• Israel Says COVID-19 Vaccine Needs Two Doses After All

    Some bad news from Israel, our champion vaccination jabber:

    Israel’s coronavirus tsar has warned that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may be providing less protection than originally hoped, as the country reported a record 10,000 new Covid infections on Monday. In remarks reported by Army Radio, Nachman Ash said a single dose appeared “less effective than we had thought”, and also lower than Pfizer had suggested. By contrast, those who had received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine had a six- to 12-fold increase in antibodies, according to data released by Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer on Monday.

    Hmmm. Maybe holding back doses for the second jab isn’t such a bad idea after all?

  • Can We Have Half the Country Vaccinated by the End of March?

    Here’s an odd thing. I was looking at the numbers for vaccinations and it turns out that on a log scale they’re rising on a straight line. What this means in semi-English is that the number of vaccinations per day is rising exponentially in both the UK and the United States. Here’s what this looks like assuming only a very small exponent:

    If you plot the log version of this, it suggests 100 percent coverage by the end of February. However, I don’t have the courage of my convictions and assumed a much more conservative growth rate. Even so, if we keep this up we’ll have half the country or more vaccinated by the end of March—including nearly 100 percent of the most vulnerable populations.

    This does not even remotely match anything I’ve read about vaccination rates, which makes me hesitant to even post this. But what mistake am I making? The vaccine rollout has been getting better as time goes on, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that this will continue. At some point, of course, we’ll hit a ceiling due to availability of doses, but it’s not clear when that will happen.

    In any case, is our long-term problem really lousy distribution or is it supply constraints? What’s going on here?

  • McConnell Denounces Trump, But Not Fox News

    Consolidated News Photos/CNP via ZUMA

    Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate today:

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday pointedly blamed Trump for having “provoked” the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6….“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on, we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation.”

    It’s surprising which people have finally broken with Trump in the past few weeks. Bill Barr. Mick Mulvaney. Betsy DeVos. And now Mitch McConnell.

    But it’s notable that McConnell still isn’t willing to condemn by name the biggest culprit of all: Fox News. But they’re still in power, aren’t they?

  • Chart of the Day: Why Is COVID-19 Worse In Some Parts of the World and Better in Others?

    Here is something tentative but genuinely fascinating. I promise the payoff is worth it, but first it’s going to require a little bit of background about how the immune system works.

    Human cells all contain proteins called human leukocyte antigens, or HLAs, which swim around and periodically latch on to invading viruses, which they bring to the surface of the cell. White blood cells, patrolling outside the cells, are always looking for stuff that doesn’t belong, and if an HLA presents an invader to the surface of the cell white blood cells immediately attack and destroy the entire cell. Conversely, if no HLA brings a virus to the surface, then its existence goes undetected and the immune system can’t attack it.

    Now here’s the interesting part: there are dozens of different kinds of HLAs, and everybody has a different HLA profile. That’s one reason that if you and I both get sneezed on by someone with a cold, one of us might get sick while the other doesn’t. It means that one of us happened to have the right HLA to latch onto the virus while the other one didn’t.

    And here’s the even more interesting part: different human populations have different average HLA profiles. This means that some populations are more resistant to certain diseases than others. For example, COVID-19.

    In a recent paper, a team of researchers looked at 140 different HLAs, and in particular discovered that COVID-19 seemed to be sensitive to the ratio of the S and N types. Here’s the chart:

    One of the great mysteries of COVID-19 is why China has been relatively unscathed. Aside from the initial outbreak in Wuhan, there have been hardly any cases in the entire country. But how can that be? Even with strong quarantine procedures, it’s simply not plausible that a fairly transmissible virus like COVID-19 could fail to spread widely in a country of over a billion people.

    HLAs might be the answer. As you can see in the chart, the authors estimate that the S/N ratio for China is about 5.7, one of the highest in the world. That would suggest high resistance to the COVID-19 virus. At the other end, Sweden has an S/N ratio of 3.8, one of the lowest in the world. It’s possible that the “Swedish experiment” was never an experiment at all. They might have been doomed to a high COVID-19 infection rate no matter what they had done.

    This is very preliminary research, and HLA profiles are certainly not the entire story. That said, if this is confirmed—or if other HLA profiles are identified that are associated with COVID-19—it might change our understanding of why infection rates are very different in different parts of the world.