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The Daily Dose: A must-read herd immunity explainer; Desperation in the FDA.

People have been tossing around the idea of herd immunity to SARS-CoV-2, especially when it suits a political argument. Most of the people screaming the loudest — politicians and Twitter epidemiologists — actually have little understanding of the concept beyond the crude statement that if enough people get infected, it means the COVID-19 pandemic will burn itself out. The Great Barrington Declaration has formalized this stance. Yet, as any epidemiologist will tell you, it’s much more complicated than that. An article in Nature, systematically maps out the strategy, stating that “Arguments in favour of allowing the virus to run its course largely unchecked share a misunderstanding about what herd immunity is, and how best to achieve it.” They address five basic questions: What is herd immunity? How do you achieve it? How high is the threshold for SARS-CoV-2? Will herd immunity work? What else stands in the way of herd immunity? Unfortunately, people don’t generally like complicated. That’s how we ended up in this steaming hot mess.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration appears to be going out of its way to establish their independence from the Trump Administration. This comes after serious questions have arisen regarding the agency’s ability to objectively decide whether potential COVID-19 vaccines meet established safety requirements. Per the Associated Press, “The U.S. regulators who will decide the fate of COVID-19 vaccines are taking an unusual step: Asking outside scientists if their standards are high enough. The Food and Drug Administration may have to decide by year’s end whether to allow use of the first vaccines against the virus. Thursday, a federal advisory committee pulls back the curtain on that decision process, debating whether the guidelines FDA has set for vaccine developers are rigorous enough.” The question that needs answering is who will these outside experts be? “Outside” doesn’t necessarily mean independent.

The CDC has revised its definition of a close contact when it comes to COVID-19. Previously, the agency described a close contact as someone who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone who was infectious. The criteria has been adjusted to include anyone who has spent a cumulative 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone who was infectious over 24 hours, even if the time isn’t consecutive. Per STAT, “The announcement from the CDC comes as scientists described in a new study how a correctional officer in Vermont appears to have contracted the coronavirus during “multiple brief encounters” with six incarcerated people who had Covid-19. The infected people were awaiting the results of their Covid-19 tests while the interactions happened.” Does this make contact tracing that much more complicated?

A volunteer in AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Phase III clinical trial in Brazil has died. However, the trial has not been suspended. Per Reuters, “A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis jab.” The trial had been previously suspended due to another volunteer unexpectedly developing meningitis.

Imaging has taken a not-insignificant step forward. One current method involves flash-freezing copies of the protein and bombard them with electrons. It is a lower resolution method called cryo–electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Scientists have now improved on that method. According to Science, “For the first time, scientists have sharpened cryo-EM’s resolution to the atomic level, allowing them to pinpoint the positions of individual atoms in a variety of proteins at a resolution that rivals x-ray crystallography’s.”

Finally, we’d like to introduce you to the world’s most physically resilient beetle. So who wins in a fight? This beetle or a tardigrade?

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