News from Bioethics.com

Why COVID-19 Is More Deadly in People with Obesity–Even If They’re Young

2 weeks 1 day

(Science) – Since the pandemic began, dozens of studies have reported that many of the sickest COVID-19 patients have been people with obesity. In recent weeks, that link has come into sharper focus as large new population studies have cemented the association and demonstrated that even people who are merely overweight are at higher risk. For example, in the first metaanalysis of its kind, published on 26 August in Obesity Reviews, an international team of researchers pooled data from scores of peer-reviewed papers capturing 399,000 patients. They found that people with obesity who contracted SARS-CoV-2 were 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48% more likely to die.

Covid-19 Vaccine Trial Participant Had Serious Neurological Symptoms, but Could Be Discharged Today, AstraZeneca CEO Says

2 weeks 1 day

(STAT News) – The participant who triggered a global shutdown of AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials was a woman in the United Kingdom who experienced neurological symptoms consistent with a rare but serious spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis, the drug maker’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said during a private conference call with investors on Wednesday morning. The woman’s diagnosis has not been confirmed yet, but she is improving and will likely be discharged from the hospital as early as Wednesday, Soriot said.

AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Study Put on Hold Due to Suspected Adverse Reaction in Participant in the U.K.

2 weeks 1 day

(STAT News) – A large, Phase 3 study testing a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford at dozens of sites across the U.S. has been put on hold due to a suspected serious adverse reaction in a participant in the United Kingdom. A spokesperson for AstraZeneca, a frontrunner in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, said in a statement that the company’s “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data.” In a follow-up statement, AstraZeneca said it initiated the study hold.

A New Theory Asks: Could a Mask Be a Crude ‘Vaccine’?

2 weeks 2 days

(New York Times) – Masked exposures are no substitute for a bona fide vaccine. But data from animals infected with the coronavirus, as well as insights gleaned from other diseases, suggest that masks, by cutting down on the number of viruses that encounter a person’s airway, might reduce the wearer’s chances of getting sick. And if a small number of pathogens still slip through, the researchers argue, these might prompt the body to produce immune cells that can remember the virus and stick around to fight it off again.

The Coronavirus Is Mutating–Does It Matter?

2 weeks 2 days

(Nature) – Compared with HIV, SARS-CoV-2 is changing much more slowly as it spreads. But one mutation stood out to Korber. It was in the gene encoding the spike protein, which helps virus particles to penetrate cells. Korber saw the mutation appearing again and again in samples from people with COVID-19. At the 614th amino-acid position of the spike protein, the amino acid aspartate (D, in biochemical shorthand) was regularly being replaced by glycine (G) because of a copying fault that altered a single nucleotide in the virus’s 29,903-letter RNA code. Virologists were calling it the D614G mutation

It’s Not Easy to Get a Coronavirus Test for a Child

2 weeks 2 days

(New York Times) – As child care centers and schools reopen, parents are encountering another coronavirus testing bottleneck: Few sites will test children. Even in large cities with dozens of test sites, parents are driving long distances and calling multiple centers to track down one accepting children. The age policies at testing sites reflect a range of concerns, including differences in health insurance, medical privacy rules, holes in test approval, and fears of squirmy or shrieking children.

New York Will Test the Dead More Often for Coronavirus and Flu

2 weeks 2 days

(New York Times) – Cough, fever, chills — with fall fast on the way, symptoms alone won’t be useful in distinguishing Covid-19 from similar-looking cases of the flu. That means routinely testing for both viruses will be crucial — even, perhaps, after some patients have already died. That will at least be true in New York, where officials recently announced a ramp-up in post-mortem testing for the coronavirus as well as the flu. Deaths linked to respiratory illnesses that weren’t confirmed before a person died are to be followed up with tests for both viruses within 48 hours, according to the new regulation.

The Most American COVID-19 Failure Yet

2 weeks 3 days

(The Atlantic) – Openshaw is so suspicious of contact tracing that when restaurants she dines at ask her for a phone number so they can call her if someone else at the restaurant tests positive for COVID-19, she sometimes gives them a fake number, she told me later. Her fears are ill-founded. Contact tracers recommend that infected people self-isolate, but they have no power to enforce isolation. Most countries with coronavirus outbreaks have started contact tracing, and of them, only China is Communist. But Openshaw’s outraged reaction to the concept helps explain a major problem bedeviling the American pandemic response: Contact tracing does not work as well here as it has in other rich countries.

Human Embryo Gene Editing Gets a Road Map–Not a Green Light

2 weeks 3 days

(Wired) – In 2012 these dreams (or nightmares, depending on where you stand) started to get real. With the emergence of Crispr, genetic manipulations were suddenly much easier to make and the tools to make them quick and cheap to obtain. The National Academy of Sciences arranged summits and reports in an attempt to set some boundaries. In 2017 the academy concluded that using Crispr for human genetic enhancement was a hard no. But they stopped short of a full moratorium. What about gene editing to address serious, incurable diseases? Well, that could maybe one day be fine, provided it was proven safe and effective. But that 2017 report didn’t spell out exactly how one might prove those things. And a year later, into that gray area walked a Chinese researcher named He Jiankui, with claims to have edited the DNA of twin baby girls to make them immune to HIV/AIDS.

Russians Publish Early Coronavirus Vaccine Results

2 weeks 6 days

(New York Times) – On Friday, a team of Russian scientists published the first report on their Covid-19 vaccine, which had been roundly criticized because of President Vladimir Putin’s decision last month to approve it before clinical trials had proved it safe and effective. In a small group of volunteers, the scientists found that the vaccine produced a modest level of antibodies against the coronavirus, while causing only mild side effects. The research has not yet shown, however, whether people who are vaccinated are less likely to become infected than those who are not.

Expert Panel Lays Out Guidelines for Germline Editing, While Warning Against Pursuit of ‘CRISPR Babies’

2 weeks 6 days

(STAT News) – Nearly two years after the birth of the first “CRISPR babies” stunned the world, an international group of experts on Thursday warned such human experimentation — in which the DNA of embryos is edited before starting pregnancies — should not be conducted because of unresolved scientific and ethical issues. But the group’s eagerly awaited report detailed the steps that scientists should go through before attempting to create gene-edited babies should countries ever greenlight the procedure.

Uighur Muslim Teacher Tells of Forced Sterilisation in Xinjiang

2 weeks 6 days

(The Guardian) – A teacher coerced into giving classes in Xinjiang internment camps has described her forced sterilisation at the age of 50, under a government campaign to suppress birth rates of women from Muslim minorities. Qelbinur Sidik said the crackdown swept up not just women likely to fall pregnant, but those well beyond normal childbearing ages. Messages she got from local authorities said women aged 19 to 59 were expected to have intrauterine devices (IUDs) fitted or undergo sterilisation.

Saliva COVID-19 Test as Good as, Perhaps Beats, Nasal Swab: Study

2 weeks 6 days

(Medscape) – A COVID-19 saliva test protocol developed by researchers at Yale University appeared to perform at least as well as nasal swabs in a study of hospital patients, a finding that may help encourage more frequent use of self-collected samples. In a letter published August 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine, Anne L. Wyllie, PhD, of the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut, and her coauthors reported on testing done on 70 patients. 

As Covid-19 Depletes Blood Supplies, Scientists Test an Alternative

2 weeks 6 days

(Wall Street Journal) – At a lab in Kyoto, Japan, scientists are running a pioneering clinical trial to treat this singular patient with a long-sought goal: artificial blood. Led by Dr. Koji Eto and a team at Kyoto University’s Center for IPS Cell Research and Application, the study aims to assess the safety and efficacy of platelets engineered in a lab out of a special type of stem cell. If successful, the research could pave the way for larger clinical trials and, ultimately, the broad use of lab-made blood.

Opioids Leading Cause of Drug Overdose Deaths in First Half of 2019

3 weeks 4 hours

(UPI) – More than 80% of all drug overdose deaths reported across the country in the first half of 2019 involved opioids, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of the 10 most common drugs or drug combinations found in overdose-related deaths during the first six months of last year included at least one opioid, the agency said. 

Experts See a Chance for a Covid-19 Vaccine Approval This Fall–If It’s Done Right

3 weeks 4 hours

(STAT News) – There is growing concern that the Food and Drug Administration, under political pressure, could approve a Covid-19 vaccine before it has robust safety and efficacy data. The consequences of such a decision could be significant, particularly if the vaccine is ultimately shown to be less effective than early data suggest. But an approval before the completion of large, Phase 3 trials does not have to be problematic. Experts aren’t ruling out the possibility that a vaccine could be cleared this fall if it is very effective.

‘CRISPR Babies’ Are Still Too Risky, Says Influential Panel

3 weeks 4 hours

(Nature) – Editing genes in human embryos could one day prevent some serious genetic disorders from being passed down — but for now the technique is too risky to be used in embryos destined for implantation, according to a high-profile international commission. And even when the technology is mature, it would initially apply only in a narrow set of circumstances, the panel says.

Xinjiang Residents Reportedly Forced to Take Medicine Amid Coronavirus Fight

3 weeks 4 hours

(Axios) – Rumors have swirled for months that local authorities pressed residents of Xinjiang, a far northwestern region in China, to take traditional Chinese medicine during the coronavirus pandemic. Now a new report from the Associated Press based on interviews, public notices and social media posts suggests this may be true.

HCWs, First Responders Should Be First to Get COVID-19 Vaccines: Panel

3 weeks 5 hours

(Medscape) – Healthcare workers and first responders who are at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19 should be at the front of the line for vaccines when they become available, an independent expert panel tapped by top U.S. health officials said on Tuesday. The draft report, issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, recommends vaccines be rolled out in four phases, with the first “Jumpstart” phase focused on managing what is expected to initially be a scarce supply of vaccines.

NIH Panel Counters FDA: No Solid Data on Plasma for COVID-19

3 weeks 5 hours

(Medscape) – Current data are insufficient to recommend either for or against using convalescent plasma to treat patients who have COVID-19, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel said Tuesday. “Convalescent plasma should not be considered standard of care for the treatment of patients with COVID-19,” the committee said.

Health Officials Worry Nation’s Not Ready for COVID-19 Vaccine

3 weeks 1 day

(Kaiser Health News) – Millions of Americans are counting on a COVID-19 vaccine to curb the global pandemic and return life to normal. While one or more options could be available toward the end of this year or early next, the path to delivering vaccines to 330 million people remains unclear for the local health officials expected to carry out the work.“We haven’t gotten a lot of information about how this is going to roll out,” said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Texas’ Harris County Public Health department, which includes Houston.

Experts See a Chance for a Covid-19 Vaccine Approval This Fall–If It’s Done Right

3 weeks 1 day

(STAT News) – There is growing concern that the Food and Drug Administration, under political pressure, could approve a Covid-19 vaccine before it has robust safety and efficacy data. The consequences of such a decision could be significant, particularly if the vaccine is ultimately shown to be less effective than early data suggest. But an approval before the completion of large, Phase 3 trials does not have to be problematic. Experts aren’t ruling out the possibility that a vaccine could be cleared this fall if it is very effective.

Covid-19 Deaths Significantly Reduced by Use of Steroids, Analysis Says

3 weeks 1 day

(Wall Street Journal) – A new analysis of several studies in which steroid drugs were used to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients found the drugs significantly helped reduce patient deaths, bolstering earlier, preliminary evidence for the benefit of these medications. In multiple studies involving a total of 1,700 patients, a number of corticosteroids—anti-inflammatory drugs that can damp the effects of an overactive immune system—helped reduce deaths from Covid-19 by about a third, compared with patients who didn’t receive steroids, according to the analysis published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Human Trials of Oxford Coronavirus Vaccine Have Begun in the US

3 weeks 2 days

(New Scientist) – A large trial of a coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford has begun in the US. With similar trials already under way in the UK and Brazil, hopes are rising that we could find out if the vaccine works before the end of the year. A collaboration between the Oxford team and the drug firm AstraZeneca, this vaccine is one of the front-runners. Worldwide, eight other coronavirus vaccines have started large-scale trials, and 24 have begun smaller trials to assess safety.

Can Europe Tame the Pandemic’s Next Wave?

3 weeks 2 days

(Science) – We’re at risk of gambling away our success,” virologist Christian Drosten warned in the German newspaper Die Zeit earlier this month. His message referred to Germany, but it could have been addressed to all of Europe. After beating back COVID-19 in the spring, most of Europe is seeing a resurgence. Spain is reporting close to 10,000 cases a day, more than it had at the height of the outbreak in the spring. France is back to reporting thousands of cases a day. In Germany, numbers are still low, but rising steadily. The pandemic is affecting countries that saw few cases in the spring, such as Greece and Malta, but is also rebounding in places that suffered terribly, including the cities of Madrid and Barcelona.

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