Salvador Dali Christmas Tree 1959
“Pfizer has cut deals at high prices with about 20 developed countries. Their government agencies can’t reject the Pfizer vaccine as too expensive because they can’t ask their frontline healthcare workers to wait for a cheaper alternative. They have to act now.”
Pfizer just inked a second deal with the federal government to supply an additional 100 million doses of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine by July 2021. This is on top of Pfizer’s earlier deal for 100 million doses, currently being shipped. At around $20 per dose, Pfizer shareholders will do nicely, and the Pfizer CEO cashed in $5.6 million in stock at the time of the FDA’s emergency use authorization. Pfizer deserves enormous credit for the speed with which its vaccine secured the Food and Drug Administration’s approval. But Pfizer’s vaccine strategy was designed from the outset to maximize shareholder profit, not the greater good. Pfizer set out to be first across the finish line and reap a public relations bonanza. That’s why it pursued an mRNA vaccine, which can be developed and manufactured much faster than traditional vaccines.
But Pfizer’s vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius to retain its efficacy. Developing countries do not have and cannot afford such a cold chain. That means Pfizer is off the hook to provide low- or no-cost doses to billions of people in poorer nations. The Moderna vaccine, also an mRNA vaccine, was designed to require normal vaccine refrigeration at around minus 20 degrees Celsius . Note, also, that Pfizer declined U.S. government subsidies to fund its vaccine development. This preserved Pfizer’s negotiating independence, avoided bureaucratic delays and helped Pfizer get to the finish line first. Taking no subsidies enabled Pfizer to deflect any government pressure to make its vaccine available at lower cost.
There’s another problem. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses with 21- and 28-day intervals, respectively, between vaccinations. Typically, this will result in 50 percent slippage; half those who receive the first shot will not return for the second. Some will forget, others will experience side effects, and others will believe wrongly that one jab is good enough. Meanwhile, Britain’s AstraZeneca has developed an equally effective COVID-19 vaccine that requires normal refrigeration and can therefore use existing vaccine supply chains that extend to rural areas. The AstraZeneca vaccine is being sold at $2 per dose versus $20 per dose (that is, $40 per person) for Pfizer’s. AstraZeneca has pledged not to profit from COVID-19 vaccine sales and to waive patent protections. Pfizer has done neither.
Pfizer’s strategy is simple. Be first to market and make a boatload of money by “skimming the cream,” supplying vaccines to those willing to pay. Pfizer has cut deals at high prices with about 20 developed countries. Their government agencies can’t reject the Pfizer vaccine as too expensive because they can’t ask their frontline healthcare workers to wait for a cheaper alternative. They have to act now.
“Rather than antibodies produced by the body to help fight an infection, AZD7442 uses monoclonal antibodies, which have been created in a laboratory.”
British scientists are trialling a new drug that could prevent someone who has been exposed to coronavirus from going on to develop the disease Covid-19, which experts say could save many lives. The antibody therapy would confer instant immunity against the disease and could be given as an emergency treatment to hospital inpatients and care home residents to help contain outbreaks. People living in households where someone has caught Covid could be injected with the drug to ensure they do not become infected too. It could also be given to university students, among whom the virus has spread rapidly because they live, study and socialise together.
Dr Catherine Houlihan, a virologist at University College London Hospitals NHS trust (UCLH) who is leading a study called Storm Chaser into the drug, said: “If we can prove that this treatment works and prevent people who are exposed to the virus going on to develop Covid-19, it would be an exciting addition to the arsenal of weapons being developed to fight this dreadful virus.,” The drug has been developed by UCLH and AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company that has also, along with Oxford University, created a vaccine that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is expected to approve for use in Britain next week. The team hope the trial shows that the cocktail of antibodies protects against Covid-19 for between six and 12 months. Trial participants are receiving it as two doses, one after the other.
If it is approved, it would be offered to someone who has been exposed to Covid in the previous eight days. It could be available as soon as March or April if it is approved by the medicines regulator after it has reviewed evidence from the study. The trial involves ULCH, several other British hospitals and a network of 100 sites globally. This month University College hospital became the first site in the world to recruit patients into the randomised control trial and give them the jab or a placebo. “To date we have injected 10 participants – staff, students and other people – who were exposed to the virus at home, in a healthcare setting or student halls,” said Houlihan. She and colleagues would closely follow the participants to see which of them develop Covid-19.
The immediate protection that the drug promises could play a vital role in reducing the impact of the virus until everyone has been immunised. The vaccination programme is under way using the Pfizer/BioNTech jab and is expected to take until next summer. NHS England accelerated the vaccine deployment this week after criticism from hospital bosses, GP leaders and the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt that it was taking too long. “The advantage of this medicine is that it gives you immediate antibodies,” Houlihan said. “We could say to trial participants who have been exposed: yes, you can have the vaccine. But we wouldn’t be telling them that would protect them from the disease, because it’s too late by then [because the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines do not confer full immunity for around a month].”
[..] The drug involves a long-acting antibody combination known as AZD7442, which has been developed by AstraZeneca. Rather than antibodies produced by the body to help fight an infection, AZD7442 uses monoclonal antibodies, which have been created in a laboratory. In documents on a clinical trial that AstraZeneca has registered in the US, it explains that it is investigating “the efficacy of AZD7442 for the post-exposure prophylaxis of Covid-19 in adults. The Sars-CoV-2 spike protein contains the virus’s RBD [receptor-binding domain], which enables the virus to bind to receptors on human cells. By targeting this region of the virus’s spike protein, antibodies can block the virus’s attachment to human cells, and therefore is expected to block infection.”
“Some substantial portion of the early vaccines could be reserved for community trials. A number of communities could be given treatments in which a designated proportion of the population is vaccinated as soon as possible; this portion could be varied (30%, 50%, 70%) so that a variety of treatments could be tested.”
The vaccines approved by the FDA, along with those approved by other countries like China and Russia, have gone through the fastest possible testing. Tens of thousands of individuals have been placed in control and treatment groups in order to determine two things: to what extent do the vaccines reduce the likelihood of getting infected (efficiency) and how common and severe are the side effects (safety)? Meeting both criteria is sufficient for approval, which is how it should be. But there is another crucial question, to what extent do the vaccines reduce transmission of the virus to others?
The answer does not affect whether these vaccines should be employed, but they do have large consequences for other policies during this phase of the pandemic, such as rules for separation and masking, restrictions on activities and events, resumption of in-person schooling, and how much should be spent on interventions like ventilation overhauls. To the extent that vaccination reduces transmission, other restrictions and investments can be modified as the vaccinated portion of the population increases. Unfortunately, our knowledge of this issue is minimal. We don’t have any published lab results at all, and we are at least months away from meaningful epidemiological data.
A rollout that prioritizes crucial learning could change this. Some substantial portion of the early vaccines could be reserved for community trials. A number of communities could be given treatments in which a designated proportion of the population is vaccinated as soon as possible; this portion could be varied (30%, 50%, 70%) so that a variety of treatments could be tested. Others matched to them by relevant demographic, economic and other variables would be controls and would not receive any vaccines during the trial period. (Note that the lack of blinding at the community level should not be a serious problem as long as unvaccinated individuals in treatment communities are given a convincing placebo.) Everyone living in these communities would be tested regularly. We could then observe differences between community infection rates corresponding to treatment and infer transmission probabilities under real world conditions. It might also be possible to learn how transmission varies across the different viral strains that have emerged. The entire operation could be accomplished within the space of a month or less.
You have allergies? Stay away.
The chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed said the frequency of allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is higher than what would be expected for other jabs, according to a report.Dr. Moncef Slaoui said the last time he was updated on allergic reactions was Tuesday, when there were six cases, and added that the data on COVID-19 immunizations is lagging behind the actual numbers, CNN reported. “That frequency, as it stood yesterday, is superior to what one would expect with other vaccines,” he said. Slaoui said discussions are underway between the vaccine makers and the National Institutes of Health to consider holding clinical trials of vaccines in very allergic populations, such as people who always have to carry anti-allergy medication in an EpiPen.
January will be bleak.
Millions more people will be waking to harsher coronavirus restrictions on Boxing Day when new tier changes come into force in England. New lockdowns are set to be introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland, while restrictions that were eased for Christmas Day in Wales will be reimposed on Saturday. Those in the strict tier 4 in England will increase by 6 million to 24 million people, representing 43% of the population, in response to a more transmissible variant being discovered in the UK. It comes after the government said a further 570 died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus as of Christmas Day, taking the UK’s total deaths within 28 days of a positive test to 70,195. Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 86,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
There were also 32,725 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, bringing to 244,146 the number of positive tests in the past seven days. The new measures were being imposed against a backdrop of increasing infections, hospital admissions and a new more contagious variant in the UK which was announced last week. Areas moving into tier 4 are Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex not yet in the highest tier, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire, with the exception of the New Forest. Tier-4 restrictions include a warning to stay at home, a limit on household mixing to two people outdoors and the forced closure of many shops, hairdressers and gyms.
“In essence Trump is asking for a stand alone COVID relief bill for $2k/person, then drop the $600/person payment out of the pork-laden COVID relief bill and start that economic relief bill over.”
There has been a great deal of political narrative engineering/fabrication surrounding President Trump’s admonitions to congress about a pork-filled COVID relief package. With a budgetary “shut-down” date looming on Monday, let’s look at the issues. First, there’s no such thing as a federal government “shut-down”; the only thing that happens if with a budgetary date exceeded is “non essential” government employees told to stay home (reference the prior “sequestration” nonsense). Second, the jaw-droppingly tone-deaf and pork-filled scheme of spending within the $900 billion COVID relief package is disconnected from the Omnibus spending bill ($1.5 trillion) that was combined into a single legislative construct for convenience only.
The Omnibus bill (non budget spending/allocation) and the COVID bill can be separated, because they are technically separate bills. President Trump wants congress to re-write the $900 billion COVID bill to provide $2,000 per person instead of $600 per person. In essence Trump is asking for a stand alone COVID relief bill for $2k/person, then drop the $600/person payment out of the pork-laden COVID relief bill and start that economic relief bill over. This is not a hard issue to resolve. The only reason UniParty congress is fighting Trump is because their lobbyist and foreign government bribes are part of the $900 billion and will not pass the scrutiny of public opinion if standing alone.
To try and conflate the issues Pelosi changed on part of the pork-laden COVID bill to $2k/person, without removing all the pork. The GOP voted against that scheme and the media are now claiming that loggerhead derails the omnibus part of the spending “package”. Again, Omnibus is separate from COVID relief. The obtuse arguments are conflated and false. The Omnibus spending bill can be sent to POTUS without the COVID part included. The reason why McConnell and Pelosi want to keep them attached is because the combination makes a 5,500 page mess that hides the pork.
“Why ask a president whether he is a traitor or a crook when you can focus on his favorite flavor of milkshake or compliment him on his socks?”
After Nov. 3, the meaning of some words and concepts abruptly changed. Have you noticed how new realities have replaced old ones? Media cross-examination of the president is now an out-of-date idea. The time for gotcha questions has come and gone. Why ask a president whether he is a traitor or a crook when you can focus on his favorite flavor of milkshake or compliment him on his socks? The old pre-election truth was that new vaccines take years to develop. The new postelection truth is that it’s no big deal to bring out new vaccines in nine months. Impeaching a first-term president after his first midterm election — on a strictly partisan vote, for political reasons other than the Constitution’s “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” — is now a terrible idea.
Worse would be to appoint a special counsel to harass a president on unfounded charges of collusion with China. An even scarier notion would be a conservative dream team of partisan lawyers hounding President Joe Biden — using a 22-month, $40 million blank check. It would be unprofessional for university psychologists and physicians from a distance to diagnose, in pop fashion, the mental faculties of a President Biden. Certainly, there would never be talk about Department of Justice officials contemplating wearing a wire as part of an entrapment scheme to remove a President Biden through the 25th Amendment. That would almost constitute a coup attempt. Almost as bad would be for the holdover FBI director to start “memorializing” his private conversations with Joe Biden on FBI devices. He might then leak such memos to the press — just in case he were to be fired for secretly investigating Biden for “Chinese collusion” and then lying about such a probe.
What happened to the Logan Act? Not long ago it was assumed to be a critically needed guardrail. Wouldn’t it now ensure that presidential transition team members were not calling foreign leaders while Donald Trump is still president? How has it suddenly become a defunct, ossified relic? Leaking classified material would be about the worst thing government officials could do. Imagine if a Trump holdover, burrowed into the new Biden administration, released a transcript of Biden’s private conversations with the Mexican president or the Australian prime minister. Such a breach of trust would be almost as bad as a turncoat anti-Biden mole seeking to resist presidential directives. Imagine if this anonymous staffer were given an op-ed in the New York Tines to claim that a cadre of old-time Democrats were shocked by Biden’s cognitive decline and resisting his directives.
$100 million for a Senate seat. Inflation much?
Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock have each raised over $100 million in the past two months, shattering Senate fundraising records and out-raising their respective challengers, Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Their $210 million total was split almost evenly, with Ossoff reporting $106.8 million and Warnock reporting $103.4 million, two totals funded largely by small-dollar donors across the country, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Though outraised, Perdue and Loeffler raised over $130 million in total, reporting $68 and $64.1 million, respectively. All four totals broke the previous Senate fundraising record set by South Carolina challenger Jaime Harrison in the third quarter of 2020 when he reported raising $57 million in his bid against South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Ossoff and Warnock have spent $67 and $53 million on television advertisements since the November election, compared to $34 million and $36 million for Perdue and Loeffler. But while the two Democrats have outspent both incumbents, outside GOP groups have erased much of their financial edge, Politico reported. Georgia’s two Senate runoffs have become almost completely nationalized given their stakes. If Democrats flip both seats then they would have 50 seats, just enough for a majority with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote. If Republicans, however, can defend both seats, then they would have a 52-48 Senate majority, which would prevent Democratic control of Congress and the White House and likely block much of President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda once he takes office in January.
The post-Brexit trade deal agreed by the UK and the European Union goes beyond the bloc’s so-called “Canada-style” trade accord, the BBC has reported, citing a full copy of the agreement. The 1,246-page document, which includes about 800 pages of annexes and footnotes, includes a late compromise on electric cars, the corporation said. The EU had sought to offer tariff-free access only to those British vehicles that are made mostly with European parts. This measure will now be phased in over six years but is less generous than the UK requested. The BBC also reported there is a commitment not to lower standards on the environment, workers’ rights and climate change with mechanisms to enforce it.
However there is also a mutual right to “rebalance” the agreement if there are “significant divergences” in future that are capable of “impacting trade”. The dispensations go beyond standard free-trade agreements such as those between the EU and Canada or Japan, reflecting the UK’s history in the single market which was established in 1993. Johnson had described the agreement, which was reached on Christmas Eve, as a “jumbo” free trade deal along the lines of that between the EU and Canada and urged Britain to move on from the divisions caused by the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The BBC reported that restrictions compensation for unfair subsidies to companies “do not apply” in situations such as natural disasters which will exempt the EU’s large current pandemic support package for aviation, aerospace, climate change and electric cars. Parliament will debate and vote on the deal on Wednesday, a day before the transition period lapses. Downing Street has thus far published only a short summary of the agreement that sets out the shape of the future relationship between the EU and Brussels.
Make it stop!
Last month, commercial flights with Boeing 737 Max jetliners resumed after a 20-month worldwide grounding, following two deadly accidents. Now we’re finding out, weeks later, after the Max was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to return to the skies safely, an Air Canada Boeing 737-8 Max suffered engine issues during flight. According to Aviation24.be, an Air Canada Boeing 737-8 MAX (registered C-FSNQ) was on a test flight after storage from Marana Pinal, Arizona, to Montreal, Canada, when the incident occurred. Luckily, the aircraft had no passengers and only three crew members.
Engine issues shortly developed after the plane took off. The crew noticed the “left engine had low hydraulic pressure,” said Aviation24.be. Then more complications developed with the aircraft: “The crew and airline dispatch/engineering controllers initially decided to continue to Montreal but the crew received an indication of a fuel imbalance from the left-hand wing and shut the left hand engine down,” said the aviation website. The crew was forced to declare a “PAN-PAN” emergency, meaning the plane was in severe jeopardy and had to divert from its pre-planned flight route and land in Tucson. The incident took place on Dec. 22, according to Aviation24.be.
“In short, the self-demolition of America was fait accompli.”
And so, on Christmas morning, having suffered the night visitations of vexing spirits — or was that just the strange interaction of Zyprexa and Zolpidem — Joe Biden woke up (in a manner of speaking) to find himself transformed. He was no longer dogged by the prospect of being president of the US, but, rather, was convinced he had become the provincial plenipotentiary of a Chinese overseas possession known as Golden Wok West, where CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping can order up any asset for take-out. What a relief, Joe thought, as they brought in his morning meds. Here, now, was a one-horse pony of a different color, Joe mused, chugging down his 5mg of Haldol.
Ol’ Joe went to bed on the blessed silent night fretting that soon he’d have to answer to all those caterwauling losers about to be tossed from their McHouses and apartments after nearly a year of nonpayment. But no, the shabby dwellings would now just become the property of the People’s Liberation Army, as that very fine organization prepared to sort things out in the flea market once known as America.
Was there anything left of value? Wasn’t that a puzzlement? The former so-called Yang-kees had squandered all their laid-up treasure turning their continent into a demolition derby — six-laners lined by muffler shops, chain stores, and fried food shacks — and when all their financial resources were used up, they’d borrowed so much more money that all the certified public accountants who ever lived could not keep up with the compounded interest calculations if they worked double-shifts until the end of time. In short, the self-demolition of America was fait accompli.
Now, all that was left for Joe Biden to do was to sign some paperwork and, maybe three times a week, emerge from his basement to smile and explain to eager members of the inquisitive news media why he preferred General Tso’s Chicken over Hunan Beef. At least that’s how things seemed to shake out in Joe Biden’s brain on Christmas morning as Dr. Jill helped him to the bathroom….
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– John Cleese
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