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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Good morning! Shraddha has passed the newsletter baton to me while she is on family leave. I wish her well and look forward to her return in the spring.
A reminder: Thursday is the deadline to enter our 2021 STAT Madness competition to choose the most exciting biomedical discovery or innovation of the past year. Details here

Why Covid-19 variants matter — and why now

The coronavirus variants are confusing. They’re not exactly new — SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has been mutating all along — but “fitter” variants, such as the U.K. variant, have started to emerge. In the early days of the pandemic, when most of us were vulnerable to Covid-19, any infectious variant had a pretty easy time circulating. But as more people have become protected — either after an initial infection or vaccination — pressure on the virus has increased. A so-so spreader might no longer be able to find new hosts (that’s us) to infect, but variants with mutations that help them spread can still transmit, and can take off from there. STAT’s Andrew Joseph explores why alarm bells are ringing now.

California regulators advise holding back one lot of Covid-19 vaccine after allergic reactions 

California has recommended that providers pause vaccinating people with shots from one lot of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine as state and federal officials investigate "a higher-than-usual number" of severe allergic reactions among people who got immunizations from the batch. Anaphylaxis appears to be a rare side effect of both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines, but there has not been evidence that clusters of cases were tied to any particular batch. California's move came after "fewer than 10 individuals" who received shots from one lot at one community vaccination clinic developed reactions. The lot number is 041L20A; more than 330,000 doses from the lot were distributed to providers around the state between Jan. 5 and Jan. 12. "At this time CDC doesn’t recommend health departments stop administering this lot or any lots of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine," the agency said last night. It advises all vaccine sites to stock epinephrine and monitor people after their vaccinations for 15 minutes if they do not have a history of allergies or 30 minutes if they do.

Non-invasive brain stimulation tempered obsessive behavior in a small study

Scientists studying obsessive compulsive disorder think the behavior comes from abnormal habit learning: Something goes wrong in the brain where choices and rewards are reinforced. New research tested whether low-frequency electrical stimulation, tuned to an individual’s brain activity, could help people reduce the hoarding, washing, checking, and other hallmarks of a disorder that affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide. In their experiments, the researchers first measured brain activity in 124 volunteers with varying degrees of obsessive-compulsive behaviors while they were learning a task with a $10 reward. Then for five days they delivered 30 minutes of alternating current targeting the reward network. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors dropped for up to three months, falling the most in people with the most severe symptoms.

Inside STAT: Vaccine guidance should look at pregnancy and lactation separately

ADOBE

Maggie Anthony didn’t have much time to deliberate before getting her Covid-19 vaccine. A labor and delivery nurse, she suddenly heard from her manager she could get a shot the next day. But with an 8-month-old breastfeeding baby at home, she wasn’t sure whether to accept. Those who are pregnant and lactating haven’t been included in clinical trials for the Covid vaccines, so there’s no data on the vaccines’ safety for these groups. Government guidelines have grouped breastfeeding and pregnant people together when talking about Covid vaccine safety. But as people try to make their own decisions without safety data, it might help to acknowledge that getting vaccinated during pregnancy and lactation carry different theoretical risks — and potential benefits. STAT contributor Elizabeth Preston has more.

Rheumatoid arthritis drug shows early promise in stem cell transplants

Stem cell transplants can be lifesaving for people with blood cancer. When a perfect match can’t be found — a problem more acute for people of color — transplants proceed with bone marrow from donors matching seven out of eight immune factors in the recipient. That difference increases the risk of potentially fatal graft-versus-host disease when the body rejects what it recognizes as foreign. A new study of 142 matched and 43 unmatched patients found that abatacept, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, tamped down the recipient’s immune reaction and improved survival in both groups. There is a caveat: Unmatched patients were compared to a “historic” placebo group from the scientific literature. More trials are underway.

Remembering STAT's Sharon Begley

The world lost a brilliant science journalist when STAT’s Sharon Begley died on Saturday from lung cancer complications. Devastated colleagues dug deep to honor her life. “All of the verve and wit and empathy you see in Sharon’s reporting were just as present in her personal conversations, too,” Eric Boodman wrote in her obituary. Andrew Joseph remembered he “just wanted to try to live up to the standards she set daily in her work.” Helen Branswell recalled Sharon as “quiet, reserved, but with a killer wit that she only occasionally let others see.” And Megan Thielking thanked her for quietly writing items for this newsletter. “When a story needed to be done, she simply sat down, pale pink shawl wrapped around her shoulders and mug of tea in hand, and started writing.” 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 229,182
Deaths yesterday: 3,185

What to read around the web today

  • Egypt denied an oxygen failure killed Covid patients. We found that it did. New York Times
  • Covering the Covid-19 crisis in the Navajo Nation. The New Yorker
  • ‘What if you just don’t tell anyone?’ The Atlantic
  • ‘Covid triangle’ emerges in London as U.K. variant rampages. Wall Street Journal
  • Vaccine nationalism puts world on brink of 'catastrophic moral failure': WHO chief. Reuters

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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