BRACING FOR TRIPLEDEMIC 2.0.
Federal health authorities are working swiftly to assure the public of a more effective response to the upcoming respiratory virus season compared to the previous year’s chaos. At a recent briefing, senior officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlighted the tools available to combat Covid-19, RSV, and influenza. The officials emphasized the improved preparedness, with vaccines now available for all major fall and winter respiratory viruses, namely, influenza, Covid-19, and RSV. Updated Covid vaccines are awaiting FDA clearance, with rollout expected by mid-September. These vaccines will target a single SARS-CoV-2 virus strain and exclude the original 2019 variant. mRNA vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are authorized for individuals 12 and older, with emergency use for children 11 and younger. An additional dose might be recommended for older and immunocompromised individuals. New tools to combat RSV have also been introduced, including two vaccines for older adults and a monoclonal antibody for newborns. Additionally, the federal government continues to distribute significant supplies of Covid tests across various establishments. (STAT)
India’s lunar rover successfully descended from the lander of its spacecraft, marking a historic moment as the rover landed near the moon’s south pole. The rover, Chandrayan-3, will conduct 14 days of experiments analyzing the mineral composition of the moon’s surface. The achievement was celebrated across India, with citizens gathering around televisions, rejoicing over the nation’s success in space exploration. The area of the landing is believed to possess potential reserves of frozen water. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman S. Somnath confirmed the lander’s precision in touching down near the targeted area and highlighted the functionality of the rover’s scientific instruments. Following a failed attempt in 2019, India now joins the US, Soviet Union, and China in successfully landing on the moon. The mission underscores India’s growing technological prowess in space exploration. This accomplishment follows the recent failure of Russia’s Luna-25 to land in the same region. India, having actively pursued space missions since the 1960s, plans a mission to the International Space Station next year in partnership with the US. (Associated Press)
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS.
Maui County officials have accused Hawaiian Electric, Hawaii’s largest electric utility, of being responsible for recent wildfires that resulted in the deaths of at least 115 people. In a lawsuit, they allege that the utility company’s “intentional and malicious” mismanagement of power lines ignited the flames. The utility reportedly neglected ominous weather warnings on August 8, including red-flag fire danger alerts due to hurricane-induced winds, and did not undertake essential maintenance in preceding years. The lawsuit emphasizes that Hawaiian Electric was aware of the risks posed by high wind gusts to their overhead electrical structures. Although Hawaiian Electric has faced previous lawsuits from homeowners and shareholders alleging negligence, this is the first instance of the local government directly attributing blame to the utility for the wildfire-related destruction. In response, Hawaiian Electric expressed disappointment with Maui County’s legal move, especially with investigations still ongoing. The lawsuit maintains that the catastrophic damage was preventable had the utility taken proper precautions. (New York Times)
HOT HOT HEAT.
Brazil is experiencing an unusual winter with record high temperatures affecting 19 of its 26 states, including the capital, Brasilia, as reported by the National Meteorological Institute. The heatwave brought beachgoers to popular locations like Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana. Four state capitals registered this year’s highest temperatures, with Cuiabá reaching 41.8°C (107.2°F). Rio witnessed a temperature of 38.7°C (101.7°F), its second hottest day in 2023. In Bahia and Piauí, air humidity dropped below 20%, leading the government to advise against outdoor physical activities during peak heat. The previous month, Brazil recorded its hottest July since 1961. Climatologist Jose Marengo attributes the heat to a high-pressure anomaly, while Renata Libonati points to climate change and the El Niño phenomenon as potential amplifiers. Marengo believes Brazil’s tropical acclimation may lessen the impact, and expects the heat to be soon interrupted by cooler weather. Media, meanwhile, has been criticized for downplaying the situation, although recent reports have begun addressing climate change. (Associated Press)
President Joe Biden’s administration has given a 6-month window to negotiate a deal with China to extend the 44-year-old scientific cooperation agreement between the two nations. This move comes amidst rising tensions between the countries and pressure from congressional Republicans to halt cooperation with China. The agreement has been historically renewed every 5 years since it was initiated in 1979 by then-Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Many U.S. academics support the renewal, highlighting the mutual benefits of joint research in diverse areas, including climate change and health. However, critics argue that the current geopolitical climate makes the pact risky, suggesting China could exploit the agreement for its military objectives. The State Department emphasizes flexibility and vigilance concerning China’s actions in the science and technology space. Though the agreement doesn’t fund specific projects, it has spurred significant collaboration in various fields, benefiting both nations. The current extension allows for renegotiations to address concerns from both sides. (Science)
CHINA COVID NUMBERS.
A U.S. study conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle suggests China’s swift decision to abandon its zero-COVID policy may have resulted in about 1.87 million excess deaths in two months. The research, derived from mortality data from Chinese universities and online searches, indicates that these deaths occurred among people over 30 years old from December 2022 to January 2023, covering all mainland Chinese provinces except Tibet. China’s shift from its stringent three-year zero-COVID strategy, which included mass testing and constant quarantines, caused a significant rise in unreported hospitalizations and deaths. This study’s findings, published in JAMA Network Open, contrast with the official January Chinese report that claimed 60,000 deaths after dropping the zero-COVID policy. China ceased releasing daily death counts in late 2022. Despite declaring a “decisive victory” over COVID in February, recent reports state that a new Omicron variant, EG.5 or “Eris”, has become dominant, accounting for 71.6% of cases by August. (Reuters)
WEIGHT LOSS DRUGS HELP HEART.
A global trial has found that weight-loss injections can significantly improve symptoms of heart failure. The study, spearheaded by US researchers, found that the drug semaglutide, available under brand names like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus, brings about substantial improvements in symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling. These findings were announced at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual conference. The trial, which is considered the gold standard of medical research, focused on heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) and involved 529 patients from 13 countries. The study participants had a median age of 69 and a median body mass index (BMI) of 105.1kg. Results showed that patients treated with semaglutide experienced significant improvements in symptoms and physical function compared to those given a placebo. Experts believe this treatment could revolutionize the care of heart failure patients, offering a new lease of life to those affected by the condition. (The Guardian)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: cottonbro studio.