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NIH Restarts Bat Virus Grant Suspended 3 Years Ago by Trump
Three years after then-President Donald Trump pressured the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to suspend a research grant to a U.S. group studying bat coronaviruses with partners in China, the agency has restarted the award.
The new 4-year grant is a stripped-down version of the original grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research organization in New York City, providing $576,000 per year. That 2014 award included funding for controversial experiments that mixed parts of different bat viruses related to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the coronavirus that sparked a global outbreak in 2002–04, and included a sub-award to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
The new award omits those studies and also imposes extensive new accounting rules on EcoHealth, which drew criticism from government auditors for its bookkeeping practices. But EcoHealth’s embattled director, Peter Daszak, says his group is pleased: “Now we have the ability to finally get back to work,” he says.
EcoHealth is sharing details of the new grant, which restarted on April 26, in order to promote transparency, Daszak says. The project no longer involves collecting new bat samples or working with live viruses. WIV has no role beyond contributing more than 300 whole and partial genome sequences of SARS-related bat coronaviruses from its collection, Daszak says.
Small Study Points to Possible Cause of Myocarditis Following mRNA Vaccination in Young Men
An overactive immune response to the mRNA COVID vaccines may be the culprit in rare cases of heart inflammation seen in some young men after they receive the shot, a small study published Friday in the journal Science Immunology suggests.
The study was based on 23 patients ages 13 to 21 who developed myocarditis after their second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. An analysis of blood samples from nine of these patients — all of whom had gotten Pfizer — found elevated cytokine levels.
That’s what appears to be happening in some young men who develop myocarditis or pericarditis — two types of heart inflammation — after getting the COVID vaccine.
Dr. Leslie Cooper, the chair of the cardiology department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said the study, though small, is “an important contribution to our understanding of the mechanisms” of vaccine-induced myocarditis in young men. Cooper was also not involved with the new research. The findings, he said, suggest that one potential treatment for the inflammation could be a drug that targets the body’s excess immune response after vaccination.
CDC Head Resigns, Blindsiding Many Health Officials
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who guided President Joe Biden’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from his first day in office, is leaving her post, the White House announced Friday.
Her announcement comes days before the Biden administration plans to end the public health emergency in place since early 2020, and at a time when COVID fears have receded and life mostly returned to pre-pandemic normal.
Last summer, Walensky launched a reorganization of the CDC, acknowledging that its “performance did not reliably meet expectations” during the pandemic. She gave no specific reason for the decision to resign, writing that “at this pivotal moment for our nation and public health, having worked together to accomplish so much over the last two-plus years, it is with mixed emotions that I will step down.”
Her resignation blindsided many health officials throughout the administration, many of whom had expected her to stay on at least through the end of the year — if not the end of Biden’s first term.
Raccoon Dogs Did Not Start COVID, New Study Says
The raccoon dog did it: That was the explosive takeaway of a genomic analysis conducted in March by a trio of scientists who had scrutinized data from a market in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic was thought to have begun. Until then, evidence for that conviction had been scant.
Others similarly felt it was a landmark moment. For months, momentum had been behind a countervailing hypothesis that a laboratory accident, not an animal, had caused the pandemic. The new raccoon dog analysis appeared to rule out that possibility. “The COVID lab leak theory is dead,” declared Edward Holmes, one of the researchers involved in the raccoon dog study. Only his assessment appeared to be premature.
In a paper published in late April, computational virologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center wrote that “the samples that contain abundant material from raccoon dogs and other non-human susceptible species generally contain little or no SARS-CoV-2 reads.”
As for the raccoon dog, it was unquestionably innocent. “There is a negative correlation between the abundance of SARS-CoV-2 and mitochondrial material from raccoon dogs,” Bloom wrote.
“What these findings suggest is simply that by the time the Huanan market environmental samples were collected, the virus had been spread widely across the market by humans, so colocalization of viral and animal genetic material in samples cannot indicate whether or not any animal was infected,” Bloom told Yahoo News.
Disease Experts Warn White House of Potential for Omicron-Like Wave of Illness
The White House recently received a sobering warning about the potential for the coronavirus to come roaring back, with experts reaching a consensus that there’s a roughly 20 percent chance during the next two years of an outbreak rivaling the onslaught of an illness inflicted by the Omicron variant.
A forecast from one widely regarded scientist pegged the risk at a more alarming level, suggesting a 40% chance of an Omicron-like wave.
White House officials spoke with about a dozen leading experts in virology, immunobiology and other fields about the prospect that the virus would again develop mutations that allow it to evade protections from vaccines and treatments. Those discussions, not previously reported, came as the administration planned for the May 11 end of the public health emergency that was declared at the dawn of the pandemic.
“No one’s saying it’s zero. No one’s saying it’s 80%,” said Dan Barouch, an immunologist and virologist at Harvard Medical School, who spoke with the White House. “It’s more than an infinitesimal chance — and it is by no means a certainty.”
FDA Issues Emergency Bacteria Warning for 500,000 COVID Tests
The FDA issued a warning to consumers on Thursday over potential bacteria contamination affecting certain COVID-19 at-home tests.
Consumers and healthcare workers are advised: “to stop using and toss out certain lots of recalled SD Biosensor, Inc. Pilot COVID-19 At-Home Tests, distributed by Roche Diagnostics.”
According to the FDA, the agency has “significant concerns of bacterial contamination” in the liquid solution component of the kits. “Direct contact with the contaminated liquid solution may pose safety concerns and the bacterial contamination could impact the performance of the test,” said the agency, issuing a “do not use” warning to consumers.
Specifically, the tests could be contaminated with Enterococcus, Enterobacter, Klebsiella and Serratia bacterial species — the infection of which could cause illness in individuals with weakened immune systems, or those who have direct exposure to the contaminated liquid test solution via misuse, accidental spills, or “standard handling” of the product, the Epoch Times reports.
Where Are the Treatments for Long COVID?
Shaney Wright, a safety and risk management professional who has been suffering from long COVID for three years, doesn’t hide his frustration about the fact that there are no proven therapies for his condition.
“Long COVID is a vile disease that affects every bodily system. It affects your ability to live, eat, sleep and work,” he said. “Many people have been struggling for two to three years, with no end in sight. Finding treatments makes humanitarian and economic sense. The lack of urgency is profoundly unethical and irrational.”
Scientists don’t know why some patients with COVID fail to get better, though a number of avenues are being explored. The clues they have suggest that patients would likely benefit from pharmaceutical therapies, but without a known mechanism or definitive diagnostics, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies seem reluctant to develop and test treatments. That leaves patients like Wright in a terrible lurch.
A major government effort to bridge the gap seems to have stalled out. In February 2021, the National Institutes of Health launched RECOVER, a $1.15 billion effort to better understand long COVID and test treatments. But two years later, with the funding mostly used up, the initiative has yet to enroll a single patient in treatment trials, according to a recent STAT and MuckRock investigation.