Saturday, March 13, 2021


Visualization of the SARS virus by 3D4MEDICAL, via NPR.

I forgot to mention that I got my first Impfung on Thursday, at a drug store in the valley east of University Heights. Moderna. A pretty long wait, though it was not a big crowd. The person ahead of me, an older Black lady chatting intensely with her husband. They were a sweet couple, but when her turn came up he looked up at the counter guy and said, "Jab her! Jab her good!" 

Afterwards I took a long walk through Central Park and out to Broadway. It was a glorious day, weatherwise. I signed three nominating petitions, one for Maya Wiley running for mayor, one for Liz Crotty of the Buffalo Crottys (her grandfather was Democratic boss of Buffalo before I lived there) who is the criminal lawyer who wants to be district attorney, an appealing concept, and one for a city council candidate I'm very unlikely to vote for (Maria Danzilo, who bills herself as "the moderate" and says she's all about the private sector, and allowed herself to get associated with the NIMBY mob who successfully hounded out the homeless guys parked in the Lucerne Hotel when de Blasio was moving people out of shelters to hotels to reduce the Covid danger, though she now claims to have a different and more conciliatory position than the mob did—the current member, Helen Rosenthal, a brave crusader for integration getting term-limited out, demonstrated in favor of the homeless guys, as did her predecessor, borough president Gale Brewer, who is also term-limited out and running to get her old job back). The vaccine is here and politics is coming back to the borough!

Zero thanks to The Former Guy for my injection, by the way, and not just because this idea that he ought to be thanked for the sake of comity or to get Democrats votes, to which our amiable but dim media have suddenly become so attached, is dumb politics, but especially since as far as I'm concerned he had nothing to do with it. In fact...

Following the Mother Jones outline of vaccine development, when the German BioNTech company began working on its vaccine, the day the Chinese authorities released the virus genome on 10 January, and Moderna began its similar project a couple of days later, Trump hadn't yet said anything at all. It was only almost two weeks later, on the 22nd, just after the first diagnosed US case of the novel coronavirus had been announced, that he made his first public comment, from the annual Davos conference,

We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.

The following day, the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an organization launched in 2017 with funding from the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust and Norway, Japan, and Germany, later the EU and UK, but not the US, offered $12.5 million in seed money for vaccine development to three companies, Moderna being one. Trump said, on the 24th,

China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!

But on the 28th National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told Trump that the virus would be "the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency...This is going to be the roughest thing you face" And on the 29th the US announced the formation of a Coronavirus Task Force, under the direction of HHS secretary Alex Azar and coordinated by O'Brien's NSC.

On 7 February, Trump told Bob Woodward that the threat was greater than he had been saying publicly: "You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed," he said in a call to the Washington Post reporter, "and so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu." But on the 10th he was telling the public, 

I think the virus is going to be—it’s going to be fine.... Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.

By 15 February, more than two dozen companies were working on vaccines for Covid-19, with funding from CEPI members, the British and Chinese governments, and the Jack Ma foundation, but none from the US. The Trump administration made its first move on 24 February, asking Congress to appropriate $2.5 billion to fight the pandemic. Nevertheless, Trump continued to minimize the danger in public, sometimes from several different standpoints at once, as on the 25th

I think that's a problem that’s going to go away… They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.

(no, "we" had barely gotten started, as you see)

the 26th,

The 15 (cases in the US) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.... In fact, we're going substantially down, not up.... This is like a flu. This is a flu.

the 27th,

It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.

and the 28th

We're ordering a lot of supplies. We're ordering a lot of, uh, elements that frankly we wouldn't be ordering unless it was something like this. But we're ordering a lot of different elements of medical.

And on 2 March he plaintively asked officials,

You take a solid flu vaccine, you don't think that could have an impact, or much of an impact, on corona?

Why would it have to be a corona vaccine, specifically? Why not save the money and use one of the vaccines we already have? Flu vaccines are solid, right? High quality? Tough on germs? How different could it be?

Senator Shelby of Alabama (chair of Appropriations and no fuzzy-minded liberal) was appalled by the stinginess of the administration's request, and the senators came back with a proposal for $8.5 billion, which would include $3 billion earmarked for vaccine development. The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act was duly passed and signed on 6 March by Trump, who remarked,

So we’re signing the $8.3 billion. I asked for 2.5 and I got 8.3, and I’ll take it.... So here we are, $8.3 billion. We’re doing very well. But it’s an unforeseen problem. What a problem. Came out of nowhere, but we’re taking care of it.

So though the cash certainly did help, it was Congress that provided it, over Trump's kvetching disapproval.

But, long story short, it wasn't until two months after that that the administration started talking publicly about spending the money appropriated for vaccine development (and more, from the CARES Act passed on 27 March, for $10 billion total) on what they were going to call Operation Warp Speed, on 29 April.

On 5 May, Trump explained that it didn't really matter whether we got a vaccine or not

There’ll be more death... the virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal,

And Operation Warp Speed officially launched on 15 May. Plagiarized, it appears, from BioNTech, which called its vaccine program Operation Lightspeed.

And it was about three and a half months after development of the Moderna, BioNTech/Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines had begun (two and a half for the Oxford/AstraZeneca, which didn't get started until March). 

Nor did the Congress-provided cash Trump didn't ask for have anything to do with the remarkable speed with which the work was carried on: the main reason for that was that the companies had actually been working on coronavirus vaccines since 2003, according to this report from last July, when things were just getting under way.

Many of the teams pursuing vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 (the scientific name of the new coronavirus) have previously worked on vaccines for the original SARS virus, which caused a 2003 outbreak that killed some 800 people, and MERS, which has caused 2,500 cases since it started spreading in 2012.

The earlier projects had pointed to a component of the coronaviruses called the spike protein as a ripe target for a vaccine, which gave scientists a head start for crafting their candidates. Work on SARS also illuminated stumbling blocks in designing coronavirus vaccines that Covid-19 immunizations have so far avoided....

“Once we got the sequence, we pulled the trigger to ask how fast we could go,” said Barney Graham, the deputy director of the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center. “And because it was a coronavirus, we could get into a Phase 3 trial in six months instead of two years.

So what exactly would I be thanking him for? I can't think of a thing.

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