It’s been almost seven years since Leonard Nimoy, the actor who created the role of Mr. Spock on “Star Trek,” passed away due to respiratory disease — but his character may be coming soon to a billboard near you, as part of a widening campaign to encourage COVID-19 vaccination.
The first round of the campaign, organized by Nimoy’s family and L.A. Care Health Plan with the blessing of ViacomCBS, has been in the works in Los Angeles since last May.
One billboard design features Nimoy in his Mr. Spock role, giving the split-fingered Vulcan salute with the headline “Save Humanity: Get Vaccinated! It’s the Logical Thing to Do.” The other design shows mask-wearing humans in a Star Trek glow and takes full advantage of Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper” catchline.
“The phrase ‘Live Long and Prosper’ spreads a message that my dad strongly believed in — not only for a long and healthy life, but it also represents peace, tolerance, diversity and unity,” Julie Nimoy, the actor’s daughter, said in a news release. “This project really is a continuation of his mission on lung health.”
Julie Nimoy’s husband, David Knight, told me in an email that the “L.A. campaign is only the first stop.”
“New billboards in N.Y., Boston, Chicago, D.C., Seattle and Miami are already being discussed,” Knight wrote. “In addition, we’re currently speaking with the World Health Organization about additional billboards specifically on vaccine equity in major cities across the world.”
They say that the second vaccine shot for COVID-19 is rougher than the first one — and we’re not just talking about the side effects.
As a newly double-vaccinated member of the 65-and-older set, I can vouch for the claim that the side effects can be felt more acutely the second time around: Back in late January, my first Pfizer-BioNTech shot gave me nothing more than a sore arm. This week’s second shot gave me body aches the day after, as if I had been shoveling snow for hours. (Which, come to think of it, I was … a couple of days earlier.)
Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, acknowledged that it’s been a tough slog for some folks. “I wish we had more vaccine, and had vaccine for everyone,” he said today during a news briefing.
Trying to get an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine on the day that eligibility was expanded to new age groups in Washington state would be a familiar experience to anyone who’s tried to get a hot movie ticket, a cheap airfare or season tickets to Kraken hockey games.
I’ve been through all of those trials, and my efforts to work through the online hiccups and fast-disappearing slots are likely to be replicated in the months ahead as efforts to quell the coronavirus pandemic continue to ramp up.
Bottom line? Sharpen your searching skills, don’t wait for an invitation, and pursue multiple options.
Your mileage may vary, of course. I was just one of thousands of regular folks aged 65 and older who joined the search for the vaccine this week.
You may want to put off that big holiday dinner. Don’t have your heart set on sending the kids back to school anytime soon. And if you plan to get on a plane, be sure to wear your mask.
Those are just a few of the nuggets of advice that critical-care physician Vin Gupta and computational biologist Trevor Bedford passed along for getting through this winter in the midst of the persistent coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re definitely not ’rounding the curve,’ ” Gupta said.
Gupta and Bedford delivered a data-rich status report on the pandemic today during a virtual GeekWire Summit session moderated by CNBC technology and health reporter Christina Farr.
The bottom line is that it’s still too early to let your guard down, despite what some politicians might claim.
The good news is that Operation Warp Speed, the multibillion-dollar effort to develop vaccines for COVID-19, is moving ahead at a pace that justifies its name.
The bad news is that despite all that effort, the coronavirus outbreak is still likely to be with us next year — and low- to medium-income countries such as India are likely to be hit particularly hard.
“We’re going to probably see a lot of deaths,” said Lynda Stuart, deputy director for vaccines and human immunobiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s going to be a great inequity and tragedy that will unfold.”
Stuart and other experts involved in the vaccine quest laid out their assessment of the road ahead today during the first session of the 2020 GeekWire Summit.
For years, public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been playing out scenarios for dealing with pandemics, but the one scenario they didn’t count on was that they’d be hamstrung by their own political leaders.
“I don’t think anybody ever thought that that would happen,” said Maryn McKenna, a veteran reporter on infectious diseases. “And yet, seven months into the pandemic here in the United States, that’s pretty much where we are.”
Such misinformation has taken the form of conspiracy theories about the origins and spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, plus the hype surrounding supposed “miracle” cures and efforts to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak.
Marsha Jones — co-founder and executive director of The Afiya Center, a Texas-based reproductive justice organization — said she’s seen it all before, during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.
“I didn’t think that I would ever see a disease so politicized as HIV was ever again, because for some reason I thought we learned,” she said.
Like the HIV epidemic, the COVID-19 epidemic is dealing a particularly heavy blow to people “who get the least amount of funding, who get the least amount of recognition, who have the worst care,” Jones said.
And even as the outbreak is raging, disadvantaged communities are struggling with the repercussions of systemic racism and urban unrest. “We’re living in a dual epidemic,” Jones said.
Science is suffering along with society, said Peter Daszak, president of the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance. His group became the focus of controversy early in the pandemic because it helped train Chinese virologists in Wuhan, which was the outbreak’s global epicenter.
The training effort was part of a federally funded program called PREDICT, which aimed to anticipate cross-species viral outbreaks. The Trump administration let the program expire last year, just before the first COVID-19 cases came to light — and EcoHealth Alliance faced heavy criticism largely because of unfounded accusations that the virus was unleashed from the Wuhan virology lab.
“It’s the right wing, it’s QAnon, it’s people spending hours in their basements doing ‘research’ on the internet to dig up stuff that sounds like a conspiracy,” Daszak said. “And of course, with so much online presence, the president not only allows that to happen, but also promotes it, and seems to believe it himself.”
Scientists tend to be uncomfortable about getting into the political fray, but Daszak said inaction may no longer be an option. “During the HIV pandemic, science got political, and scientists got political,” he said. “It’s no good keeping quiet. You’ve got to push back, and push back strong, and tell the truth about what’s going on. … If you keep quiet, you’ve just basically consigned science to the trash heap.”
But politicians aren’t the only ones who can play a role in repairing public policy on pandemics, Daszak said.
“You’re journalists,” he told the online audience. “So get out there and speak the truth, and push back.”
McKenna said it’s crucial for all journalists to be trained to cover the different facets of coronavirus coverage, ranging from biology to business, from epidemiology to education.
“We should rethink the silos within which we exist as journalists … because it’s entirely possible that a science and public health story like the coronavirus pandemic will come in and cut across all those silos, and demonstrate the degree to which we have not trained each other in the mutual knowledge that we all need,” she said.
Daszak said truth-telling shouldn’t be confined to a newsroom setting.
“Go talk to your neighbors and friends,” he said. “And also, you know, the folks with the Trump sign outside their house. Go have a chat with them, see what they think about masks and school openings. Listen to them, and say a couple of things, a couple of facts, nothing heavy, and just let it settle and move away. … We need a societal change in our understanding of things like this pandemic.”
Jones stressed that you don’t need to be a politician — or a journalist, or a public health worker, for that matter — to parry the pandemic.
“The greatest changes don’t necessarily have to happen in the political arena. “There are changes that can happen outside of that, that will inevitably impact what’s happening in the political arena,” she said.
She advised starting with the place where you have the most influence, even if it’s outside the traditional halls of power.
“If that’s at your house, if that’s on your porch, in the park, in the gym — wherever it is that you have the most power, and you can have the most convincing conversation where you’re talking with somebody who can create change, that’s what you do,” Jones said.
Full disclosure: I’m the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, which is one of the organizers of the series. FiveThirtyEight senior science writer Maggie Koerth, a CASW board member, moderated today’s session.
An international research team led by University of Washington scientists has identified two kinds of “ultrapotent human antibodies” that could go into a drug cocktail for guarding against COVID-19.
UW’s David Veesler and Vir Biotechnology’s Katja Fink are the senior authors of the study published online today by the journal Science, which highlights two monoclonal antibodies known as S2E12 and S2M11. The antibodies were found to block SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, from latching onto molecular receptors on cells in hamsters.
An analysis of the antibodies’ molecular structure determined that they block the virus by gumming up its characteristic “spike” protein, which has been a target for many of the vaccines and therapies under development to fight COVID-19. Some of the researchers behind the newly published study, including Veesler, reported a similarly promising antibody called S309 in May.
Researchers say such antibodies could be combined in a drug cocktail to guard against the virus evolving to evade any single one of the ingredients. A drug that takes advantage of S309’s effect is already being tested in a phase 2/3 clinical trial launched by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology.
Detailed genetic analyses of the strains of virus that cause COVID-19 suggest that the outbreak took hold in Washington state in late January or early February, but went undetected for weeks.
That’s the upshot of two studies published by the journal Science, based on separate efforts to trace the genetic fingerprints of the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
The studies draw upon analyses of more than 10,000 samples collected in the Puget Sound region as part of the Seattle Flu Study during the early weeks of the outbreak, plus thousands more samples from other areas of the world.
One of the studies was conducted by a team including Trevor Bedford, a biologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who has been issuing assessments of the virus and its spread since the earliest days of the outbreak. The first version of the team’s paper went online back in March and was revised in May, months in advance of today’s peer-reviewed publication.