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Better Living Through Well Being

The first reports of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in China were just over six months ago. Since then, worldwide cases of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19 disease) outbreak have reached over 14 million with nearly three quarter of a million deaths. Back then none of us could have imagined how our world and our lives could be thrown into the turmoil we are in today. This viral pandemic has led not only to widespread illness and deaths, but also to economic devastation, severe day to day challenges, and long-term uncertainty for people all over the world.

World leaders are under tremendous pressure to both solve the immediate problem of this novel coronavirus pandemic, and also to keep it from happening again. This new virus has presented a global challenge to the scientific community to understand its mechanisms and expose its vulnerabilities so it can be eradicated. Increasingly, more is becoming understood but many unknowns remain. We know COVID-19 is many times more severe than seasonal flu and can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems. It is transmitted quite efficiently with one infected person able to spread it to 2 or 3 others in an exponential rate of increase. Most importantly, it can be transmitted by people who are just mildly ill or even totally non symptomatic.

In the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down a third of the global economy, triggering the largest economic shock since the Great Depression. So, what might it take for the global economy to recover and when will we be able to feel things are back to normal?

Regardless of ongoing recommendations or mandates for lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing and hyper hygienic measures, the spread of COVID-19 is not slowing down and is actually speeding up in many countries, most of all within the United States. Learning how to live with this virus has become the new challenge, and there is still a likelihood of a second wave of infection later this year.

Many people are hoping for either a truly effective therapy or drug, or a COVID-19 vaccine to be available by early next year. Currently, universal vaccination is being promoted as the key strategy for prevention of COVID-19 and prioritized even over good nutrition, which is the natural way to maintain a healthy immune system as protection against disease.

The global scientific community used their linked information and communication technologies to sequence the genome of the novel coronavirus and made it publicly available by January 12th. Since then, researchers around the world have been sharing their findings in pursuit of a vaccine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently 132 vaccines under preclinical investigation with 17 already subject to clinical trials, mainly in Phase 1 but some already in Phase 2, yet to enter Phase 3.

It is important to realize that not all vaccines are equally effective. A little background is helpful in this regard:

* Smallpox is the only disease known to have been completely eradicated by a vaccine, officially in 1979. Even so, one out of three people who got the vaccine had side effects bad enough to be kept from school or work for a period of time, and some suffered more serious reactions.

* Last flu season the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that the combination flu vaccine was only 25 percent effective for 18-49-year-olds and only 43 percent effective for those over 50.

Epidemiologists are humbled by what a tough and complicated disease the novel coronavirus is. In 2018, WHO added “Disease X” to the bottom of its list of priority diseases. This was to be a placeholder for the possibility of an unknown disease emerging for which there was no existing solution. Now we know it’s name is COVID-19.

Vaccine developers are shortening the development and approval process from a typical 5 or 6 years minimum to around 18 months using novel technology platforms, most involving some form of genetic engineering never before tested on large populations. Nucleic acid vaccines supply the body with a genetic code to get the body of the vaccinated person to become the vaccine factory, producing the antigen that is a copy of the COVID-19 spike protein. Then, assuming all goes as planned, that antigen causes the body’s immune system to attack the real virus, if and when a person becomes infected.

Vaccines which are neither proven effective or safe are already being mass manufactured in the hope that they get green-lighted after nothing more than a few months of testing, assuming there is still enough disease out there to see how they work against naturally-acquired infection. Can vaccines that are being developed within an unprecedented “warp speed” using novel technologies such as genetic engineering never before used be safe and effective?

The promise of an effective vaccine hinges on the assumption that a vaccine would generate sufficient persistent immunity. This immunity needs to come from production of enough neutralizing antibodies, or from a potent virus-specific memory T-cell response. Presently, scientists do not even know much about what happens in the body following naturally-acquired COVID-19 infection.

Much hope also hinges on the natural establishment of “herd immunity” that can occur when enough people become immune to COVID-19 to make its spread unlikely. This can occur with or without a vaccine. The more contagious a disease is, the greater the proportion of the population needing to be immune to stop its spread. The exact threshold for COVID-19 is not known. It could be as low as 60 percent or as high as 90 percent. It is possible that some communities who have had sufficient exposure to prior coronaviruses, such as the common cold and have T-cell adapted responses to them, may only need to reach 20 percent exposure to COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity.

A serology test can reveal the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in a person’s blood who has recovered from the disease. The current unknowns regarding immunity include whether or not someone who has recovered can get reinfected, how long immunity will last, and how many people will even be willing to be vaccinated for COVID-19 once a vaccination is available.

A diagnostic antigen test uses a nasal or throat swab to detect viral proteins expressed on the outer surface of the coranavirus and will be termed a positive test if these are found.

Here in the U.S., swab testing for positive presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease, and contact tracing for people who may have been exposed is a best hope in locating and containing the virus. There are challenges to this approach. We currently have serious infrastructure and supply chain problems to both making enough tests available and being able to get test results back quickly enough to be effective. We need to be able to scale up beyond working just at the state level to having more “interstate compacts” for shared resources such as has been done in the area around New York State. This would decrease the turnaround in getting testing results back in time to enact contact tracing in order to isolate and track the chain of transmission of the virus.

Anyone interested in volunteering for a Phase 3 clinical study to determine vaccine and monoclonal antibody efficacy studies for prevention of COVID-19 can do so on the COVID-19 Prevention Network website.

New forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine, show estimates by U.S. state of a 78 percent reduction in COVID-19 deaths by November 1st that can be accomplished by mandated mask wearing and social distancing by state. The projections account for more cases being detected in young people who are at lower risk of death, but may increase if the current surge in infections spreads more widely in at-risk populations. The forecasts also show deaths beginning to rise again in many states in mid- to late September, due to the seasonality of COVID-19.

Director Murray says that the U.S. didn’t experience a true end to the first wave of the pandemic, and a second surge in the fall will hit particularly hard in states currently seeing high levels of infections.

The Texas Center for Superconductivity at University of Houston and the Galveston National Laboratory have proven their breakthrough biodefense indoor air protection system destroys 99.8 percent of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) instantly. Based on knowledge that the virus is an airborne pathogen capable of traveling greater distances by air than first thought and able to survive suspended in the air for hours, research was undertaken on a novel biodefense filter that uses a combination of UVC-light and a highly porous, folded nickel-foam with high enough resistance encased in a fire-retardant frame. The nickel foam is heated to temperatures proven sufficient to instantly kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus on contact in the recirculating air without significantly heating the ambient air. The invention is expected to be a safe and effective game-changer to reduce airborne transmission indoors. The co-lead researcher says the new biodefense technology will work actively to help contain and extinguish COVID-19 in the circulation air when deployed to schools and other high risk hot spots.


Other articles of interest in this Summer 2020 TMIS eNewsletter:

* National leader in assisted living and memory care unveils comprehensive commitments for advancing resident care, safety and wellness during the COVID-19 era.

* Design firm to provide agile workspaces that help prevent disease spread and promote health, while also increasing creativity and productivity.

* Farmers have become more optimistic about current and future farming operations due to more favorable spring planting season and help from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

* Regeneron Pharmaceuticals begins Phase 3 clinical trial of double antibody cocktail for treatment and prevention of COVID-19 to evaluate its ability to prevent infection among uninfected people who had close exposure.

* Biotherapeutics leader CSL Behring begins Phase 2 clinical study to assess the safety and efficacy of garadacimab, Factor CIIa antagonist monoclonal antibody to treat patients suffering from severe respiratory distress in patients with COVID-19 related pneumonia.

* Affinity Biosciences discovers potent antibodies that block the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from binding to its human receptor.

* John Hopkins begins preclinical studies for treatment of COVID-19 induced acute respiratory distress syndrome with allogenic, cord blood derived T-regulatory cell therapy.

* Fibro Genesis identifies molecular mechanisms associated with potent reduction of lung inflammation and reduction of cytokine response in COVID-19.

* Entera Health approved for clinical trial to investigate use of EnteraGam to manage inflammation and symptom severity in patients with mild-to-moderate SARS-CoV-2 infections.


I am grateful to be in a collaborative business with many talented and skilled professionals. Additional feedback and recommendations for our services at TM Information Services are always welcome.

- Mary Michele McLaughlin

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