Long Covid, vaccine safety, and ferrets: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

A drug that’s still in the experimental stage promises to stop Covid transmission. So far, we know it works in ferrets. If you’re a ferret, you probably don’t care about this because ferrets are like young adults: They have fur and like to eat raw meat.

The similarity’s struck you before now, hasn’t it?

They also become infected with Covid and can pass the infection on, but they don’t get sick. 

Strictly and importantly speaking, that’s true of ferrets but not true of young adults (see below), because some young adults get mildly sick and then get long Covid, which is a particularly nasty kick in the head. And some are hospitalized. In fact, some die, although nowhere near as many as older adults, which is where the myth of young adult immunity comes from. 

Irrelevant photo: Tintagel Castle. Or part of it. This bit was left on the mainland when the land bridge to the island collapsed. 

So let’s say that most young adults are like ferrets, and I’m told they make excellent pets and can be quite affectionate. They’re intelligent, energetic, and shouldn’t be left in cages.

If I’ve driven that joke into the ground, we’ll move on. 

How long will it be before the drug is available for humans? Well, they’ll probably want to test it in something furless before it gets to the market. I’ve read, and I’ve often written here, about all sorts of promising drugs. And that’s the last we hear about most of them. Or at least the last I hear of them. I don’t really know what you hear, do I?

I keep promising myself that I won’t write about any more early-stage drugs, but then I read about one that I can’t pass up and I break my promise. You should know better than to trust me with promises, so you have no one to blame but yourself. 

This one, I think, is worth breaking a promise for. It not only stops Covid transmission, it also stops the progression of the disease. And works against the flu.

Let us all become ferrets, friends, and put an end to this plague. 

*

The news about the Moderna vaccine is that it gives people (at least the 94% it works in) an immune response that lasts at least three months. That’s from a study run by NIAID, which is not a Greek goddess of springs, rivers, fountains, and lakes (you’ll need change the vowels a bit if you’re calling the goddess) but (more helpfully at this moment in history) the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. 

Immunity may last longer, but that’s as many pages as they’ve had time to read.

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How has it been possible to develop the Covid vaccines so fast? Several factors came together.

Once the virus’s genome was decoded, it was shared immediately with the world’s scientific community. Chinese scientists published a draft of the genome of January 11. No one had to waste time repeating work that had already been done. 

After that, the world’s bad luck was put to good use: With the hounds of hell nipping at their heels, governments were willing to pour immense amounts of money into research. That translated to equipment and researchers. 

Next, it was easy for researchers to recruit participants for both the early and the later tests. That usually takes time, but people were motivated and anxious to sign up.

It usually takes a good long time before enough of the test subjects become infected to prove or disprove the vaccine’s effectiveness. But because Covid was so widespread, people got sick quickly. That comes to us compliments of the Department of Silver Linings.

On top of that, the pandemic hit just as scientists worked the kinks out of the mRNA vaccine process. I’m not going to try to explain that, but if you follow the link a few paragraphs back, someone who knows what they’re talking about will. 

Finally, a good bit of research that had already been done gave Covid research a running start: into creating  new flu vaccine; into SARS and MERS, both of which threatened to turn epidemic but didn’t; and into Zika.

Experts say no steps were missed in checking the safety and effectiveness of the Covid vaccines. I respect the well-honed skepticism that develops in a population that’s been lied to a lot, but I haven’t read any solid evidence that would lead me to wait when I’m offered a vaccine. I’m running around with one sleeve already rolled up.

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The Serum Institute of India has asked for fast-track approval of the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which doesn’t need refrigeration and which–if it gets approval–it will sell in India for something in the neighborhood of $3 a dose.

India is the second hardest hit country in the world’s Covid disaster race. Or the third. I’ve seen it listed both ways. It probably depends on what you count and how.

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A British trial will play around with mixing Covid vaccines to see if a mix creates a stronger immune response than two doses of a single vaccine. It’s due to start in January.

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Less encouragingly (but entirely realistically), the World Health Organization warns that the introduction of vaccines doesn’t mean an end to the Covid crisis. The logistics and economics of getting the world’s population vaccinated are massive, especially since two of the early vaccines need super-cold storage. 

And that doesn’t touch on the issue of how many people will be willing to accept vaccination or whether the vaccine will continue to circulated in spite of vaccinations.

In the meantime:

  • Wear a mask
  • Be careful
  • Grow fur 

*

A small study (40 people, with a control group of 58) from the University of Dayton shows that 51% of young adults who are diagnosed with mild to moderate Covid had complications (chest pain, breathing difficulty, headaches, exhaustion, brain fog, diarrhea, loss of smell or taste, etc.) for more than 28 days afterward, and 30% had complications for more than 50 days.

The lead researcher, Julie Walsh-Messinger, said, “The common belief in the U.S. is that COVID-19 is benign or short-lived in young adults. Our study, which we believe is the first to report on post-COVID syndrome in college students, almost exclusively between 18 and 21 years of age, suggests otherwise. More research needs to be done to confirm these findings, but until then, we urge the medical and scientific community to consider young adults vulnerable to post-COVID syndrome.”

For a brief description of what long Covid is like, this is a good place to start, although from what I’ve read it can get far worse. 

*

Like ferrets, cars don’t contract Covid. Unlike ferrets, they’re inanimate. But they can spread it. They’re like schoolrooms, like bars, like supermarkets: They depend on breathing humans to help them with their work.

A study at Brown University shows that opening car windows reduces Covid transmission. This probably won’t surprise you, given what’s known about air, breath, wind, cars, and Covid. But scientists have this pesky habit of wanting to prove things instead of just asserting them. They’re the kind of people who want to know how cold it is and how long it’s been how cold before they drive the car out on the frozen lake. They’ll want to calculate the depth of the ice and find out if the lake has currents where the ice will be thinner. They can be absolute mood-killers, but if you’re driving across a frozen lake they’re the people you want to ride with. 

Speaking just for myself (as if I had a choice), I appreciate them.

Asimanshu Das, co-lead author of the car window research, said, “Driving around with the windows up and the air conditioning or heat on is definitely the worst scenario, according to our computer simulations. The best scenario we found was having all four windows open, but even having one or two open was far better than having them all closed.”

But even with all the windows open and the roof sawed off, everybody should wear masks.

The article’s full of drawings and arrows. I’m not sure what they demonstrate, but they impressed the hell out of me.

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Semi-relevantly, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital are working on a vaccine for a wide range of influenza strains. Early-stage clinical trials indicate that it could give a long-lasting immunity, eliminating the need for yearly updates. 

But it’s in the early stages. In the meantime, we’re all supposed to keep downloading our yearly flu shots. Or, in British, jabs.

*

And, completely irrelevantly, an experimental drug can reverse age-related memory loss within days. So far, unfortunately, that only applies to mice, but it may work its way up to ferrets and eventually to us. 

It’s called ISRIB and it also works on traumatic injuries, noise-related hearing loss, and cognitive impairment in Down Syndrome. Yes, mice can have Down syndrome-like characteristics. I didn’t know either.

It also fights certain kinds of prostate cancer and enhances cognition in healthy animals.

And it makes coffee, but it’s pretty bad. I wouldn’t recommend drinking it.  

32 thoughts on “Long Covid, vaccine safety, and ferrets: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. Becoming a ferret seems quite appealing, Id get fur which is good in the winter and ethical and I could wear it if i grew it on myself, I’d also get a tail, I’ve always wanted a tail!

    It might be like being an otter, but without all the swimming… I wonder if the ferrets are the immunologists of the animal kingdom. I suspect not but you never know.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll cheer with you.

      I just heard the report on the Oxford vaccine being considered safe and effective. If it’s approved, I expect it will speed the process. Personally, I’d rather have the one that protects 94%, but I’d be grateful for either of them.

      Liked by 2 people

    • There haven’t been any reports of that happening in response to the vaccine. I thought is was just part of being that age, but maybe my memory’s playing tricks on me. I need that experimental drug that works on mice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We saw the news of the 90-year-old Irish woman getting the first COVID shot today – “If Ican do it YOU can do it! And it’s free.” she said. So that was an encouraging thing to see first thing this morning ! (It didn’t specify which Ireland she was in – the UK part or the EU part. Does that matter ?) She had on a Christmas sweater with a cheerful penguin on it – not a ferret,

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A bunch of good news here, at least for ferrets. Of course, the best news for ferrets is that no one in Denmark was raising them for their pelts. That didn’t end well for anyone, although it was never going to end well for the fur-kids.

    I’ll need to try to remember to follow ISRIB. I’ve had two encounters with noise-related hearing loss, and there wasn’t much that could be done about it other than let it work itself out. My ENT prescribed Prednisone, adding that “it helps sometimes, but we don’t know why.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, high marks to the ENT for honesty. Now if we can just get the stuff away from the mice, who may be smart enough by now to keep it for themselves.

      You’re right about the mink. Or is that minks? Either way, yeah, it never does end well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I watched the first jabs (I love that) of the Covid vaccine into the arms of an elderly British woman whose name I can’t remember and an elderly British man whose name I can remember: William Shakespeare. Go ahead and roll up your sleeve – looks like help is on the way.
    Once again Agent Orange has jabbed the American people by passing on an opportunity in late July to purchase additional Pfizer vaccines. 100 million doses here or there – what does it really matter when we’ll have so many people dead from the coronavirus that herd immunity will be the reality by the time the jabbing ends according to the lame duck president.
    Lame, for sure, duck him – I wish we could.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, no one’s sure that herd immunity’s possible with natural exposure. The common cold’s a coronavirus and getting it doesn’t confer immunity, so the vaccine’s necessary–or is as far as we know at this point. I should toss that article into my next post. I wan’t going to.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. During the winter, I have often rather wished I could grow fur and then shed it in the spring. But I cannot bear to go a week without shaving my legs so I don’t know how comfortable I would feel.

    One thing that I am still rather confused by and I keep asking people but everyone looks at me as if I am crazy – these vaccines are saying they have a 95% effectiveness rate. My question simply is – the volunteers in the trials who received the vaccine – they were socially distancing, wearing facemasks and being careful with hygiene etc and presumably restricting their travel, perhaps working from home etc – so does that mean that if we all continue with the social distancing measures the vaccines will be 95% effective? Does that mean that if we lift the restrictions the rate of effectiveness will be less?

    My thoughts when you mentioned opening the windows and air conditioning – I think that is exactly why Robert and I have no plans to travel by aeroplane for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read passing references to air cleaning on planes, but none of it more than passing, so I don’t know what to make of it or how much I trust it. I do know that open windows aren’t recommended there.

      Okay, 95%. No, they mean it protects 95% of the people who were vaccinated (and, even more encouragingly, no one in the vaccinated group got a bad case, so even the 5% had some protection), but we’ll still need to keep on with the masks and social distancing because it’s not clear that people who themselves get some immunity from the vaccine can’t still be carriers and go out and enthusiastically infect someone else.

      Don’t ask me to explain how they calculate that. There are no numbers I can’t screw up.

      Like

      • Those people that were vaccinated were still social distancing though – were they not? So was it more the vaccine that protected them or the social distancing that protected them? I am a little confused about the efficacy of the vaccine on recipients who are not social distancing at all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Two things go into this. First, they test the vaccines where the transmission rates are high, and many of the people in the test groups–the vaccinated and the un-vaccinated–are likely to be working in jobs where social distancing isn’t possible. Or living in situations where same. My partner and I are able to social distance, but we are, between us, 609 and no longer working. Most people don’t have that luxury. They can’t consider the test complete until some certain number of people in the whole group are infected. At this stage, no one know who’s in the group that got the vaccine and who got the placebo.

          Then they can unseal the data and find out whether the vaccinated group was protected, and to what extent. Because Covid is rampant in so many countries, they reached this stage more quickly than usual.

          Like

          • Robert and I were chatting about it. We would presume that anybody who volunteered for the vaccination trials was likely to be on the most part taking the virus seriously, doing their bit with taking social distancing and hygiene etc seriously. So we wondered if a large part of the reason they did not catch the virus after vaccination was due to them being conscientious with all of the other measures asked of us.

            But at the same time there seems to be a significant number of people who have not been taking the virus seriously at all, and are putting other people at risk by a casual attitude to efforts to limit the spread.

            I have to switch off to worrying about the behaviour of some. I went to the supermarket earlier today and most people were trying to keep a distance from each other, except the chap right behind me in the queue. He was close enough to be able to see the hairs stand up on the back of my neck surely? He had a facemask over his chin rather than his nose/mouth and seemed to want to stand right next to me.

            I was tempted to turn and ask him whether he understood the difference between a metre and a centimetre….but I just don’t want to be one of those grumpies who goes around telling off other people every time they cough without using a tissue or throwing their rubbish on the floor. Or sometimes I wonder if I ought to find a way to remind others that if we all do our bit, we can achieve great things?

            Liked by 1 person

            • It’s tough. I see people running around with masks over their mouths but not their noses, which makes them useless. And although I’m not what you’d call a conflict avoider, I still haven’t figured out how to say anything to them without just whacking them over the head–which is what I’d like to do.

              I won’t claim to know how the vaccine tests recruit participants, but they’re run by serious scientists and they’re as aware as you or I of the difference between someone who’s out in the world and someone who isn’t. But let’s face it, there are degrees of withdrawal from the world, and many people who will swear blind that they’re being careful take risks that make my blood run cold. And let’s face it, I take risks I’m not happy with, although I live in a low-risk area and so far I’ve been lucky.

              Like

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