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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

The myth of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Covid vaccines

Mike Ryan, the WHO’s health emergencies director, had a conversation recently with his 80-year-old mother, the kind that lots of people in public health are having these days about which Covid-19 vaccine is best. “Whatever vaccine they show up with, you take it,” he told her. “Because that is the best decision you can make on that day for your health.” That’s a message Ryan and other public health officials are trying to deliver to everyone — but it’s not necessarily being well-received. News coverage and social media posts about clinical trial results are creating a hierarchy of Covid vaccines in the minds of much of the public: “good vaccines” and “bad vaccines.” STAT’s Helen Branswell explains why that worries public health experts.

Health experts urge federal action to prevent Covid spread in the air

A who’s who of public health experts are calling on the White House, the CDC, and the NIH to update CDC and OSHA guidance and strengthen protections against the primary means of spreading Covid-19: the air we breathe. Today’s letter, to Jeffrey Zients, Rochelle Walensky, and Anthony Fauci, urges stringent measures to prevent inhalation exposure to the virus. “The failure to address inhalation exposure to SARS-CoV-2 continues to put workers and the public at serious risk of infection. People of color, many of whom work on the front lines in essential jobs, have suffered — and continue to suffer — the greatest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says the letter, whose signers include former BARDA chief Rick Bright, Virginia Tech’s Linsey Marr, and University of Minnesota’s Michael Osterholm.

Look who's advertising on Covid misinformation sites 

Misinformation about Covid-19 is flourishing online, from vaccines containing microchips to face masks being dangerous. That’s a familiar story, but what about the advertising that supports such sites? NewsGuard, which monitors whether news sites can be trusted, reports today that 4,315 brands ran more than 42,000 unique ads on websites flagged for publishing Covid-19 falsehoods. The list includes health care insurers and providers such as Stanford Health Care, Emory Healthcare, Northwell Health, United Healthcare, and the Mayo Clinic as well as vaccine developer Pfizer and the nation's leading public health agency, the CDC. The ads are likely placed through advertising platforms that depend on algorithms to reach a target audience. So the brands likely didn’t know their ads appear on such sites — until now.

Inside STAT: Finding community and supporting women of color in STEMM


Lauren Edwards, the interim executive director of 500 Women Scientists (COURTESY TREY MARTINEZ)

In the spring of 2019, Lauren Edwards was a graduate student studying neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta and was running local initiatives to support women of color. As a Black woman in science, she said she often felt mistreated and disrespected. “I’m someone who experienced quite a bit of exploitation in my doctoral program,” she said. She started volunteering with 500 Women Scientists, an organization that works to make science more equitable and inclusive, and to address the many forms of discrimination and oppression within it. Two years after joining as a volunteer, Edwards was recently named interim executive director before she heads to medical school in the fall. In a new Q&A, STAT’s Rebecca Sohn talks more with Edwards on supporting women of color in STEMM and her goals for the organization. 

Novartis and the Gates Foundation pursue a more practical gene therapy for sickle cell disease

The cause of sickle cell disease is understood. The people it affects are known. But its cure has been elusive for patients, most of whom share African ancestry. Today Novartis and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are joining forces to discover and develop a gene therapy to cure the inherited disease with a one-step, one-time treatment affordable and simple enough to treat patients anywhere, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where resources may be scarce but disease prevalence is high. Current gene therapy approaches being developed are complex, enormously expensive, and bespoke, crafting treatments for individual patients one at a time. “We're going to have to reimagine what it means to be a gene therapy for this project,” Novartis’s Jay Bradner told me. Read more.

Signs of eye problems found in severely ill Covid patients, small study says

The eye is one of many parts of the body infiltrated by SARS-CoV-2. One meta-analysis estimates that 1 out of 20 Covid-19 patients will have an eye problem, from conjunctivitis to more serious conditions. A new analysis of case reports from severely ill patients who had brain MRIs is the first to detect via imaging nodules that form on the back of the eyeball. Among the 129 patients studied, nine had the nodules, and eight had spent time in the hospital ICU, raising the possibility that lying prone could contribute to the nodules, which may lead to vision loss or impairment. Looking for eye issues may seem less important when survival is in question, but the authors urge follow-up screening.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Information from STAT's Covid-19 Tracker was unavailable for this morning, but we'll resume updates as soon as we can.

What to read around the web today

  • Bernard Lown, inventive heart doctor and antiwar activist, dies at 99. New York Times 
  • Rate of new coronavirus cases declining around the world, WHO says. Washington Post
  • Vaccinating homeless patients against Covid-19: 'All bets are off.' NPR
  • Faltering Covid-19 vaccine drive in developing world risks prolonging pandemic. Wall Street Journal
  • Biden reframes his goal on reopening of elementary schools. Associated Press

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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