Volunteer “Challenge Trials” Could Speed Covid-19 Vaccine

(p. A10) It’s a controversial idea: Intentionally infect people with the virus that causes Covid-19 to test the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

The approach is called a human challenge trial, and it’s not the usual way a vaccine is tested. More commonly, researchers track thousands of people, some of whom receive a vaccine, and others a placebo, and then see who becomes infected in the natural course of their lives. It’s a slower process, but poses fewer risks than deliberately infecting people after they’ve received a vaccine.

But some scientists now argue the risks of such a challenge trial are worth taking if it could potentially speed the development of a vaccine. Three groups of health experts have recently published articles advocating for the idea.

. . .

A company in London called hVIVO that specializes in human challenge trials is “very actively looking into how we could build a Covid-19 challenge study to help speed up the world wide development of an effective vaccine,” said Cathal Friel, executive chairman of Open Orphan, a clinical trials company that acquired hVIVO earlier this year. He says at least 10 pharmaceutical companies have already expressed interest in their potentially conducting a challenge trial of their vaccine candidates.

Ssome people say they would be willing to volunteer. Josh Morrison, a 34 year old in New York City, has started a group called 1Day Sooner where people can express interest in participating in a future challenge trial for Covid-19. So far around 16,000 people from more than 100 countries have signed up, including him, despite the fact that he donated a kidney in 2011.

“Obviously I would prefer not to get Covid-19,” he says. “But I also felt like this was a chance to be part of saving thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives. And I felt so powerless at the time that being able to take action and do something meaningful was a strong motivator to me.”

For the full commentary, see:

Sumathi Reddy. “YOUR HEALTH; One Idea to Speed a Vaccine: Deliberately Infect People.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 12, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was the date May 11, 2020 and has the title “YOUR HEALTH; One Idea for Speeding a Coronavirus Vaccine: Deliberately Infecting People.” Where the print and online versions differ, the passages quoted above follow the print version. For instance, the online version says that about “15,000” people have signed up.)

“How Swimming Frees Their Minds”

(p. 11) Tsui endears herself to the reader . . . . Her universal query is also one of self, and her articulations of what she learns are moving. Long-distance swimmers speak to her about how swimming frees their minds, of their sense of “sea-dreaming.” And Tsui’s argument about the unique state of flow one enters while swimming makes you desperately long to be in the pool or the ocean. Water becomes the mind’s sanctuary while the body moves in its best imitations of a fish.

For the full review, see:

Mary Pols. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 14, 2020): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April [sic] 14, 2020, and has the title “Eat. Sleep. Swim. Repeat.”)

The book under review is:

Tsui, Bonnie. Why We Swim. New York: Algonquin Books, 2020.

Compared to 1918, Today a Death Delayed Is More Likely to Be a Life Saved

Harvard economics professor Robert Barro has a useful NBER working paper showing that lockdowns during the 1918 flu pandemic succeeded in delaying deaths by flattening the curve, but not in reducing the overall number of deaths. Some would use this paper to argue against the efficacy of the current lockdowns. But there is a key difference between now and 1918: Flattening the curve in 1918 resulted in the end in about the same deaths over the 3 year run of the virus. Flattening the curve now is likely to cut off the deaths in about a year when a vaccine comes on line. Now, a death delayed is more likely to be a life saved.

Non-pharmaceutical public-health interventions (NPIs) were measured by Markel, et al. (2007) for U.S. cities during the second wave of the Great Influenza Pandemic, September 1918-February 1919. The NPIs are in three categories: school closings, prohibitions on public gatherings, and quarantine/isolation. Although an increase in NPIs flattened the curve in the sense of reducing the ratio of peak to average deaths, the estimated effect on overall deaths is small and statistically insignificant. The likely reason that the NPIs were not more successful in curtailing mortality is that the interventions had an average duration of only around one month.

The above abstract is from the following Barro NBER working paper. (The link leads to the American Enterprise Institute version of the paper.):

Barro, Robert J. “Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions and Mortality in U.S. Cities During the Great Influenza Pandemic, 1918-1919.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Working Paper # 27049 (April 2020).

Capital-Intensive Toilet Paper Firms, Already Near Capacity, Unable to Quickly Fill 600% Surge in Demand

(p. 4) As the chief executive of a company that makes toilet paper, Joey Bergstein has been through an intense few months.

. . .

You’ve mentioned that you anticipated some demand, but nothing like what was about to come.

The week of March 8 [2020] we saw a surge in demand of somewhere between 600 and 750 percent. When you build a supply chain and package, you normally have about a 30 percent buffer to be able to meet a surge in demand. Nobody built a supply chain to be able to respond to that kind of surge in demand. So the team has been in a constant state of triage ever since, and we’re still in that.

. . .

What was it about toilet paper that made it so hard to come by?

First of all, nobody anticipated the level of stocking up you would see on toilet paper. That shocked everybody. But any of these paper businesses are very capital-intensive businesses. You only make money in that business if you’re running your machines pretty close to capacity. So when you have a big surge in demand, it’s hard to increase more than you’re already producing, because you’re generally producing pretty close to capacity. You don’t have the kind of flexibility that you would normally expect to have in another business.

For the full interview, see:

David Gelles, interviewer. “Selling 2-Ply in a Pandemic (It’s Harder Than You Think).” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 7, 2020): 4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 5, 2020, and the title “Selling Toilet Paper and Paper Towels During the Pandemic.” The first sentence and the bold questions are from the interviewer David Gelles. The answers after the bold questions are from the interviewee Joey Bergstein.)

“The New York Times Is Going to Basically Be a Monopoly”

(p. B1) The gulf between The Times and the rest of the industry is vast and keeps growing: The company now has more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Gannett papers combined, according to the most recent data. And The Times employs 1,700 journalists — a huge number in an industry where total employment nationally has fallen to somewhere between 20,000 and 38,000.

The Times so dominates the news business that it has absorbed many of the people who once threatened it: The former top editors of Gawker, Recode, and Quartz are all at The Times, as are many of the reporters who first made Politico a must-read in Washington.

I spent my whole career competing against The Times, so coming to work here feels a bit like giving in. And I worry that the success of The Times is crowding out the competition.

“The New York Times is going to basically be a monopoly,” predicted Jim VandeHei, the founder of Axios, which started in 2016 with plans to sell digital subscriptions but has yet to do so. “The Times will get bigger and the niche will get nichier, and nothing else will survive.”

For the full commentary, see:

Ben Smith. “Why the Success of The Times May Be Bad News for Journalism.” The New York Times (Monday, March 2, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 1, 2020, and the title “Why the Success of The New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism.”)

Germans Were “Seduced” by Nazi “Optimism”

(p. C7) In some perceptive passages in the earlier stages of this book, Mr. Fritzsche examines how, during the party’s years in opposition, the Nazis were able to broaden their support away from the original ideological core to voters who, for example, just thought that “something” had to be done to sort out a deeply unsettled country.  . . .

What the author stresses is that, contrary to what is so often assumed, many Germans were seduced not by despair but by optimism. Mr. Fritzsche sets out the ways that the Nazis produced the impression that the party was creating a Volksgemeinschaft—a people’s community—through such methods as transforming the Left’s traditional celebration of (p. C8) the first of May into “The Day of National Labor,” a festival of national unity rather than class struggle.

. . .

Mr. Gellately differs from many in the weight he places on the appeal of the “socialist” element in an ideology that, almost from its earliest days, had combined nationalism and anti-Semitism with a distrust of capitalism.

. . .

It was probably the memory of that Volksgemeinschaft, however much it rested on illusion, that explains one of the most remarkable facts in Mr. Gellately’s book: When Germans in the country’s west and in West Berlin—a people still living amid the ruins of the Reich—were asked in 1948 whether National Socialism was a good idea, but poorly implemented, 57% of those polled replied “yes.”

For the full review, see:

Andrew Stuttaford. “High-Speed History.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 13, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on June 12, 2020, and has the title “Three on the Third Reich: High-Speed History.”)

The two books mentioned in the passages quoted above, are:

Fritzsche, Peter. Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Gellately, Robert. Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.