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The AP Interview: Scientists Say Omicron Was a Group Find

December 3, 2021

(Associated Press) – The Botswana scientist who may well have discovered the omicron variant of the coronavirus says he has been on a “rollercoaster of emotions,” with the pride of accomplishment followed by dismay over the travel bans immediately slapped on southern African countries.“Is that how you reward science? By blacklisting countries?” Dr. Sikhulile Moyo, a virologist at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, said in an interview Thursday night with The Associated Press. (Read More)

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Most Advanced Lab-Grown Human Embryos Prompt a Pressing Question: Are They Getting Too Real?

December 3, 2021

(STAT News) – The stem cells were no more than a week old when scientists moved them from their slick-walled plastic wells into ones lined with a thin layer of human endometrial tissue. But in that time, the cells had multiplied and transformed, organizing themselves into semi-hollow spheres. Per the instructions of the chemical cocktail in which they’d been steeping, they were trying to turn into embryos. Video cameras captured what happened next: The balls of cells rotated until they were cavity-side-up, before finally touching down and grabbing onto the endometrial layer, a cellular proxy for a human uterus. Days later, when the scientists dipped paper test strips into the wells, pink lines appeared. Their Petri dishes were pregnant. (Read More)

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Unvaccinated Nevada State Workers to Pay Insurance Surcharge

December 3, 2021

(ABC News) – Nevada will be the first state to charge state workers enrolled in public employee health insurance plans a surcharge if they aren’t vaccinated. The state Public Employees’ Benefit Program Board voted on Thursday to charge unvaccinated workers up to $55 per month to offset the costs of testing those who haven’t gotten shots are required to undergo in certain workplaces. (Read More)

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Congress Takes Aim at the Algorithms

December 3, 2021

(Wired) – It wasn’t long ago that congressional hearings about Section 230 got bogged down in dismal exchanges about individual content moderation decisions: Why did you leave this up? Why did you take that down? A new crop of bills suggests that lawmakers have gotten a bit more sophisticated. At a hearing on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed several proposals to strip tech companies of legal immunity for algorithmically recommended content. Currently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally prevents online platforms from being sued over user-generated content. The new bills would, in various ways, revise Section 230 so it doesn’t apply when algorithms are involved. (Read More)

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South African Data Suggests Omicron Gets Around Some, Not All Immunity

December 3, 2021

(Medscape) – The Omicron variant appears able to get around some immunity but vaccines should still offer protection against severe disease, according to the latest data from South Africa where it is fast overtaking Delta to become the dominant variant. (Read More)

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COVID Cases Surge in South Africa in Sign Omicron Wave Is Coming

December 3, 2021

(Axios) – South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we’re facing. Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country’s top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant. (Read More)

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Scientists Use Stem Cells to Create Models of Pre-Embryos

December 2, 2021

(Associated Press) – Scientists are using human stem cells to create a structure that mimics a pre-embryo and can serve as a research alternative to a real one. They say these “blastoids” provide an efficient, ethical way to study human development and pursue biomedical discoveries in fertility and contraception.  The latest effort was detailed Thursday in the journal Nature. The structures aren’t embryos, but scientists nevertheless didn’t let them grow past two weeks in deference to longstanding ethical guidelines. (Read More)

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Variants, Booster Turn Rich-Poor Vaccine Gap into Chasm

December 2, 2021

(Associated Press) – The global initiative to share coronavirus vaccines fairly already scaled back its pledge to the world’s poor once. Now, to meet even that limited promise, COVAX would have to deliver more than a million doses every hour until the end of the year in some of the world’s most challenging places. That seems unlikely: Gavi, the vaccine alliance that helps run COVAX, warned in internal documents that a substantial number of doses might only show up in late 2022 or even 2023 as wealthy countries drag out their donations while locking in contracts for new shots by the hundreds of millions. (Read More)

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‘Pay-to-Participate’ Autism Stem-Cells Paper Retracted

December 2, 2021

(Spectrum News) – A widely criticized 2019 paper describing a study that used stem cells to treat autistic children has been retracted after the authors failed to disclose that participants had paid thousands of dollars to participate. The retraction comes two years after Spectrum reported that a family member of one of the participants said she had paid more than $7,000 for her autistic child to take part. (Read More)

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Hospitals Refused to Give Patients Ivermectin. Lockdowns and Political Pressure Followed.

December 2, 2021

(Kaiser Health News) – Even before the pandemic, the health care and social assistance industry — which includes residential care facilities and child day care, among other services — led all U.S. industries in nonfatal workplace violence, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Covid has made the problem worse, leading to hospital security upgrades, staff training and calls for increased federal regulation. (Read More)

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Omicron Is Supercharging the COVID Vaccine Booster Debate

December 2, 2021

(Nature) – The evidence is in: booster jabs against COVID-19 do provide an extra layer of protection against the illness. But questions still swirl over how much they’ll help and how often they’ll be needed — and the discovery of the Omicron variant has supercharged the debate over their role. Real-world data from Israel and the United Kingdom indicate that a booster dose of one of the widely used mRNA-based vaccines sharply lowers a person’s likelihood of catching SARS-CoV-2 and getting sick. And several months after Israel became the first country in the world to make boosters available to all, its daily case counts remain low. (Read More)

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Texas Now Bans Medical Abortions After Seven Weeks of Pregnancy

December 2, 2021

(Texas Tribune) – A new law limiting the use of abortion-inducing medication in Texas goes into effect Thursday. The law makes it a felony to provide the medication after seven weeks of pregnancy, putting Texas at odds with federal regulations. It also makes it a crime to send the medication through the mail. Medical abortion is the most common way women in Texas terminate their pregnancies, according to state data. (Read More)

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Supreme Court Appears Likely to Roll Back Abortion Rights

December 2, 2021

(Axios) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed likely to weaken abortion rights and perhaps to let states ban the procedure altogether. The intrigue: The court seemed likely to throw out the framework established in Roe v. Wade, but it wasn’t clear whether a majority of the justices were inclined to overturn the court’s precedents entirely. (Read More)

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An AI Finds Superbug-Killing Potential in Human Proteins

December 2, 2021

(Wired) – Torres and his colleagues were looking for peptides that are naturally produced by people and that can fight microbes. To do it, they used an AI that scrutinized the chemical makeup of each and every one in the human proteome—the complete set of proteins our bodies can produce. Peptides are small proteins, or fragments of them. They may not resemble classical antibiotics like penicillin. And they don’t all originate in the immune system. But they can contain the right chemistry to be lethal to pathogens, because they can dismantle bacterial cell membranes. (Read More)

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Omicron Travel Bans Are Sign of What’s to Come

December 2, 2021

(Axios) – The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won’t fully prevent its spread, but that won’t stop countries from leaning on the measures. Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective. (Read More)

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Colorado Panel Issues Guidelines for Injecting Ketamine

December 1, 2021

(ABC News) – Colorado’s health department announced Wednesday that emergency workers should not use a condition involving erratic behavior by people as a reason to inject them with the drug ketamine. The announcement came two years after the fatal arrest of a Black man in suburban Denver who had been injected with the drug. Most states and agencies allow ketamine to be administered when people exhibit “excited delirium” or agitation typically associated with chronic drug abuse, mental illness or both. The drug is used as a sedative and is supposed to be fast-acting with limited side affects. (Read More)

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A Different Kind of COVID Vaccine Is About Ready to Roll

December 1, 2021

(NPR) – A new kind of COVID-19 vaccine is about to roll out around the world. Although it won’t replace the highly successful vaccines currently available, it could make a difference in the course of the pandemic, especially in lower resourced countries. These new vaccines are what’s called protein subunit vaccines. They work by injecting people with a tiny portion of the virus. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, that tiny portion is the so-called spike protein critical for the virus to enter cells. (Read More)

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Prophet in Purgatory

December 1, 2021

(Science) – The move put EcoHealth—and Daszak—at the center of an incendiary debate about whether SARS-CoV-2 has a natural origin or is the result of a “lab leak” from the research EcoHealth had supported. Daszak’s emails, tweets, letters, journal articles, and media interviews have been scrutinized; he has received blistering criticism in Congress, on social media, and in major news outlets; he has been accused of conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, being a China apologist, and conducting reckless experiments. He has received death threats, including a letter holding white powder resembling anthrax, and journalists have staked out his home to shoot photos and videos. Two high-profile commissions to study the pandemic’s origin have collapsed in part because he was a member. (Read More)

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Severe COVID-19 Doubles Risk of Dying in Following Year: Study

December 1, 2021

(Medscape) – Patients who survive a severe case of COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to die during the following year than those who have mild symptoms and those who haven’t been infected, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. The increased risk was greater for patients under 65, the study found. Only 20% of the deaths from severe COVID-19 resulted from typical coronavirus complications, such as respiratory failure. That means serious coronavirus infections may significantly damage long-term health and lead to major life-threatening issues later. (Read More)

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Mysteries of Omicron Variant Could Take Weeks to Untangle

December 1, 2021

(Associated Press) – A pandemic-weary world faces weeks of confusing uncertainty as countries restrict travel and take other steps to halt the newest potentially risky coronavirus mutant before anyone knows just how dangerous omicron really is. Will it spread even faster than the already extra-contagious delta variant? Does it make people sicker? Does it evade vaccines’ protection or reinfect survivors? There are lots of guesses but little hard evidence as scientists race to find answers amid scrutiny from an anxious public. (Read More)

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