Countys with high vaccination ratess are fairing much better than those with low vaccination rates
The US is dividing into two worlds when it comes to COVID-19. Danc County has a vaccination rate of 80% for those 18 and over. Because of this SARS-CoV-2 cannot find enough hosts to replicate and cannot spread easily. It is seeing 13 cases a day on average and many of those are people coming in from other places. Cases are way down from the peak back in the winter and the test positivity rate is 1%.
Compare that with Nassau County in Florida. Only 51% of the county is vaccinated and cases are exploding. On July 16th alone they reported 447 cases. The test positivity rate is 8% and climbing. Florida is heading for another massive surge and this time, it is completely preventable. Many people are going to needlessly die because too many people simply reject reality. Well, I have news for you the virus doesn't care what you think. If you are not vaccinated, you are a target and it will find you. The strong, wise, and brave person would stop this virus. Be a hero and get vaccinated.
The delta variant is continuing to be a problem in places with high levels of unvaccinated individuals. All evidence so far shows that vaccinated individuals are protected against this variant. I just wanted to encourage any of you that are still not vaccinated to go get it done. This variant is more contagious and is killing healthy 20 and 30-year-olds. Even if you survive or get a mild infection, long covid is a result for 20% of those infected. Save yourself the trouble.
From NBC News
"We are seeing patients in their 20s and 30s who are otherwise healthy who are coming because of worsening symptoms ... today, in the hospital, in the ICU, who are needing to have ventilator and high oxygen support," he said. "Again, because they're unvaccinated. It is completely preventable if you get vaccinated.”
Health experts have been encouraging everyone who can get the COVID-19 vaccine to get it. They want to reach a threshold called herd immunity. What does that mean? Herd immunity occurs when a large enough percentage of the population is vaccinated (and thus immune to a disease) that the illness can no longer spread through the community. The exact fraction that needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity is different for every disease. Scientists estimate for COVID-19 it will be larger than 60%. Dane County in Wisconsin has vaccinated just about 70% of residents and has seen numbers of infection drop significantly. We are only observing about 5 to 10 cases a day and 55% of these are coming from outside the Madison area. UW-Madison has had spectacular success at vaccinating its population, achieving a vaccination rate of over 85%. From June 13th until July 1st there were no cases of COVID-19 in the UW-Madison community. COVID-19 can be controlled and likely eradicated, if we are willing to get the dang shot.
The delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread. Only vaccination will protect you
More research on the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 reports that this viral mutant is the most dangerous one to date. It spreads more easily and may cause more serious infections. It accounts for more than half of infections in the United States and is spreading rapidly in counties with low vaccination rates. The good news is that fully vaccinated people show strong protection against the delta variant. Protection after only one dose is not near as robust. People who have been infected with a previous version of SARS-CoV-2 are not protected against reinfection by the delta variant. Yet another reason to get the vaccine. A news article about the paper is available at ASM and the original paper is in Nature.
The backend of the textbook site has been upgraded. The platform has been moved to the latest release of Zikula, a content management system based upon modern, well-maintained technologies including Symfony, Doctrine, Twig, JQuery, Bootstrap, and Font Awesome. This strong stable foundation will impact the book in a few ways:
You will notice that pages are served faster.
The layout of the pages has been improved as has readability
Content creation has been streamlined, which should increase updates to the book
I also hope to use the News module more, adding more updates about microbiology going forward.
I hope you continue to enjoy using the site.
Age-related muscle loss gains a new model for study
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a significant hazard of the aging process. Loss of muscle and strength decreases the quality of life and can increase the chances for life-threatening falls. The cause of this decrease is still under investigation and the lack of a low-cost model system to study sarcopenia hinders progress. Allen et. al describe a new model system using C2C12 myotubes in an in vitro system. When the tubes were tested and recover with blood from young vs old patients, it was possible to detect significant differences. Myotube diameter was significantly larger when exposed to young blood vs. old, mimicking the effects of sarcopenia. Use of this model system in future students may find the causes and remedies for muscle loss and lead to new treatments.
Huge positive news on the effort to create a coronavirus vaccine
Pfizer has announced early data in its vaccine trial that indicates an efficacy of 90%! The news could not be better. While the article claims this is early data if you dig down into the details they indicate how many subjects were infected with coronavirus during the study. When the analysis was done, 94 people had been infected. To complete the trial, scientists decided that 164 need to be infected. We are already halfway there. This is the last piece of the puzzle and means we will have an effective vaccine. One caveat is that the Pfizer vaccine is an RNA vaccine. While this makes it easy to manufacture, the vaccine needs to be stored at very low temperatures. Thus transport of the vaccine for distribution will be an issue.
Several other vaccines are in the pipeline and I expect their results to be just as good. Hurray for science.
Aztrazenica vaccine releases interim data showing good immune responses across all ages
AstraZeneca announced today that their candidate SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was creating a strong immune response both in young and old people. This answers another question about their vaccine which is critical to know. The most vulnerable population to serious complications from the virus are those over 65. To be protective, the vaccine needs to raise an immune response in this population. The company's analysis shows that a robust response was raised in both young and old involving both arms of the immune system -- B-cells (antibodies) and T-cells. I expect similar results from the other vaccine trials that are moving forward.
All vaccine candidates appear to be safe and to raise an immune response. The only question left to answer is whether the vaccine is protective. Does getting vaccinated prevent COVID-19? We will know that after the results of the trials come forward. Each company is now vaccinating 30,000 or more patients. About a third will be in a control group, with the other two thrids getting the vaccine. After subjects are vaccinated, a subset is tested for an immune response (which is what AstraZeneca just reported). The company then watches the health of the control group vs the test group. The hope is that very few of the test group get infected, while the control group does. From this, an efficacy number is calculated. Imagine that in the control group, 405 of the 10,000 get sick. While in the test group there are 200 of the 20,000 that get ill with COVID-19.
The risk of infection in the control group is 405/10,000 = 0.0405
The risk of infection in the test group is 200/20,000 = 0.01
Efficacy is then the ratio of infected in the control - infected in the test group/infected in the control...
(0.0405 - 0.01)/0.0405 = 75%
This would mean the vaccine is reducing the rate of infection by 75% and would be enough to stop the epidemic cold. Fingers crossed.
The UW is succeeding at fighting the COVID-19 epidemic
While much of Wisconsin is failing at fighting the coronavirus, the Universities are succeeding. Dr. Deborah Brix suggested Wisconsin's legislature look to what the Universities are doing and use it as a model for keeping the epidemic under control.
What is the key? Four things, testing capacity, contact tracing, weekly monitoring, and mask use. The testing capacity allows the UW to test anyone. If you are identified as positive, contract tracers immediately track down all of your contacts and test them, moving those who are positive away from the general population. Weekly monitoring, of both students and faculty, makes it possible to keep a lid on the silent spread of the virus. I am part of the population that gets monitored and I get tested every week. It's simple and fast. Finally, mask use decreases the chances of transmission.
The result? While we had an initial spike of cases, partly due to students not taking the rules seriously, and mostly due to just a huge bunch of people coming together from all across the country, our positivity rate is now less than 1%. I am so proud of my students. They have adapted to the situation and have proven all the neigh-sayers wrong. Can the rest of the state learn from our success? it's not too late.
Vaccines are progressing and a new, potentially powerful treatment for SARS-CoV-2
Vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca continue to make progress in their phase 3 trials. Pfizer-BioNTech reported that they will know by mid-October to early November the results of their trial and that they have expanded the trial to include more risky patients (i.e elderly, teenagers, and those with HIV). Moderna also reported that the results of their trial should come in November. Many people have been vaccinated in these trials and now the companies have to wait to see who gets infected. The hope is that those in the placebo group will get the illness, while those in the vaccine group will not. If at least twice as many people in the placebo group get infected vs. the vaccine group (50% efficacy), we have a winner. From the preliminary data, where the companies measured the strength of the immune response, I expect these vaccines to be much better than 50% effective. I would not be shocked by 70 to 80% effectiveness.
Why isn't it 100%? The vaccine depends on the human immune system raising an immune response against the virus. In some cases, due to age or other conditions, this doesn't happen and that individual is not protected. Another factor is the amount of SARS-CoV-2 a person is exposed to when they do get infected. The higher the dose, the more likely they will be to get the disease. Another key element to watch for is the severity of the illness in the vaccinated cohort vs the control. If the disease is milder in the vaccine group, that is yet another reason to get vaccinated. Even at 50% efficacy, if enough people get vaccinated, it will greatly hinder the spread of the virus and bring the pandemic to an end.
In a clever bit of work, University of Pittsburgh Scientists may have developed a powerful treatment against COVID-19. A "fishing pole" that used the S protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as bait was used to tease out molecules that bound to it tightly. The method was simple enough that the scientists, lead by Dimiter Dimitrov, were able to screen 100 billion candidates. The most promising, Ab8, is part of the variable region of the heavy chain of an antibody. By attaching immune signaling components to Ab8 a streamlined, and much smaller, signaling molecule was created that will alert the immune system to the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and lead to its destructions. Ab8 was found to prevent infection in mice and hamsters. The drug is expected to quickly go into clinical trials with humans.