Category Archives: good news

Good News Monday: Calling All Hypochondriacs

Does the slightest cough, muscle ache, or sore throat beget frenzied thoughts of fatal disease? Do you panic that you can’t get an immediate doctor’s appointment?

According to the following study, reliable help is as close as your computer.

Photo by Ann Nekr on Pexels.com

[from StudyFinds.org]

Going to ‘Dr. Google’ to look up your symptoms actually leads to accurate diagnoses!

BOSTON, Mass. — The moment something doesn’t look or feel right, many people won’t run to their doctor, they’ll turn to Google. Although an internet search may not sound like good medical advice, a new study finds it can actually help. Researchers say patients who use “Dr. Google” to find out what’s wrong with them will likely get the right diagnosis.

According to the report, googling symptoms improves peoples’ ability to diagnose their illness without adding additional stress. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School admit that “cyberchondria” has made the value of internet medical searches controversial.

This increased anxiety brought on by continuously looking up every ailment online has even pushed some medical professionals to urge patients not to look their symptoms up online before seeing them. Researchers add anxiety can lead people to think they’re on death’s door when in fact they are perfectly healthy.

Despite Dr. Google’s poor reputation, study authors conclude using the internet to check your symptoms may not be such a bad idea after all.

“I have patients all the time, where the only reason they come into my office is because they Googled something and the Internet said they have cancer,” study author Dr. David Levine says in a media release. “I wondered, ‘Is this all patients? How much cyberchondria is the Internet creating?”

Can everyday people give out sound medical advice?

Researchers asked 5,000 participants to read a short “case vignette,” describing a number of symptoms and imagine someone close to them was experiencing them. The participants then had to make two diagnoses, before and after looking up the symptoms online.

Cases ranged from mild to severe, but described common illnesses, such as viruses, heart attacks, and strokes. Study authors also asked the group to choose between letting the health condition get better on its own or calling 911. After making their choice, participants reported how anxious they felt.

Results reveal participants were “slightly better” at correctly diagnosing their cases after carrying out an internet search. The process also did not add to their levels of anxiety.

“Our work suggests that it is likely OK to tell our patients to ‘Google it,’” Dr. Levine says. “This starts to form the evidence base that there’s not a lot of harm in that, and, in fact, there may be some good.”

Are robot doctors next?

The team admits it’s not clear whether people would behave the same way if one of their loved ones was truly ill. Moreover, the results won’t represent the reactions of all people who use the internet for health-related searches. Next, study authors are planning on testing whether artificial intelligence could use the Internet to correctly diagnose patients.

“This next study takes a generalized AI algorithm, trained on all of the open-source text of the Internet such as Reddit and Twitter, and then uses that to respond when prompted,” Dr. Levine concludes. “Can AI supplement how people use the Internet? Can it supplement how doctors use the Internet? That’s what we’re interested in investigating.”

The findings appear in the journal JAMA Network Open.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Bye-Bye Baldness

And did you know that shorter men are more likely to be prematurely bald? That seems very unfair.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Cure for baldness may be coming after discovery of a protein that fuels hair growth

by Study Finds

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A scientific discovery may make the “comb over” a thing of the past for people losing their hair. Harvard researchers say a cure for baldness is on the horizon after scientists uncovered a protein that fuels hair growth.

The breakthrough could lead to a cream that fuels an unlimited supply of locks for the follicly-challenged. In experiments, mice successfully sprouted three times as many hairs by surgically removing their adrenal glands. The small organs above each kidney release the stress hormone corticosterone, the rodent equivalent of cortisol. This stops the protein GAS6 in its tracks.

Stress reactions such as worry, anger, and anxiety have long been connected to male pattern baldness. Researchers even estimate about a quarter of COVID-19 survivors suffer hair loss due to the shock of infection.

“Stress hormones suppress growth in mice through the regulation of hair follicle stem cells,” says professor of stem cell and regenerative biology and study corresponding author Ya-Chieh Hsu in a statement to SWNS.

The study, appearing in the journal Nature, identifies the process that underpins hair loss for the first time and reveals how to reverse it.

“Chronic, sustained exposure to stressors can profoundly affect tissue homeostasis, although the mechanisms by which these changes occur are largely unknown,” researchers write in their report.

“The stress hormone corticosterone—which is derived from the adrenal gland and is the rodent equivalent of cortisol in humans—regulates hair follicle stem cell (HFSC) quiescence and hair growth in mice.”

Turning back the clock on hair’s lifespan

Study authors explain the hormone regulates dormancy and activity of hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) in mice. In the absence of systemic corticosterone, the little cavities where each hair grows enter substantially more rounds of the regeneration cycle throughout life.

“When corticosterone levels are elevated, hair follicles stay in an extended rest phase and fail to regenerate,” Prof. Hsu tells SWNS. “Conversely, if corticosterone is depleted, hair follicle stem cells become activated and new hair growth occurs.”

An analysis discovered corticosterone suppresses production of GAS6. In the absence of the hormone, it boosts proliferation of hair follicles.

“Restoring the expression of GAS6 could overcome stress-induced inhibition of hair follicle stem cells – and might encourage regeneration of growth,” Prof Hsu notes. “It might therefore be possible to exploit the ability of HFSCs to promote hair-follicle regeneration by modulating the corticosterone–GAS6 axis.”

Throughout a person’s lifespan, hair cycles through three stages, growth (or “anagen”), degeneration (“catagen”), and rest (“telogen”). During anagen, a follicle continuously pushes out a hair shaft. In catagen, growth stops and the lower portion shrinks, but the hair remains in place. During telogen, it remains dormant.

Under severe stress, many hair follicles enter this phase prematurely and the hair quickly falls out. This lifespan is much shorter in the corticosterone-free mice than controls; less than 20 days compared with two to three months.

Curing hair loss due to stress

Their follicles also engaged in hair growth roughly three times as often. However, researchers restored their normal hair cycle by feeding the subjects corticosterone. Interestingly, when they applied various mild stressors to the controls for nine weeks, corticosterone rose and hair stopped growing. These stressors included tilting their cage, isolation, crowding, damp bedding, rapid lighting changes, and restraining. Injecting GAS6 into their skin reinitiated hair growth with no side-effects.

“These exciting findings establish a foundation for exploring treatments for hair loss caused by chronic stress,” adds Prof. Rui Yi, a dermatalogist at Northwestern University and not involved in the study.

The study also reveals GAS6 increases expression of genes involved in cell division in HFSCs.

“So, the authors might have uncovered a previously unknown mechanism that stimulates HFSC activation directly by promoting cell division,” Prof Yi continues. “In aging skin, most progenitor cells harbor DNA mutations – including harmful ones that are often found in skin cancers – without forming tumors.

“It will be crucial to see whether forced GAS6 expression could inadvertently unleash the growth potential of these quiescent but potentially mutation-containing HFSCs,” Yi concludes. “Modern life for humans is inevitably stressful. But perhaps, one day, it will prove possible to combat the negative impact of chronic stress on our hair, at least – by adding some GAS6.”

Good News Monday: Something Writers Always Suspected

writing paper
(Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

(From Studyfinds.org)

Writing on paper triggers more brain activity than using a tablet or smartphone

by Chris Melore

TOKYO, Japan — As digital devices become an everyday part of society, many probably view a pen and paper as things of the past. Despite the ease of tapping information into a smartphone or tablet, a new study finds you may want to keep those paper notebooks after all. Researchers in Tokyo have discovered that people writing notes by hand display more brain activity than their peers entering data into an electronic device.

A team from the University of Tokyo adds the unique and tactile information that comes from writing things on paper may also help writers remember the information better.

“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author and neuroscientist Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai in a university release.

“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”

The pen is mightier than the tablet?

It’s a common belief that digital devices help people complete tasks faster. Despite this, the study finds people writing notes by hand actually finished their task 25 percent quicker than tablet users.

Researchers add that paper notebooks also contain more complex spatial information than a digital screen. Physical paper allows the writer to add tangible permanence to their important information. Writers can also use irregular strokes to convey special meaning and uneven shapes — like a folded corner of a page. Study authors say “digital paper” is much more uniform. There is no fixed position when scrolling and the information disappears from view when users close the app.

What happens to the brain when you write on paper?

The study gathered 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between two people talking about their future plans. The discussion included 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and scheduled appointments. Researchers also sorted the participants — all between 18 and 29 years-old from university campuses or the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting — into three groups, according to memory skills, personal preferences of digital or paper methods, gender, and age.

The groups then recorded the fictional schedules using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app using a tablet and stylus, or an app on a smartphone using the touch-screen keyboard. The participants did not take extra time to memorize the information after completing the task.

After a one-hour break and an “interference task” to distract the volunteers from thinking about their notes, researchers gave participants a test on the conversation. The multiple choice questions also ranged in difficultly from simple to more complex. Simple questions asked “when is the assignment due?” while others included “which is the earlier due date for the assignments?”

During this test, study authors examined brain activity using functional MRI (fMRI) scans. During this procedure, scientists say increased blood flow in specific brain regions is a sign of higher neuronal activity.

The results reveal young adults using paper completed their note-taking in just 11 minutes. Tablet and smartphone users finished in 14 and 16 minutes, respectively. Volunteers using pen and paper also scored higher on the multiple choice test. However, researchers say the participants’ brain activity reveals even greater differences.

Volunteers using paper displayed more brain activity in areas with a connection to language and imaginary visualization. They also show more activity in the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory and navigation.

Writing on paper may also be better for kids and creativity

Study authors say the fact that writing on paper triggers activity in the hippocampus shows analog methods contain richer spatial details which make hand-written notes easier to remember.

Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin,” Sakai explains.

The team notes that it is possible to personalize digital documents, using highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows. People who prefer a digital pad can even leave virtual sticky notes that mimic analog-style spatial enrichment.

Although the experiment only included young adults, researchers believe the link between paper writing and brain activity will be even stronger in children.

“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains,” Sakai adds.

“It is reasonable that one’s creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory. For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.”

The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Good News Monday: A Cancer Vaccine?

BERLIN (AP) — The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer.

Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumors when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.

Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat, dubbing the effort “Project Lightspeed.”

Within 11 months, Britain had authorized the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the United States. Tens of millions of people worldwide have received the shot since December.

“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press in an interview.

Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company that had yet to get a product to market was how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.

Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China “to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,” Tureci said.

Among the lessons she and her husband, BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin, learned along with their colleagues was “how important cooperation and collaboration is internationally.”

Tureci, who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, said the company, which has staff members from 60 countries, reached out to medical oversight bodies from the start, to ensure that the new type of vaccine would pass the rigorous scrutiny of regulators.

“The process of getting a medicine or a vaccine approved is one where many questions are asked, many experts are involved and there is external peer review of all the data and scientific discourse,” she said.

Amid a scare in Europe this week over the coronavirus shot made by British-Swedish rival AstraZeneca, Tureci dismissed the idea that any corners were cut by those racing to develop a vaccine.

“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” she said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with our or other vaccines.”

Tureci and her colleagues have all received the BioNTech vaccine themselves, she told the AP. “Yes, we have been vaccinated,” she said.

As BioNTech’s profile has grown during the pandemic, so has its value, providing funds the company can use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.

The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors.

“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer.

Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”

For now, Tureci and Sahin are trying to ensure the vaccines governments have ordered are delivered and that the shots respond effectively to any new mutation in the virus.

On Friday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded the wife and husband one of the country’s highest decorations, the Order of Merit, during a ceremony attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained scientist herself.

“You began with a drug to treat cancer in a single individual,” Steinmeier told the couple. “And today we have a vaccine for all of humanity.”

Tureci said ahead of the ceremony that getting the award was “indeed an honor.”

But she insisted developing the vaccine was the work of many.

“It’s about the effort of many: our team at BioNTech, all the partners who were involved, also governments, regulatory authorities, which worked together with a sense of urgency,” Tureci said. “The way we see it, this is an acknowledgement of this effort and also a celebration of science.”

Good News Monday: Planet of the Apes

Great apes at the San Diego Zoo receive a Covid-19 vaccine for animals

By Stella Chan and Scottie Andrew, CNN

Updated 4:10 PM ET, Fri March 5, 2021Members of the San Diego Zoo's orangutan and bonobo tribes have received a Covid-19 vaccine designated for non-human use, zoo officials said. Members of the San Diego Zoo’s orangutan and bonobo tribes have received a Covid-19 vaccine designated for non-human use, zoo officials said.

(CNN) Several great apes at the San Diego Zoo have been vaccinated against Covid-19 a few weeks after the zoo’s gorillas tested positive for the virus. Members of the zoo’s bonobo and orangutan troops were vaccinated using doses from a supply intended strictly for non-human use, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) said in statement to CNN. Veterinarians identified members of the bonobo and orangutan troops most at risk who could be easily vaccinated, the organization said.

San Diego Zoo gorillas make full recovery from Covid-19

Vaccinations began in January and have continued up to this month, and the animals received their second dose after three weeks. “The animals are doing well and we have seen no adverse reactions from the vaccine. The wildlife in our care is closely monitored throughout their lives,” said Darla Davis, a SDZWA spokeswoman.

In January, eight of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s gorillas caught the virus, though their symptoms were mild and limited to coughing, congestion and fatigue. The troop has since fully recovered.

Good News Monday: The Ultimate Haircut

Baarack the overgrown sheep shorn of 35kg (78 lbs!) of matted wool.

From The Guardian

Escaped merino ram found on the lam in regional Australia.

A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece – a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life.

Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, told Reuters that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as their wool continues to grow.

The hirsute ovine was found near Lancefield in Victoria, and rescuers said he had “eked out an existence” eating small shoots of grass.

“He had at one time been ear-tagged, however these appear to have been torn out by the thick, matted fleece around his face,” Behrend said. “He was in a bit of a bad way. He was underweight and, due to all of the wool around his face, he could barely see.”

Baarack is the latest in a long line of very large and woolly sheep to make international headlines.

In 2005 Shrek became a beloved celebrity in New Zealand after he spent six years evading capture and growing to a tremendous size.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/aus/2021/02/ai2html-output_sheep

He was eventually shorn of his 27kg fleece, and even met the New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, before he died in 2011.

A 2014 Guardian Australia analysis estimated that Shrek’s fleece could be used to produce 47.3 jumpers. (That’s “sweaters” in American.)

Based on an 70% yield assumption, Baarack’s fleece would be the equivalent of 61.3 wool sweaters, or 490 pairs of men’s business socks.

A shorn Baarack wearing a rug
 Thirty-five kilograms lighter, Baarack is adapting well Photograph: Edgar’s Mission

Shrek’s legacy much lives on in his home country, with TVNZ announcing the discovery of Baarack with the headline: “Lost Australian sheep brings back memories of our very own Shrek.”

In 2014 another escaped merino ram, called Shaun the sheep, was found with a 23.5kg fleece in New Zealand.

And last year in Australia an escaped ewe – eventually dubbed Ewenice – was relieved of her 20kg fleece after she was discovered in central Victoria.

But all sheep, Baarack included, still pale in comparison to Chris, a Canberran ram who was found in 2005 with a world record 41kg fleece – twice his body weight.

Chris’s fleece was donated to the National Museum of Australia, where it sits in a large display case. The relieved sheep was adopted to live comfortably on a sanctuary until he died in 2019.

Behrend said Baarack had adapted well to his new weight and was settling in with other sheep on the farm.

More Good News on Vaccines

Happy Hump Day! This info is very encouraging. Maybe we’re close to turning the corner on this vicious pandemic. How sad it didn’t happen much, much earlier. And if Congress defangs that crazy Marjorie Taylor Greene, it will be an all-around excellent week. Cheers!

[From New York Times]
“For once, we have some good news to talk about: the prospect of another vaccine coming online in the U.S., and a long-awaited indication that at least one vaccine reduces transmission, not just the severity of Covid-19.

Let’s start with the remarkable turnaround of the experimental vaccine from Novavax, a Maryland-based company that has never before brought a vaccine to market.

Last fall, Novavax postponed U.S. clinical trials because of manufacturing delays, jeopardizing the company’s $1.6 billion federal contract and leaving some to wonder whether they should write off the company’s shot entirely. In December, Novavax watched from the sidelines as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved.

But things have changed. Novavax announced last week that its vaccine produced robust protection in a large British trial and that it worked — although far less well — in a smaller study in South Africa. The company has also been able to quickly recruit volunteers for its U.S. trials because the two authorized vaccines have been difficult to get, and many see the Novavax trial as their best chance to get vaccinated.

So the company now stands a chance of having trial results this spring, with possible government authorization as early as April. If everything goes well, and that is a big if, Novavax could deliver enough additional doses to vaccinate 55 million Americans by the end of June. That would be on top of the 400 million doses that Moderna and Pfizer are contracted to supply the U.S. by the middle of the year — enough for 200 million people.

It gets better: Novavax has been laying the international groundwork for the eventual production of two billion doses per year — and its vaccine, unlike Moderna and Pfizer’s, can be stored and shipped at normal refrigeration temperatures.

As for protection against transmission, AstraZeneca recently released a report that offered an answer to one of the pandemic’s big questions: Will vaccines prevent people from giving the virus to others?

Researchers from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have found that not only did their vaccine protect people from serious illness and death but also had the potential to reduce transmission. Swabs taken from trial participants showed a 67 percent reduction in virus being detected among those vaccinated, though scientists warned that the data was preliminary and that masking remained necessary for all.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is in U.S. trials, and the company has a deal to supply 300 million doses, enough for another 150 million people.”

Good News Monday: Something’s Better Than Nothing

To summarize some encouraging vaccine news in today’s New York Times:

  • All five vaccines with public results have eliminated Covid-19 deaths. They have also drastically reduced hospitalizations. “They’re all good trial results,” reports Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s great news.”
  • Don’t focus on the relatively minor differences among the vaccine results. The available data is very encouraging — including the vaccines’ effect on the virus’s variants.
  • Coronaviruses have been circulating for decades if not centuries, and they’re often mild. The common cold can be a coronavirus. The world isn’t going to eliminate coronaviruses — or this particular one— anytime soon.
  • We don’t need to eliminate Covid-19 for life to return to normal. We need to downgrade it from a deadly pandemic to a normal virus.
  • All five vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson — look extremely good. Of the roughly 75,000 people who have received one of the five in a research trial, not a single person has died from Covid, and only a few people appear to have been hospitalized. None have remained hospitalized 28 days after receiving a shot.
  • For perspective, in 75,000 American adults, Covid has killed roughly 150 and sent several hundred more to the hospital. The vaccines reduce those numbers to zero and nearly zero, based on the research trials. A typical U.S. flu season kills between five and 15 out of every 75,000 adults and hospitalizes more than 100.
  • When you read that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66 percent effective or that the Novavax vaccine was 89 percent effective, those numbers are referring to the prevention of all illness. Researchers count mild symptoms as a failure.
  • What about the highly contagious new virus variants that have emerged in Britain, Brazil and South Africa? There is no evidence yet that it increases deaths among vaccinated people. Two of the five vaccines — from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax — have reported some results from South Africa, and none of the people there who received a vaccine died of Covid.
  • The vaccines still provide considerable protection against the variant, though less than against the original version. Some protection appears to be enough to turn this coronavirus into a fairly normal disease in the vast majority of cases.
  • Any of the five vaccines can save your life. If you have to choose between getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now or waiting three weeks to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, the experts say: Get what you can, as soon as you can. Don’t risk three more weeks of exposure.

Good News Monday: Yes, Vaccines Work!

Encouraging news from today’s New York Times (Sorry, the formatting is a little wonky):

Why the vaccine news is better than you may think.

By David Leonhardt

Preparing the Pfizer vaccine in Phoenix.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times


‘We’re underselling the vaccine’
Early in the pandemic, many health experts — in the U.S. and around the world — decided that the public could not be trusted to hear the truth about masks. Instead, the experts spread a misleading message, discouraging the use of masks.

Their motivation was mostly good. It sprung from a concern that people would rush to buy high-grade medical masks, leaving too few for doctors and nurses. The experts were also unsure how much ordinary masks would help.

But the message was still a mistake.

It confused people. (If masks weren’t effective, why did doctors and nurses need them?) It delayed the widespread use of masks (even though there was good reason to believe they could help). And it damaged the credibility of public health experts.

“When people feel as though they may not be getting the full truth from the authorities, snake-oil sellers and price gougers have an easier time,” the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci wrote early last year.

Now a version of the mask story is repeating itself — this time involving the vaccines. Once again, the experts don’t seem to trust the public to hear the full truth.

This issue is important and complex enough that I’m going to make today’s newsletter a bit longer than usual. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at themorning@nytimes.com.

‘Ridiculously encouraging’
Right now, public discussion of the vaccines is full of warnings about their limitations: They’re not 100 percent effective. Even vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus. And people shouldn’t change their behavior once they get their shots.

These warnings have a basis in truth, just as it’s true that masks are imperfect. But the sum total of the warnings is misleading, as I heard from multiple doctors and epidemiologists last week.

“It’s driving me a little bit crazy,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, told me.

“We’re underselling the vaccine,” Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

“It’s going to save your life — that’s where the emphasis has to be right now,” Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine said.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “essentially 100 percent effective against serious disease,” Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said. “It’s ridiculously encouraging.”

The details
Here’s my best attempt at summarizing what we know:

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — the only two approved in the U.S. — are among the best vaccines ever created, with effectiveness rates of about 95 percent after two doses. That’s on par with the vaccines for chickenpox and measles. And a vaccine doesn’t even need to be so effective to reduce cases sharply and crush a pandemic.


If anything, the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One.


Although no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did. “If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one!” Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine. (And, no, exclamation points are not common in medical journals.)

On Twitter, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California, San Francisco, argued: “Please be assured that YOU ARE SAFE after vaccine from what matters — disease and spreading.”


The risks for vaccinated people are still not zero, because almost nothing in the real world is zero risk. A tiny percentage of people may have allergic reactions. And I’ll be eager to see what the studies on post-vaccination spread eventually show. But the evidence so far suggests that the vaccines are akin to a cure

Offit told me we should be greeting them with the same enthusiasm that greeted the polio vaccine: “It should be this rallying cry.”


The costs of negativity
Why are many experts conveying a more negative message?

Again, their motivations are mostly good. As academic researchers, they are instinctively cautious, prone to emphasizing any uncertainty. Many may also be nervous that vaccinated people will stop wearing masks and social distancing, which in turn could cause unvaccinated people to stop as well. If that happens, deaths would soar even higher.

But the best way to persuade people to behave safely usually involves telling them the truth. “Not being completely open because you want to achieve some sort of behavioral public health goal — people will see through that eventually,” Richterman said. The current approach also feeds anti-vaccine skepticism and conspiracy theories.

After asking Richterman and others what a better public message might sound like, I was left thinking about something like this:

We should immediately be more aggressive about mask-wearing and social distancing because of the new virus variants. We should vaccinate people as rapidly as possible — which will require approving other Covid vaccines when the data justifies it.

People who have received both of their vaccine shots, and have waited until they take effect, will be able to do things that unvaccinated people cannot — like having meals together and hugging their grandchildren. But until the pandemic is defeated, all Americans should wear masks in public, help unvaccinated people stay safe and contribute to a shared national project of saving every possible life.

Good News Monday: Can Dogs Detect COVID-19?

Here’s a bow-WOW from the world of science: Dogs’ acute sense of smell may mean they can sniff out people carrying the virus — say, before they get on an airplane.

[from StudyFinds.org]

Dogs trained to detect people infected with COVID-19 – by sniffing their armpits

MAISONS-ALFORT, France — While a vaccine for the coronavirus will help stop the pandemic’s spread, finding everyone who may be carrying the virus is still an issue. Luckily, man’s best friend is now on the case. Researchers in France are helping to specially train dogs to detect people infected with COVID-19 — by sniffing their armpits.

A new study that has seen pilot programs spring up around the world has discovered that dogs can sniff out coronavirus in the sweat of humans. Thanks to their famously acute sense of smell, dogs have been rooting out drugs, explosives, and even successfully pick up diseases like cancer for years.

COVID-sniffing dog
A team of French scientists have now shown man’s best friend can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting the virus. (Image credit: National Veterinary School of Alfort)

The French scientists are now showing how our furry friends can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting virus clues. An early experiment suggested canines could be between 75 and 100 percent effective at detecting the disease with their noses.

Dogs paw-trolling airports for COVID?

The technique has already been piloted in several countries including the UEA, Lebanon, Finland, Australia, and elsewhere. Travelers may already have seen the specially trained dogs at some airports, but researchers are still trying to prove without a doubt that dogs can pick up the scent before the method is fully adopted.

The team behind the study hope their findings will mean dogs could help with COVID aid in parts of the world without the infrastructure for expensive mass testing programs. The loveable animals could be used anywhere however, with the hope that invasive nasal swabs could be replaced by a simple sweat sample taken from under the armpit for a dog to sniff.

Mass testing alternative?

Professor Dominique Grandjean, from the National Veterinary School of Alfort in France, says the dogs could check a large number of people in a short period of time.

“The results are good and I’m happy, really happy,” Grandjean says in a statement, per SWNS. “It is a success technically and scientifically and it’s surprising because we didn’t know what we were going to have as results.”

COVID-sniffing dogs
During the study, which started in March, the researchers recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out bombs, colon cancer, or were used in search and rescue missions and re-trained to detect COVID-19. (Image credit: National Veterinary School of Alfort)

“We have been validated by the World Health Organization and they have given us a bit of money which is good. “Probably the country which is the most advanced now is the UAE, where they have dogs in three international airports. They are deploying some mobile units to go to the villages and to the people that might be more exposed to the virus,” the professor explains.

“For us here the idea was, of course, the airports but I can imagine a small city having a couple of dogs and just saying to the population ‘you can be tested whenever you want.’ You just come and put a swab under your armpit and give that to the dog and he will tell you yes or no. The dogs would be able to do that very quickly on a large number of people.”

Ending the pandemic one sniff at a time

Grandjean adds that dogs could also be used where people are reluctant to have uncomfortable nasal swab tests. During the study, which started in March, the researchers recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out bombs, colon cancer, or used in search-and-rescue missions and re-trained to detect COVID-19.

They then collected sweat samples from 177 people (95 with COVID-19 and 82 without) and then placed the samples inside cones for the dogs to sniff. In trials, the dogs successfully picked out the infected sweat when examining a line-up of mock and negative samples.

Although the published study is just a “proof of concept” and cannot be taken as absolute proof, Prof. Grandjean and his team have now carried out further studies to validate their results and have more planned in 2021. They have also issued a “practical guide” to other academics to help others in their research and are building up a set of “international training standards” for dogs.

“We have been working with lots of countries. I think we have 20 countries working for us. It’s amazing, really amazing,” Prof. Grandjean concludes.

The study was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.