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SUMMARY: Yes, we’ll waste billions and risk lives in a fast search for a coronavirus vaccine — but it’s worth it. More corroboration for the Biden sexual-assault allegation. College presidents are right: Colleges need to open in the fall. Open the parks and beaches! Stop judging people who go outside! Biden to announce a “committee” to evaluate VP candidates? Come on!
Yes, let’s waste billions of dollars — and even risk lives — in the search for a coronavirus vaccine. This is the best and fastest way to find one.
Insider’s Bill Bostock reports that the world’s largest vaccine maker is going to manufacture 40 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate this summer, even though the vaccine hasn’t been tested yet, might not be safe, or might not work. That’s great news.
This is just one of what promise to be many apparently wasteful and risky attempts to create a vaccine — most of which will fail. Other pharma and biotech firms like Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are similarly ramping up vaccine manufacturing, before they know if the shots will work.
Bill Gates has proposed spending billions of dollars to build multiple vaccine-manufacturing plants to scale up production of seven different untested vaccines, though only one is likely to be effective. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is going to spend $2 billion to accelerate production of several vaccine candidates, most of which will likely go to waste.
Others propose to risk human lives to speed up vaccine testing. Some leading scientists want to launch “human challenge” trials for coronavirus vaccines. In these trials, volunteers would be given experimental vaccines or a placebo and then deliberately exposed to the coronavirus.
This would massively accelerate knowledge about whether the vaccine works, because we wouldn’t have to wait months to see if the test subjects contract the disease in the normal course of life. But some of the volunteer subjects would also fall ill — especially if it’s a placebo trial — and given how terrible COVID-19 is, some would likely die. This is also especially worrying in the current context because we have no effective treatment to help those who do get sick.
Wasting money and potentially harming people obviously aren’t good. But, right now, the risks are worth it. That’s because our enemy is time.
The normal processes of pharmaceutical research — manufacturing only when you know a drug works, and only testing in the safest ways — make sense in normal situations. But every day we don’t have a vaccine, thousands die, billions of dollars in economic activity are lost, and human welfare declines. Our future selves become poorer and sicker.
So there is literally almost nothing we shouldn’t try to get us a vaccine quicker, even if that means building factories that make vaccines that don’t work and conducting potentially deadly trials on volunteers. —DP
More corroboration for the Biden sexual-assault allegation from the ’90s
We now have more corroboration of the sexual-assault allegation against then-Sen. Biden in 1993.
Rich McHugh writes in Insider that a neighbor of Tara Reade, the former Biden staffer who recently filed a criminal complaint accusing him of assaulting her in a hallway, has come forward to corroborate her story.
The neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, says Reade told her about the alleged incident in 1995 or 1996, a few years after Reade says it occurred. LaCasse said Reade shared with her many of the same details that Reade has recently alleged.
LaCasse says Reade did not ask her to come forward now. She adds that she is a Democrat and plans to vote for Biden. She says she came forward because she believes it was the right thing to do.
A second corroborator, Lorraine Sanchez, was a colleague of Reade’s in a California state senator’s office after she left Washington DC. Sanchez says Reade told her that her former boss in Washington had harassed her. Sanchez did not recall whether Reade went into detail.
Biden’s campaign has said Reade’s allegation is false. Biden himself has not commented on it. He’s going to have to.
Read Rich McHugh’s latest report here.
College presidents are right: Colleges need to open in the fall
Crowded parties, football stadiums, dorms, lecture halls … colleges are paradise for a zealous coronavirus, which is why they all shut down, and fast, in March. But most universities and colleges can’t afford to stay closed for long. They carry huge faculty and staff costs, and own expensive physical plants.
Colleges also depend on tuition to pay their bills. And most can’t simply transition to remote learning, because students won’t stand for it. They’re paying for the college experience, for working together in labs and studios, living together in dorms.
So it’s expected — and encouraging — that we’re now seeing a rush of college presidents pushing bold ideas about how to reopen in the fall, even without a coronavirus vaccine or treatment.
In an inspiring letter, president Mitch Daniels said Purdue University is “determined not to surrender helplessly to those [COVID-19] difficulties but to tackle and manage them aggressively and creatively.” Daniels argues that the virus is not an intolerable risk for the young. He proposes to test everyone in August, reopen campus for those under 35 years old, segregate those older than 35 or at particular risk from the general population, and track and contact trace the infected.
Will it work? Who knows? But it’s heartening to see this kind of practical problem-solving from one of the world’s greatest engineering schools. We’re not going to learn how to live with the virus without some creative, even unorthodox thinking, and it makes sense to use universities — which are the front lines of American research, after all — as laboratories.
For example, Brown University president Christina Paxson acknowledges that reopening colleges will almost certainly require using technology that infringes on civil liberties to vigorously track students and faculty. That seems like an infringement worth a test, and no better place to try it out than in the limited space of a campus.
What Purdue president Daniels doesn’t say is that the decision by some schools to reopen will put pressure on other schools, since no college will want to risk losing its students to rivals that have reopened. But not every college will have the resources to test and track in the way Purdue or Brown can, so there will definitely be campus COVID-19 clusters in the fall. —DP
Open the parks and beaches! Stop judging people who go outside!
As pressure builds for lockdowns to be relaxed or dropped, it’s time to get more sophisticated about which measures actually have a big effect on slowing the coronavirus and which don’t.
Concentrating our efforts on measures that really matter, while giving us more freedom by relaxing those that don’t, will enable us to keep the crucial tactics in place for longer.
So here’s a suggestion:
Relax restrictions that encourage or compel people to stay indoors.
The virus spreads primarily by droplets getting from one infected person’s nose and mouth to another person’s, in sufficient quantities and duration to cause an infection. Sunlight kills the virus quickly, and wind disperses it. Studies suggest that transmission almost exclusively occurs indoors.
As Insider’s Anna Medaris Miller explains, experts are confident that being outside is low risk, especially when you are properly distanced. When you’re distanced and wearing a mask, in fact, it would take something amounting to a “freak accident” for you to catch the virus or infect someone else outside, even if you passed close by each other.
A new study from China underscores this. It looked at 318 “outbreaks” that involved three or more cases. Not a single one of these infections occurred outdoors. (Most of them occurred within homes, with one family member infecting others. It has another important implication for more sophisticated distancing measures — namely, creating isolation and quarantine facilities outside of homes — but we’ll leave that for another day.)
In a broader look at 7,324 cases, in fact, the researchers found only one case in which infection appears to have occurred outdoors. It involved two people in a village who had a conversation after one of them returned from a visit to Wuhan.
To be clear: It’s not impossible to catch or transmit the virus outside. But it’s rare. And with minimal precautions — some distancing and a mask — it should be extremely rare.
Meanwhile, going outside has all sorts of psychological and physiological benefits, including allowing us to feel more free and less trapped. As Anna Medaris Miller posits, even experts who fully support distancing measures believe that these benefits offset the risks. Respected Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch — who generally supports strict distancing measures — believes there is a net benefit to keeping open spaces open.
So open the parks!
And go outside! —HB
Biden to announce a ‘committee’ to evaluate VP candidates? Come on, man!
Everyone’s eager to know who VP Biden will choose as his running mate.
Instead of just making the decision and then telling us the answer, however, Biden reportedly plans to first announce the selection of a “committee” who will evaluate the candidates.
Yes, the Trump habit of dismissing experts and making impulsive decisions with minimal consideration based on his own “gut instinct” leads to imprecision and mistakes. And, yes, the country is suffering for this.
But announcing a committee to evaluate potential VP candidates is going too far the other way.
Of course Biden should have a team evaluate prospective candidates. But he doesn’t need to announce in advance who these people are. He also doesn’t need to remind Americans that Democrats have a reputation for being overly bureaucratic in their decision-making. —HB