News from Bioethics.com

Controversial Stem Cell Therapy Has Helped Repair Spinal Cords in 13 Patients

2 days 17 hours

(Science Alert) – Beyond intensive physical rehabilitation programs – which can improve outcomes in some cases – treatment options are virtually non-existent. But new results from a phase 2 clinical trial offer fresh hope for remedies on the horizon. In an experimental collaboration by scientists in Japan and the US, 13 patients with spinal cord injuries (SCI) experienced a range of functional improvements in their condition after being treated with an intravenous infusion of their own stem cells, derived from their bone marrow.

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FDA Places Clinical Hold on Sickle Cell Gene Therapy

2 days 18 hours

(Medscape) – The FDA placed a clinical hold yesterday on two gene therapy trials for sickle cell disease (SCD) after two recent complications: one participant developed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and another developed myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). The sponsoring company, bluebird bio, suspended the trials last week upon learning of the cases. The company has also put the brakes on a treatment for beta thalassemia already approved in the European Union and the United Kingdom, betibeglogene autotemcel (Zynteglo). The treatment hasn’t been associated with problems but uses the same gene delivery vector, a lentivirus, as that used in the SCD trials.

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As Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Widens, Inequality Lingers

2 days 18 hours

(Undark) – On Wednesday, a plane carrying 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine landed in Accra, Ghana, marking the first global shipment in a plan to deliver 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine, mostly to lower- and middle-income countries, in 2021. The news comes as the global Covid-19 vaccine pool grows, due to increased manufacturing capacity and new vaccines. But, despite that growth, countries continue to jostle for access to the coveted shots.  The new initiative that delivered vaccines to Ghana, called Covax, aims to help ensure widespread access to immunization for Covid-19. The World Health Organization, one of the leaders of Covax, describes it as “the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.” But the initiative has already run into funding issues, and the effort faces daunting logistical challenges.

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Researchers Find Worrying New Coronavirus Variant in New York City

2 days 18 hours

(CNN) – Two separate teams of researchers said this week they have found a worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast that carries mutations that help it evade the body’s natural immune response — as well as the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments. Genomics researchers have named the variant B.1.526. It appears in people affected in diverse neighborhoods of New York City, they said, and is “scattered in the Northeast.” One of the mutations in this variant is the same concerning change found in the variant first seen in South Africa and known as B.1.351. It appears to evade, somewhat, the body’s response to vaccines, as well. And it’s becoming more common.

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Scotland’s Vaccine Rollout Suggests Delaying the 2nd COVID-19 Shot Is a Bad Idea

2 days 19 hours

(Business Insider) – The UK’s strategy of delaying second coronavirus vaccine doses up to 12 weeks to give more people a first shot may carry serious risk. On Monday, Scottish researchers released data from their vaccination campaign, including more than 1 million people who’ve been immunized, that suggests protection from a single dose peaks and then declines after about five weeks. The Scottish data hasn’t been published in a medical journal or reviewed by independent scientists. The results were posted as a preprint on Monday.

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Italy’s Lombardy Again in Virus Crisis as Brescia Sees Surge

3 days 9 hours

(Medical Xpress) – Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday for more vaccines to help stem a surge of new COVID-19 cases that are taxing the health system in the province of Brescia. The province’s fast-growing caseload is contributing to another upswing in reported cases nationwide: Italy added another 19,886 confirmed infections Thursday, its highest daily number since early January. Authorities reported another 308 virus-related deaths, bringing the country’s official toll in the pandemic to just under 97,000.

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Little Is Known About the Effects of Puberty Blockers

3 days 9 hours

(The Economist) – All drugs offer a mix of harms and benefits. But despite their popularity, the effects of puberty blockers remain unclear. Because they are not licensed for gender medicine, drug firms have done no trials. Record-keeping in many clinics is poor. A 2018 review by researchers at the University of Melbourne described the evidence for their use as “low-quality”. In December British judges likewise flagged the lack of a “firm evidence base” when ruling that children were unlikely to be able to give meaningful consent to taking them. Britain’s National Health Service recently withdrew a claim, still made elsewhere, that their effects are “fully reversible”. The studies that do exist are at once weak and worrying.

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We Still Don’t Know How Well Covid Vaccines Stop Transmission

3 days 10 hours

(Wired) – Achieving that is likely to take a few more months—provided vaccine makers don’t hit any production snags and worrisome variants don’t derail current progress. In the interim, an increasing number of people will find themselves in a liminal state, navigating what it means to be a vaccinated person moving through an unvaccinated world. What are its rules, and what will it take to be a good citizen of it? Answering those questions means confronting an even more fundamental unknown. A vaccinated person may be well-protected from the worst ravages of Covid-19. But it’s not clear if they can still carry the coronavirus and transmit it to susceptible people around them.

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Medical Oxygen Scarce in Africa, Latin America Amid Virus

3 days 10 hours

(Associated Press) – A crisis over the supply of medical oxygen for coronavirus patients has struck nations in Africa and Latin America, where warnings went unheeded at the start of the pandemic and doctors say the shortage has led to unnecessary deaths. It takes about 12 weeks to install a hospital oxygen plant and even less time to convert industrial oxygen manufacturing systems into a medical-grade network. But in Brazil and Nigeria, as well as in less-populous nations, decisions to fully address inadequate supplies only started being made last month, after hospitals were overwhelmed and patients started to die.

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Covid Vaccine Websites Violate Disability Laws, Create Inequality for the Blind

3 days 10 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – Many covid vaccination registration and information websites at the federal, state and local levels violate disability rights laws, hindering the ability of blind people to sign up for a potentially lifesaving vaccine, a KHN investigation has found. Across the country, people who use special software to make the web accessible have been unable to sign up for the vaccines or obtain vital information about covid-19 because many government websites lack required accessibility features. At least 7.6 million people in the U.S. over age 16 have a visual disability.

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Traumatized and Tired, Nurses Are Quitting Due to the Pandemic

3 days 10 hours

(CNN) – Almost a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, America’s nurses — who for almost 20 years have been voted the country’s most trusted professionals — are running on empty. They’ve reused PPE, canceled PTO and worked extended shifts for employers they don’t always feel value their safety.  The stress and lack of support has driven many nurses to quit their jobs. And during the worst health crisis the US has seen in more than a century, the health care system can’t afford to lose them.

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‘V.I.P Immunization’ for the Powerful and Their Cronies Rattles South America

3 days 10 hours

(New York Times) – The hope brought by the arrival of the first vaccines in South America is hardening into anger as inoculation campaigns have spiraled into scandal, cronyism and corruption, rocking national governments and sapping trust in the political establishment. Two ministers in Peru and one in Argentina have resigned for receiving or giving preferential access to scarce vaccines. A minister in Ecuador is being investigated for doing the same. Prosecutors in those countries, and in Brazil, are examining thousands more accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.

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Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Works Well in Big ‘Real World’ Test

4 days 11 hours

(Associated Press) – A real-world test of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in more than half a million people confirms that it’s very effective at preventing serious illness or death, even after one dose. Wednesday’s published results, from a mass vaccination campaign in Israel, give strong reassurance that the benefits seen in smaller, limited testing persisted when the vaccine was used much more widely in a general population with various ages and health conditions. The vaccine was 92% effective at preventing severe disease after two shots and 62% after one.

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Ghana 1st Nation to Receive Coronavirus Vaccines from COVAX

4 days 11 hours

(Associated Press) – Ghana received the world’s first delivery of coronavirus vaccines from the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative on Wednesday — the long-awaited start for a program that has thus far fallen short of hopes that it would ensure shots were given quickly to the world’s most vulnerable people. The arrival of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the West African country marks the beginning of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

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FDA Says Single-Dose Shot from J&J Prevents Severe COVID

4 days 11 hours

(Associated Press) – Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to an analysis released Wednesday by U.S. regulators that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic. The long-anticipated shot could offer the nation a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two.

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‘Our Souls Are Dead’: How I Survived a Chinese ‘Re-education’ Camp for Uighurs

4 days 11 hours

(The Guardian) – What my husband was experiencing was all too familiar. Since 1955, when communist China annexed Xinjiang as an “autonomous region”, we Uighurs have been seen as a thorn in the side of the Middle Kingdom. Xinjiang is a strategic corridor and far too valuable for China’s ruling Communist party to risk losing control of it. The party has invested too much in the “new silk road”, the infrastructure project designed to link China to Europe via central Asia, of which our region is an important axis. Xinjiang is essential to President Xi Jinping’s great plan – that is, a peaceful Xinjiang, open for business, cleansed of its separatist tendencies and its ethnic tensions. In short, Xinjiang without Uighurs.

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‘It Doesn’t Feel Worth It’: Covid Is Pushing New York’s EMT’s to the Brink

4 days 11 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – An emergency medical services lieutenant and union leader with the New York City Fire Department, Almojera said he has seen more death in the past year than in his previous decade of work. “We can’t possibly process the traumas, because we’re still in the trauma,” he said. EMS work has long been grueling and poorly paid. New FDNY hires make just over $35,000 a year, or $200 more than what is considered the poverty threshold for a four-person household in New York City. (That figure is on par with national averages.) Employee turnover is high: In fiscal year 2019, more than 13% of EMTs and paramedics left their jobs.

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UK to Push at G-7 for Global Standard on ‘Vaccine Passports’

4 days 11 hours

(Associated Press) – Britain plans to use its presidency of the Group of Seven economic powers to push for an internationally recognized system of vaccine passports that could allow world travel to resume, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Tuesday that the idea raises “complex” ethical issues.

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Where a Vaccination Campaign Faces Skepticism, War and Corruption

4 days 11 hours

(The New York Times) – Afghanistan, whose citizens have largely brushed aside the coronavirus pandemic as exaggerated or an outright hoax, is now preparing to distribute its first batch of vaccines. A half-million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, produced by an Indian manufacturer, were delivered to the capital, Kabul, by India on Feb. 7. But the arrival was greeted with indifference by many Afghans, who have rebuffed government warnings that the virus is a deadly public health threat.

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‘Just Living with Pain’: Women’s Healthcare Waylaid by COVID-19 Pandemic

5 days 10 hours

(Los Angeles Times) – Like Fajuri, women across Southern California are reporting appointments delayed, exams canceled and screenings postponed because of the pandemic. Some are voluntarily opting out for fear of encountering the virus, while others have had their appointments canceled by healthcare providers rerouting resources to COVID-19 patients. But with the outbreak in its second year, experts are sounding the alarm about the ramifications of letting women’s wellness fall by the wayside.

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Why the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Has Gotten a Bad Rap–And Why That’s Not Fair

5 days 11 hours

(NPR) – Two COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed in the U.S. right now, and this week an FDA advisory committee will vote on whether a third should join them. If granted emergency use authorization, Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine would become available in the U.S., along with those from Pfizer and Moderna.

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Future Vaccines Depend on Test Subjects in Short Supply: Monkeys

5 days 12 hours

(The New York Times) – Mark Lewis was desperate to find monkeys. Millions of human lives, all over the world, were at stake. Mr. Lewis, the chief executive of Bioqual, was responsible for providing lab monkeys to pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which needed the animals to develop their Covid-19 vaccines. But as the coronavirus swept across the United States last year, there were few of the specially bred monkeys to be found anywhere in the world. Unable to furnish scientists with monkeys, which can cost more than $10,000 each, about a dozen companies were left scrambling for research animals at the height of the pandemic.

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Vaccines Adapted for Variants Will Not Need Lengthy Testing, F.D.A. Says

5 days 12 hours

(The New York Times) – The Food and Drug Administration said on Monday that vaccine developers would not need to conduct lengthy randomized controlled trials for vaccines that have been adapted to protect against concerning coronavirus variants. The recommendations, which call for small trials more like those required for annual flu vaccines, would greatly accelerate the review process at a time when scientists are increasingly anxious about how the variants might slow or reverse progress made against the virus.

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Organ Transplant Patient Dies After Receiving Covid-Infected Lungs

5 days 12 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – Doctors say a woman in Michigan contracted covid-19 and died last fall two months after receiving a tainted double-lung transplant from a donor who turned out to harbor the virus that causes the disease — despite showing no signs of illness and initially testing negative. Officials at the University of Michigan Medical School suggested it may be the first proven case of covid in the U.S. in which the virus was transmitted via an organ transplant. A surgeon who handled the donor lungs was also infected with the virus and fell ill but later recovered.

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Hospitals Confront Water Shortages in Winter Storm Aftermath

6 days 12 hours

(Associated Press) – Hospitals across the South grappled with water shortages Sunday in the wake of a devastating winter storm as the region carried on with recovery efforts and the weather offered a balmy respite — temperatures as high as the mid-60s. At the height of last week’s storm, hospitals scrambled to care for patients amid record cold temperatures, snow and ice that battered parts of the country more accustomed to going through winter with light jackets and short sleeves. The icy blast ruptured water mains, knocked out power to millions of utility customers and contributed to at least 76 deaths — half of which occurred in Texas. At least seven people died in Tennessee and four in Portland, Oregon.

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