Tag Archives: Medicine

What I Learned From a Conference Call With the Co-Founders of BioNTech

Today, I had the opportunity to join a call organized by STAT News with the co-founders of BioNTech, the company behind the highly successful COVID vaccine. Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci are incredibly impressive people. Here were some of the highlights:

  • BioNTech was working on cancer vaccines as COVID appeared, but after Ugur read early reports of COVID cases in China, they realized their technology was well suited to making a COVID vaccine
  • Wuhan is one of the most heavily connected cities in China, perhaps explaining how the pandemic spread so quickly
  • We can’t expect the vaccine rollout to go smoothly right at the beginning, but they are confident we’ll improve as we gain experience
  • We are likely to get some data on asymptomatic infections amongst the vaccinated in February. (This may have implications for how long we have to wear masks, etc.)
  • If we delay the 2nd dose of a COVID vaccine in order to get more people their first dose, we should avoid delaying by too much. Whether we delay is a risk/benefit calculation best left to governments.
  • The new technology they’re most excited about is using immune mechanisms against cancer. They have a drug that’s within weeks of beginning testing.

These STAT Events are free and open to anyone. It was a fascinating call and I was honored to be able to ask a question to these incredible scientists (the answer is the last bullet point above). The recording of the meeting should go up on STAT’s website soon.

Why I Started Giving Blood

Last March, as COVID began to whallop the New York area, I sat on my couch refreshing the news over and over and getting increasingly paranoid. I’d check the case counts before I went to bed and then again as soon as I got up. I soon realized this was not a sustainable way to live.

Then I saw an article in our local news that blood donations were particularly needed. Donations had dropped off because donors were afraid to go, but the needs remained. I sensed an opportunity to finally do something, as opposed to simply read more news and become more scared, which benefits no one.

So I went to the New York Blood Center on East 67th street in Manhattan. The staff were very nice and the entire process took just a few minutes. Since then, I’ve gone every couple of months, enjoying the opportunity to do something positive and also the delicious snacks I get afterward. 🙂 Since donor volume was thin around the holidays, I even got a pair of special New York Blood Center socks when I donated shortly before Christmas!

We all know giving blood helps others, but it may surprise you to learn that there can be significant health benefits for donors as well. Regular blood donation is linked to lower blood pressure and risk of heart attacks. Men seem to benefit more than women, since women have a natural way to get rid of blood through menstruation, but men do not.

You also get a mini-checkup every time you donate. When you come in, they check your heart rate, blood pressure, and iron levels. It’s not much, but how many people get any sort of checkup every 8 weeks? Not many. I suspect this may be another reason donors tend to enjoy better health. Your blood is also screened for infectious diseases like HIV and the center will contact you if you test positive. I even found out I have a rare blood type, B-, which is particularly needed.

Do you feel sick after? Not really, or at least I never do. The first time, I felt just a bit lightheaded, but then I drank a lot of water and immediately felt fine. My number one tip for feeling good after blood donation is to drink a lot of water. I generally consumed 1-2 liters.

The last time I donated, I looked at the posters on the wall. There was a young Asian lady who had had dozens of transfusions after a car accident. Another poster showed a Marine veteran who needed transfusions during a surgery. I never served in the military, but it was satisfying to be able to serve in this way.

The COVID risk seems minimal to me given that everyone is masked and temperature-checked, which is more than I can say for the grocery store! I’d encourage everyone to consider donating. It could make you healthier and save someone else’s life too!