Tag Archives: COVID-19

Did COVID Come from a Lab? A Doctor’s Perspective

In southern China near the border with Laos, there is a mine. To this day, it is heavily guarded by the Chinese government. Any journalist who tries to visit is detained.

Inside the mine: the possible origin of the COVID pandemic.

Scientists identified the animal that first transmitted the original SARS virus (SARS-CoV-1) within 6 months. The culprit was the civet cat. But no animal intermediary for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has ever been found. Meanwhile, we know that bat guano samples from that mine were taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and studied. Is that lab the real source of the pandemic?

In an excellent podcast by the eminent Doctor Peter Attia, he and journalist Katherine Eban dig into the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan lab. There are many precedents for this: SARS-Cov-1 has escaped from labs several times. And the Wuhan Institute was not very secure: some of its labs had biosafety level (BSL)-2 precautions. This is about the same level of security as an American dentist’s office.

There is no longer any scientific consensus on whether the virus came from an animal or a lab. But we may never know for sure where SARS-CoV-2 came from, since China has stonewalled international researchers and the Wuhan Institute’s database of virus info just happened to be taken offline in September 2019, shortly before the pandemic began to rage.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

More on China:

IS CHINA USING ITS COVID VACCINES TO CONTROL OTHER COUNTRIES?

CHINA IS CRUSHING ONE OF ITS MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

HOW CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY DIES

Note: The doctor I’m referring to is Dr. Attia. I have no scientific or medical background.

Photo: “File:Wuhan Institute of Virology main entrance.jpg” by Ureem2805 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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India’s COVID Nightmare: “Bring Oxygen or Take Your Father Away”

At 5 a.m. on Saturday, Aparna Bansal’s cellphone rang. “Can you come now?” said a man from the New Delhi hospital where her 76-year-old father is being treated for Covid-19. The instructions were clear, she said: Bring oxygen or take your father away.

Her husband lines up at 4 a.m. every morning at an oxygen-supply store in east Delhi to buy two cylinders of oxygen to take to separate hospitals treating her mother and father. Neither facility has enough supply to treat the waves of patients coming through every hour.

India is fighting the highest COVID caseload of any country so far. Hospital beds and especially oxygen are running critically short, and deaths are increasingly rapidly. The medical system has nearly collapsed:

India has been reporting more than 2,000 deaths a day for five straight days. The real toll is likely much higher. It is expected to grow in the coming weeks.

A general relaxation of caution earlier this year, along with several massive superspreader events, seeded the current crisis:

Life returned to normal. Weddings and parties resumed. Masks slipped, as did social-distancing rules. A new season of state-level elections ushered in big political rallies and street parades. A massive religious festival known as the Kumbh Mela was allowed to take place, bringing millions of Hindu pilgrims to the banks of the river Ganges and sending a message that there was no reason to worry about Covid-19.

By mid-March, cases started climbing again—then accelerated with breathtaking speed, becoming a vertical line rather than an upward sloping curve.

Much more here.

Many had put their faith in an herbal remedy called Coronil, which was even touted by Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. However, there is little evidence behind the treatment.

Reports from people inside India right now are dire:

You can find the full thread on India’s crisis here, and another excellent thread on how it began here.

Dig into these posts for more on COVID:

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This Tiny Country Beat COVID

On the southern tip of Spain, the tiny UK territory of Gibraltar has vaccinated almost its entire population. COVID deaths have dropped to zero:

Life is beginning to get back to normal. Masks are no longer required outside, curfews are gone, and bars and restaurants are full. Even sporting events have resumed:

Events have also returned to the Rock as Gibraltar hosted what’s thought to be the first fully vaccinated major sporting fixture in the world on Saturday.

Five hundred spectators, each tested for Covid-19 prior to the event, were able to witness British heavyweight fighter Dillian Whyte claim victory over Russia’s Alexander Povetkin at Gibraltar’s Europa Sports Complex.

The fight, called the Rumble on the Rock, was originally meant to take place at the Matchroom HQ, a venue in southeastern England, but was switched to Gibraltar thanks to its Covid-19 safe environment.

Soccer fans were also allowed to witness sporting matches starting with Gibraltar’s World Cup qualifier clash against the Netherlands on Tuesday.

Victoria Stadium welcomed 600 attendees who had previously received two doses of the vaccine and tested negative for the virus on the day of the match.

Only 3% of residents refused the vaccine, which may be one reason why Gibraltar’s results are so good. That may be difficult to recreate in the US or other nations, but Gibraltar provides a welcome view of what life could look like soon as the world races to vaccinate.

I encourage you to get your shot if you haven’t already. Let’s get back to normal life!

For more on COVID and vaccines, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Gibraltar – Rosia” by Roy McGrail (krm gib) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What if Your Mask Could Test You for COVID?

Harvard researchers have invented a mask that can test the wearer for COVID:

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have figured out how to integrate a freeze-dried diagnostic Covid-19 test into a face mask. The test reacts with exhaled particles and gives a diagnosis in 90 minutes or less.

The tests and a tiny blister pack of water can be mounted on any mask. After the mask has been worn for at least 30 minutes, a person punctures the blister pack to release the water needed to rehydrate and run the reactions. The test result is indicated by one or two lines, similar to a pregnancy test

The masks will be affordable and could be useful for a lot more than COVID:

The Wyss team…expects the product to cost about $5. The technology can be targeted to identify other viruses and variants as well.

Any such masks would be subject to FDA approval. Another team at University of California, San Diego is working on a sticker that could be stuck to any mask to test the wearer. Those stickers could cost mere cents.

Incredible ingenuity!

For more on COVID, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Fit testing the N95 Mask” by AlamosaCountyPublicHealth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For the Vaccinated, Masks May Be Over

If you’ve been vaccinated for COVID, can you finally take off the mask? Early data from Israel says yes:

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said on Wednesday that real-world data from Israel suggests that their COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective in preventing asymptomatic infections, meaning the vaccine could significantly reduce transmission.

If you don’t even have an asymptomatic infection, you shouldn’t be able to transmit the disease to others. That said, this data is preliminary and is not yet peer reviewed.

The problem with real world application of this knowledge is that anyone can say they’re vaccinated. At a grocery store, for example, it would be hard to check everyone given constraints on time and manpower. So, I expect to see masks continue in public places until case rates are very low and everyone who wants a vaccine has had a chance.

That said, this data can inform our actions in private settings. I look forward to being able to wear one less frequently!

For more posts on COVID, check these out:

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Has Merck Found the Cure for COVID?

Merck has come out with great results from a new drug for COVID:

Over the weekend, the Big Pharma and its biotech partner Ridgeback announced their drug, molnupiravir, hit one of its secondary objectives from a new trial, namely to reduce time to negativity of infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus isolation from swabs in patients with symptomatic COVID-19.

The data show that, at Day 5, there was a reduction in positive viral culture in subjects who received molnupiravir (all doses) compared to placebo: 0% (0/47) for molnupiravir and 24% (6/25) for placebo.

These findings are preliminary, and more data will come out soon:

This is just a peek, with primary endpoints and more secondaries “to be presented at an upcoming medical meeting,” which will show a much clearer picture of how well this drug may be working.

We should know a lot more within the next few weeks:

Data from the phase 2/3 pivotal studies of the med are expected this quarter.

This drug could be great for people who are hesitant to get a vaccine, who haven’t been able to get one yet, or for whom the vaccine did not prevent infection (rare but possible). Good news!

For more on COVID drugs and vaccines, check out these posts:

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Photo: Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, “File:Kenneth C. Frazier.jpg” by Merck (www. Merck.com) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Why Someone Dying After Getting Vaccinated Doesn’t Mean Anything

We keep hearing scary stories about people getting sick or dying shortly after getting a COVID vaccine. But we shouldn’t confuse correlation with causation. From the mathematician Gary Cornell’s excellent blog:

For example, within one week after vaccinating 10,000,000 people, you will likely have around 98 people keel over and die for no apparent reason and if all of them were pregnant women, almost 27,800 miscarriages.

In this post, he has a table with the expected rate of many diseases we often hear are associated with vaccines, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. It turns out, a substantial number of people are going to get those illnesses anyway, with or without a vaccine.

My wife made an excellent analogy on this subject recently. “Someone might have drank tea and had a stroke in the same day. But it probably wasn’t the tea.”

Same idea here. And with the US having given out over 90 million shots, mostly to the elderly and frail, the fact is some people are going to die shortly thereafter. But it doesn’t say anything about the vaccine.

The clinical trials carefully compared the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups in the trial and found no higher rate of complications amongst the vaccinated. And that’s the data to act on.

Photo: Me getting the Moderna vaccine on February 22. I am alive and well as of this writing.

For more on COVID and vaccines, check out these posts:

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You May Soon Be Able to Get Vaccinated in Russia

As some US states lag in COVID vaccinations and the EU barely vaccinates at all, some are looking to Russia for help:

Lufthansa is reportedly discussing the “medical tourism” jet scheme with bosses at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

The German airline is also in talks with the Russian foreign ministry about a regular service to the airport, it was reported.

Passengers would fly in and out without necessarily needing a visa or entering the country to see the sights such as Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral.

They would then make a second trip three weeks later to be fully protected by the Russian vaccine.

Two return flights from Frankfurt are estimated to cost around £1,750.

This hasn’t happened yet but it’s something to watch closely, especially if you’re in the EU or other countries that have barely begun to vaccinate. Russia’s vaccine is highly effective, per a study published in The Lancet:

Vaccine efficacy, based on the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 21 days after the first dose of vaccine, is reported as 91·6% (95% CI 85·6–95·2)

Russians have proved hesitant to get the vaccine, perhaps due to mistrust of their government, so this may mean more available for foreigners.

For more on COVID and vaccines, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Putin Claims Moon” by AZRainman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The UK Has Killed COVID, and the US Is Close Behind

The UK has vaccinated faster than almost anywhere on earth:

And it’s working! Cases have fallen off a cliff, dropping by almost 90% in just two months:

The US is actually not far behind the UK in vaccinations per person anymore, although we were significantly behind until recently. And we are actually putting out more doses per capita than the UK at the moment. So, this gives us an idea of what we have to look forward to. If anything, our results should be even better because a more contagious variant is more widespread in the UK than here.

Indeed, we’ve seen cases fall by 2/3rds over the same period:

To me, this seems like an incredibly powerful endorsement of Brexit and the Johnson government, neither of which I ever thought I’d favor! But the rollout in the EU has been pathetic. Meanwhile, as an American, I’ve been looking upon the UK with envy.

Bottom line: the vaccines really are working, and we have an amazing summer to look forward to!

For more on COVID and vaccines, check out these posts:

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“Boris Johnson” by EU2017EE is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Europe Is Falling Behind the US, and It’s Going to Get Worse

A huge untold story of the world today is how far Europe has fallen behind the US economically in recent decades:

Here are the 2019 numbers (in 2019 dollars, again World Bank) US: $65,297. UK $42,330. That’s 35% less than the US. Or, the US is 54% better off than the UK.. France: $40,494. Italy: $33,228 That’s 50% less than US. Or the US is 96% better off than Italy. China: $20,261.

And it’s been getting steadily worse. France got almost to the US level in 1980. And then slowly slipped behind. The UK seems to be doing ok, but in fact has lost 5 percentage points since the early 2000s peak. And Italy… Once noticeably better off than the UK, and contending with France, Italy’s GDP per capita is now lower than it was in 2000.

More here.

So why is this happening? Regulation and lack of investment in IT in the services sector are chief suspects.

I definitely noticed this difference when I went to Paris for the first time in the fall of 2019. I was expecting a gleaming city, but I was surprised at the poverty I saw. There were panhandlers at the airport, which I’ve never seen in the US, and a lot of crumbling buildings and down-and-out people. It was rather sad. However, I enjoyed my time there a great deal, and would recommend their delicious food and superb art highly.

With the vaccine rollout in Europe going far more slowly than in the US, I think they will fall much further behind, and quickly. Other parts of the world will be wide open while they’re still locked down.

On the bright side, this could provide a great opportunity for the UK to catch up, since it has outpaced the US, China and almost every other country worldwide on vaccines. Their speed and innovative policies, like delaying second doses of vaccines, have impressed me a great deal.

For more on the economy and financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: Image by Nocturnales is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0