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The Latest Scientific Findings: Antibody Tests, Vaccines, Plus a Smoking Study out of France

By Dustin Rowles | News | April 24, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | News | April 24, 2020 |


— The much-talked-about vaccine trial at Oxford University in the UK injected its first volunteer yesterday, one of 800 expected to be a part of the trial. The volunteer is a microbiologist, and the second volunteer is a cancer researcher. One of them got the vaccine. One of them got a placebo. This is the vaccine that some think could be ready as early as September with 1 million doses or so. But vaccinations involve a process of trial and error, so I would assume that they’d have to be lucky to get it right on the first stab. Meanwhile, a vaccine candidate in China was successful in animal trials. I have reluctantly, however, stopped putting too much faith in preliminary results or results that have not yet been peer-reviewed because those of us who are prone to whimsy keep getting burned.

— To wit, preliminary results — released on the WHO website by accident — out of China on the much-touted potential treatment remdesivir showed no benefit. However. Gilead said that there were lots of problems with that study and suggests that other studies may show that there is still the potential for benefit. This is the drug that, anecdotally, appeared to work in large percentages of people in a hospital in Chicago, and which worked in monkeys in a small controlled study.

— As I am sure you have all heard by now, another antibody test has been conducted in New York, and that antibody test showed that about 10x more people have been infected by the virus than reported infections. It’s not as high a multiplier as in Santa Clara County or Los Angeles County, but it again demonstrates that the virus is far more widespread than current testing reveals (a study in Geneva, Switzerland also shows about 6x more people had it than tested positive). All the usual caveats apply, but the results from around the world (there was another in Germany a couple of weeks ago) all show the same thing: The fatality rate is not as high as previously believed, that large numbers of people are asymptomatic (a study in Italy puts that number at 43 percent), but we are nowhere near herd immunity and the only way to get to herd immunity quickly will be for hundreds of thousands of more people to die. We don’t want that. I will also note, as a nurse in our comments said the other day, that even if the fatality rate is lower than previously believed, this virus messes people up real bad, and can have long-lasting effects.

— Stockholm, Sweden, meanwhile, thinks that it is only weeks away from herd immunity, as they engage in what appears to be a game of chicken with a lethal virus. They are better suited (i.e., healthier) than we are in the United States, but their death rates right now are 5x that of neighboring Denmark. I’m not keen on this strategy, which seems to be the Georgia strategy now, and Georgia is not a healthy state, so this is a very bad idea.

— Here’s an insane, counterintuitive study out of France: Based on 11,000 hospitalizations, smokers are far less likely to contract the disease, although smokers who do get the disease are far more likely to develop severe symptoms. Smoking is bad, and it damages your lungs and increases the risk of heart disease, all of which makes the virus far more dangerous. However, the nicotine from smoking may help to stop the virus from reaching cells in the body. To wit: only 8 percent of those hospitalized in France are smokers, while 25 percent of the population of France are smokers (wow!). They are going to be experimenting with giving medical workers nicotine patches to see if it helps.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD TAKE UP SMOKING. You should still quit! That means you, too, Ben Affleck.

On the other hand, if you — like me — were a nicotine gum addict for years and years and years, now is not necessarily the time to quit. I’m not going to return to the gum, either, but my God, it is tempting.

— Meanwhile, the only way to get out of these lockdowns will be expanded testing, and I know that it feels like we’re never, ever going to get there because the President of the United States doesn’t seem to have any interest in getting there. However, most states are not going to reopen in the way that Trump would like to see without tests, so unless he wants to see the economy crater even more than it has, he’s going to have to bend to pressure to at least help these states get those tests. It doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get there, but I have to say, every day I see a new private company come out with a new test that they all say they’ll be able to roll out in the millions within weeks. We’re not anywhere near there yet, but based on the daily deluge of articles I read about expanded testing and new tests, I do think that by June, we will be in much better shape.

— I also want to add this just to remind people why we are social distancing: There’s a good chance many of us are going to get this eventually. It’s better to get it in June than it was in March, and it’ll be better to get it in September than in June, etc. Every day our medical professionals learn more. Every day they get better at treating this. I know that deaths in New York are down, and I know that a lot of that is because of social distancing and the lockdown, but I am guessing that some of that, at least, is because those doctors and nurses have figured out some things that have saved a lot of lives.

— Finally, not that anyone needs to be told this, but please don’t use Lysol or Clorox or any other disinfectant on your lungs.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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