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Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • ‘It’s really complicated.’ United States and others wrestle with putting COVID-19 vaccines to the test

    A medical team administers vaccines to patients

    One plan for an efficacy trial that compares several COVID-19 vaccines calls for using mobile teams, rather than fixed sites, as was done in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with an experimental Ebola vaccine.

    Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/The New York Times/Redux

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    A Chinese company will turn to Brazil for help. The World Health Organization (WHO) is adopting a strategy forged in a war zone during an Ebola outbreak. And the Trump administration plans to lean on existing U.S. infrastructure for tackling HIV and flu. These are some of the disparate strategies about to be employed in the next and most important stage of the COVID-19 vaccine race: the large-scale, placebo-controlled human trials needed to prove which of the more than 135 candidates are safe and effective.

    Two such efficacy trials plan to start next month, even as the United States and global initiatives struggle to answer major questions, from what it means for a COVID-19 vaccine to work to how to find enough people exposed to the virus so a candidate can be put to a real-world test. Populations that have high levels of viral transmission are a moving target—Wuhan, China; Seattle; or Milan might once have been a good place to test the mettle of a vaccine, but no longer. And quickly enrolling tens of thousands of properly informed people who meet a trial’s entry criteria is a “big lift,” says Susan Buchbinder, an epidemiologist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health who runs vaccine trials.

  • NIH strengthens policies to alert agency to sexual harassment by grantees

    NIH Building one

    The National Institutes of Health revised its policies in order to be more aware of any sexual harassment findings against researchers it funds.

    National Institutes of Health

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is tightening grant rules that until now have sometimes left the agency in the dark about sexual harassment cases involving researchers it supports. Starting tomorrow with new awards, NIH will require institutions it funds to report to the agency when an investigator is removed from a grant because of harassment findings or allegations.

    NIH also wants to know when an investigator is moving their grant to another institution because of sexual harassment findings or concerns, Director Francis Collins and other officials announced in an editorial in Science today. Along with other new policies, the changes will “further foster a culture whereby sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors are not tolerated in the research and training environment,” the NIH officials write.

    Together, the new reporting requirements will “close two important gaps” in the agency’s policies, says NIH Associate Director for Science Policy Carrie Wolinetz, and should prevent cases in which institutions “pass the harasser” without the agency’s knowledge.

  • Pandemic upends Colombia’s controversial drug war plan to resume aerial spraying

    An armed policeman stands in a field while an airplane spraying herbicide flies above

    For decades, Colombia used aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate to kill coca crops used to make cocaine. But it stopped the practice in 2015 because of concerns about human health risks posed by the chemical.


    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has at least temporarily derailed a controversial plan by Colombia’s government to resume aerial spraying of a potent chemical used to kill coca crops that feed the global trade in cocaine.

    Late last month, a Colombian court ruled that the spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which some studies have linked to human health and environmental problems, cannot resume until the government informs and consults with affected communities—a process that has been severely disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. The government had planned to hold virtual meetings with the communities, but environmental and human rights groups went to court to challenge that plan, arguing that Colombia’s rural communities often lack reliable internet, cellphone, or radio service. In a 27 May ruling, the court sided with the groups, ordering the government to rethink its consultation plan.

  • Researchers around the world prepare to #ShutDownSTEM and ‘Strike For Black Lives’

    illustration of a diverse group protesting outside an academic building

    Thousands of researchers around the world have pledged to pause their work on Wednesday to support the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and efforts against racism in the scientific community and society at large.

    Responding to calls from an array of organizers operating under banners including the Strike For Black Lives, #ShutDownSTEM, and #ShutDownAcademia, numerous university laboratories, scientific societies, technical journals, and others have pledged to spend 10 June focused on issues of racial equality and inclusiveness.

    “In the wake of the most recent murders of Black people in the U.S., it is clear that white and other non-Black people have to step up and do the work to eradicate anti-Black racism. As members of the global academic and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] communities, we have an enormous ethical obligation to stop doing ‘business as usual,’” the organizers of #ShutDownSTEM state on its website.

  • Three big studies dim hopes that hydroxychloroquine can treat or prevent COVID-19

    researchers in a lab, one holding a syringe

    The Germans Trias i Pujol University Hospital near Barcelona, Spain, where a prevention trial with hydroxychloroquine took place


    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Through the fog of alleged misconduct, hope, hype, and politicization that surrounds hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted as a COVID-19 treatment, a scientific picture is now emerging.

    Praised by presidents as a potential miracle cure and dismissed by others as a deadly distraction, hydroxychloroquine was spared a seeming death blow last week. On 4 June, after critics challenged the data, The Lancet suddenly retracted a paper that had suggested the drug increased the death rate in COVID-19 patients, a finding that had stopped many clinical trials in their tracks. But now three large studies, two in people exposed to the virus and at risk of infection and the other in severely ill patients, show no benefit from the drug. Coming on top of earlier smaller trials with disappointing findings, the new results mean it’s time to move on, some scientists say, and end most of the trials still in progress.

  • Coronavirus rips through Dutch mink farms, triggering culls to prevent human infections

    baby mink

    Mink populations burgeon in the spring, when pups are born, raising concerns about new SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks.

    Ruslan Shamukov/TASS via Getty Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    LELYSTAD, THE NETHERLANDS—In a sad sideshow to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities in the Netherlands began to gas tens of thousands of mink on 6 June, most of them pups born only weeks ago. SARS-CoV-2 has attacked farms that raise the animals for fur, and the Dutch government worries infected mink could become a viral reservoir that could cause new outbreaks in humans.

    The mink outbreaks are “spillover” from the human pandemic—a zoonosis in reverse that has offered scientists in the Netherlands a unique chance to study how the virus jumps between species and burns through large animal populations.

  • Who’s to blame? These three scientists are at the heart of the Surgisphere COVID-19 scandal

    computer screen showing a retracted paper with The Lancet
    E. Petersen/Science

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Three unlikely collaborators are at the heart of the fast-moving COVID-19 research scandal, which led to retractions last week by The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and the withdrawal of an online preprint, after the trove of patient data they all relied on was challenged. The three physician-scientists never were at the same institution nor had they ever before written together, but they are the only authors in common on the disputed papers, and the other co-authors all have ties to at least one of them. Their partnership, which seized a high-impact role during a global public health crisis, has now ended disastrously.

    The first author for both retracted papers was cardiac surgeon Mandeep Mehra, an eminent Harvard University professor who works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and is known internationally for cardiovascular medicine and heart transplants. He provided the kind of gravitas that can fast-track papers to leading journals. In a statement provided by BWH, Mehra said he had met another of the trio, cardiac surgeon Amit Patel, in “academic and medical circles,” and that Patel had introduced him to Sapan Desai, a vascular surgeon and founder of Surgisphere, the tiny company that supplied the data. Journal disclosures, however, also indicate Mehra received compensation from Triple-Gene, a gene therapy company Patel co-founded to develop cardiovascular treatments.

  • Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo to sue Japanese drug firm for 22 billion yen

    Tasuku Honjo and his wife Shigeko pose with his Nobel medal

    Immunologist Tasuku Honjo celebrates his receipt of the Nobel Prize in 2018 with his wife, Shigeko Honjo.

    Kyodo via AP Images

    In another high-profile case of a Japanese scientist fighting for a share of the profits generated by a key discovery, Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo last Friday announced he plans to sue Osaka, Japan–based Ono Pharmaceutical for 22 billion yen ($200 million) he believes he should get for supporting the drug firm in a patent dispute.

    The 78-year-old Kyoto University immunologist shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with James Allison, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.” Both discovered ways to remove brakes on the immune system that prevent it from attacking tumor cells, although they identified different mechanisms. Honjo’s discovery focused on a molecule expressed in dying T cells, which he called programmed death 1, or PD-1. Later, he and others found the molecule could be harnessed for cancer therapies.

    In the years since the discovery, competing groups have developed PD-1–related drugs for treating cancer. Ono co-owns key patents with Honjo. The Japanese company worked together with Bristol Myers Squibb to develop Opdivo, which was approved in both Japan and the United States to treat metastatic melanoma in 2014. That same year, Merck won approval for Keytruda, an anticancer drug that also targets PD-1 receptors.

  • Abortion opponents protest COVID-19 vaccines’ use of fetal cells

    three vials of vaccines

    Several vaccines on the U.S. vaccination schedule are made in cells from fetuses aborted decades ago. They include vaccines against rubella, hepatitis A, and chicken pox.

    J. Cohen/Science

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada, along with other antiabortion groups, are raising ethical objections to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are manufactured using cells derived from human fetuses electively aborted decades ago. They have not sought to block government funding for the vaccines, which include two candidate vaccines that the Trump administration plans to support with an investment of up to $1.7 billion, as well as a third candidate made by a Chinese company in collaboration with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). But they are urging funders and policymakers to ensure that companies develop other vaccines that do not rely on such human fetal cell lines and, in the United States, asking the government to “incentivize” firms to only make vaccines that don’t rely on fetal cells.

    “It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: no American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience,” members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 20 other religious, medical, and political organizations that oppose abortion wrote to Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in April. “Thankfully, other [COVID-19] vaccines … utilize cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods.”

  • ‘I can't even enjoy this.’ #BlackBirdersWeek organizer shares her struggles as a black scientist

    Science Careers logo

    This week, black scientists and recreational birders flooded Twitter with posts for #BlackBirdersWeek. “Nature is my favorite place to be, & I’ve been fortunate enough [to] use my PhD to travel & be #BlackInNature across the world,” tweeted a graduate student.

    The first-of-its-kind event was organized in response to an incident that transpired in New York’s Central Park last week. Christian Cooper—a black man who works as a writer and editor and is an avid birdwatcher—encountered a white woman who was walking her dog while he was birding. When he asked her to leash her dog, she called the police, telling them that an African American man was threatening her. A video of the encounter went viral—unleashing a torrent of discussion about racism and the dangers black people face when they are simply enjoying, or working in, outdoor spaces.

    For black scientists in field disciplines such as ecology and geology, Cooper’s experience was a familiar one. Many are sent to remote places to conduct fieldwork—and that can land them in uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous, situations, says Corina Newsome, a master’s student at Georgia Southern University who studies seaside sparrows in coastal marshes. “I’m in these remote, expansive natural areas, and in the South no less, and so my family is … always scared for my safety.”

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