First Trial of Moderna's Coronavirus Vaccine Produces Immune Response in All Participants
The preliminary report of the trial, published in The New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday, reveals that all 45 participants developed so-called neutralizing antibodies that bind to the virus and stop it from attacking other cells. They developed these antibodies at levels comparable to the upper half of COVID-19 survivors.
"The good news is that this vaccine induced antibodies," director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci told Bloomberg News. "Not just any kind of antibodies, but neutralizing antibodies."
Public health experts agree that a vaccine is necessary to return life to normal in the wake of a pandemic that has infected millions and killed almost 575,000, according to Reuters. More than one vaccine will probably be required, because it will be difficult for any one company to produce the billions of doses needed, The New York Times pointed out.
"None of us are safe unless all of us are safe," Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen told The New York Times. "It's not just us. It's everybody in the world."
The Moderna vaccine candidate was the first to be tested on human subjects, and Tuesday's published paper confirms the positive results reported by the company in May.
In the trial, 45 people aged 18 to 55 received two doses of the vaccine 28 days apart, according to Reuters. They received doses of either 25, 100 or 250 micrograms.
More than half of the people who received the middle dose experienced side effects like fatigue, chills, headache and muscle pain and 40 percent of them developed a fever after the second dose, according to Bloomberg. Three of the 14 people who received the highest dose suffered severe side effects, but the company has decided to stop testing that dose.
Fauci said the side-effects were normal and not a cause for concern, but other experts disagreed.
"Man, that is a lot of adverse events," Tony Moody, a doctor and researcher at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, told Bloomberg.
However, Moody also said the amount of antibodies produced was "really encouraging."
The vaccine's safety and effectiveness cannot truly be assessed until a larger study is conducted, University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert Dr. Paul Offit told The New York Times.
"[I]t's reading the tea leaves," he said. "You just don't know anything until you do a Phase 3 trial."
Moderna's Phase 3 trial is set to begin July 27 with 30,000 participants, half of whom will receive a placebo. It should be finished by late October, but it is unclear if the company will know if the vaccine works by then, since it has to prove participants are less likely to contract the virus. If the vaccine does work, Moderna said it would be able to manufacture between 500 million and one billion of the 100-microgram doses a year starting in 2021, Reuters reported.
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By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
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