Pandora Report: 8.28.2020

Africa Declares the Eradication of Wild Polio

As some much-needed good news, the World Health Organization (WHO) just declared that wild poliovirus has been eradicated from Africa! The last reported case of wild poliovirus was four years ago in Nigeria. The Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign launched in 1996 when wild polio paralyzed 75,000 children annually. Though this is a significant achievement, vaccine-derived polio continues to pose a threat in the region.

FDA Authorizes Abbott’s Fast $5 COVID-19 Test

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency use authorization to Abbott’s COVID-19 test, BinaxNOW, which costs only $5. The test uses the same technology as a pregnancy test and does not require any specialized equipment to run. The company stated that the test correctly diagnoses a SARS-CoV-2 infection 97.1% of the time, and correctly returns a negative test result 98.5% of the time. Abbott announced that it plans to produce 50 million tests monthly by this October. According to the FDA, BinaxNOW can be used in clinics, emergency rooms, and schools.

New Book: Neuroscience and the Problem of Dual Use – Neuroethics in the New Brain Research Projects

Malcolm Dando recently released a new book, Neuroscience and the Problem of Dual Use – Neuroethics in the New Brain Research Projects. The book covers recent brain research and the dangerous dual use possibilities related to the results of these studies. Dando shows that innovations in civil neuroscience could be exploited for dual use purposes by actors with hostile intentions, and he analyzes the measures planned and taken to prevent malicious dual use applications. Recommendations are outlined regarding what needs to be done to handle dual-use neuroscience in the future.

CDC Updates

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updates its guidelines for COVID-19 testing. On the CDC‘s COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions page, it is stated that not everyone needs to be tested for current infection, particularly those who are not presenting with symptoms. There is a self-checker to help an individual determine if they need to be tested based on these new guidelines. These new recommendations are a significant deviation from the preceding ones, which urged anyone who had been a close contact of a person with SARS-CoV-2 infection or displayed COVID-19 symptoms to get the viral test. Also, the likelihood of asymptomatic or presymptomatic spread of the novel virus necessitates broader, not narrower, testing. Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, stated that the testing guidelines were changed following updates to the recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. There are major concerns that this chain of events is indicative of political pressure from the White House.

Why the US is Having a Coronavirus Data Crisis

More than half a year into COVID-19, the US is still lagging and lacking in coronavirus data collection. Instead of greatly expanding contact tracing like South Korea, the US is sidelining its premier disease prevention and emergency preparedness agency. This month, the decision was made to cut out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from coronavirus data collection; however, that decision is in the process of being rescinded. Beyond the confusion related to where a hospital should send its data, the US is “producing little information through contact tracing.” Without reliable and updated information regarding infections, US scientists, decision makers, and the general public are forced to rely on media and independent reports to track the virus. 

New Guidance for Decision Makers on Encouraging Cooperation in COVID-19 Contact Tracing

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a new report, Encouraging Participation and Cooperation in Contact Tracing: Lessons from Survey Research, which provides a rapid expert consultation “to help decision makers in local public health departments and local governments increase participation and cooperation in contact tracing related to COVID-19.” The publication focuses on contact tracing methods via phone, test, or email interviews with individuals who have tested positive and individuals who may have been exposed to the virus. Based on survey research, recommendations are provided about proven strategies that “encourage participation in and cooperation with contact tracing efforts.” These strategies include: (1) providing advance notice to interviewees; (2) partnering with trusted partners like local healthcare providers and tribal elders; (3) offering relevant incentives; (4) improving the skills of the interviewers through teaching techniques like role playing; (5) drafting messaging that appeals to people’s motivations; and (6) accepting partial information from interviewees. Read the full report here.

Demographic Disparities Among Healthcare Workers Lost in COVID-19

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is continuing to track COVID-19 deaths of healthcare workers and share the profiles of those lost. Lost on the Frontline, a joint project between KHN and The Guardian, has found that over 1,000 healthcare workers have died due to the pandemic. Among those 1,000 workers, a disproportionate number are people of color or immigrants to the US: 177 of the 1,080 victims profiled so far. Of those 177, 62% identified as Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Native American, and almost 31% were born abroad. Other research on the disparities of COVID-19 outcomes show similar findings. A Harvard Medical School study published in The Lancet Public Health showed that healthcare workers of color were more likely to care for patients with suspected of confirmed COVID-19 than their white counterparts and almost twice as likely to test positive themselves. In the US, immigrant health worker account for nearly 20% of healthcare workers, and they tend to work in the most vulnerable communities. A study from 2018 found that areas with high rates of poverty tend to have more foreign-trained doctors than do areas with more wealth. Read the stories of all the fallen healthcare workers here.

Why It’s So Hard to Find Dumbbell Sets in the US

For those of us frantically searching for kettlebells to add to our home gyms, the lack of availability can be explained by a “colossal increase in demand” at the start of the pandemic and a fragmented supply chain. In March, other kinds of exercise equipment, like treadmills, saw a substantial surge in demand as well. With many gyms closed or with limited services, many people are still hunting for equipment they can use in their own homes. Turning to the supply side of the problem, Colleen Logan, the vice president of marketing at Icon Health & Fitness, said that it takes about a month for these products to be manufactured and then to arrive in the country. In COVID-19, additional delays related to lockdown and social distancing keep these much-wanted products from consumers. Now, fitness equipment companies are working to scale up their operations to meet demand.

Drug Makers Rebut Trump Tweet that FDA’s “Deep State” Is Delaying COVID-19 Vaccines & Drugs

In a recent tweet, Trump accused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of harboring a “deep state” bent on delaying the development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and therapies. Trump also asserts that these conspirators are trying to delay the 3 November election. To be clear, there is no evidence to support these spurious claims. In fact, executives from top biotechnology firms have praised the efficiency of the FDA in facilitating development of COVID-19 medical countermeasures. Jeremy Levin, chairman of BIO, defended the FDA in his statement, “Developing those critical medicines depends on the independent rigorous reviews, integrity and scientific and medical capability of the FDA. The FDA has assisted and supported the industry to become what it has, and is deeply respected in the USA and abroad.” Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna, praised the FDA for its efficiency in setting up the expert panel that analyzes vaccine data. The development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is underway at an unprecedented pace: Pfizer and Moderna started clinical trials for their vaccine candidates at the end of July.

FDA “Grossly Misrepresented” Blood Plasma Data, Scientists Say

In a news conference this week, the administration claimed that blood plasma, which just received emergency approval for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, reduced deaths by 35%. What the administration failed to clarify is that statistic is based on a Mayo Clinic study of a small subgroup of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The patients in the study were under 80 years old, not on ventilators, and received plasma confirmed to possess high levels of antibodies with three days of diagnosis. Even more bewildering, many experts, including a scientist associated with the study, were uncertain as to the source of this metric, which was not stated in the official authorization letter nor the study memo. In short, that figure was not calculated by the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics, Evaluation, and Research, said that the agency conducted its own analysis of the Mayo study’s data based on its review of published studies regarding plasma. Additional statements have revealed that the calculation was based on a subset of a subset of the full dataset. This misrepresentation has called into question the credibility of the FDA, despite some of its impressive efforts in the pandemic, as it undermines the results and validity of rigorous trials and research.

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