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March 6th: Update and Vaccines

Australia: two more cases today, QLD and NSW. Not unexpected. Go about your daily lives!

USA: Things are getting a little more, interesting. The WA state lab was able to run a 1000 tests today, finding about 7% of samples positive. CA hasn't reported yet, but the cruise ship scenario is not great. NY has found another 22. If you look, you will find it. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the Governor said "we have almost tested 17 people"... no words.

In MA we are up to 7, with over 250 people in isolation because of known exposure. So it's getting a little real and close to home. We have seen some local school closures, and a MA Biotech company has instructed all workers to work from home as 3 of their employees are infected. Expect disruptions to work and school in the coming weeks, as the State is trying to do everything possible to slow the spread of this pathogen.

As an aside: Italy: 10% of all Doctors in Lombardy are infected. If you are feeling sick, isolate yourself, call ahead, and get instructions.

Vaccine for COVID-19.

So I want to squash a myth that is being put all over the media. There will be NO vaccine for this coronavirus this year. Yes, vaccines are being produced. That can be done in a few weeks. Yes, they will go into a small group of people in the next few months. This will determine whether the vaccine is safe. These Phase I trials usually last ~12 months and have 20-50 people involved. You don't want a biologic causing more harm than good. Phase II and III trials are used to determine if the vaccine is effective - does it protect you from the disease. So you need to vaccinate one group, not vaccinate another, and then see if there is a difference in outcomes between the two groups. This usually takes years. Once you get over these stages, you need to move to manufacturing the vaccine at scale. It takes ~3-4 months to ramp up a new influenza vaccine to scale, and that is a known, very well studied, vaccine.

In reality, 99% of all vaccines fail before phase I, what's left often dies in phase I. Very few get through phases II and III and make it to market. The SARS vaccine led to serious lung pathology in test animals and therefore never progressed to humans. Our technology is much better, 15 years later, but it highlights the importance of safety in the process.

Making vaccines is hard... really hard. If everything is perfect, and the government(s) throw caution to the wind and remove most of the regulatory hurdles, we are looking 12-18 months before we have a widely available vaccine.

Therefore, if this outbreak continues, we have to attack it through social disruption (closures of everything like in China and Northern Italy), or we have to we have to hope that we can find a new use for a current antiviral drug. Many are drugs being looked at, some show promise.

Finally, a paper was published today saying the AVERAGE time from symptoms to recovery was 30 days! This is not the flu. Let's do our part to stop or slow the spread of this thing in our community.

Be nice, wash your hands!

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