Finding Covid’s weak spot

Researchers have found a vulnerable spot at the base of Covid’s spike protein. This is the medical equivalent of the moment when you found that spot right by your older sister or brother’s knee. You know the one: All you had to do was squeeze it and they were helpless. Instantly. Whatever they were doing to you (unless they were homicidal, in which case you needed something more than this trick), they stopped.

The problem–then and now–is how to reach that spot and (the knee image breaks down here) what to do when you get there.

The good part is that most beta coronaviruses, not just on Covid, have that same weak spot.

What’s a beta coronavirus? It’s a category of virus that causes everything from a cold to Covid. It includes diseases that could jump from animals to humans at some point in the future, starting the next pandemic.

Why is this a weak spot? Because it either doesn’t mutate or mutates slowly. I’m going out on a limb here (put that saw away, please), but I seem to remember reading that when a site doesn’t mutate it’s because the virus can’t function without it. Random mutations will change it, but those versions don’t survive.  

So let’s go back to the question of what to do once we find that spot. We create either a vaccine that targets it or an antiviral that does the same. And by we, of course, I mean scientists. People who–unlike me–actually know how to do this stuff. 

It won’t happen next week, but knowing where the weak spot is? It’s a step.

Irrelevant photo: “Allow me to explain why we need to keep this box.”

Speaking of antivirals 

The bark of the neem tree seems to hold promise as a Covid treatment. 

The tree’s native to India and it’s been used as a treatment for parasites, viruses, and bacteria for much longer than those categories were around to sort diseases into. 

Scientists fooling around in their labs see the bark extract as promising. The next step is to isolate the useful components, then figure out dosage and test the stuff.

Here’s wishing them–and us–luck. In the meantime, it’s probably not wise to test neem bark on yourself, although it is for sale on the internet and recommended for an assortment of ills by the (I’m guessing here) deeply alternative. 

It’s not the only antiviral being explored, just the one I happen to have landed on this week. 

I also found articles on a few new testing methods that are, or promise to be, cheaper and faster than the current ones. Now that so many countries are abandoning testing, though, I’m not sure whether they’ll be commercially viable, no matter how useful they might be.


Remember social distancing?

You remember the advice we got from the start of the pandemic that six feet (or two meters if your mind’s metric) is enough distance to keep you from catching (or spreading) Covid? It turns out to have been based on a 1934 model (by  William Firth Wells, if anybody asks) of how respiratory infections spread.

Just how dated is the model? Well, two meters hasn’t changed its length, and neither has two feet–at least to the best of my knowledge, although when you leave the metric system measurements can be unreliable, and if you want to take a side trip into non-metric mayhem, allow me to push you in this direction. It’s not at all relevant, but if you have nothing better to do with yourself and you enjoy a mess, it should be fun.

Back to social distancing, though: A recent study says the 1934 model was oversimplified. The new study looks not just at distance but also at temperature, humidity, viral load, and whether people were coughing, sneezing, or talking. A person talking without a mask can project droplets for one meter. If they cough, make that three meters. If they sneeze? Seven meters. 

Add a surgical, FFP2, or N95 mask, though, and ” ”the risk of infection is reduced to such an extent that it is practically negligible—even if you’re only standing one meter away from an infected person,” according to Gaetano Sardina, one of the researchers behind the study.


Vaccines in Africa

Six African countries–Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia–will be getting the technology to produce Covid vaccines through a World Health Organization program

Only 11% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated. That compares with a global average of around 50%. And Africa  currently produces just 1% of coronavirus vaccines. An earlier program to get vaccines to poorer countries, COVAX, has missed target after target and only 10% of people in its targeted countries have received at least one dose. 

The current program replicates commercially available vaccines, somehow dodging the patent issues. Don’t ask me. I know roughly as much about patent law as I do about science. Maybe they’re just producing the stuff anyway and daring the companies to sue.

Although Doctors Without Borders welcomed the program, it pointed out that it’ll be a lot of work to recreate the vaccines and called instead on the original producers to help.

“The fastest way to start vaccine production in African countries and other regions with limited vaccine production is still through full and transparent transfer of vaccine know-how of already-approved mRNA technologies to able companies,” a spokesperson said.


A Report from the Department of Shell Games

A research company that Pfizer contracted with to test its vaccine has been accused of messing with the data. According to the BMJ, a whistleblower reported that “the company falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinators, and was slow to follow up on adverse events reported in Pfizer’s pivotal phase III trial. Staff who conducted quality control checks were overwhelmed by the volume of problems they were finding.”

After more than once notifying the company, Ventavia, of the problems, the whistleblower got hold of the FDA–the US Food and Drug Administration.

She was promptly fired.

Other former employees that the BMJ talked to generally backed her claims. 

I’m printing this not in support of anti-vax arguments but because it’s from a legitimate source and seems to be true. The vaccine’s been widely used with minimal problems. But if you had any faith left in for-profit medicine, this might rattle it a bit.


A quick feel-good story

The Mask Nerd of Minneapolis has set up a lab in his bathroom and for the past 18 months has been testing masks there to see which ones are most effective. He’s got an air compressor on the bathroom sink and an I-don’t-know-what-but-it’s-impressive on the windowsill. 

Aaron Collins is a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science. 

“I just want better masks on more faces,” he said. “If you know the secret—if you know a piece of information that could help people—it’s your moral obligation to make sure that people are aware of that.”

You can find him on Twitter under the handle @masknerd. He also posts videos on YouTube.

“This is why we’re scientists,” he said. “This is why we’re engineers. We’re not in it for the money. … We’re in it because we have a passion for changing the world in positive ways.”


And on an unrelated topic

An unimportant and bizarre effect of the invasion of Ukraine is that a post of mine, “Is Berwick on Tweed at War with Russia?” is getting an absurd number of hits, going from 3 on a day at the end of January to 249 on a day in the first week of March, and then 74 the next day.

To be clear, I’m all for people educating themselves on the background of this war, but the Berwick on Tweed story? This is the kind of research that convinces people that Hilary Clinton was the head of a pedophile ring operating out of the basement of a pizza parlor that didn’t even have a basement.

But never mind the pizza. Berwick is not at war with Russia. It has no connection to Ukraine. 

Go study some real history.

I’m happy to report that, on the third day, hits on the post settled back to 3. 

52 thoughts on “Finding Covid’s weak spot

  1. Regarding neem as treatment for covid – I worked in West Africa 40 years ago as a doctor with Save the Children Fund. The locals used neem as a treatment for scabies (boil up water and leaves, allow to cool and then rub the liquid into your skin). I read that neem also contained a chemical similar to aspirin, and the locals used it to reduce pain and fever. Mostly they used the twigs as chewing sticks, toothbrushes. It’s a very common the in the Sahel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m Moderna’d and Pfizer’d, and as far as I know the real-world statistics on Pfizer are good. We’ll see what the reports are as time goes on, but this may be a case of them having screwed up royally but having done no damage in spite of it.

      At least I hope.

      Liked by 2 people

        • Having lived with both systems (although the British one is far from a government monopoly), I prefer the second. It has problems–not least one political party trying to sell it off to their friends–but I think they’re better problems than the for-profit system.


    • I think I now live with the world’s only cat who doesn’t like boxes. Serena has the normal burrowing instinct, I saw during this weekend’s cold snap, but only when it’s cold. Normally she goes high. She will not walk on the floor if she can jump from one object to another, the higher the better. She’s tried to claim the nest box I offered her to keep kittens in was too small for her to use (I think the folks at Pet Taxi figure *most* cats don’t *want* to stand all the way up in their safe place), but during the really cold weather she used it. As soon as the ground thawed she was sprawling out the doorway again.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cats. I tell you. There’s no predicting them. Our senior cat had zero interest in catnip until we got the kitten (now very nearly a cat himself), at which point the S.C. suddenly decided it was worth claiming the spots where I’d sprinkled it. I think I heard him mutter, “I don’t much like this stuff, but you’re not having it.”


        • I understand. But in the meantime people are going down a blind alley on vaccines thinking they do any good. You seem to keep presenting information about them, but the conclusion re benefits are wrong as viral theory is fundamentally flawed. And the current virology theory is just that, a theory, and has to be challenged.

          If I did not do this it would be remiss of me. I have said that I used to think they were of some use, but they have never been a cure, merely as supposed help to protection, and not 100% at that as is obvious in any event.

          And as the government in the UK is using taxes, including my taxes, it is my right and duty to strongly challenge the stupidity of it all.

          And bearing in mind it is vitamin D deficiency that is the true pandemic which has been known about for some years as people work increasingly indoors away from the sun, this obvious truth must be told.

          Big pharma have been making vast profits at people’s expense, most of it for no benefit at all, except to big pharma and those who benefit from them financially.

          But then some people love money and has been written, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

          So if you are tired of arguing about vaccines, why present arguments in their favour.only. At least present both sides fairly. But I am sure you have more interesting things to talk about, including Cornwall which is a beautiful part of the British Isles.

          Liked by 2 people

          • If your arguments had any scientific credibility, I’d give them space. Has big pharma been making big profits? Yes, and they’re despicable, but that doesn’t invalidate the vaccines. Are the vaccines imperfect? Yes, but we’re in a far better place with them than we were without them. Is vitamin D relevant? Possibly, but it won’t end the pandemic. Sorry, but the conversation’s over.

            Liked by 1 person

    • It was touch and go there for a while and I was worried that Eddie would leave us altogether, but things have gotten better. Li’l Red adores Eddie, and Eddie puts up with him for short periods of time before heading back out into the great world. What a relief!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “Potential COVID variant called Deltacron detected” is one of the headlines in today’s paper (our local paper is now a subsidiary of USA Today) Keeping ahead of the virus’s evolution is the real challenge. Kind of the opposite of the old saw that nothing can be made truly foolproof because fools are so good at what they do. Thanks for these links and info, which I probably would have glossed over on my way to the funny pages if it hadn’t been in your post !
    Glad Red and Eddie have reached a detente. The hero worship by the kitten andthe barely tolerant attitude of the older cat seems to be kind of the usual way things end up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hero worship/bare tolerance sounds about right. Picture Li’l Red practically clasping his hands at the sight of Eddie and saying, “Oh, the big cat!” It was the same when Eddie was a kitten, only he didn’t worship the older cat, he chased her tail while she ate.

      Pesky critter.

      I won’t swear to this, but I think the Delta-Omicron mashup turned out to be a false alarm. Unless it’s popped up someplace new.


  3. Thank you for the excellent shares both about the Mask Nerd (fantastic!) and the update on the Covid weak spot (would be spectacular-and-then-some if leveraged!).

    Since this is not the season for spreading cheer, I’ll spread data instead (and you can already guess if it’s going to be of the cheerful variety). I once saw an interesting survey done by Wellcome in 2018 (before this wave of crazy), where one of their findings was “Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.” It’s 132 pages long and filled with good data.

    Now I’ll go read about Berwick on Tweed’s belligerent plans in your other post :D

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m tempted to respond to your cheery data by saying, “The human race is doomed,” but that’s too familiar a possibility to be funny, so let’s skip that. I’ll ask instead why we decided to corral all our good cheer to one season? Couldn’t we sprinkle a little around the other seasons and then ramp it up in December? That way we’d keep in practice.


  4. The idiots who run the government here announced that as of March 21, students in schools are no longer required to wear masks, despite the recommendations of just about everyone. The school boards tried to push back and the government threatened them with legal action. Just waiting for the next spike in cases now and hoping that no more children die–or anyone else for that matter, but it doesn’t seem likely.

    Liked by 1 person

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