Too Cool For Cold
January 14, 2021
The Good News
- Nurse Working on Coronavirus Frontlines Wins $1M Lottery: ‘I Had Been Praying for Something’ (People)
- Apple’s first major racial equity investments include a Detroit developer center and HBCU tech hub (Verge)
“The return on investment in global health is tremendous, and the biggest bang for the buck comes from vaccines. Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective health investments in history.” — Seth Berkley
“Foreign aid is neither a failure nor a panacea. It is, instead, an important tool of American policy that can serve the interests of the United States and the world if wisely administered.” — Lee H. Hamilton
Chinese Vaccine Is Too Cool For Cold
A Chinese coronavirus vaccine made by using an older technology is proving to be far less effective than expected. CoronaVac, manufactured by Beijing-based Sinovac, uses chemicals to weaken or kill the virus, which is then put into a vaccine to spark antibodies in the recipient. But the process can weaken vaccine potency and result in a shorter or less effective immune response.
On Tuesday, officials at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo said a trial conducted in Brazil showed that CoronaVac’s efficacy was just over 50%, far below the manufacturer’s claim of 78%, and barely above what the World Health Organization has said would make a vaccine effective for general use. Lower efficacy means it would take much longer to achieve “herd immunity,” which scientists have said is when roughly 70% of the population have become resistant to the virus.
The implications of Brazil’s announcement is bad news for a vaccine crucial to China’s global health diplomacy, which has created hope that a shot could be quickly produced and easily distributed to help the developing world. At least 10 poorer countries have already ordered more than 380 million doses of CoronaVac. The Chinese vaccine doesn’t require special frozen storage, unlike the vaccines developed by American drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, both of which have a 95% efficacy rate.
Lower efficacy is “one of the reasons Americans and Europeans didn’t go with this older technology,” one vaccine expert said. “A well-maintained Ford Model T would probably get you from Wuhan to Beijing, but personally I would prefer a Tesla,” he added.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which need only simple refrigeration and are more effective than their Chinese counterparts, could provide an alternative. But for governments that can’t afford Teslas, and may already be locked into CoronaVac, there just aren’t good alternatives.
No Trump, But Italy Knows How To Put A Don On Trial
- Prosecutors were prepared on Wednesday to begin one of Italy’s largest-ever mafia trials, targeting the ‘Ndrangheta clan, which is based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot. More than 330 suspected mobsters and their associates — including lawyers, accountants, business people, local politicians, and policemen — face an array of charges, including extortion, drug trafficking, and theft.
- Right off the bat, the trial was delayed several days, after the three judges assigned to the case asked to be recused. Chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who’s spent over 30 years fighting the mob, said locals having lived under ‘Ndrangheta threats for years were urged to speak out.
- The state plans to call 913 witnesses and use 24,000 hours of intercepted conversations to support the myriad charges; the trial is expected to last a year, with the court sitting six days a week. The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo. That trial targeted numerous mob families and marked the beginning of the Cosa Nostra’s sharp decline. (Reuters)
Out Of The Frying Pan, Wishing For A Fire
- A refugee crisis is brewing in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, where some 900 people are struggling in freezing weather with little access to safe shelter, basic medicine, heating, or electricity.
- On December 23, a fire gutted the main camp in the snow-covered village of Lipa, not far from the country’s border with Croatia. Tents were erected by the Bosnian military; they provide limited comfort from the harsh conditions and temperatures often below zero. Hundreds are suffering from respiratory infections.
- Some of the refugees fled Kashmir to escape from constant fighting between India and Pakistan for control of the region. They’d paid thousands to smugglers, but can’t reach Italy, their desired destination.
- According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are 9,000 refugees and migrants in Bosnia overall, including some 6,000 in camps around the capital of Sarajevo, in the northwest region nearly 200 miles from Lipa. 3,000 refugees have no accommodation. (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- Rebels attack Central African Republic’s capital (Reuters)
- CDU leadership vote: German party eyes post-Merkel future (Al Jazeera)
- Estonia’s Prime Minister Steps Down Under a Cloud (NYT, $). His head shouldn’t have been up that far anyway.
- US cancels top envoy’s visit to Taiwan (BBC)
- Why the blockade against Qatar is ending now (Al Jazeera)
- Uganda election: Opposition, including Bobi Wine, reels from repression ahead of Thursday’s vote (WaPo, $)
- WFP raises alarm over rising hunger in Madagascar (Al Jazeera)
- Gulf of Guinea pirate kidnappings hit record in 2020 (Reuters)
- These days, probiotics are everywhere. You see probiotic drinks, probiotic foods, even probiotic shampoos. The truth is, most of this is nothing more than a marketing explosion with very questionable results.
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On Abortion, Supreme Court Is Ruth-less
- Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett made her first abortion-related decision since being whooshed through in a GOP rush to fill the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18th, 2020. Barrett has a distinctly anti-abortion track record and was confirmed by the Republican-led Senate for a lifetime appointment on October 26, one week before the presidential election.
- Tuesday, at the request of the Trump administration, the court’s conservative majority ordered the reinstatement of a federal rule requiring that patients seeking to obtain a drug used to terminate early pregnancies must do so in-person at a hospital or medical office.
- The ruling overturns decisions by three lower courts blocking the Food and Drug Administration’s in-person pick-up requirement for the pill during the coronavirus pandemic, citing the risks of contracting COVID-19 at a doctor’s office or a hospital. The drug had been made available via telehealth, the only way many women who live in remote areas of the US can access the abortion pills. (NPR)
The Count To Continue, But Without Trump Directive
- In July, President Trump directed the Census Bureau to produce a state-by-state count of unauthorized immigrants, which he could use to alter the count and lessen the amount of congressional seats and Electoral College votes for states with large numbers of immigrants.
- Three lower courts found Trump’s memo to be unlawful, unconstitutional, or both before the Supreme Court ruled in December that it was too early to weigh in because the case is “riddled with contingencies and speculation.” Earlier this week a Justice Department attorney told a federal judge that the state population counts could not be ready until March 6th, more than a month into the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has condemned Trump’s attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants.
- On Tuesday, the team assigned to carry out Trump’s directive was told by senior career officials at the Census Bureau to stand down and cease their work immediately, effectively ending the bureau’s participation in Trump’s bid to make the unprecedented change. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Restaurant and hotel layoffs are soaring again, outpacing every other industry (WaPo, $)
- Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks (WaPo, $)
- McConnell Privately Backs Impeachment as House Moves to Charge Trump (NYT, $)
- Green New Deal Gets Fresh Push As Democrats Take Control (NPR). Greener pastures lie ahead.
- ‘They always put other barriers in place’: how Georgia activists fought off voter suppression (Guardian)
- Coronavirus test to be required for international travelers arriving in US (WaPo, $)
- Report: Ex-Mich. governor Rick Snyder to face criminal charges in Flint water crisis (WaPo, $)
- Pence says he won’t invoke 25th amendment in letter to Pelosi (Guardian)
- Lisa Montgomery: US executes only woman on federal death row (BBC)
Europol Invasion Lights Up The Dark Web
- A Europol-coordinated international operation has reportedly taken down DarkMarket, the world’s largest dark web marketplace. German law enforcement arrested the Australian man believed to have operated the illegal site and seized 20 servers that hosted it.
- Before its closure DarkMarket had nearly 500,000 users and facilitated over 320,000 transactions, trading everything from drugs and counterfeit money to stolen credit card details and malware. It’s estimated the site traded the equivalent of €140 million euros (over $170 million dollars) in a mix of bitcoin and monero. European authorities plan to use seized DarkMarket servers from Ukraine and Moldova to investigate the buyers and sellers who used the site for criminal transactions.
- DarkMarket was uncovered as part of a larger investigation into the web-hosting company Cyberbunker, which in the past had housed servers for both The Pirate Bay and WikiLeaks. (Cyberbunker is actually located in a former NATO bunker.) Another dark marketplace, Wall Street Market, met a similar fate in 2020 during a different European investigation. (Verge)
- How Amazon Sidewalk Works—and Why You May Want to Turn It Off (Wired)
- Jobless, Selling Nudes Online and Still Struggling (NYT, $)
- Gentle medicine could radically transform medical practice (Aeon)
- Chill imbibes: inside the booming business of relaxation drinks (Verge). Move over Netflix and Chill, it’s time to Vibe and Imbibe.
- Caligula’s Garden of Delights, Unearthed and Restored (NYT, $)
- The Case for Cannibalism, or: How to Survive the Donner Party (Wired)
- The Smaller the Theater, the Faster the Music (Nautilus). Home theater listening must be exhausting.
- The Autonomous-Car Chaos of the 2004 Darpa Grand Challenge (Wired)
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