News from Bioethics.com

Google AI Researcher’s Departure Ignites New Conflict Over Ethics

4 weeks 1 day

(Bloomberg) – Google has gotten itself into another management crisis. On Dec. 2, Timnit Gebru, an artificial intelligence researcher best known for showing how facial recognition algorithms are better at identifying White people than Black people, said she’d been fired. Gebru’s boss described her departure as a resignation, but both sides acknowledged the conflict centered on Google’s discomfort with a research paper Gebru planned to publish about ethical issues related to technology that underpins some of the company’s key products.

Vaccine Rollout On Track, Expect 300M Doses Through March: Feds

4 weeks 1 day

(Medscape) – If the initial success of the Pfizer-BioNTech rollout continues, and emergency use authorization (EAU) is granted to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in development, Operation Warp Speed officials expect to have 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to distribute across the United States between now and March 31. The initial rollout remains on track, said Alex Azar, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, during a media briefing today. “We continue to have good news to report.

Vaccinations Reach Nursing Homes as California Faces Crisis

4 weeks 1 day

(Associated Press) – The first COVID-19 vaccinations are underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killed more than 110,000 people, even as the nation struggles to contain a surge so alarming it has spurred California to dispense thousands of body bags and line up refrigerated morgue trucks. 

Inmates Facing Big Virus Risks Not Near the Top of Vaccine Lists

1 month 8 hours

(Associated Press) – Prisons across the U.S. have been hit hard by COVID-19. Social distancing is virtually impossible behind bars: inmates sleep in close quarters and share bathrooms. Masks, hygiene supplies and safety protocols are often lacking, and many inmates have health problems that make them susceptible to the virus.

Air Pollution a Cause in Girl’s Death, Coroner Rules in Landmark Case

1 month 8 hours

(The Guardian) – A coroner has made legal history by ruling that air pollution was a cause of the death of a nine-year-old girl. Philip Barlow, the inner south London coroner, said Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death in February 2013 was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure.  He said she was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution in excess of World Health Organization guidelines, the principal source of which were traffic emissions.

COVID-19 Is 10 Times Deadlier for People with Down Syndrome, Raising Calls for Early Vaccination

1 month 9 hours

(Science) – Among groups at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, such as people with diabetes, people with DS stand out: If infected, they are five times more likely to be hospitalized and 10 times more likely to die than the general population, according to a large U.K. study published in October. Other recent studies back up the high risk.

The Virus Trains: How Lockdown Chaos Spread COVID-19 Across India

1 month 9 hours

(New York Times) – They were among tens of millions of migrant workers stranded without work or food after Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a national coronavirus lockdown in March. By spring and summer, these workers were so desperate that the government provided emergency trains to carry them back to their home villages. The trains were called Shramik Specials, because shramik means “laborer” in Hindi. India has now reported more coronavirus cases than any country besides the United States. And it has become clear that the special trains operated by the government to ease suffering — and to counteract a disastrous lack of lockdown planning — instead played a significant role in spreading the coronavirus into almost every corner of the country.

Single-Patient Study Adds to Debate Over Gilead’s Remdesivir for COVID-19

1 month 9 hours

(Medscape) – A single-patient study conducted by British scientists has found that Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir could be highly effective against COVID-19, raising questions about previous studies that found it had no impact on death rates from the disease.

Understanding Messenger RNA and Other SARS-CoV-2 Vaccines

1 month 9 hours

(Medscape) – The revolutionary aspect of mRNA vaccines is the speed at which they can be designed and produced. This is why they lead the pack among the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates and why the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provided financial, technical, and/or clinical support. Indeed, once the amino acid sequence of a protein can be determined (a relatively easy task these days) it’s straightforward to synthesize mRNA in the lab – and it can be done incredibly fast. It is reported that the mRNA code for the vaccine by Moderna was made in 2 days and production development was completed in about 2 months.

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Gets Positive Review from FDA Staff

1 month 9 hours

(Medscape) – US regulators on Tuesday posted a largely positive review of Moderna Inc’s SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, signaling that the nation might soon have a second shot available to prevent COVID-19. The staff of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its briefing document ahead of Thursday’s advisory committee meeting on Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine. The product is similar to the first COVID-19 vaccine cleared for use in the United States. Both the Moderna and rival Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use a new approach — mRNA instructions — to spur the immune system into action.

With First Dibs on Vaccines, Rich Countries Have ‘Cleared the Shelves’

1 month 1 day

(New York Times) – As a growing number of coronavirus vaccines advance through clinical trials, wealthy countries are fueling an extraordinary gap in access around the world, laying claim to more than half the doses that could come on the market by the end of next year. While many poor nations may be able to vaccinate at most 20 percent of their populations in 2021, some of the world’s richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.

Pediatricians Want Kids to Be Part of COVID Vaccine Trials

1 month 1 day

(Kaiser Health News) – If clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines aren’t expanded soon to include children, it’s unlikely that even kids in their teens will be vaccinated in time for the next school year. The hurdle is that COVID vaccine makers are only in the early stages of testing their products on children. The Pfizer vaccine authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday was greenlighted only for people ages 16 and up. Moderna just started trials for 12- to 17-year-olds for its vaccine, likely to be authorized later this month.

How COVID-19 Is Changing the Cold and Flu Season

1 month 1 day

(Nature) – By mid-December, the Northern Hemisphere is usually well into the start of its annual cold and flu season — but so far this year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic surges in dozens of countries, the levels of many common seasonal infections remain extremely low. The pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has infected at least 67 million people and killed 1.5 million worldwide. The patchwork of responses intended to fight the pandemic — from temporary lockdowns to mask wearing, social distancing, enhanced personal hygiene and reduced travel — has had a huge impact on other common respiratory illnesses, too.

America Is Running Out of Nurses

1 month 1 day

(The New Yorker) – Just how big is the coronavirus’s winter wave? It can be hard to get your mind around it. One way to try is to note that, right now, more than a hundred thousand Americans are in the hospital with COVID-19—which is roughly as many people as can fit into the country’s biggest stadiums for the Super Bowl, and nearly twice as many as were hospitalized during the pandemic’s worst days in April and July. Another is to note that, around the U.S., hospitals are running out of nurses and doctors.

FDA Approves Genetically Altering Pigs, to Potentially Make Food, Drugs, and Transplants Safer

1 month 2 days

(STAT News) – Genetically engineering pigs so they lack a certain sugar on the surface of their cells that triggers meat allergies or organ rejection won approval from the Food and Drug Administration Monday. The regulatory clearance — the first of an intentional genomic alteration in a product with both food and medical uses — means the animals could be safer sources of not just food but also treatments such as the blood-thinner heparin.

A Guide to Who Can Safely Get the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine

1 month 2 days

(STAT News) – With the first doses of Covid-19 vaccine being administered across the United States, questions abound about who can safely get them. Expect answers to those questions to evolve as the vaccines go into broader use. But here’s what is known so far, and what experts at or advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend regarding their use at this point.

How Science Beat the Virus

1 month 2 days

(The Atlantic) – In fall of 2019, exactly zero scientists were studying COVID?19, because no one knew the disease existed. The coronavirus that causes it, SARS?CoV?2, had only recently jumped into humans and had been neither identified nor named. But by the end of March 2020, it had spread to more than 170 countries, sickened more than 750,000 people, and triggered the biggest pivot in the history of modern science. Thousands of researchers dropped whatever intellectual puzzles had previously consumed their curiosity and began working on the pandemic instead. In mere months, science became thoroughly COVID-ized.

Arab Nations First to Approve Chinese COVID Vaccine–Despite Lack of Public Data

1 month 2 days

(Nature) – Two Arab nations have become the first countries to approve a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, a significant boost for China’s plans to roll out its vaccines worldwide. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) approved a vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned Sinopharm on 9 December, and Bahrain followed days later. But researchers say a lack of public data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine could hinder the company’s plans to distribute the vaccine in a range of other countries.

Why Many Countries Failed at COVID Contact-Tracing But Some Got It Right

1 month 2 days

(Nature) – Across the Western world, countries have floundered with this most basic public-health procedure. In England, tracers fail to get in touch with one in eight people who test positive for COVID-19; 18% of those who are reached provide no details for close contacts. In some regions of the United States, more than half of people who test positive provide no details of contacts when asked. These statistics come not from the first wave of COVID-19, but from November, long after initial lockdowns gave countries time to develop better contact-tracing systems.

Pregnant in the Pandemic? It Helps to Have Good Wi-Fi.

1 month 2 days

(MIT Technology Review) – One of the most significant is that millions of women and babies have become subjects in a hasty experiment. The hypothesis: Would it be better if more prenatal and postpartum care happened at home? Pregnancy, including birth and aftercare, is the single largest reason for hospital visits in the US, and on average a typical pregnancy will involve between 12 and 14 medical appointments. Proper prenatal visits can prevent life-threatening complications. But limiting in-person care is vital during the pandemic, especially for pregnant women, who are more likely to develop severe or even fatal covid infections. As a result, an unprecedented number of women are turning to virtual care or telehealth services such as video appointments, text support, and phone calls. 

Farmworkers, Firefighters and Flight Attendants Jockey for Vaccine Priority

1 month 2 days

(Kaiser Health News) – With front-line health workers and nursing home residents and staff expected to get the initial doses of COVID vaccines, the thornier question is figuring out who goes next. The answer will likely depend on where you live. While an influential federal advisory board is expected to make its recommendations later this month, state health departments and governors will make the call on who gets access to a limited number of vaccines this winter. As a result, it’s been a free-for-all in recent weeks as manufacturers, grocers, bank tellers, dentists and drive-share companies all jostle to get a spot near the front of the line.

Australia Scraps Covid-19 Vaccine That Produced H.I.V. False Positives

1 month 2 days

(New York Times) – Australia on Friday canceled a roughly $750 million plan for a large order of a locally developed coronavirus vaccine after the inoculation produced false positive test results for H.I.V. in some volunteers participating in a trial study. Of the dozens of coronavirus vaccines being tested worldwide, the Australian one was the first to be abandoned. While its developers said the experimental vaccine had appeared to be safe and effective, the false positives risked undermining trust in the effort to vaccinate the public.

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Delay Plans for a Trial After Experimental Vaccine Fails in Some Older Patients.

1 month 5 days

(New York Times) – The pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said Friday that their experimental Covid-19 vaccine did not appear to work well in older adults, a significant setback to their late-stage clinical trial that was previously expected to begin in the United States in December. Instead, the companies said they planned to test a modified version of their vaccine in a smaller trial beginning in February. Rather than compare their candidate with a placebo, they said, it could be tested against a vaccine expected to be authorized by regulators for emergency use soon.

California’s ICU Beds Near Capacity as Covid Hospitalizations Hit Record Levels

1 month 5 days

(The Guardian) – The coronavirus continues to shatter grim records across California, as the surge in the fast-spreading virus fills hospital beds close to capacity. California has recorded more than 1.4m cases and close to 20,500 deaths as of Friday morning, with numbers expected to keep rising. Hospitalizations in the state have hit record levels. Admissions to intensive care units have risen roughly 70% in just two weeks, leaving less than 10% of beds available across the state.

Demoralized Health Workers Struggle as Virus Numbers Surge

1 month 5 days

(Associated Press) – Doctors and nurses around the U.S. are becoming exhausted and demoralized as they struggle to cope with a record-breaking surge of COVID-19 patients that is overwhelming hospitals and prompting governors to clamp back down to contain the virus. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday banned indoor dining in New York City, saying he had been waiting in vain for hospitalization rates to stabilize. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf did the same on Thursday and also suspended school sports and closed gyms, theaters and casinos. A record of more than 107,000 people were in the hospital in the U.S. with COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. More than 290,000 Americans have died of the virus.

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