I raise this question because I’m an expiration date-denier, at least in most situations. I’ll bake with flour that’s older than I am. I don’t toss food out until it reeks or evolves new life forms. I don’t take orders from the small print on food packaging.
To my lasting disappointment, though, test kits do get to boss us around. When they pass their use-by date, they start returning false negatives. And the worst of it is, they expect us to be at least a little sympathetic about it. Wouldn’t we get tired of sitting on a shelf and waiting for someone to decide they might have a use for us? And don’t we also turn a little negative with all that passivity and waiting?
So apologies, but we really do need to pay attention.
When do the ones on my shelf expire? Haven’t a clue. I should go look but I think I’ll wait and go into a panic about it when I need one.
Remember everything hopeful I’ve written about the possibility of universal Covid vaccines?
Of course you do. You memorize every word I write. Which is good, because I don’t.
I ask because we’ve got some new Omicron subvariants working their way into the pandemic pipeline, and although they don’t seem to be any more vicious than the old versions, they do seem to be better at immunities.
The one spreading in the US is called BA.2.12.1, which as far as I can tell means it’s a variant on Omicron 2.0. The others were spotted in South Africa and are called BA.4 and BA.5, which are, at least, easier to remember.
Is it time to panic? Nah. There’s always time for that later.
The new subvariants are able to infect people who had the first version of Omicron–the one that came out before Elon Musk bought the entire genome. They can also infect people who’ve been vaccinated. But the picture isn’t simple. A lot of vaccines are out there and the study couldn’t cover them all. They may provide greater protection. And in case that doesn’t introduce enough unknown quantities, the variants’ ability to slither past people’s immunities could be, in part, because people’s immunity was starting to wane. It could also be because so many people spell Musk’s first name wrong. So don’t jump to conclusions.
What does it all mean for the fight against Covid? A lot of experts are asking that, including the vaccine makers, who could tweak their vaccines to target Omicron and find themselves, yet again, three steps behind a virus that knows the Greek alphabet better than they do. Translation: We don’t know what the next variants will look like (never mind what letter it will be named after), but we do know that a new variant will appear. And experience tells us that Covid’s good at finding ways to dodge our immune systems.
The obvious solution is a vaccine that targets all forms of Covid, and possibly its coronavirus friends and relations as well, and any number of scientists are chasing after that. But they haven’t caught it yet. It’s fast, it’s clever, and it’s small enough to hide in the undergrowth.
Another possibility is to use a mix of monoclonal antibodies that target various strains of Covid.
A mix of what? A brew made from antibodies created in response to assorted forms of Covid. Pour the mix into an infected person’s system and it can get to work on whatever it finds.
The problem is cost. One dose currently costs $1,000 per patient, so at best it would have to be limited to the most vulnerable people, and only in countries that can afford it. Or if you’re in the US, it would be limited to individuals who can afford it.But if the brew could be gotten down to $50 or $100 per dose, it would be cheaper than constantly updating vaccines.
What does seem to be certain–at least to observers who haven’t drunk the KoolAid labeled “What the Hell, Let’s Say It’s Endemic and Move On”–is that letting the virus spread and mutate while we shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves to live with it is a recipe for trouble.
Sorry–make that more trouble than we already have, since we’re hardly trouble-free just now.
Studies, updates, and patent pools on the spread of Covid
According to one study, you’re a thousand times less likely to catch Covid from touching stuff than you are from breathing in its presence. That’s true not only of you, but also of your friends, your relatives, and your enemies (if you have any, and if you don’t please substitute a few people you never managed to like. And also of me. So if you’re still trying to find that pack of disinfectant wipes you lost at the back of your cupboard (or your neighbors’ cupboard–who knows how these things happen?), relax. You may not need them.
Emphasis, as usual, on may.
Details? Oh, you fussy people. The study was done when lots of antibacterial cleaning was going on and crowds were nonexistent, so let’s not go off the deep end and decide it translates completely to the world we’re living in now. Still, it’s information and it’s worth reading:
The riskiest places, in terms of both air and surface samples, were gyms, with gym drinking fountains rating high on the list of things to avoid. The exercise equipment itself didn’t turn up any positive samples.
In offices, the study found few positive samples on keyboards, light switches, tables, microwaves, or refrigerator handles. In schools, the same was true of desks.
The survey estimates that the chances of getting Covid after airborne exposure are one in a hundred. From a contaminated surface, it’s one in a hundred thousand–factoring in, of course, that a lot of cleaning was going on at the time, so you might want to move a zero or a decimal point in some random direction to make up for that.
The study didn’t look at the surfaces in people’s homes, dorms, or other places where people live together. I’m not sure how useful any of it is, but I thought I’d mention it.
A different study looked at the effect of what it called layered controls–basically, masks, distance, and ventilation–and found that the three used together would reduce Covid transmission by 98% in 95% of the scenarios it studied. The study involved the gloriously named atmospheric scientist Laura Fierce. She gets a mention solely on the basis of her last name.
Ventilation alone doesn’t do much to reduce transmission, although if you add in a distance of six feet it does, and masks reduce the safe distance from six feet to three.
This is all wonderfully sensible, but are we going to do it? Hell no. The pandemic’s over, hadn’t you heard? If you get sick, it’s your own silly fault.
It’s infuriating. Allow me to refer you to the scientist mentioned above. We need to clone her.
A research team in Japan is developing a decoy virus receptor that promises to keep the virus so entranced that it never finds the human cells it set out to infect.This is in the early stages yet, so we don’t know if it’ll keep its promises, but if it does it should stand up to Covid’s shape-shifting ways, at least for a decent interval.
It doesn’t sound like the decoy would completely neutralize the virus. They’re still talking about less severe infection and increased chances of survival. But staying a step ahead of the virus’s evolution would be good.
And finally, a bit of good news: The US has put the licenses for eleven Covid-related technologies into a patent pool so that low- and middle-income countries can access them.
I gather that we don’t have poor countries anymore. We have low-income ones.
Never mind. The patents include vaccines, drugs, research tools, and diagnostic whatsits.
The bad news? In some cases, this only gets rid of one roadblock. Countries that want to work with these technologies would still need to negotiate with other patent holders, since nothing about this disease is simple, including who owns what. Nonetheless, it could help pressure companies to do the decent thing, and it could also increase the odds of the World Health Organization making medicines and vaccines available more quickly in the future.
Or so I read. It’s not as if I actually know this stuff.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” according to James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, which pushes (reckless radicals that they are) for intellectual property to be shared so it benefits the public.