Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Pfizer/BioNTech starts testing Covid vaccine in pregnancy

The first participants in the first trial of a Covid-19 vaccine during pregnancy have received their first doses, vaccine partners Pfizer and BioNTech reported yesterday. The global study seeks to test safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity in 4,000 people vaccinated between 24 and 34 weeks of gestation. After babies are born, participants will learn if they received placebo, then offered vaccine if they did. Infants will be studied for six months to see if the vaccine is safe for them, too, and if potentially protective antibodies passed to them. Moderna completed animal studies in pregnancy and J&J, whose vaccine has not gone through FDA’s regulatory process yet, told STAT earlier this month it plans to include pregnant women in clinical trials.

Using evolutionary biology to get ahead of Covid-19 variants with better drugs

Some monoclonal antibodies now used to treat Covid-19 patients in the U.S. aren’t great at gumming up the machinery of some new SARS-CoV-2 variants. But scientists are betting that the Darwinian patterns that nudged the virus to become less susceptible to certain treatments can guide ongoing development efforts. To be sure, the immunity offered by vaccines lasts longer than the temporary virus-fighting boost of monoclonal antibodies, but there could still be an important role for these synthetic copies of potent natural defenses — if scientists can outwit the virus. “The thing we’ve learned is, this will be a cyclical war of attrition with the virus. The virus will change, we’ll come forward with new antibodies,” Eli Lilly’s Andrew Adams tells STAT’s Eric Boodman.

Ebola vaccinations could start Monday in Guinea

Responding to the newly declared Ebola epidemic in Guinea, the WHO says it will ship more than 11,000 doses of Ebola vaccine to the West African nation, where cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever have been found in the country's southern N’Zerekore region. WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said Thursday that vaccine being prepared in Geneva is expected to arrive in Guinea over the weekend. An additional 8,600 doses will be sent from the U.S. The vaccination campaign could start as early as Monday. “Our collective, quick action is crucial to avert an uncontrolled spread of Ebola," she told the Associated Press. The WHO has called on six African countries to be on high alert for Ebola infections after both Guinea and Congo recorded cases in recent weeks. At the moment, WHO said, case counts are low in in the DRC.

Inside STAT: Pushing the ivory tower to reward diversity work in promotion decisions

(Hyacinth Empinado/STAT)

Universities and academic hospitals have vowed to diversify their ranks after a year of reckoning over racial injustice. Faculty members are pushing one clear remedy: rewarding diversity and inclusion efforts in promotion decisions. Advancing in academia amounts to climbing a structured career ladder; faculty reach new rungs by winning grants, publishing in top journals, and presenting at conferences. What hasn’t been incentivized or credited is work to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion — the task forces served on, the community outreach, the mentoring of trainees from underrepresented groups. Researchers of color are asked to and opt to shoulder more “service” work than their white colleagues — work that generally goes uncompensated and unrecognized. STAT’s Andrew Joseph has more on what’s often called “the minority tax.”

U.S. leads the world in funding global HIV work but lags in prevention and care at home

The people in the U.S. who need HIV prevention and treatment the most aren’t getting them, a sweeping set of studies concludes about higher rates of new infections and more severe illness in the continuing HIV epidemic. That makes the U.S. the only high-income nation in the top 10 countries most affected by HIV, despite a leading role played by the U.S. in funding for HIV research and global AIDS programs. The authors of six studies blame a patchwork health system and disparities also playing out in the Covid-19 pandemic. Most HIV infections have shifted to the South and rural areas, where women and people of color are disproportionately affected. People who are racial, sexual, and gender minorities continue to be affected by HIV at significantly higher rates than white people.

'Talking' in your dreams

Struggling to remember a dream is a familiar feeling. So is “lucid dreaming,” when we know we are dreaming while we do it. Now four groups of scientists report success with “interactive dreaming,” when experimenter and lucid dreamer communicate. People in REM sleep can perceive and answer an experimenter’s questions, including math problems, with eye movements or facial contractions. Some dreamers said the questions became part of the dream, like a voice on the radio. This raises the possibility of curating dreams to teach lessons or blunt trauma. It’s “a way to talk with an astronaut who is on another world, but in this case the world is entirely fabricated on the basis of memories stored in the brain,” the scientists write.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 54,916
Deaths yesterday: 2,106

What to read around the web today

  • In hunt for Covid-19 origin, WHO team focuses on two animal types. Wall Street Journal
  • White House announces $4 billion in funding for Covax, the global vaccine effort that Trump spurned. Washington Post
  • As Israel reopens, ‘whoever does not get vaccinated will be left behind.’ New York Times
  • Did L.A.’s Covid-19 hospital surge cause unnecessary deaths? ‘The public deserves an answer.’ Los Angeles Times
  • To vaccinate veterans, health care workers must cross mountains, plains and tundra. KHN

Thanks for reading! More Monday,

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