News roundup for Tue, Apr 13, 2021

We’ve got ketchup shortages in the US, of all things. Increased demand on takeout meals has increased demand on ketchup packets. This demand couples with continued shipping and logistics problems means less ketchup on the shelves.

There have been large and repeated eruptions in St. Vincent. Many are without power now, and parts of St. Vincent are covered in many feet of ash. There have been reports of pyroclastic flow in the red zone. Thousands have been evacuated and thousands more are awaiting evacuation. Cruise lines are coming to help with the evacuation process:

Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility suffered a second explosion in two years that will set enrichment back by many months. Iran asserts these are targeted attacks and not accidents:

The US Secretary of State Blinken has sent stern warnings to China and Russia as the miasma of Realpolitik spreads over Ukraine and Taiwan:

The Western US is facing another historic drought, and this might mean another historic fire season.

The extrajudicial execution of a Black man by police in Minnesota, this time by a purported accidental discharge after “mistaking” a taser for a gun, has led to a state of emergency in the Twin Cities region as protests erupt and the public takes to the streets once again:

The world has almost 137.2 COVID cases.  The world has gained 4.8 million cases in a week, which is a bump. There have been nearly 3 million deaths in total. The US has had nearly 32 million cases. Over 576,000 Americans have died. The US gained 51,000 cases since yesterday. There have been 451 deaths in the US in the last day. Brazil leads the world in deaths per day, with over 1,700. The world looks to be in a 4th crest at the moment:

Michigan is simmering in COVID cases right now, and its hospitals are feeling the impact:

The more deadly and more transmissible Brazilian variant now accounts for approximately 1% of cases in the US. This is going to rise quickly and could even be dominant in a few months. Many of the vaccines still offer good protection from this variant, but less protection than normal. The only way to beat this variant is through thorough vaccination efforts.

Here’s a useful tool for understanding and weighing relative risk with the AstraZeneca vaccine:

France is making a bold recommendation that an mRNA vaccine should be used as a second dose after the first AstraZeneca dose—the only problem is there isn’t a lot of evidence for the safety and efficacy of this combination.

China has acknowledged that its vaccines are not as effective as they had hoped they would be. China, like France, may also mix its doses of vaccines in hopes of boosting efficacy.

The pandemic is gaining a foothold in India. In the meantime, millions of Indians are gathering for festivals. The appeals by health experts to cancel certain festivals have fallen on deaf ears. Many Indian states are reporting shortages in vaccine doses—only 6% of its population has received a vaccine.

We need as many promising preventative treatments as we can find. We might be finding some:

The Supreme Court is scaling back California’s pandemic-related restrictions on religious meetings in homes.

COVID testing is on the decline in the US as vaccinations continue to ramp up, but we still need the testing—if we don’t scale our testing up, we’ll be on an uphill climb.


    • Karl Winterling

      So far, it looks like there have been no cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) in around 100 million people in the US who’ve gotten the Pfizer or Moderna shots, so we have an “experiment” comparing Pfizer/Moderna to AstraZeneza/J&J. It’s probably a good idea to slow down AstraZeneca/J&J in places where Pfizer/Moderna is available, like maybe letting people get AstraZeneca/J&J who are personally okay with the low risk. It’s reasonable to know exactly what your risk/benefit analysis is and give healthcare providers time to develop a plan to identify and treat rare side effects.

      6 |
      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Karl Winterling

        The mRNA vaccines seem to be the safest and most efficacious, and they can be updated with booster strains, so to speak, relatively quickly. The world just needs a whole lot more of them. 

        10 |
      • I’m sceduled to get my first dose on May 7th. I specifically chose the Pfizer vaccine because I recently learned about Kati Kariko and the research and design behind the mRNA vaccine, in my advanced biochem course. Interestingly, she encountered several rejections to fund her research for many years, and now it is the most effective in protection agaist COVID19. I see her being nominated for a Nobel prize in the near future.

        5 |
      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Rubber Duckie

        She’s amazing.

        6 |
      • I agree the pause was likely unnecessary, or at least the FDA’s framing of the issue was very bad. The FDA could have said simply that people who were scheduled to receive the J&J vaccine should be rescheduled for Pfizer/Moderna unless they specifically want the J&J vaccine (like getting a single dose is more convenient, you’d rather get J&J *now* if you’d otherwise have to wait, etc.) and do not have a medical history of problems with CVST or other blood clots or platelets.

        It’s a bit like when Fauci and then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams went on TV in March 2020 and said wearing a mask was not necessary. That was when people still thought COVID-19 was a coughing disease and most infectious people would follow guidance to stay home because they had fevers or were coughing, so experts worried that people would hoard masks meant for healthcare workers and have a false sense of security. The problem was there wasn’t a clear understanding of the risk of a “false sense of security,” there wasn’t clear evidence that wearing less effective masks was harmful, and shortages of cloth masks aren’t an issue because someone can start a neighborhood business making them. The blunder might’ve made the early pandemic worse and unnecessarily politicized the issue when it’s a no-brainer that it shouldn’t be politicized.

        6 |
      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Karl Winterling

        Yes. Halting the use of a vaccine that has a 1/1,000,000 side effect when it protects people from a 1/100 risk of death is bananas to me. It’s bad optics, and it fuels vaccine resistance. 

        5 |
      • It’s important to keep an eye on very rare side effects that might be associated with a specific vaccine platform like adenovirus as far as deciding which platform to invest in (like adenovirus vs. mRNA vs. something else). If there’s a new disease, you ideally want to know enough about a vaccine platform that you can make and test a vaccine for a new disease very quickly, like 100 days to get approval and 180 days to start mass distribution. Ideally, you want those vaccines to be highly effective, have almost no severe side effects so virtually nobody hesitates to take them, stay stable in room-temperature storage, and have very convenient administration like a single shot or taking a pill.

        4 |
    • Jake DuBois

      So my wife is a reasonable person and not a conspiracy theorist at all, but she has heard from social media that the mRNA vaccines are a brand new type of vaccine and we don’t really know what long-term effects they could have, etc, so she is feeling a little hesitant about getting it.  Does anyone have any links to reliable sources that address those concerns? 

      5 |
      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Jake DuBois

        I have been sharing a relatively technical article explaining why the biggest concern (that RNA could somehow integrate into our DNA) is a non-issue. I went so far as to vet this article through Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett of NIH–her concern is that the article isn’t a proper reading level for most of the masses. The content of the article is correct, and the information is fantastic. When it comes to long-term sequelae, folks should know that the ingredients in the mRNA vaccine are cleared from the body in just a few weeks. The body continues making antibodies past that time. Work on mRNA vaccines has been done for over 17 years. Anyway, here’s the article I recommend:

        11 |
      • Jake DuBois Stephanie Arnold

        Thank you! Yeah, it’s definitely too technical, but it should work for my purposes.

        4 |
      • Hi Jake, you don’t need to feel like a conspiracy theorist to have genuine concerns regarding a new vaccine. My parents are retired PCPs and they were also hesitant. They ended up getting the Moderna, when they were eligible, more than a month ago. The article Stephanie shared did a good job explaining that the translation of mRNA into protein takes place in the cytosol, whereas, our DNA is in the nucleus. So there is no interaction between our DNA and the mRNA from the vaccine. Btw, thanks for sharing that article Stephanie. Here is another article from NIH’s PubMed Central. I think it is easier to read. It was published last month.

        Debunking mRNA Vaccine Misconceptions—An Overview for Medical Professionals

        8 |
      • Jake DuBois Rubber Duckie

        Thank you for the article and the encouragement. This is exactly why I asked my question here!

        4 |
      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Rubber Duckie

        Thanks, RD!

        3 |