Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Dec. 2, 2021

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

A new COVID-19 variant first identified Nov. 24 in Botswana is now being found in countries including Canada. The so-called “Omicron variant” has been blamed for a surge of infections in South Africa. President Joe Biden ordered air travel restrictions from eight countries effective Nov. 29, until evidence suggests it’s safe to suspend that order. Biden said the new virus variant makes it clear that more vaccinations are needed, and that blockages to global manufacturing need to be removed. He also noted that the U.S. has donated more vaccines to other countries than all other countries combined. It is not known how severe Omicron can be; as of Nov. 28 no known Omicron deaths have been reported.

Developers of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine said they will know within two weeks if their vaccine protects against the Omicron variant, the Financial Times stated. BioNTech said this pathogen “differs significantly” from previous COVID-19 pathogens. Moderna’s chief said Omicron poses a struggle for existing COVID-19 vaccines.

A COVID-19 vaccine supply shortage is doubtful, according to The Nation. While the current vaccine makers claim, “there is no mRNA manufacturing capacity in the world,” independent experts have scrutinized the supply chain and found more vaccines could be manufactured within months — but only if existing manufacturers transcend their profit motives and share their knowledge. 

Keeping COVID-19 vaccines in short supply may benefit the manufacturers, The Nation suggested, as those not vaccinated help accelerate COVID-19 mutations and drive the need for booster shots — “perpetuating the pandemic is better for business than ending it,” the magazine wrote. 

It’s not a new story: In the 1990s and 2000s, HIV drug manufacturers claimed no one besides themselves could make the HIV drugs due to lack of ability; but, according to The Nation, other countries did so anyway in huge quantities and more efficiently.

“Better than we expected,” is what Israeli researchers said of the 70% reduced mortality rate for their new COVID-19 treatment. A group of 50 very sick hospitalized patients (most with underlying conditions) received up to three doses of Mesencure and 6.7% died. In a control group, 23.3% died. The first Mesencure recipient, a 73-year-old woman, recovered rapidly after a single dose, leaving her bed and exercising the next day, The Jerusalem Post reported. For the research crew, this held hope for less risk for long-COVID cases and other COVID-19-related disabilities. 

Mesencure is a cell therapy, using adipose tissue from healthy donors; the cells ride the bloodstream, reach the lungs and secrete anti-inflammatory and regenerative factors where they find inflammation. They also support tissue regeneration.

T-cells could be used in what is called “a new generation” of COVID-19 vaccines — shots that are expected to quickly stop the virus, The Independent reported. University College of London and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital researchers explored why some health care workers did not get ill with COVID-19 during the first wave and found that these people had developed special T-cells. With that information they found that T-cells can be activated to recognize replication proteins, and could work well against all variations in the virus strains. Research also indicated long-lasting immunity being likely from these vaccinations.

Blast from the past: Tokyo Rose has been brought to mind in light of recent revelations by Snopes that more than half of tweets in favor of Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal for murder in Wisconsin were foreign — written primarily in Russia, China and areas of Europe. The tweeters pretended to be Americans and questioned the stability of the nation’s democratic republic. The identity of “Tokyo Rose” (the WWII-era Japanese radio speaker who told Allied soldiers the war was lost and they should go home), remains uncertain. Historians say most WWII soldiers found the broadcasts amusing. Today, as revealed extensively in the Mueller report on Russia’s influence on the U.S., false foreign information is dividing the U.S. population and, unlike in Tokyo Rose’s time, taken seriously. Details are found in the book Shadow State, by Guardian reporter Luke Harding. Currently the pretend American citizens using social media complain about politicians, promote conspiracy theories and generally overwhelm political dialogue.

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