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  • ‘We have no choice.’ Pandemic forces polio eradication group to halt campaigns

    A community health worker shows a vial of an oral polio vaccine

    Going door-to-door to deliver the oral polio vaccine would put both communities and health workers at risk of COVID-19, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative says.

    Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

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

    The COVID-19 pandemic is imperiling the worldwide, 3-decade drive to wipe out polio. In an unprecedented move, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has recommended suspending polio vaccination campaigns to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

    On 24 March, GPEI’s leadership called on all countries to postpone until at least the second half of this year both mass campaigns to boost immunity to the polio virus and the targeted campaigns underway in Africa to stop outbreaks sparked by the live virus vaccine itself.

  • White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier will also lead NSF—for now

    Kelvin Droegemeier

    Kelvin Droegemeier

    Stephen Voss

    Kelvin Droegemeier, science adviser to President Donald Trump, today was handed another job that he’s always wanted—but it’s only temporary.

    Droegemeier, a meteorologist, has been named acting director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) following the departure of France Córdova, whose 6-year term ended on 30 March. In December 2019, Trump picked Sethuraman Panchanathan to succeed Córdova. Although Panchanathan’s nomination is not controversial, there’s no telling when the U.S. Senate will confirm the 58-year-old computer scientist, now executive vice president at Arizona State University.

    So today, Trump filled the void at the top of the $8 billion agency by double-hatting Droegemeier. “My role at NSF is a temporary one as we all excitedly await the swift Senate confirmation of Dr. Panchanathan,” said Droegemeier, who since January 2019 has served as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

  • The United States leads in coronavirus cases, but not pandemic response

    A field hospital of tents in Central Park

    Workers build an emergency field hospital in New York City’s Central Park for COVID-19 patients.

    MARY ALTAFFER/AP PHOTO

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

    America is first, and not in a good way. Last week, the United States set a grim record, surpassing all other nations in the reported number of people infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. As of this morning, officials have documented nearly 190,000; the death toll neared 4100. Even President Donald Trump—who just 1 month ago claimed the virus was “very much under control”—has warned that the pandemic is about to get much worse.

    To limit the damage, Trump announced on 29 March that federal recommendations to practice physical distancing would re­main in place at least through the end of April, dropping his much-criticized push for a faster return to business as usual. In the meantime, officials across the nation are scrambling to find enough ventilators, protective gear, and supplies for hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients—or about to be. Many state governors ratcheted up restrictions intended to slow the pandemic, imposing stay-at-home orders that some said could last into June.

  • The $1 billion bet: Pharma giant and U.S. government team up in all-out coronavirus vaccine push

    SARS-CoV-2 virus particles

    Johnson & Johnson is launching a major push to develop a vaccine that can neutralize the new coronavirus.

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/National Institutes of Health

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

    The crowded race to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus just received a potential billion-dollar boost: Johnson & Johnson (J&J) announced on 30 March that it and the U.S. government, through a military research agency, would together devote up to that amount to move a candidate product made by its Janssen division across the finish line.

    Janssen’s vaccine is built around an engineered version of adenovirus 26 (Ad26), which normally causes common colds but has been disabled so that it cannot replicate. Company scientists stich into this Ad26 “vector” a gene for the surface protein from the new coronavirus spreading around the world. Janssen is testing this same Ad26 platform in vaccines against Ebola, HIV, respiratory syncytial virus, and Zika. J&J had $42 billion in pharmaceutical sales last year, making it the sixth largest big pharma company. Sanofi is the only other in the top 10 that has a COVID-19 vaccine project.

  • Speed coronavirus vaccine testing by deliberately infecting volunteers? Not so fast, some scientists warn

    SARS-CoV-2 virus particles on a cell's surface

    Many new vaccines are being tested to thwart the pandemic coronavirus, which infects a human cell (brown) with deadly efficiency to produce new copies (pink).

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/National Institutes of Health

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

    As desperately as the world wants a shot that provides protection from the new coronavirus afflicting one country after another, proving that a vaccine works safely can be painfully slow. Clinical trials start with small numbers of people and at first only look for side effects and immune responses, slowly building up to a large study that tests efficacy—a process that will take at least 1 year for the new virus. But as the scale of the pandemic becomes clearer, a provocative, ethically complicated proposal to shave many months off that timeline is gaining traction: Give people an experimental vaccine and then deliberately try to infect them.

    Stanley Plotkin of the University of Pennsylvania, inventor of the current rubella vaccine and a leader in the vaccine field, says a carefully designed “human challenge” trial could offer clear proof of a vaccine’s worth at blinding speed. “We’re talking 2, 3 months,” says Plotkin, who has co-authored a commentary, now being submitted for publication, that describes how this might be ethically done. “People who are faced with a terrifying problem like this one will opt for measures that are unusual. And we have to constantly rethink our biases.” A similar proposal for coronavirus challenge studies was published online today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

  • With record-setting speed, vaccinemakers take their first shots at the new coronavirus

    a woman receives a vaccine

    Jennifer Haller receives the first administration of an mRNA vaccine, made by the biotech firm Moderna, against the pandemic coronavirus.

    AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

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

    The coronavirus that for weeks had been crippling hospitals in her hometown of Seattle changed Jennifer Haller’s life on 16 March—but not because she caught it. Haller, an operations manager at a tech company in the city, became the first person outside of China to receive an experimental vaccine against the pandemic virus, and in the days since, she has been flooded by an outpouring of gratitude. “There’s been overwhelming positivity, love, and prayers coming at me from strangers around the world,” Haller says. “We all just feel so helpless, right? This was one of the few things happening that people could latch on to and say, ‘OK, we’ve got a vaccine coming.’ Disregard that it’s going to take at least 18 months, but it’s just one bright light in some really devastating news across the world.”

    The vaccine Haller volunteered to test is made by Moderna, a well-financed biotech that has yet to bring a product to market. Moderna and China’s CanSino Biologics are the first to launch small clinical trials of vaccines against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to see whether they are safe and can trigger immune responses. (The CanSino vaccine trial also began on 16 March, according to researchers from the Chinese military’s Institute of Biotechnology, which is collaborating on it.) An ever-growing table put together by the World Health Organization now lists 52 other vaccine candidates that could soon follow. “This is a wonderful response from the biomedical community to an epidemic,” says Lawrence Corey, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who has run vaccine trials against a dozen diseases but is not involved with a COVID-19 effort. “It’s both gratifying and problematic in the sense of how do you winnow all this down?”

  • 1.3 billion people. A 21-day lockdown. Can India curb the coronavirus?

    Delhi Police personnel offers hand sanitizer to a homeless man

    New Delhi police officers provide hand sanitizer to a homeless man on the third day of India’s national lockdown.

    Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times/Sipa USA

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

    MUMBAI, INDIA—Until last week, Shivaji Park was brimming with people almost every night. One of this city’s largest public grounds, it was often packed with cricket teams, joggers, school children, and elderly walkers—along with an entire informal economy of street vendors.

    All vanished after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the world’s largest lockdown on 24 March, asking 1.3 billion Indians to stay home for 21 days to slow the spread of COVID-19.

  • Should pets be tested for coronavirus?

    a person carrying a dog with a mask on

    A dog wearing a mask in Shanghai

    REUTERS/Aly Song

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

    Last Thursday, the first cat tested positive for the new coronavirus. The feline had diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, and it had come down with COVID-19 about 1 week after its owner did, Belgian health officials announced.

    The same day, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department reported that a 17-year-old Pomeranian—which had initially tested “weak positive” for SARS-CoV-2—had indeed been infected by the virus, likely by its owner or another human. 

  • Can you put a price on COVID-19 options? Experts weigh lives versus economics

    An employee of Carmelina's in the North End of Boston tapes up paper in the windows of the restaurant

    The coronavirus pandemic is closing businesses across the United States, including this restaurant in Boston.

    David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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

    Economist Sergio Rebelo has spent the past 2 weeks holed up in his Chicago home, working feverishly to crack the economics of the coronavirus.

    Armed with a hybrid model that combines how viruses spread with how people work and consume, the Northwestern University researcher is one of a number of macroeconomists now trying to shed light on the balance between the economic impact of locking down major parts of the economy and the economic damage wrought by the disease itself. “When you think about the optimal policy, you really want to see the effect between the economy and epidemiology,” Rebelo says.

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