from the desk of Meenakshi Prabhune
Happy Labor Day weekend! Hope you are all findings ways to enjoy it safely in our new normal. I had honestly decided to not write about COVID-19 but two reasons compel me to- 1) we cannot get bored and relax about the necessary measures and 2) there were a few important news articles that I wanted to share with you all.
The first one was this piece in New York Times saying that a large percentage of people who tested positive for COVID-19 may not have been infectious. Here’s why. Current diagnostics tests use a technique called PCR, polymerase chain reaction. PCR amplifies viral genetic material multiple fold to detect its presence. This means that even the tiniest load of virus can be detected with a high number of cycles. Why does this matter in diagnostic testing?
People who have had COVID-19 will carry viral generic material over several weeks in their body, but those minute quantities are not enough to infect others. However, a high number of PCR cycles in the diagnostic test will still show these people as “positive”. In one sense, it’s true– they did have COVID-19. But if they were not infectious at this point in time, they are not harmful to others. This means we are catching many positive people AFTER they are done with the infection and their isolation and subsequent economic losses could be avoided. Possible solutions? Increased testing can ensure we catch people in their infectious state, and a defined cut off number of PCR cycles will help avoid non-infectious people being flagged.
A second article that I saw a couple of days back was a pleasant surprise. It is no secret that our President has been announcing COVID-19 vaccines before early November to coincide with the election cycle. While there are a few vaccines in their last phase of human trials, this data needs thorough analysis regarding efficiency and safety before the vaccine is opened up publicly. Given that the FDA — the body responsible for stringent conditions before passing any drug or vaccine– might face (and have to give in) to tremendous pressure, unexpected heroes are stepping up in this situation. Big pharma companies, including Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer, among others, are reported to be teaming up and taking a stand that they won’t submit their vaccines for FDA approval unless they have done a thorough check of the safety themselves. With for-profit pharmas finding their moral compass to save the country from a rushed vaccine, 2020 got just a little better. Read the full story here.
Lastly, my pick of events for the week:
- Exploring the Universe with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory – Livestream, Tuesday, 09/08/20, 06:00 PM – 07:00 PM
- NightSchool: Coast to Coast – Livestream, Thursday, 09/10/20, 07:00 PM
- Butterflies of the UC Botanical Garden – A Focus on Monarchs – Livestream, Saturday, 09/12/20, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Stay safe and curious,
Meenakshi Prabhune (a.k.a Minu)
Science Journalist and Writer