COVID19 update, February 9, 2021: Oxford/AstraZeneca, UK, and EU spat; the “data scientist” who wasn’t; WaPo no longer dismisses biocontainment breach as origin theory

(1) [Hat tip: masgramondou] The English edition of the Italian paper La Repubblica has two great interviews on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine’s production in the UK and on the fustercluck in continental europe, one with Boris Johnson’s vaccine czarina Kate Bingham (a veteran industry insider), the other with Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca.

(2) Following initial ‘almost too good to be true’ results with the Israeli drug EXO-CD24, Greece now wants to get in on the clinical trials, the Jerusalem Post reports. Prof. Nadir Arber’s decades-long research on exosomes may now have a huge payoff.

(3) And in the “NPR stands for New-class Propaganda Radio” department, remember the story of the “data scientist” who was fired because “she refused to falsify data”? Well, the story is a bit more complex, ahem.

NPR describes [Rebekah] Jones as a “top scientist” leading Florida’s pandemic response. In fact, Jones has held three jobs in her field; all three have ended in her being terminated and criminally charged. She has a Master’s in geography from Louisiana State University, where she worked until she was fired. She was arrested in 2016 while, reportedly, trespassing on campus and attempting to steal computer equipment from her former workplace. She then lectured at Florida State University (FSU) and began researching tropical storms for a dissertation, but never earned a Ph.D. as she was suspended and fired in 2018 after her former student accused her of sexual cyberharassment. Before her termination from the DoH, she was a geographic information systems manager, overseeing the COVID-19 web portal. It’s therefore misleading to imply Jones has specialized knowledge of infectious disease. Florida’s top Democratic official calls her “Dr. Rebekah Jones,” but Jones is no doctor. Nor is she an epidemiologist, virologist, statistician, or public health professional; the DoH has a highly qualified team of those. A technical manager, Jones didn’t have the authority or expertise to decide unilaterally how to visualize data. But when experts disagreed with her, she assumed they were wrong—or deliberately deceiving the public. After she was fired from the DoH for a pattern of insubordination, Jones claimed that Deputy Secretary for Health Shamarial Roberson had asked her to “manipulate data to mislead the public” about the safety of reopening rural counties. According to Dr. Roberson, this is “patently false.” Emails show a state epidemiologist told Jones to temporarily disable data export from the dashboard to verify dates against other official sources. The data was aggregated from local public health authorities in 67 counties; it couldn’t be falsified or hidden. In other words, Jones is no “whistleblower.” She’s a conspiracy theorist.

In amplifying Jones’ story, the media has all but ignored Dr. Roberson, who has impressive experience in epidemiology and a doctorate in public health. As a Black woman from a disadvantaged background, she has risen to the forefront of Florida’s pandemic response. Dr. Roberson deserves the recognition the media has lavished on her ex-employee. But according to The Narrative, serving in a conservative administration disqualifies her.”

Read the whole thing. Shills gotta shill.

An Edelman poll released in January by Axios found that 56% of Americans think “reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” With the next Rebekah Jones, that proportion will grow.

Only 56%?!

For liberal thought leaders sympathetic to Jones, The Narrative doesn’t merely overpower facts. It supersedes principles. Listen to experts, unless they serve under a conservative governor. Believe survivors, unless they accuse your ideological ally. Trust science, unless it contradicts your political biases.

All scientists and journalists ought to print out this quote by Henri Poincaré and to hang it above their desks.

Thought must never submit — neither to a dogma, nor to a political party, nor to a passion, nor to a special interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything other than the facts themselves — because when thought submits, it ceases to be.

Henri Poincaré, Le libre examen en matière scientifique (1909); my translation of: “La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni a un dogme, ni a un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un intérêt, ni à une idée préconçue, ni à quoique ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que, pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être.


(4) Meanwhile in Israel, vaccination centers are underemployed because the older, more vulnerable population groups are reaching saturation, and some of the younger are reluctant to get the shot, saying ‘they will take their chances with the virus’. While for ‘classic covid’ 20-year olds this may be a rational decision as as mortality in that age bracket is very very low, I am not certain that is still the case for the British mutation which is now by far the dominant strain here.

Nevertheless, if you are not thinking in terms of population herd immunity, but of protecting the most vulnerable groups, we are already much of the way there. The light-green bars in each age group indicate people who have had both jabs, the dark green those who have had the first shot and are in their 3-week wait for the second one. The government target is 90% for ages 50 and above: we are already reaching that benchmark for 70 and above, are inching toward 80% for ages 60-69, and toward 70% for ages 50-59. I really am not sure why “incentive programs” are needed here when the people who need the jabs most seem to be coming on their own.

What do medical personnel do? There is no vaccination mandate for anyone here (not even medical personnel, which kind-of surprised me), but the article cited above claims that vaccination rates of doctors and nurses range from just 60% at Laniado Hospital in Netanya to 94% of doctors and 89% of nurses at Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem (one of the “Big Four” university hospitals). How many of the remaining 6% and 11% have immunity from prior COVID19 infections is not mentioned in the article.

(5) The Washington [com]Post has been accusing Tom Cotton (R-AR) for months of peddling debunked conspiracy theories about the origin of the Wuhan virus. Guess what? WaPo is now rating the same story ‘likely’ https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/brucecarroll/2021/02/08/washington-post-flips-on-coronavirus-origin-n1423984

What difference a year can make! From ‘bug-eyed right-wing conspiracy theory’ to mainstream. And yes, a lab leak during risky ‘gain of function’ research (thanks to shoddy biocontainment discipline at the Wuhan lab) is what I’ve been suspecting for the past 8-9 months, and what “masgramondou” was blogging about in early April last year. [To be fair to the WaPo, last April they  may have been the first mainstream media source  (archive copy at http://archive.is/Tg5oo ) to report on biosafety concerns at the Wuhan Level 4 biocontainment facility.] Quoting again what I reported then:

In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. The U.S. delegation was led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health. Last week, WIV erased that statement from its website, though it remains archived on the Internet.

What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable, which was drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists. (The State Department declined to comment on this and other details of the story.)

The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.

As the cable noted, the U.S. visitors met with Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who had been publishing studies related to bat coronaviruses for many years. In November 2017, just before the U.S. officials’ visit, Shi’s team had published research showing that horseshoe bats they had collected from a cave in Yunnan province were very likely from the same bat population that spawned the SARS coronavirus in 2003.

“Most importantly,” the cable states, “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”

The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as “gain-of-function” experiments.

[…]

There are similar concerns about the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab, which operates at biosecurity level 2, a level significantly less secure than the level-4 standard claimed by the Wuhan Insititute of Virology lab, Xiao said. That’s important because the Chinese government still refuses to answer basic questions about the origin of the novel coronavirus while suppressing any attempts to examine whether either lab was involved.

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