Eric J. Topol | Coronavirus Variants Don’t Need to Be Scary – The New York Times

Dr. Topol is a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research and served on the advisory board of the Covid Tracking Project.

Credit…Ashley Gilbertson/VII, for The New York Times

“News about emerging coronavirus variants can sound scary to a public not accustomed to genomic jargon. But viruses undergo mutations frequently, both within infected people and as they travel from one person to another. That’s why it’s important to remember this (modified) adage: All variants are innocent until proven guilty.

The coronavirus responsible for the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, has nearly 30,000 bases, or nucleotides. As the virus evolves and spreads from host to host, some of these bases change. If just 20 bases changed, that would yield more than a trillion possible variants different from the strain responsible for the first outbreak. Of the 136 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world to date, one million individuals have had their virus sequenced. And of those one million sequences, scientists have been concerned about only a handful of variants, because they are more infectious, cause more severe illness or partly evade our immune response or all of the above.

In other words: Hundreds of thousands of sequences have not been associated with substantive changes in the virus’s behavior. These changes can help scientists track how and where the virus is spreading, but they have no medical significance.” . . .

How did 246 ‘fully vaccinated’ people still get COVID-19? – Poynter

“Researchers are trying to figure out how 246 fully vaccinated Michiganders contracted the coronavirus — including three who died — from January to March.

“These are individuals who have had a positive test 14 or more days after the last dose in the vaccine series,” said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the state health department.

It may turn out that some of the people were infected before they were vaccinated, and the infection still showed up.

“These cases are undergoing further review to determine if they meet other (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) criteria for determination of potential breakthrough, including the absence of a positive antigen or PCR test less than 45 days prior to the post-vaccination positive test,” Sutfin said.

The Washington Post reports that these so-called breakthrough cases are drawing the CDC’s attention:

The precise number of these breakthrough cases is unknown, but figures released by states suggest it is at least several thousand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has had a team monitoring breakthrough infections since February, has partial data but has not made it public.

What about the people who died? Again, health officials say, don’t jump to conclusions that there is a link to the vaccines. The Detroit Free Press reports that the three fully vaccinated people who died were all age 65 and older. Two of them were within three weeks of full vaccination.

The Washington Post quotes Dr. Anthony Fauci, who says he is not overly concerned by these reports of breakthrough cases, but that they deserve investigation:

There is no singular explanation for why the virus in rare cases is not neutralized by the vaccine-induced immune response. Infectious-disease experts say the human immune system is complicated, and some people may simply have a weak immune response to the vaccine. In this scenario, it’s not the vaccine that’s the wild card, it’s the patient.” . . .

” . . . The Michigan health department spokesperson says while most people get “full immunity” two weeks after their second shots, some people may take longer. The Free Press reports:

Although so-called vaccine breakthrough cases are extremely rare, and all three COVID-19 vaccines on the market are considered highly effective with efficacy rates ranging from 72% for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to 94% and 95% for Moderna’s and Pfizer’s, respectively, it can happen.

However, news of breakthrough cases should be taken into context, said Dr. Paul Thomas, a family medicine physician in Detroit who started Plum Health, a low-cost medical practice in Corktown.

People should keep in mind that the 246 breakthrough cases occurred among the more than 1.8 million Michiganders who are fully vaccinated, he said.

“That breaks down to 0.0144% of those who have gotten the vaccine have come down with a breakthrough infection,” Thomas said. “So that means that the vaccine is 99.99% effective in preventing infection.” ” . . .

Source: How did 246 ‘fully vaccinated’ people still get COVID-19? – Poynter

Covid-19 News: Risk From Surfaces Remains Low, C.D.C. Acknowledges – The New York Times

“But the era of “hygiene theater” may have come to an unofficial end this week, when the C.D.C. updated its surface cleaning guidelines and noted that the risk of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface was less than 1 in 10,000.

“People can be affected with the virus that causes Covid-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said at a White House briefing on Monday. “However, evidence has demonstrated that the risk by this route of infection of transmission is actually low.”

The admission is long overdue, scientists say.”

Ezra Klein | Are We Way Too Timid in the Way We Fight Covid-19? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist


“Here’s a question I’ve been mulling in recent months: Is Alex Tabarrok right? Are people dying because our coronavirus response is far too conservative?

I don’t mean conservative in the politicized, left-right sense. Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and a blogger at Marginal Revolution, is a libertarian, and I am very much not. But over the past year, he has emerged as a relentless critic of America’s coronavirus response, in ways that left me feeling like a Burkean in our conversations.

He called for vastly more spending to build vaccine manufacturing capacity, for giving half-doses of Moderna’s vaccine and delaying second doses of Pfizer’s, for using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize rapid at-home tests, for accelerating research through human challenge trials. The through line of Tabarrok’s critique is that regulators and politicians have been too cautious, too reluctant to upend old institutions and protocols, so fearful of the consequences of change that they’ve permitted calamities through inaction.

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:

Excellent op-ed, thank you Ezra Klein You can write! Many be you should podcast less and write more. I never listen to your podcasts, because they take more time than I’m willing to give. A real summary of all podcasts in the opinion section should be required.

How Food Banks Succeeded and What They Need Now – The New York Times

“The latest relief bill passed by Democrats in Congress, a $1.9 trillion plan from the Biden administration, includes the extension of increased SNAP benefits through September and additional funds for commodity purchases. Stacy Dean, President Biden’s new deputy under secretary of food, nutrition and consumer services at U.S.D.A., said many other parts of the package would also help reduce food insecurity.

“If we provide rental assistance and prevent evictions, if we increase unemployment insurance and make it more available to the poorest households, if we re-up stimulus payments to the poorest households, if we do cash assistance,” she said, “all of those things help stabilize families’ financial circumstances, ideally, so that they do not fall into the crisis that is hunger.”

Carrie Calvert, vice president for government relations at Feeding America, says that while the package addresses immediate needs, more will be required to sustain food banks while the economy recovers. Her network has called for tying the SNAP benefit increase to economic circumstances and for additional funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, a U.S.D.A. program predating the pandemic that buys agricultural products for food banks.”

How does the $1.9 trillion stimulus package impact food and farming?

“$4 billion for the supply chain. The relief package appropriates $4 billion for a handful of supply chain support measures, including grants and loans for personal protective equipment, funding for Covid-19 testing in animals, and help for small meat processors who have struggled to pay overtime bills to inspectors. It’s likely the largest portion of this money will go toward purchasing food for redistribution to food banks and other nonprofits, a la the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will continue to operate the program, which is currently under review, or whether it will roll out its own food aid initiative. As in previous Covid relief bills, the legislation leaves wide latitude for USDA to decide how to spend the funds.”

Source: How does the $1.9 trillion stimulus package impact food and farming?

‘It Felt Like Deception’: An Elite NYC Hospital Charges Huge Virus Test Fees – The New York Times

Credit…Steven Molina Contreras for The New York Times

“Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan advertised its “Covid-19 Testing” on a large blue and white banner outside its Greenwich Village division’s emergency room. The banner said nothing about cost.

But cost turned out to be the testing’s most noteworthy feature. Lenox Hill, one of the city’s oldest and best-known hospitals, repeatedly billed patients more than $3,000 for the routine nasal swab test, about 30 times the test’s typical cost.

“It was shocking to see a number like that, when I’ve gotten tested before for about $135,” said Ana Roa, who was billed $3,358 for a test at Lenox Hill last month.

Ms. Roa’s coronavirus test bill is among 16 that The New York Times reviewed from the site. They show that Lenox Hill arrives at its unusually high prices by charging a large fee for the test itself — about six times the typical charge — and by billing the encounter as a “moderately complex” emergency room visit.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Horrible, terrible and upsetting. Thank you Sarah Kliff for disturbing my “wa,” or inner peace. You wrote, “Doctors and hospitals that bill higher prices for testing can rely on new federal protections to ensure they are paid. Congress passed a law last year that requires insurers to fully cover coronavirus testing costs and not apply any patient co-payments or other fees to the service.” Please write soon about what can we do about this Augean stable of greed. Would it be, in the short term, as simple as rewriting the law mentioned above, with strict parameters that empowers the insurance companies to respond with reasonable reimbursement rates? Is life ever as easy as I think it should be?
David Lindsay Jr is the author of the Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net. He is currently writing a book about climate change and the sixth extinction, but he probably should be writing a book called, What the heck is wrong with Connecticut.

COVID-19 Vaccine Price Comparison: Moderna, Pfizer, J&J, and Others | Observer

“As the race for a COVID-19 vaccine nears its final lap with multiple phase 3 trials underway, the primary question has shifted from whether we will have a working vaccine at all to how much one (or more of them) will cost.

The good news is that it probably won’t be as outrageous as most medical innovations wind up costing in the U.S. when first released. Given the unusual circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government is expected to pay for the development of the first available COVID-19 vaccine, and most vaccine developers have promised to sell their products on a not-for-profit basis. Still, prices vary greatly among . . . .”

Source: COVID-19 Vaccine Price Comparison: Moderna, Pfizer, J&J, and Others | Observer

When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated | CDC

How to Protect Yourself and Others

Updated Mar. 23, 2021

“COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more.”

Source: When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated | CDC

Rich Countries Signed Away a Chance to Vaccinate the World – The New York Times

In the coming days, a patent will finally be issued on a five-year-old invention, a feat of molecular engineering that is at the heart of at least five major Covid-19 vaccines. And the United States government will control that patent.

The new patent presents an opportunity — and some argue the last best chance — to exact leverage over the drug companies producing the vaccines and pressure them to expand access to less affluent countries.

The question is whether the government will do anything at all.

The rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, achieved at record speed and financed by massive public funding in the United States, the European Union and Britain, represents a great triumph of the pandemic. Governments partnered with drugmakers, pouring in billions of dollars to procure raw materials, finance clinical trials and retrofit factories. Billions more were committed to buy the finished product.

But this Western success has created stark inequity. Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered so far. Under current projections, many of the rest will have to wait years.”

This is a good article, and the subject is more complicated than some might think.  There is a lot to sort out. My quick take, the Gates Foundation language should have been included in the contracts, to protect the public from getting gauged.