The Covid medical news roundup

First, a fragment of good news, since we’re all in need of one: The Pfizer vaccine has been declared safe for people with food and medication allergies. It’s only a hazard to people who are allergic to components of the vaccine itself–polyethylene glycol and polysorbate

People who have a history of anaphylaxis to an injectable drug or vaccine made with either of those, along with anyone who can pronounce the key words I’ve used so far, should talk to their allergists before getting a vaccination. Everyone else can relax. But people will still be monitored for fifteen minutes or so after they get vaccinated–just in case. So you can relax twice over.

Vaccines cause allergies in roughly 1.3 people out of a million, and the rate’s about the same for the Pfizer vaccine. 

Irrelevant photo: Snow on a camellia bud last February–or possibly the one before–when we had two or three inches. To celebrate, half of Cornwall jumped in their cars and ran off the road.

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Turkey reports that a vaccine developed by the Chinese firm Sinovac is 91.25% effective. 

Why is Turkey reporting on a Chinese vaccine? Because it was tested there. You have to test vaccines where the virus is plentiful and happy to infect people, and it’s not happy in China just now. 

Turkey’s signed a deal to buy 50 million doses.

 

Covid and the brain

Enough good news. It’ll only go to your head. 

Around the world, a handful of wild-ass psychiatric problems are turning up in post-Covid patients who have no history of mental illness. The numbers are small, but the problems aren’t and they can show up after weeks and even months in people who had only mild Covid symptoms.

The patients described in a New York Times article range from their thirties into their fifties–ages when people shouldn’t start having hallucinations, becoming paranoid, or, as an expert might put it, nutting out in these particular ways. And some of them had enough of a grasp on reality to know that something was wrong, which people with this kind of psychotic symptom usually don’t.

The best guess at the moment is that this is somehow linked to the body’s immune response to the virus–maybe to inflammation and maybe to vascular problems. There are records of psychosis and mania after the 1918 flu epidemic and after the SARS and MERS outbreaks. 

One psychiatrist, Dr. Hisam Goueli, said,  “We don’t know what the natural course of this is. Does this eventually go away? Do people get better? How long does that normally take? And are you then more prone to have other psychiatric issues as a result? There are just so many unanswered questions.”

I keep saying this, but younger people aren’t immune to Covid. They’re statistically less likely to have problems if they catch it, but that’s not the same as being immune. The problems it can cause are fucking terrifying. 

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The National Institutes of Health–they’re in the U.S., and I have yet to figure out why they’re plural–are seeing damage caused by thinning and leaky brain blood vessels in tissue samples from people who died shortly after contracting Covid. But they found no signs that Covid itself had invaded the brain, although earlier research did find small amounts of Covid in brain samples. 

The NIH findings may be caused by the body using inflammation to respond to the virus. And no, I don’t know what it means either. Eventually, I trust, someone will. In the meantime, it’s just one more piece of this giant jigsaw puzzle that’s all over the living room floor. If the cat would stop hiding pieces under the chair, we might complete it some day.

 

Controlling the spread–or not

A study of the effectiveness of measures to control Covid reports that you can’t drive the growth of the virus to below zero without paying a high social cost. Limiting gatherings, canceling public events, and suggesting that people stay at home? Nope, that won’t do it. You have to close schools, order people to stay at home, and close workplaces either fully or partially.

The British government will do most, and maybe all, of that eventually, but it wants to wait until the virus has a head start. That’s only sporting.

In fact, after Boris Johnson waffled over whether to reopen the schools on schedule and at the latest possible moment announced that he would, he now says there’s “no question” we’ll have to take tougher measures. But only in “due course.” 

On Sunday, Britain had more than 50,000 confirmed new cases for the sixth day running. But no, we’re not going to rush into this. 

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A Barcelona experiment held an indoor concert, complete with masks, dancing, and rapid Covid tests, to see if an event could be held safely in this pandemic age. Half the people who tried to go were tested and sent home to be a control group and half were tested and allowed in if they were negative. 

Preliminary reports are that eight days later no one in the group that attended had Covid and two people in the group that was sent home did. 

What does it all mean? I’m not sure. A photo from the concert shows dancers wearing masks but they weren’t all wearing them in the right places, so whether this speaks to the effectiveness of the testing, the inability to adult humans to identify the parts of their faces involved in breathing, or pure dumb luck I don’t know. 

 

The great vaccine rollout

Now that Britain has two vaccines going, how long will it take to get everyone vaccinated? 

A while. In the first three weeks, three-quarters of a million people were vaccinated, so (even I can work this out) that’s a quarter of a million people per week. At that rate, it’ll be the end of 2021 before the vaccine reaches everyone in the official list of vulnerable people (anyone over 50 plus a narrow definition of front-line workers and people with underlying medical conditions). Someone else worked that out, so you can probably trust it. 

The health secretary is aiming for 2 million people a week. And I’m still hoping to be a full 6 feet tall, but at 73 I suspect I’ve stopped growing. 

And that’s just the first shot. For the followup, we’re counting on King Arthur to rise from–remind me, where’s he supposed to return from when his country needs him? Avalon? Anyway, he’s traded his now rusty sword for a rust-proof needle and will be helping out with the vaccination effort as soon as he finishes the required online module in identifying and countering radicalization and gets his certificate. 

And the good news is . . . 

. . . that astronomers in Australia have found a radio wave that (important missing word: apparently) comes from a nearby star. It was picked up for thirty hours during April and May of, um, 2019 I think. They’ve been analyzing it ever since and so far haven’t found anything earth-based that would account for it.

What’s more, It’s apparently shifted frequency in a way that’s consistent with the movement of a planet, and the star it seems to come from, Proxima Centauri, has a rocky planet in the habitable zone, where water doesn’t freeze permanently or sizzle itself into something not helpful to the creation of life.

No one’s ruling out some really boring explanation for the signal, but at the moment it’s called the Wow! Signal because an astronomer wrote “Wow!” in the margin next to the data. 

Why is this good news and what’s it got to do with Covid? You know the concept of deus ex machina? That’s when a writer traps her- or himself in a corner and can’t resolve the plot problem in an even vaguely credible way, so–let’s shift to the plural; it’s not as clunky–they bring in some unexpected power or event to save the day, the play, and the paycheck. 

Well, I try to include something hopeful in these posts, but my shipment of hopeful material got stuck at the Brexit border with the wrong paperwork and will be delayed for several days. Or months. So this is a deus ex machina ending. These folks, whoever they are, are radioing us instructions that, as soon as we translate them, will save us from our silly selves.

And if you believe that, I heard about a bridge in Brooklyn that’s going at a knockdown price.

Deus ex machina literally means “god from the machine” and it comes from ancient Greek drama (even though the words are Latin; don’t ask). They’d use a crane to lower a god onto the stage at the end of the play and nothing would have to make sense after that. If god said the undeserving character got the full bowl of Cheerios, the deserving one got yesterday’s cold toast, and the important Greek phrase got to be in Latin, who could argue?