The Daily Dose: mRNA vaccine allergies may be due to nanoparticles; Border closures only work early in an outbreak.

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are known to cause severe allergies in about 1 in 1 million people. Scientists believe it may be due to the nanoparticles used to carry the genetic material. Per Science, “Severe allergy-like reactions in at least eight people who received the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech over the past 2 weeks may be due to a compound in the packaging of the messenger RNA (mRNA) that forms the vaccine’s main ingredient, scientists say. A similar mRNA vaccine developed by Moderna, which was authorized for emergency use in the United States on Friday, also contains the compound, polyethylene glycol (PEG).” PEG is already used in common products such as toothpaste and is gaining increased usage in the pharmaceutical industry. One thought to be inert, data has shown that a small subset of the population can be allergic to it. The mechanism of the allergy is not well understood and differs from classic allergies.

A recent study studied whether the estimation and communication of epidemic information has been effective. As it turns out, there were actually errors in the estimated numbers of infected, specifically the severity of the outbreak is often underestimated. Per PLOS One, “We find that framing matters for people’s assessment of the benefits of non-pharmaceutical interventions. In two commonly used frames, most subjects in our experiment drastically underestimate the number of cases avoided by adopting non-pharmaceutical interventions. Framing growth in terms of doubling times rather than growth rates reduces the bias. When the scenario is framed in terms of time gained rather than cases avoided, the median subject assesses the benefit of non-pharmaceutical interventions correctly.”

While we’re on the subject of non-pharmaceutical interventions, recent data suggests that the effectiveness of border closures to prevent the spread of an outbreak is a classic case of diminishing returns. Per Nature, “Models have found that strict border closures could have helped limit viral transmission in the pandemic’s early days. But once the virus started spreading in other countries, border closures provided little benefit.” The degree of ineffectiveness increases with the amount of asymptomatic spread present.

Like most technologies, artificial ripe for abuse by unscrupulous parties. So far, the industry has turned a blind eye from the potential negative uses of the advances in the field. That is beginning to change. According to a report in Nature, “For the first time, the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) meeting, which took place completely online this month, required presenters to submit a statement on the broader impact their research could have on society, including any possible negative effects.”

All things being equal, it’s normally accepted that plant-based diets are healthier than meat eating ones. That’s not to say that they are always better. A recent study published in PLOS One compared the likelihood of one fractures between the two groups. “Compared with meat eaters and after adjustment for socio-economic factors, lifestyle confounders, and body mass index (BMI), the risks of hip fracture were higher in fish eaters (hazard ratio 1.26; 95% CI 1.02–1.54), vegetarians (1.25; 1.04–1.50), and vegans (2.31; 1.66–3.22), equivalent to rate differences of 2.9 (0.6–5.7), 2.9 (0.9–5.2), and 14.9 (7.9–24.5) more cases for every 1000 people over 10 years, respectively. The vegans also had higher risks of total (1.43; 1.20–1.70), leg (2.05; 1.23–3.41), and other main site fractures (1.59; 1.02–2.50) than meat eaters.” This probably doesn’t outweigh the decreased risk of cardiovascular vascular diseases that accompany heavy meat consumption.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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