News from Bioethics.com

Hunger, Infection, and Repression: Venezuela’s Coronavirus Calamity

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(The New Yorker) – “Fear took hold of every one of us,” González recalled. Many people around her broke into tears. Others asked how a country where most hospitals lack running water, electricity, and soap could combat such an illness. González’s thoughts drifted away from the meeting room. She feared for her seventy-year-old mother, who suffers from hypertension; her three children, ages twenty-one, eighteen, and eleven; and her granddaughter, who has been in González’s charge since her daughter-in-law fled to Peru, in search of work. With a joint income of ten dollars per month, González and her partner support the entire family. Sheltering in place was not an option for them, nor for millions in Venezuela, a country where the poor line up outside slaughterhouses to fill buckets with cow blood, the only protein they can afford.

European, South Korean Authorities Vie for COVID-19 Antiviral Remdesivir

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(Reuters) – European and South Korean authorities are vying for Gilead Sciences’ (GILD.O) potential COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir, even though the drugmaker has yet to gain regulatory approval in either market and is still ramping up production of the anti-viral drug. Governments are racing to bolster supplies of remdesivir, which U.S. regulators greenlighted this month as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. Foster City, California-based Gilead said it will donate 1.5 million doses of remdesivir, enough to treat at least 140,000 patients, to combat the global pandemic. 

Exclusive: Sanofi Stops Enrolling COVID-19 Patients in Hydroxychloroquine Trials

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(Reuters) – Sanofi has temporarily stopped recruiting new COVID-19 patients for two clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine and will no longer supply the anti-malaria drug to treat COVID-19 until concerns about safety are cleared up, it said on Friday.  The moves come after the World Health Organization paused its large trial of hydroxychloroquine, prompting several European governments to ban the use of the drug, also used in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Big Gene Therapy Names Line Up Behind Experimental Covid-19 Vaccine

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(STAT News) – An early stage vaccine against Covid-19 based on the same basic technology used in gene therapy is gaining some support from some of that field’s biggest names. Earlier this year, James Wilson, a gene therapy pioneer, got a call from Luk Vandenberghe, who had been a graduate student in Wilson’s lab two decades ago. Vandenberghe wondered if a virus they had worked on as a potential component of gene therapies might work as part of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Suits Accuse Retail Chains of Flooding Ohio with Painkillers

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(ABC News) – Five retail chains flooded two Ohio counties with tens of millions of prescription painkillers through their pharmacies while taking few if any steps to stop drugs from being illegally diverted, according to updated lawsuits unsealed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. The counties are Lake and Trumbull in northeast Ohio. Their lawsuits made public Wednesday allege CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Giant Eagle helped fuel a national drug crisis that resulted in more than 430,000 deaths since 2000.

Great Plains Indian Reservations Report 17% Spike in COVID-19 Cases

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(UPI) – American Indian tribal reservations in the Great Plains region of the United States have seen a 17 percent uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past week, researchers said. The data is “shining a light” on disparities in overall health and access to care in these communities, Dr. Donald Warne, an expert in Indian health issues said Thursday.

Cancer, Coronavirus Are a Dangerous Mix, New Studies Find

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(ABC News) – New research shows how dangerous the coronavirus is for current and former cancer patients. Those who developed COVID-19 were much more likely to die within a month than people without cancer who got it, two studies found. They are the largest reports on people with both diseases in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain and Canada. In one study, half of 928 current and former cancer patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized and 13% died. That’s far more than the various rates that have been reported in the general population.

Today’s High Potency Weed Raises Risk of Anxiety and Addiction, Study Says

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(CNN) – If you’re thinking of returning to the weed of your youth to ease the strain of the pandemic, you will soon discover a potent truth — today’s weed is nothing like yesterday’s.  Just 20 years ago levels of tetrahydracannabinol, the compound in cannabis known as THC that makes you high, was between 2% and 4% in most marijuana. By 2013, common strains contained 25% THC, with some testing as high as 37%. Use of weed of any strength has been linked to mental health disorders, and lab experiments have shown that higher does of THC can cause greater memory impairment and temporary psychotic-like symptoms. But few studies have examined how potency levels may affect behavior in real-world populations.

Experts Decry FDA’s Halting of a High-Profile Covid-19 Study Over Approvals

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(STAT News) – Regulators at the Food and Drug Administration told STAT the agency’s decision this month to halt a high-profile, Bill Gates-backed effort to study the spread of coronavirus in the Seattle area came after the researchers involved failed to secure needed approval. The program, called the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, or SCAN, was initially focused on studying the flu but quickly pivoted to track the coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic, making inroads in tracking the spread of the virus and attracting high-profile support from companies like shipping giant Amazon, whose health care arm picked up and delivered Covid-19 tests to healthy and infected people. But the FDA stopped the effort suddenly last week, the New York Times reported.

British Regulator Says ‘COPCOV’ Hydroxychloroquine Trial Paused

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(Reuters) – An international hydroxychloroquine trial led by the University of Oxford has been paused, Britain’s pharmaceutical regulator said on Wednesday, less than a week after the trial started, amid fresh safety concerns over the drug.  The French government on Wednesday cancelled a decree allowing hospital doctors to administer hydroxychloroquine as a treatment to patients suffering severe forms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. 

Chile’s Hospital ICUs Near Full Capacity as Pandemic Rages

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(ABC News) – Intensive care units in Chile’s hospitals are nearly at capacity amid a flood of coronavirus patients, authorities said Tuesday, and doctors are having to make wrenching choices over which patients should get available beds. Health officials said 95% of the country’s 2,400 ICU beds are occupied even after a doubling of capacity from the levels in March. They announced plans to add 400 more critical care beds in the coming days.

As Covid-19 Tears Through Navajo Nation, Young People Step Up to Protect Their Elders

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(STAT News) – In recent weeks, similar messages have resounded across the Navajo Nation, as younger generations have come to play a pivotal grassroots role in the pandemic response. They have moved quickly for good reason. Navajo residents have been devastated as the virus has swept through a reservation that spans four states. Already, 4,633 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 153 have died as of May 23, a staggering toll in a population of 356,000 — and the highest infection rate of anywhere in the U.S. Young Navajos are motivated, in large part, by a desire to protect their elders — many of whom have underlying health conditions and who are at high risk of Covid-19 — and the vital cultural knowledge they carry.

He Experienced a Severe Reaction to Moderna’s Covid-19 Vaccine Candidate. He’s Still a Believer

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(STAT News) – Patients in clinical trials are usually faceless. But as the experimental Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Moderna Therapeutics has begun advancing through studies, it has found a much more visible advocate: trial volunteer Ian Haydon, a 29-year-old in Seattle. Haydon has spoken about the vaccine on CNN and CNBC. He even said he’d volunteer to be exposed to the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, if researchers want to test to see if the vaccine was actually effective. But up until now he has left out a key detail: He is, apparently, one of three people in the trial who had a systemic adverse reaction to the vaccine. 

New Research Rewrites History of When Covid-19 Arrived in U.S.–And Points to Missed Chances to Stop It

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(STAT News) – New research has poured cold water on the theory that the Covid-19 outbreak in Washington state — the country’s first — was triggered by the very first confirmed case of the infection in the country. Instead, it suggests the person who ignited the first chain of sustained transmission in the United States probably returned to the country in mid-February, a month later. The work adds to evidence that the United States missed opportunities to stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from taking root in this country — and that those opportunities persisted for longer than has been recognized up until now.

Study Tells ‘Remarkable Story’ About COVID-19’s Deadly Rampage Through a South African Hospital

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(ABC News) – Now, scientists at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have published a detailed reconstruction of how the virus spread from ward to ward and between patients, doctors, and nurses, based on floor maps of the hospital, analyses of staff and patient movements, and viral genomes. Their 37-page analysis, posted on the university’s website on 22 May, is the most extensive study of any hospital outbreak of COVID-19 so far. It suggests all of the cases originated from a single introduction, and that patients rarely infected other patients. Instead, the virus was mostly carried around the hospital by staff and on the surfaces of medical equipment.

Scientists Made a Mouse Embryos That’s 4% Human– the Highest Level of Human Cells in an Animal Yet

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(CNN) – Scientists have created a mouse embryo that’s part human — 4% to be exact. The hybrid is what scientists call a human-animal chimera, a single organism that’s made up of two different sets of cells — in this case, a mouse embryo that has both mouse cells and human cells. This human-mouse chimera has by far the highest number of human cells ever recorded in an animal, according to researchers. Their experiment suggests that many types of human cells can be generated in mouse embryos, and at a much faster rate than in human embryos.

South America Is a New COVID ‘Epicentre’, African Deaths Still Low: WHO

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(Reuters) – South America has become a new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil hardest-hit, while cases are rising in some African countries that so far have a relatively low death toll, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.  “In a sense South America has become a new epicentre for the disease,” Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, told a news conference, adding Brazil is “clearly the most affected”.

80 Million Children at Risk of Measles, Polio as Vaccines Disrupted: WHO, UNICEF

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(Reuters) – Some 80 million children worldwide could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.N. agencies and the GAVI vaccine alliance said on Friday.  Data shows that “provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries,” the World Health Organization, U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and GAVI said in a joint statement issued ahead of the Global Vaccine Summit set for June 4.

What a Big New Study on Malaria Drugs as Covid-19 Treatments Tells Us–And What It Doesn’t

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(STAT News) – A new study underlines safety concerns about using the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat Covid-19, and heightens questions about whether or not the drugs are effective at all. The study, which was published in the Lancet, cannot answer the question of whether or not hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can help patients fight off Covid-19 or whether the drugs increase or decrease the death rates in those patients. Those answers can only come from large studies in which patients are randomly assigned to either receive the drugs or a placebo. Dozens of such studies are ongoing.

How to Improve and Protect Nursing Homes from Outbreaks

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(New York Times) – The doctors, researchers and advocates who have been paying close attention for years are appalled at the way the coronavirus has devastated the nation’s nursing homes — but they’re not shocked. “Every geriatrician knew what was coming,” said Dr. Mike Wasserman, a geriatrician and president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine. Robyn Grant, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care: “The sheer numbers are horrifying. The underlying factors that have contributed are no surprise; they’ve been issues of concern for a long time.”

Exclusive: Russian Ventilators Reached U.S. States Without FDA Oversight

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(Reuters) – Russian-made ventilators now under investigation for causing deaths in Russia were not authorized by U.S. health regulators before the same model was sent to New York and New Jersey at the height of their coronavirus outbreaks, Reuters has learned.

Genetically-Engineered Malaria Vaccines Show Promise in the Clinic

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(Chemical & Engineering News) – Two experimental malaria vaccines have delivered promising results in first-in-human trials, demonstrating how genetic engineering is driving a new wave of vaccines that could protect people from this killer disease. The World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 200 million cases of malaria each year, causing almost half a million deaths. Although malaria can be treated with drugs, researchers have spent decades trying to develop vaccines that could prevent and potentially even help eradicate malaria.

America’s Patchwork Pandemic Is Fraying Even Further

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(The Atlantic) – I spoke with two dozen experts who agreed that in the absence of a vaccine, the patchwork will continue. Cities that thought the worst had passed may be hit anew. States that had lucky escapes may find themselves less lucky. The future is uncertain, but Americans should expect neither a swift return to normalcy nor a unified national experience, with an initial spring wave, a summer lull, and a fall resurgence. “The talk of a second wave as if we’ve exited the first doesn’t capture what’s really happening,” says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.  

Ethics of Controlled Human Infection to Address COVID-19

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(Science) – Development of an effective vaccine is the clearest path to controlling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. To accelerate vaccine development, some researchers are pursuing, and thousands of people have expressed interest in participating in, controlled human infection studies (CHIs) with severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) In CHIs, a small number of participants are deliberately exposed to a pathogen to study infection and gather preliminary efficacy data on experimental vaccines or treatments. We have been developing a comprehensive, state-of-the-art ethical framework for CHIs that emphasizes their social value as fundamental to justifying these studies.

A Massive Cyclone Battered India and Bangladesh. The Coronavirus Makes Recovery Even Harder.

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(Vox) – A devastating cyclone pounded India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing more than 80 people and leaving thousands homeless. That will only compound the crisis those countries face from the coronavirus. Cyclone Amphan, considered one of the most dangerous storms in recent memory, wiped out bridges, trees, electric lines, and homes after making landfall. The storm was weaker than expected once it hit the region’s coastline, but it still left a wake of destruction, forcing many to live without power or shelter.

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