Pandora Report: 11.19.2021

Anti-vaccine influencers on social media are pushing bogus methods to “undo” the vaccine. A COP26 special report provides a health argument for climate action. The Pandora Report will be taking Thanksgiving week off to safely spend time with family and friends, and we wish you a lovely holiday!

How to Make Holiday Gatherings Safer: 6 Things to Keep in Mind

According to Dr. Saskia Popescu and Dr. Syra Madad, compared to the holidays in 2020, this year’s celebration season has two advantages: (1) we have safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 and (2) we’re much more attuned to risk reduction measures like the availability of at-home testing, ventilation, and better masks that can make any type of gathering safer. Popescu and Madad urge us to keep six things in mind as we gather for the upcoming holidays: vaccination, testing, mask, people, place, and time and space.

Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Could Be a New “Hidden Pandemic,” UK Experts Warn

Experts in the UK are warning that antibiotic-resistant infections are the next big concern as a “hidden pandemic.” The World Health Organization describes this risk as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” In the UK, in 2020, one in five people with a bloodstream infection had a resistant one. As winter nears, experts fear that there will be another increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. The UK Health Security Agency has cautioned that the data suggest “resistant infections are likely to rise in the post-pandemic years and will require ongoing action.”

COP26

COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health

The 10 recommendations in the COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health propose a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policy makers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises.

The recommendations were developed in consultation with over 150 organizations and 400 experts and health professionals. They are intended to inform governments and other stakeholders ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to highlight various opportunities for governments to prioritize health and equity in the international climate movement and sustainable development agenda. Each recommendation comes with a selection of resources and case studies to help inspire and guide policymakers and practitioners in implementing the suggested solutions. Read the report here.

‘COP26 Hasn’t Solved the Problem’: Scientists React to UN Climate Deal

Government ministers at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) have reached a deal on further steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions after discussions overran by 24 hours. On 13 November, representatives from nearly 200 countries agreed the final text of the deal, which pledges further action to curb emissions, more frequent updates on progress and additional funding for low- and middle-income countries. Researchers have expressed relief that the meeting did produce an agreement, but some left COP26 dissatisfied at the lack of stronger commitments to reduce emissions, and failure to agree “loss and damage” finance for countries that are vulnerable to climate change. “COP26 has closed the gap, but it has not solved the problem,” says Niklas Hoehne, a climate researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Countries now need to come forward with more ambitious pledges to tackle climate change, he adds. Read more about scientists’ reactions to COP26 here.

Here’s What World Leaders Agreed To — And What They Didn’t — At the UN Climate Summit

After two weeks of intense negotiations in Glasgow, world leaders signed off on a new climate change agreement. Some nations pledged to impressive cuts to pollution, but many others “did not agree to rein in emissions fast enough for the world to avoid the worst damage from climate-driven storms, heat waves and droughts.” If countries stick to their promises, experts say that those goals may still be in reach. By 2030, emissions need to be cut by 45% to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Over 100 countries committed at the summit to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. In a surprise statement, the US and China agreed to work together to “strengthen and accelerate climate action and cooperation” in the near-term. It was proposed that wealthier nations compensate developing nations for climate change-related “loss and damage.” This proposal ran into a brick wall, but “discussions will begin between nations about how loss and damage funding might work.” Wealthy nations have also not provided the promised $100 billion of funding to support climate action.

WHO & SOCIAL SCIENCE

SAGO Has a Politics Problem, And WHO Is Ignoring It

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) has recently been established to “define and guide studies into the origins [of Novel Pathogens]” and “advise WHO on prioritizing studies and field investigations into [Novel Pathogens].” In both of these, an attention to political questions like “which pathogens deserve investigation?” and “how should countries’ possible pathogen origins be prioritized?” will need to be addressed.

However, arguments have been made by WHO that SAGO should “follow the science” and “avoid politicization.” There is a clear tension here. The statement to “avoid politicization” is a political act in itself. It is an act that suggests states, government, and citizens have no business in holding science to account. In turn it is an act that both recognizes the role and importance of politics, but sees the answer as doing nothing about it. Politics is framed as a problem—a major stumbling block to both pandemic preparedness and response, and for science to do its work—but one best avoided rather than understood. Political expertise is reduced to the important work of diplomacy or political communication. There is also an assumption that all political engagement means partisan or geo-politics, which is a misnomer. Politics is located at all levels, from the micropolitics of the Wuhan laboratory to the geopolitics of the G7 and UN systems. The publication of the membership of SAGO shows a lack of attention to expertise in the social sciences, and politics in particular. This is sure to cause problems in two domains core to the functioning of SAGO: the politics of pathogenic origins, and the politics of global investigations. Read the article about the WHO and SAGO here.

Joint Research Centre and World Health Organization Join Forces to Use Behavioral Insights for Public Health

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded a Collaborative Research Arrangement that aims to mainstream behavioral insights into public health programs and policies worldwide. Behavioral insights can help improve understanding on how and why people behave in ways that affect their health, and help design policies and services that address behavioral factors for improved physical and mental well-being.

The Commission, through the JRC, will assist WHO in expanding its behavioral insights for health program. Both organizations will agree on specific areas of focus, which would include issues like non-communicable diseases, anti-microbial resistance and the use of behavioral insights to increase the capacity of health workforce.

This Collaborative Research Arrangement builds on the priority placed by European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen on public health. It will contribute to building the European Health Union and promoting reforms in health governance in the EU and worldwide. The JRC’s Competence Centre on Behavioral Insights, which works to support EU policymaking with evidence on human behavior, will drive the new collaboration.

ALL THINGS COVID-19

COVID Vaccine Holdouts Are Caving to Mandates – Then Scrambling to “Undo” Their Shots

A popular TikTok video posted by a Dr. Carrie Madej detailed the ingredients for a bath she claims will “detox” the vaccine for people who caved to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Though the ingredients for this supposed detox bath are mostly not harmful, its effects are completely fictional. This is just one of several examples of bogus methods to undo the vaccine posted by anti-vaccine influencers on social media. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist, stated that the “lifesaving vaccination process” begins as soon as a person is injected, and it cannot be counteracted.

How COVID Might Sow Chaos in the Brain

“Brain fog” is not a formal medical descriptor. But it aptly describes an inability to think clearly that can turn up in multiple sclerosis, cancer or chronic fatigue. Recently, the condition has grabbed headlines because of reports that it afflicts those recovering from COVID-19.

COVID’s brain-related symptoms go beyond mere mental fuzziness. They range across a spectrum that encompasses headaches, anxiety, depression, hallucinations and vivid dreams, not to mention well-known smell and taste anomalies. Strokes and seizures are also on the list. One study showed that more than 80 percent of COVID patients encountered neurological complications.

The mystery of how the virus enters and then inhabits the brain’s protected no-fly zone is under intensive investigation. At the 50th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, or SFN (held in virtual form this month after a pandemic hiatus in 2020), a set of yet-to-be-published research reports chronicle aspects of the COVID-causing SARS-COV-2 virus’s full trek in the brain—from cell penetration, to dispersion among brain regions, to disruption of neural functioning. Read more about COVID’s effects on the brain here.

Disparities in COVID-19 Outcomes by Race, Ethnicity, and Socioeconomic Status: A Systematic-Review and Meta-Analysis

Are race and ethnicity–based COVID-19 outcome disparities in the United States associated with socioeconomic characteristics? In this systematic review and meta-analysis of 4.3 million patients from 68 studies, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American individuals had a higher risk of COVID-19 positivity and ICU admission but lower mortality rates than White individuals. Socioeconomic disparity and clinical care quality were associated with COVID-19 mortality and incidence in racial and ethnic minority groups. In this study, members of racial and ethnic minority groups had higher rates of COVID-19 positivity and disease severity than White populations; these findings are important for informing public health decisions, particularly for individuals living in socioeconomically deprived communities. Read the full article here.

Vaccine Development: Capabilities and Challenges for Addressing Infectious Diseases

The CARES Act requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look at the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccine development. A new report discusses technologies, approaches, and associated challenges for vaccine (1) research and development, (2) testing, and (3) manufacturing, as well as (4) the economic factors that affect vaccine investment. Vaccines protect people from disease by preparing the body to respond to an infection. Vaccinations are a key part of individual and community health, but vaccine development remains complex and costly. Innovative technologies and approaches, such as those identified in this report, may enhance the nation’s ability to respond to infectious diseases. For example, reverse vaccinology and next generation platforms—combined with existing research—helped researchers develop some COVID-19 vaccines more quickly and effectively.

However, key challenges may hinder the adoption of these innovative technologies and approaches. Some promising technologies face issues and challenges such as inherent technical limitations and high cost. For example, organ chips may facilitate testing, but they are not yet able to replicate many of the complex functions of the human immune system. Similarly, single-use systems may increase the flexibility of vaccine manufacturing facilities, but may require extensive testing to ensure that they do not negatively affect the resulting vaccine. Further, economic challenges may hinder vaccine development. Experts attribute underinvestment in vaccines to market failures (i.e., market interactions that fall short of what would have been socially beneficial). For example, vaccines benefit those who are vaccinated, and, to some degree, those who are not. This additional benefit is not captured in the price, which reduces return on vaccine investment.

Overall, vaccine development is still difficult, complex, and costly. But GAO identified 16 innovative technologies and approaches that may enhance the nation’s ability to respond to high-priority infectious diseases. Read the report here.

Pandemic and Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Preparedness Collection

While the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, novel influenza viruses continue to be a constant pandemic threat. These viruses, which could appear at any time, can lead to circumstances and ramifications similar to or worse than the current experiences resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The global response to COVID-19 has expanded what is possible for rapid pandemic response in several areas, including vaccine research and development, more resilient supply chains, public health interventions and the need for global coordination. The reports in this collection explore how these unprecedented actions could inform and advance future pandemic and seasonal influenza vaccine preparedness efforts. The collection features four reports, addressing different areas of pandemic and seasonal influenza vaccine preparedness and response:

  • Vaccine Research and Development to Advance Pandemic and Seasonal Influenza Preparedness and Response: Lessons from COVID-19
  • Public Health Lessons for Non-Vaccine Influenza Interventions: Looking Past COVID-19 Countering the Pandemic Threat Through Global Coordination on Vaccines: The Influenza Imperative
  • Globally Resilient Supply Chains for Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza Vaccines

Read the collection here.

EVENTS

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: Six Months On, What Has Changed?

In May 2021, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response released its main report, calling for urgent action to end the pandemic, and for leadership to implement a package of international reforms to make COVID19 the last pandemic of such devastation. Six months later, there has been some progress, but is it urgent and cohesive enough? Will it result in the universal health protection that people worldwide need?

The key areas to reform pandemic preparedness and response are: effective leadership, inclusive governance, finance, ensuring equitable access to global public goods like vaccines, and strengthening WHO – including through a pandemic treaty.

The former Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel, HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Rt. Honourable Helen Clark, have prepared a six-month progress report which includes solutions and next steps. How can we seize the moment to strengthen international, regional, national, and local systems for pandemic preparedness and response?

Please join on Monday November 22nd at 12 GMT, when the former Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the Right Honourable Helen Clark and Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will present their new assessment of progress and urgent actions required to end the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent another of such devastation. Register here.

Report Launch: Strengthening Global Systems to Prevent and Respond to High-Consequence Biological Threats

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Munich Security Conference (MSC) brought together senior leaders and experts from across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe in March 2021 for a scenario-based tabletop exercise on reducing high-consequence biological threats. The virtual exercise—which convened leaders in public health, biotechnology industry, international security, and philanthropy— examined critical gaps in national and international biosecurity and pandemic preparedness, and explored opportunities to improve capabilities to prevent and respond to high-consequence biological events.

Join NTI for the launch of the report, Strengthening Global Systems to Prevent and Respond to High-Consequence Biological Threats, on 23 November at 7:45 AM EST. The report summarizes key findings and actionable recommendations derived from the 2021 tabletop exercise. The event will be chaired by NTI|bio Interim Vice President Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg and feature remarks from NTI|bio Senior Fellow Dr. Jaime Yassif, as well as senior international leaders in biotechnology industry and public health. This event is being hosted as a side event on the margins of the Biological Weapons Convention Meeting of States Parties. Register here.

Online Conference – One Health Intelligence: From Information to Action

On 29 November, the One Health Intelligence: From Information to Action conference will be held online. Speakers include experts from Ecohealth International, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences at University of Copenhagen, Vétérinaires sans Frontières Suisse, and more. Register here.

2021 Global Health Security Index: Advancing Collective Action and Accountability Amid Global Crisis

COVID-19 continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods, stress health systems, and exhaust social protections and government budgets—and it will not be the last global health emergency the world will face. The need for durable national health capacities and political and social environments that foster effective prevention and response measures has never been clearer.

Join the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security for the launch of the 2021 Global Health Security Index on 8 December 2021 at 9 AM EST. The GHS Index is a comprehensive assessment that provides a benchmark for capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to epidemics and pandemics across 195 countries. Register here.

The Athena Agenda: Executing the Apollo Program for Biodefense

The Bipartisan Common on Biodefense published a baseline report in 2015, A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts, which warned that the United States was inadequately prepared for biological threats. Six years later, the US experience with COVID-19 continues to validate our original findings. The Commission’s January 2021 report, The Apollo Program for Biodefense: Winning the Race Against Biological Threats, details an ambitious goal-directed program to develop and deploy the technologies needed to defend against all biological threats, empower public health, and prevent pandemics within just ten years. Since the release of this report, the pandemic continues to cause devastation throughout the United States and the world. Likewise, the risk of an accidental or deliberate release of even deadlier pathogens continues to rise. The past year has only emboldened the idea that we cannot let a pandemic like the one we are facing, or something worse, ever happen again.

The Commission will convene an in-person meeting, The Athena Agenda: Executing the Apollo Program for Biodefense, to provide a better understanding of ongoing federal efforts to implement The Apollo Program for Biodefense, the role of the private sector in implementing The Apollo Program for Biodefense, how the public and private sectors can fully implement The Apollo Program for Biodefense within ten years. Register here.

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