COVID19 update, March 30, 2020: the quest for a vaccine, high-throughput testing

(1) Mrs. Arbel forwarded a long article that peeks inside the frantic efforts to develop a vaccine. An archived copy is here. Basically, the first step, coming up with a candidate vaccine, has been drastically shortened thanks to modern advances in biotech, genomics, and proteomics. What still takes almost as much time as it used to is testing in healthy subjects:

(2) Mako N12 (Hebrew news site) has an article on a novel high-throughput testing assembly developed by two PIs at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, in collaboration with two academic hospitals, Tel HaShomer in Ramat-Gan (one of the five Tel-Aviv boroughs) and Assuta Ashdod. The system can process up to 384 samples at a time, for a maximum throughput of 20,000 tests per day. Aside from automation and “massive parallelization”, one innovation is that the samples are dropped immediately into a kind-of “fixation” solution, which renders them biologically harmless. This eliminates the need for elaborate biocontainment facilities. Apparently the facility is going through final approval procedures.

(3) “masgramondou” brought this article by Dr. John Lee in The Spectator to my attention: https://spectator.us/understand-report-figures-covid-deaths/ on why the CFR (case fatality rate) statistics differ so widely. This affects both the numerator (do you count everybody who dies from any cause while COVID19-positive, or do you only count if COVID19 is definitely the cause of death) and the denominator (do you test aggressively, or do you only bother testing when it’s already pretty sure the person is ill).

(4) Speaking of statistics and comparing apples to apples: I remember this morning Mrs. Arbel gasping at a report in the Jerusalem Post that such a large percentage of the Israeli patients are between 20 and 30 years old. However, this is not entirely surprising once you compare Israel’s population pyramid with that of, say, Italy:

Another factor, which Mrs. Arbel pointed out, is the widespread custom of long post-army treks. The tendency of our young people to congregate in tightly packed quarters and in general not to keep people at a safe arm’s length adds to the ease with which an infection can spread.
The comparatively young profile of our general patient population is reflected in the low percentage (below 2%) of critical cases: As of today, 4,347 Israelis have been diagnosed, but only 80 people in serious condition (including one 20-year old man) of whom 63 patients requiring ventilation. 16 people have died. About half the diagnosed people appear to be asymptomatic (for now).
The age profile of critical patients is much the same as everywhere else: older people with pre-existing health conditions (referred to in Hebrew as machalot req`a , literally “background diseases”), or very old people.

UPDATE: FDA gives emergency approval for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for COVID19