunization at Public Health England, “so it is vital to get both doses to gain maximum protection against all existing and emerging variants.”

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Arizona Fraudit shows that Trump's attempted coup is not yet over

Writing in The Bulwark, Tim Miller advises us to Get Ready for the Shitstorm That Will Follow the Arizona “Recount”. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy’s plan for Arizona is the same as it was before January 6. Following is Miller’s conclusion.

Sometime soon the results of the Arizona audit will be brought forth. It seems quite likely, given the participants, that the auditor ninjas will claim that Donald Trump won Arizona. Or probably won Arizona—who can say! Or would have won Arizona, if not for those meddling kids.

And if this happens, the former president and his MAGA media echo chamber will once again stoke the flames of insurrection. Q-adherents will convince themselves that one of the seven seals has been revealed. Millions (tens of millions) of Republicans throughout the country will believe it. And some of them will demand action.

So when the Arizona audit bell tolls, what exactly is McConnell and McCarthy’s plan?

Because it sure looks as though they are dooming us all to repeat the same history we just lived through, humoring Trump’s delusions and hoping that none of their supporters die in their imaginary fight for freedom this time.

What we're all getting wrong

What we’re all getting wrong writes Steve Schmidt from The Lincoln Project (via email).

“Everyone is still making an assumption that there are these two parties…but that’s not the fight we’re in … There is no bipartisanship anymore.”

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We’re all getting this wrong, … , and I wanted to make sure you saw my note from yesterday. It’s too important to miss.

You have probably heard by now that it is very unlikely that HR1, the federal bill to protect voting rights, has any chance of passing the Senate. Joe Manchin is unwilling to get rid of the filibuster because he is still hopeful of a bipartisan solution.

This is not to blame Joe Manchin personally. But it’s clear that he, too many of his colleagues, and too many in the media have read the situation completely wrong.

There is no bipartisanship anymore. The GOP of old - and the idea that both parties come together and negotiate to get things done - is dead. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Matthew Dowd called it the GOP’s “black mold problem” and made it clear: you do not negotiate with black mold. You have to rip out everything it touched and rebuild. And if you deny it exists…and breathe it in…it makes you sick.

What we all have to realize is that we are falling into a trap. The media, Democratic leadership, former Republican leaders - we are mistakenly believing this is still a two party system, and we’re missing the point.

Everyone is still making an assumption that there are these two parties…but that’s not the fight we’re in. There is only the Democratic Party, and on the other side is an authoritarian movement fueled by Donald Trump. That movement has grown to hold so much power in what used to be the Republican party that it has purged former leaders and left them fearful for the future.

So when we mistakenly think “bipartisanship” is the solution, who are we negotiating with? Either those held hostage by the black mold - or the hostage takers. Neither is a tenable solution for our democracy.

This is no longer a choice between two parties. You’re either part of the authoritarian movement and support their treasonous activities or you are against it. This is what we are tasked to do. You, me, the Lincoln Project, and every American who wants to stand up for our democracy.

And it’s also important to remember that many of our fellow citizens have been lied to. And they believe those lies. But those people, they are not the enemy. In order to help them overcome this and wake up to what is happening, we need to offer those people the truth.

This is no longer a political fight. It is an existential threat to the future of our democracy.

Our role in this is simple. We need to deliver the truth to the people who have been lied to. And every time that someone uses bipartisanship as a reason to negotiate with the black mold, we have to call it out. We need to make every American realize what the stakes are not just next November, but every time someone repeats the Big Lie or cries bipartisanship.

The truth matters.

The more that Marjorie Taylor Green takes the mic and shows the rot in a Republican party fully co-opted by Trump, she proves it is in fact now a movement of autocrats who seek to destroy democracy.

This is bigger than Trump. This autocratic movement will not implode while we stand by and wait. We have to take action now because it is much larger than that. If these people regain the House and the Senate, how much further do you think they’ll go?

We have to stop the spread and we can’t do it alone. Talk to your neighbors. Reach out in your community. We have to start having these conversations before it’s too late.

END QUOTE

The latest bad news about the COVID-19

Given the successful vaccines and opening of theaters and restaurants we might be led to the conclusion that we are quits with the COVID–19 pandemic. Trust me. The virus is not yet done with us.

But first, some good news: Large study finds Novavax COVID–19 shot about 90% effective.

Vaccine maker Novavax said Monday its shot was highly effective against COVID–19 and also protected against variants in a large, late-stage study in the U.S. and Mexico.

The vaccine was about 90% effective overall and preliminary data showed it was safe, the company said.

While demand for COVID–19 shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, the need for more vaccines around the world remains critical. The Novavax vaccine, which is easy to store and transport, is expected to play an important role in boosting vaccine supplies in the developing world.

That help is still months away, however. The company says it plans to seek authorization for the shots in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere by the end of September and be able to produce up to 100 million doses a month by then.

“Many of our first doses will go to … low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with,” Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck told The Associated Press.

But …

The Daily Beast (to which I subscribe) has lots to say about what may be headed our way. Millions More Will Die of COVID–19 Before It’s Over is documented in “Beast Inside: Rabbit Hole” emails@thedailybeast.com. It’s a long read but well worth your time to get informed about what is in store for the planet - especially for disadvantaged countries.

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If you live in the United States, you could be forgiven for thinking the novel-coronavirus pandemic is almost over. New infections, hospitalizations and deaths are down, way down, thanks to one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination campaigns.

But beyond the borders of the U.S. and a few other wealthy countries, the situation couldn’t be more different. Lots of people are still getting sick and dying—in record numbers in some places—and there’s not nearly enough vaccine to halt the pathogen’s spread.

“The places where we are able to implement high-quality vaccines and seeing declines, there’s this palpable sense that the worst is over and life is coming back to normal,” Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast. “That is not what it looks like in Central and South America, in East and Central Asia, in South Asia, in much of the world.”

More than 3.7 million people all over the world have died of COVID–19 since authorities in China registered the first infections back in December 2019.

That’s the official count. Owing to the inability, or unwillingness, of many governments to accurately count and attribute deaths, the real number is undoubtedly much, much higher, experts told The Daily Beast. Beyrer for one estimated as many as nine million people have already died.

And barring some dramatic improvement in the global distribution of the best vaccines, millions more will die before the expanding immunity cuts off the virus’ transmission pathways, experts said. Inoculating enough people to achieve worldwide immunity could take another two years at current rates, Beyrer said.

If it takes longer—a distinct possibility as the novel-coronavirus continues to mutate into more dangerous variants—the death toll could swell even higher.

No one can predict for sure what the final toll might be, especially considering authorities have never accurately counted COVID–19 deaths. But some experts have given it their best shot. Beyrer would only say that millions more deaths are likely on top of the up to nine million he believes have already died.

The computational biologists at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle crunched COVID–19 stats from all over the world, charted the trends and concluded that as many as 9.7 million people could die by late September. If the trend line continues, COVID–19 could kill 20 million by 2023, according to IHME’s model.

The IHME, like Beyrer and many health-data brokers, assumes that the current official death toll of 3.7 million represents a major undercount. After looking at death rates in many countries and U.S. states and comparing them to previous years’ death stats, IHME concluded that 8.1 million people have died of COVID–19 so far. American authorities have been undercounting COVID–19 deaths by nearly 60 percent, according to the group.

Still, it’s a safe bet the United States and other well-off countries will be okay moving forward as long as their vaccines continue to work. Chances are, poor countries are going to bear the overwhelming brunt of the suffering as the 18-month-old pandemic enters its likely middle. The inequity is deeply baked in.

More than two billion doses of COVID–19 vaccine have been administered worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s authoritative coronavirus tracker. But look at where those doses are concentrated. Eight of 10 shots have been in rich countries.

The United States with its 328 million people has administered 299 million doses—most of them the gold-standard, two-dose messenger-RNA jabs from Moderna and Pfizer. That’s enough to at least begin inoculating 51 percent of Americans. Only a few countries—the United Kingdom and Israel, for instance—are better vaccinated.

Check out the trend lines in those three countries. The United States registered just 15,000 new COVID–19 infections a day last week (32 per 100,000 people), matching the low rate of fresh cases the country counted in late March 2020. And whereas the trend was upward a year-and-a-half ago, the trend now is downward.

The situation is similar in the U.K., with 3,300 new cases a day (42 per 100,000 people)—and Israel with 20 new cases a day (1 per 100,000 people).

Now consider what’s happening in India, where a devastating spike in infections—nearly 400,000 new infections a day in early May (74 per 100,000 people)—is finally subsiding despite a flagging vaccination campaign that relies heavily on the middling AstraZeneca jab.

Or what’s going on in Brazil, where a total lack of national leadership—and stubbornly low vaccine-uptake—has allowed a third surge in infections.

Brazil’s uncontrolled transmission (74 fresh infections per 100,000 people per day) has not only produced a new and more dangerous variant of SARS-CoV–2, it has also made the country a major exporter of the pathogen. Smaller, poorer countries bordering Brazil, including Paraguay and Uruguay, have some of the highest rates of new cases in the world. 274 per 100,000 people in Paraguay. A staggering 694 per 100,000 people in Uruguay.

The uneven distribution of vaccine helps explain the disparity. The United States has administered 85 doses per 100 people. In South America, countries have administered only 25 doses per 100 people, on average. India only recently cracked 10 doses per 100 people. African countries are still below five shots per 100 people, on average.

The quality of the vaccines is uneven, too. In the developed world, the best vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are readily available. But the developing world, outbid for the most effective jabs, has had to make do with the less-effective AstraZeneca vaccine—or, worse, weak Chinese- and Russian-made shots that don’t even have solid data behind them.

Taken together, the data point to a pandemic that’s ending (or at least pausing) in the richer part of the world… and raging on, or even getting worse, everywhere else. Beyrer for one said he dreads the day SARS-CoV–2 spreads across rural Central Asia. There, authorities don’t even have the means to accurately count deaths. “With these enormous populations, the deaths are going to go up and reporting is going to go down.”

The longer the virus has free rein across more than half the planet, the worse the inequity could get. If America and other rich countries reopen their economies, resume travel and trade and move on to other challenges while poor countries continue to struggle against a lethal virus, the rich could get richer while the poor get even poorer.

“Inequality in vaccine rollout, both within countries and between them, already displays a strong income-related pattern, which suggests there exists a risk of letting inequities undermine the global pandemic recovery,” Paul Caesar von Chamier, a researcher at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, told The Daily Beast.

Needless to say, poorer countries lack the same tools richer countries possess for addressing the pandemic. The United States can afford to pay workers’ stimulus checks and encourage them to stay home. Malaysia, for example, can’t.

If a developing country can’t pay for the full range of non-pharmaceutical interventions and lacks access to adequate supplies of the best vaccines, it’s doubly vulnerable to the virus.

Ultimately, that’s bad news for everyone. “The same underprivileged communities that have been hotspots of SARS-CoV–2 infections can become a fertile ground for the virus to develop new strains,” von Chamier said.

With every day that passes, the likelihood grows that the virus will evolve into a variant that can evade even the best vaccines.

If that happens, the vaccine-induced protection that the U.S. and other industrialized countries currently enjoy could collapse virtually overnight. A vaccine-evading mutant would be a great leveler. It could reset the world back to where it was in late 2019: defenseless against a fast-spreading, lethal pathogen.

Which is why the sense of security you, a resident of a rich country, feel right now is a false one. America bought, at a cost of tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars, early protection from the novel coronavirus. Other advanced countries could afford the same protection.

But the protection is fragile. COVID–19 continues to rage across the portion of the world that couldn’t buy itself a pharmaceutical wall against the disease. And if the novel coronavirus travels far enough, for long enough, it just might revisit the developed world in a brand new and far more dangerous form.

Mechanisms exist for the developed world to buy vaccine for the developing world and, in so doing, help to safeguard everyone. Foremost, the international COVAX consortium. The administration of President Biden has recently upped its support for COVAX.

At the G7 summit in Cornwall last week, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan pledged to donate at least a billion vaccine doses to the developing world. The U.S. contribution, 500 million jabs, is by far the biggest.

But the developed world—and America, in particular—could and should do more, experts said. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute for Health, urged converted action by rich countries. “Increase production of vaccines now, distribute them equally and fast, support some failing economies to avoid instabilities and migration due to food shortages and disease outbreaks.”

Even leaving aside our shared humanity, it’s in the interest of the world’s rich countries to do everything they can to protect the world’s poor countries. And fast.

Because the virus moves fast, too.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

It's time for Sinema to move against the filibuster

Grant Woods: Kyrsten Sinema Doesn’t Belong In The Senate Unless She Abolishes The Filibuster charges AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona.

Here’s the short version …

Brahm Resnik @brahmresnik Calls our attention to this tweet: Best-selling author @donwinslow is coming after Arizona’s senior senator. He’s not a politician. He’s not a PAC. But he can be relentless.

… and the rest of the Blue Meanie’s post.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods prominently backed Kyrsten Sinema, but he says she now needs to support getting rid of the filibuster. Huffington Post reports, Major Kyrsten Sinema Supporter Says Abolish Filibuster Or Get Out Of The Senate:

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who prominently backed Kyrsten Sinema’s election to the Senate, is now saying she doesn’t belong in office anymore unless she helps abolish the filibuster.

Woods, a former Republican, was attorney general from from 1991–1999 and worked for the late Sen. John McCain (R). In 2018, he switched parties and became a Democrat.

That year, he also endorsed Sinema, and the campaign even featured him in one of its ads saying, “We need more people who are not just politicians who will say or do anything to get elected.”

But on Friday, Woods was much less enthusiastic about Sinema in comments to HuffPost. He said he feels very strongly about passage of H.R. 1 ― the For the People Act, a democracy reform and voting rights bill ― and believes the Senate must abolish the filibuster, which is something Sinema has said she is adamantly against. (Sinema is, however, a co-sponsor of the For the People Act.)

“I do think that Sen. Sinema and every senator should support ending the filibuster for the voting rights bill,” he said, adding, “To keep the Jim Crow filibuster while losing some of these basic voting rights that are central to our democracy is preposterous.”

“Sen. Sinema should know that, so should Sen. Manchin,” Woods said, referring to West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, who also opposes removing the filibuster. “At the end of the day, I’m very hopeful that they’ll come around and do the right thing. But if they don’t, then I don’t think they belong in the Senate anymore.”

Woods had also tweeted his thoughts about the filibuster on Thursday, without directly naming Sinema.

He did have this tweet: At the end of the day, if you don’t vote to protect voting rights and save our democracy by breaking the Jim Crow filibuster, it should be your last vote as a United States Senator. No exceptions. #CountryFirst #FILIBUSTER #EndTheFilibuster

Sinema’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Until now, Woods has been a strong defender of Sinema. In March, when Sinema received widespread Democratic criticism for voting against a $15/hour minimum wage with an exaggerated thumbs down, Woods stood by her.

But this past week, Sinema reiterated her refusal to abolish the filibuster, which remains a major impediment to passing much of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

[B]ut as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg noted Friday, Sinema’s history is inaccurate.

“The filibuster was created by mistake when the Senate, cleaning up its rule book in 1806, failed to include a provision to cut off debate. (A so-called cloture rule allowing two-thirds of senators to end a filibuster was adopted in 1917; the proportion was reduced to three-fifths in 1975.) The filibuster encouraged extremism, not comity: It was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators before the Civil War and segregationists after it,” Goldberg wrote.

No more bullshit revisionist history excuses from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Grant Woods is right. She either votes to end the filibuster to pass the voting rights bills she professes to support, or she can start packing her bags.