COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Least Vaccinated U.S. Counties Have Something in Common: Trump Voters
About 31 percent of adults in the United States have now been fully vaccinated. Scientists have estimated that 70 to 90 percent of the total population must acquire resistance to the virus to reach herd immunity. But in hundreds of counties around the country, vaccination rates are low, with some even languishing in the teens.

The disparity in vaccination rates has so far mainly broken down along political lines. The New York Times examined survey and vaccine administration data for nearly every U.S. county and found that both willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect former President Donald J. Trump in 2020. The phenomenon has left some places with a shortage of supply and others with a glut.

States with larger Trump vote shares are likely to have more adults who are vaccine hesitant ... and have a smaller share of residents already vaccinated than states with larger Biden vote shares.

Estimates of vaccine hesitancy by state come from the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Data on the share of state residents who have been vaccinated comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reflects vaccinations through April 16. Election data is from Edison Research.
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Coronavirus Deaths Reach 3 Million Worldwide
Three million lives: That is roughly equivalent to losing the population of Berlin, Chicago or Taipei. The scale is so staggering that it sometimes begins to feel real only in places like graveyards.

The world’s Covid-19 death toll surpassed three million on Saturday, according to a New York Times database. More than 100,000 people have died of Covid-19 in France. The death rate is inching up in Michigan. Morgues in some Indian cities are overflowing with corpses.

And as the United States and other rich nations race to vaccinate their populations, new hot spots have emerged in parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

The global pace of deaths is accelerating, too. After the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the pandemic claimed a million lives in nine months. It took another four months to kill its second million, and just three months to kill a million more.

“We are running out of space,” Mohammed Shamin, a gravedigger in New Delhi’s largest Muslim cemetery, said on Saturday. “If we don’t get more space, you will soon see dead bodies rotting in the streets.”

The deaths are the most tragic aspect of the pandemic, but they aren’t the only cost.

Many millions more have been sickened by the virus, some with effects that may last for years or even a lifetime. Livelihoods have been ruined. Global work and travel have been disrupted in profound and potentially long-lasting ways.

The official toll almost certainly does not account for all the pandemic-related deaths in the world. Some of those deaths may have been mistakenly attributed to other causes, like flu or pneumonia, while others have died as a result of the vast disruptions of life.

The pandemic has also sharpened inequalities that were hard to bear even in regular times.
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The Biden Administration Ends Limits on the Use of Fetal Tissue for Research
The Biden administration on Friday lifted restrictions on the use of fetal tissue for medical research, reversing rules imposed in 2019 by President Donald J. Trump.

The new rules, disclosed by the National Institutes of Health, allow scientists to use tissue derived from elective abortions to study and develop treatments for diseases including diabetes, cancer, AIDS and Covid-19.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the N.I.H., essentially restored the guidelines in place during the Obama administration. The N.I.H. will “manage and oversee research using human fetal tissue according to policies and procedures that were in place” before the June 2019 ban, the agency said in an emailed statement on Saturday. The development was first reported on Friday by The Washington Post.

Scientists may purchase fetal tissue from sources approved before the ban, and all projects that had been approved before the Trump administration’s restrictions “will be reinstated without further review,” according to an email sent to scientists by the N.I.H.

“That’s fantastic,” said Dr. Mike McCune, an H.I.V. expert at the Bill   Melinda Gates Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. But he warned that it may take some time for research to recover.

Working with fetal tissue is a specialized skill and many of the scientists with that expertise have left the field, he said. “People with decades of experience had to find other jobs,” he said. “All of that will have to be reconstituted to make it start again — but they will.”

... Human cells derived years ago from a fetus were used to develop the monoclonal antibody treatments given to Mr. Trump after his Covid-19 diagnosis in October. And many of the coronavirus vaccines funded by Operation Warp Speed were also tested in cells derived from fetal tissue.

Some scientists decried what they saw as a double standard, saying Mr. Trump should not have taken a treatment that was developed based on research he had banned.

“It was just so hypocritical,” said Lawrence Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, who has used fetal tissue in his research.

Dr. Goldstein said he hoped that any future Republican administration would not reinstate Mr. Trump’s ban. “It would be terrible for this research to be on a yo-yo,” he said. “It will die if that happens.”

... Scientists have for decades used fetal tissue to create cell lines for lifesaving research into vaccines and treatments for many diseases. Since the 1980s, so-called humanized mice that contain fetal human tissue or organs have served as the linchpin for developing treatments and studying the immune response to pathogens like the coronavirus.

Many drugs that had worked spectacularly well in regular mice failed in human clinical trials, Dr. Goldstein noted. “Mice are not just tiny humans, so mice with humanized immune systems are very valuable.”

Fetal tissue is also used to study how human organs and systems develop in utero. “It’s the biology of young people; how do you do that by studying old people?” Dr. McCune said. “It just doesn’t work.”

In June 2019, the Trump administration abruptly cut all funding to projects in government labs that rely on fetal tissue. The N.I.H. also required academic scientists seeking federal funds to provide elaborate justifications of their need for human fetal tissue, and set up an ethics board to review these proposals.

H.H.S. said in a statement at the time: “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration.”

But the restrictions amounted to a ban, stopping projects in their tracks and, in some cases, squandering years of effort. For example, the ban halted research that had increased the median survival of women with metastatic breast cancer from two years to 10 years in a small study, said Dr. Irving Weissman, a cancer expert at Stanford University who led the study.

In July, 90 scientific, medical and patient organizations signed a letter urging the ethics board to allow fetal tissue to be used to develop treatments for Covid-19 and other diseases.

“Fetal tissue has unique and valuable properties that often cannot be replaced by other cell types,” the statement said.

But in August, the board rejected all but one of 14 proposals; the lone approved proposal relied on previously acquired fetal tissue.

The following month, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform reported that the Trump administration’s ban was “based in ideological objections, not evaluation of the scientific merit of such projects.”

... Scientists must still follow other rules on the research, including obtaining informed consent from the tissue donor. They cannot pay donors to obtain the tissue or profit from studies, the agency said, but they are otherwise free to resume research.

“These ethical safeguards and oversights are sufficient to prevent anything that most people would say are egregious,” Dr. Weissman said. “This is a welcome change.”
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Ontario Police's Sweeping New Powers on Covid Draw Criticism
Just a day after extending and expanding its stay-at-home orders, Ontario — Canada’s most populous province — limited sweeping new powers that it had granted to the police to enforce the mandates in an effort to curb rising case numbers and hospitalizations.

On Friday, Doug Ford, the premier, announced that the police would be able to randomly stop and question people, including those in vehicles, to make sure that their trips outside home were essential. Anyone outside their home and not following the rules could face fines.

While polls suggest that there is general public support for restrictions throughout Canada, Mr. Ford’s plan for the police to conduct random checks immediately provoked a backlash.

In announcing that his organization would begin a legal challenge on Saturday, Michael Bryant, the president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said in a statement that “the regulation brings back the odious ‘driving while Black’ police stop, and introduces a ‘walking while Black’ offense.”

On Saturday evening, Sylvia Jones, the province’s solicitor general, said in a statement that rules had been modified to allow the police to question only people they believe are “participating in an organized public event or social gathering.” The current restrictions allow only members of the same household to meet outside their homes with some exemptions for events like funerals.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Bryant said that his group accepted the new plan, because it was “tied to a public health objective and avoids arbitrary detention.”

On Friday, the Ontario government said it would restrict travel between neighboring Manitoba and Quebec, and it would set up checkpoints at the provincial borders.

... “It now falls on me to do what is necessary,” Mr. Ford said on Friday, adding that aside from restricting border crossings with Manitoba and Quebec, he was also closing playgrounds, golf courses, basketball courts and other outdoor sports facilities, along with a variety of other measures. On Saturday, Mr. Ford wrote on Twitter that the regulations would be changed to allow playgrounds to reopen. Schools were closed during the past week for a delayed March break. But the government had said on Monday that they would remain closed for in-person learning indefinitely.

The measures announced on Friday were met with criticism, including from public health experts, the mayor of Toronto and several police departments, including the Toronto Police Service, which said on Twitter that it would “not be doing random stops of people or cars.” There were also concerns that asking the police to impose such measures could result in racial profiling.

“I know you are all sick and tired of Covid-19,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday as he urged Canadians to follow their provinces’ rules. “We all just want to be done with this.”

Emergency rooms, particularly in Ontario, are reaching their breaking points, as are intensive care units. In a bid to ease the strain, children’s hospitals in both Ottawa and Toronto opened their I.C.U. beds to adults.
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia