Our Government Sends 19-Year-Olds to War but Does Not Allow Them to Try High-Risk, High-Reward Covid-19 Drugs and Vaccines

(p. A11) “Many drug programs are suspended or not pursued at all—not because of flaws in the science but because of commercial and strategic reasons,” Mr. Milken says. Researchers screen those programs, and he calls in his partners either to fund the ideas or promote their development at other companies if the inventors make them available.

It’s a niche in the pharmaceutical world that public funding can’t fill. Mr. Milken sustains a model “where a person could just give me a five-page summary and get a meeting. Government isn’t going to fund that, but philanthropy does.” “These little companies,” he adds—“they’re not Johnson & Johnson, they’re not Novartis, they’re not Amgen. They need financial capital.”

. . .

Mr. Milken’s deals not tinged by controversy, such as his 1983 issuance of bonds to finance telecom company MCI’s long-distance network, show the same preference that shapes his philanthropy: high risk for a high reward.

. . .

A perennial struggle for Mr. Milken has been to convince regulators to share that urgency. He says drug trials generally are too rigid: “We send 19-year-olds into war zones knowing that no matter what we do, some number—greater than zero—will lose their lives or their limbs. But we tell a patient who is going to die not to try something because it could be dangerous.”

Nonetheless, the partners he’s made in his search for cures prove that imagination and activity are still scattered through the country. Discussing the coronavirus with biotech founders and Nobel Prize winners, Mr. Milken says he’s been “thrust back into the 1970s and early ’80s, where any time someone had a new idea—a new company, a passion for something—I had set aside time every day to listen.” On the day a vaccine or effective cure for Covid-19 is finally announced, Americans will owe thanks to such risk takers, who Mr. Milken says “invest in where the world is going, not where it is.”

For the full interview, see:

Mene Ukueberuwa, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; What Would You Risk for a Faster Cure?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 2, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 1, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Patients Die Due to Doctors Who Are “Busy Entering Health Care Data” Required by “Mandated Protocols”

(p. 18) Doctors today often complain of working in an occupational black hole in which patient encounters are compressed into smaller and smaller space and time. You can do a passable job in a 10-minute visit, they say, but it is impossible to appreciate the subtleties of patient care when you are rushing.

Enter “Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing,” a wonderful new memoir by Dr. Victoria Sweet.

. . .

One of the most compelling stories in the book is about Joey, a 3-year-old who is diagnosed with terminal lung disease after a near-drowning but against the odds makes it off the ventilator and out of the hospital. Sweet interprets Joey’s recovery in part as a victory for prayer. “Prayer worked,” she writes, “at least that once and maybe sometimes and maybe always.” I would see it differently: Joey was saved because a lung specialist slowly decreased airway pressure and tidal volume over several weeks in a patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome. And, as Sweet points out, it was slow medicine that allowed that doctor to make the proper adjustments.

Perhaps Sweet’s most depressing conclusion is that Joey would have died today. His doctors “would have been too busy entering health care data” that was required “according to all the mandated protocols.”

For the full review, see:

Sandeep Jauhar. “Heals Over Time.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 28, 2018): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2018, and has the title “A Doctor Argues That Her Profession Needs to Slow Down, Stat.”)

The book under review is:

Sweet, Victoria. Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2017.

Agnes Chow Is “the Real Mulan”

The first “Mulan” below is the Disney actress Liu Yifei, who has expressed support for the suppression of freedom in Hong Kong. The third “Mulan” below is Agnes Chow, the 23 year-old Hong Kong freedom activist who the Beijing communists arrested under their new Hong Kong “security” law.

Meme viral on Twitter.

(p. A10) HONG KONG — Soon after one of Hong Kong’s best-known democracy activists was arrested this week under the national security law imposed on the city by the Chinese government, supporters turned her into a “Mulan” meme.

The social media storm around the activist, Agnes Chow, coincided with Disney’s online campaign for its upcoming movie “Mulan,” about the Chinese folk heroine who disguises herself as a man to stand in for her ailing father in the army. Disney’s slogan: “The legend arrives.”

Supporters on Twitter quickly anointed Ms. Chow, 23, “the real Mulan.” One meme featured three images, each accompanied by text: the “Mulan” star Liu Yifei (“I want the real Mulan”); the cartoon version of Mulan from Disney’s animated 1998 film (“I said the real Mulan”); and Ms. Chow (“Perfection”).

. . .

Ms. Chow, a former leader of the now-disbanded pro-democracy group Demosisto, was among 10 people arrested on Monday [August 10, 2020] on suspicion of violating the security law. She was detained hours after 200 police officers converged on the newsroom of Apple Daily, a publication owned by the media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is a vocal critic of the Chinese government. He, his two sons and other executives from his company were arrested.

. . .

Ms. Liu, the Chinese actress who plays Mulan in the movie, drew a backlash last August when she sided with the Hong Kong police against the protesters on the microblogging platform Weibo, where she had nearly 66 million followers at the time. The police have been accused of excessive force in dealing with the protests.

When Ms. Liu shared the quote “I support the Hong Kong police, you all can beat me up now,” adding a heart and a bicep emoji, the blowback was swift, with supporters of the protests calling for a boycott of “Mulan.”

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Supporters of Activist in Hong Kong Draft Mulan.” The New York Times (Friday, August 14, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 13, 2020, and has the title “After Agnes Chow Is Arrested in Hong Kong, a ‘Mulan’ Meme Is Born.” Where there are slight differences in wording between the versions in the passages quoted, the online version appears above. The online version does not list an author. I cite James Barron, who is listed as the author in the print version.)

Politically Incorrect Research Is Cancelled from Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

(p. A15) Psychologists Joseph Cesario of Michigan State and David Johnson of the University of Maryland analyzed 917 fatal police shootings of civilians from 2015 to test whether the race of the officer or the civilian predicted fatal police shootings. Neither did. Once “race specific rates of violent crime” are taken into account, the authors found, there are no disparities among those fatally shot by the police. These findings accord with decades of research showing that civilian behavior is the greatest influence on police behavior.

. . .

My June 3 [2020] Journal op-ed quoted the PNAS article’s conclusion verbatim. It set off a firestorm at Michigan State. The university’s Graduate Employees Union pressured the MSU press office to apologize for the “harm it caused” by mentioning my article in a newsletter. The union targeted physicist Steve Hsu, who had approved funding for Mr. Cesario’s research. MSU sacked Mr. Hsu from his administrative position. PNAS editorialized that Messrs. Cesario and Johnson had “poorly framed” their article—the one that got through the journal’s three levels of editorial and peer review.

Mr. Cesario told this page that Mr. Hsu’s dismissal could narrow the “kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” Now he and Mr. Johnson have themselves jeopardized the possibility of politically neutral scholarship. On Monday they retracted their paper. They say they stand behind its conclusion and statistical approach but complain about its “misuse,” specifically mentioning my op-eds.

The authors don’t say how I misused their work.

. . .

This retraction bodes ill for the development of knowledge. If scientists must disavow their findings because they challenge reigning orthodoxies, then those orthodoxies will prevail even when they are wrong.

For the full commentary, see:

Heather Mac Donald. “I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 9, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 8, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The PNAS article co-authored by Cesario, Johnson, and others is:

Johnson, David J., Trevor Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario. “Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116, no. 32 (Aug. 6, 2019): 15877-82.

China Allows Some Volunteers to Receive Covid-19 Vaccines After Only Phase 2 Trials

(p. B1) The offer to employees at the state-owned oil giant was compelling: Be among the first in China to take a coronavirus vaccine.

The employees at PetroChina could use one of two vaccines “for emergency use” to protect themselves when working overseas as part of China’s ambitious infrastructure program, according to a copy of the notice, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

. . .

(p. B6) Such “emergency use” is rare, and the taking of unapproved vaccines is typically reserved for health care professionals. Although the government has stressed that taking the vaccine is voluntary, the state-owned workers and soldiers could feel pressure to participate.

. . .

Along with the testing at the oil company, Sinopharm, which has completed Phase 2 trials for two products, has injected the vaccine into its chairman and other senior officials, according to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or SASAC, the government agency managing all employees at state-backed companies. The Chinese government has allowed the CanSino-military vaccine to be given to its armed forces, a first for the military of any country.

. . .

“If you are a regulatory body, if you play by the rules, if you are hard-nosed about it, you say this is very wrong,” said Ray Yip, the former head of the Gates Foundation in China.

Dr. Yip added that it would be useful for company executives to know that they had given the dose to “a couple of thousand people, but no one has dropped dead, so that’s pretty good.”

Dr. Yip said the people taking the vaccines should read up on reports of the safety data and make an informed decision. He said he would be willing to take it.

“If you offer that to me saying it’s safe and there’s an 85 percent chance that it works, would I take it today?” he said. “You know what, I probably will. Because then I don’t have to worry.”

In a post on its official WeChat account, a government agency reported that the “vaccine pretest” on Sinopharm employees showed that antibody levels were high enough in subjects to combat the coronavirus, indicating that it was safe and effective.

. . .

In June [2020], Sinopharm began the third phase of clinical trials in Beijing, Wuhan and Abu Dhabi, becoming the first company to enter the final regulatory stage. China’s Sinovac Biotech is teaming up with Instituto Butantan in Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest case count after the United States.

. . .

Dimas Tadeu Covas, the director of Butantan, said that he was impressed with Sinovac’s preliminary results and that the vaccine “has the greatest potential for success.” He cited results from Sinovac’s Phase 1 trials that showed no adverse effects and Phase 2 trials that showed 90 percent protection against Sars-Cov2.

“I know vaccines, and I am betting a lot on this one,” Dr. Covas said.

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee and Mariana Simões. “China Skirts Convention For Vaccines.” The New York Times (Friday, July 17, 2020): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 17, 2020, and has the title “In Coronavirus Vaccine Race, China Strays From the Official Paths.”)

Blacks in Detroit Have Public Transit to Die For

(p. A1) DETROIT — Paris Banks sprayed the seat with Lysol before sliding into the last row on the right. Rochell Brown put out her cigarette, tucked herself behind the steering wheel and slapped the doors shut.

It was 8:37 a.m., and the No. 17 bus began chugging westward across Detroit.

. . .

This hardscrabble city, where nearly 80 percent of residents are black, has become a national hot spot with more than 7,000 infections and more than 400 deaths. One reason for the rapid spread, experts say, is that the city has a large working-class population that does not have the luxury of living in isolation. Their jobs cannot be performed from a laptop in a living room. They do not have vehicles to safely get them to the grocery store.

(p. A12) And so they end up on a bus. Just like the No. 17 — a reluctant yet essential gathering place, and also a potential accelerant for a pandemic that has engulfed Detroit.

For the full story, see:

John Eligon. “No Choice but Shoulder to Shoulder on the Bus.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 16, 2020): A1 & A12-A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 16, 2020, and has the title “Rolling Through the Pandemic.”)

Citron Research Alleged That DNA Vaccine Firm Inovio Is “the COVID-19 Version of Theranos”

(p. A10) Not long after researchers completed their work with mice, guinea pigs, ferrets and monkeys, Human Subject 8, an art director for a software company in Missouri, received an injection. Four days later, her sister, a schoolteacher, became Subject 14.

Together, the sisters make up about 5 percent of the first ever clinical trial of a DNA vaccine for the novel coronavirus. How they respond to it will help determine the future of the vaccine. If it proves safe in this trial and effective in future trials, it could become not only one of the first coronavirus vaccines, but also the first DNA vaccine ever approved for commercial use against a human disease.

. . .

In many of these studies, the vaccine recipe isn’t the only thing on trial. Gene-based vaccines — and at least 20 coronavirus vaccines in development fall into this category — have yet to make it to market. Should one end up in doctors’ offices amid the rush to shield billions from Covid-19, it would represent a new chapter for vaccine development.

And though vaccine research has never moved this quickly — potentially meaning enhanced risks for volunteers — it has never been easier to recruit subjects, according to Dr. John E. Ervin, who is overseeing the DNA vaccine trial at the Center for Pharmaceutical Research in Kansas City, Mo., in which the sisters are involved. For the Phase 1 trial of the vaccine, which was developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, 90 people applied for the 20 slots in Kansas City.

“We probably could charge people to let them in and still fill it up,” he said. (In fact, the participants were paid per visit.)

. . .

Inovio researchers engineered the vaccine in just three hours, according to Kate Broderick, the company’s senior vice president for research and development. Or, rather, their computer algorithm did: On Jan. 10 [2020], when Chinese researchers released the genetic code of the novel coronavirus, the team ran the sequence through its software, which popped out a formula.

This timeline struck some in the financial sector as too good to be true. Citron Research, which advises investors on companies to bet on, called Inovio “the Covid-19 version of Theranos,” referring to the blood-testing device company that imploded as its supposedly revolutionary product was revealed to be a hoax.

“Much like Theranos, Inovio claims to have a ‘secret sauce’ that, miraculously, no pharma giant has been able to figure out,” Citron Research wrote. “This is the same ‘secret sauce’ that supposedly developed a vaccine for Covid-19 in just three hours.”

For the full story, see:

Heather Murphy. “Fight Against Coronavirus Could Produce a First: A DNA Vaccine.” The New York Times (Friday, June 19, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 22 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Guaranteed Ingredient in Any Coronavirus Vaccine? Thousands of Volunteers.”)

More Blacks Die of Covid-19 Partly Due to Greater Use of Public Transit

(p. A7) African-Americans may be dying at higher rates than white people from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in part because of black people’s heavier reliance on public transportation for commuting, two new studies by economists suggest.

One of the studies, by University of Virginia economist John McLaren, found that the racial discrepancy remained even after controlling for income or insurance rates. Instead, Mr. McLaren found the gap was due in part to the fact that black workers are more likely to get to work via public transit, including subways and buses.

About 10.4% of black commuters take public transit, versus 3.4% of white commuters, according to the Census. After controlling for the use of public transit, Mr. McLaren finds the racial disparity in Covid-19 deaths is less pronounced.

. . .

The other study, by Christopher Knittel and Bora Ozaltun, both of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that a 10% increase in the share of a county’s residents who use public transit versus those who telecommute raised Covid-19 death rates by 1.21 per 1,000 people when looking at counties around the U.S.—or by 0.48 per 1,000 people when focusing only on counties within individual states. In their analysis, the researchers controlled for race, income, age, climate and other characteristics.

For the full story, see:

David Harrison. “Virus Deaths Linked to Transit.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 29, 2020): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 28, 2020, and has the title “Public Transit Use Is Associated With Higher Coronavirus Death Rates, Researchers Find.”)

The first academic study mentioned above, is:

McLaren, John. “Racial Disparity in Covid-19 Deaths: Seeking Economic Roots with Census Data.” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper #27407, June 2020.

The second academic study mentioned above, is:

Knittel, Christopher R., and Bora Ozaltun. “What Does and Does Not Correlate with Covid-19 Death Rates.” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper #27391, June 2020.

Fauci Tries to Explain Shifting Position on Face Masks

(p. A9) . . . Dr. Fauci grew testy when Representative David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, asked him if he thought the news media had treated Mr. Trump unfairly — Dr. Fauci declined to answer — and whether he regretted not advising people more forcefully to wear masks earlier in the pandemic.

“OK, we’re going to play that game,” Dr. Fauci said, seemingly irked. Mr. McKinley said it was a yes-or-no question.

“There is more than a yes or no, by the tone of your question,” Dr. Fauci shot back. “I do not regret that. Let me explain to you what happened. At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our health care providers needed who put themselves daily in harm’s way of taking care of people who are ill.”

For the full story, see:

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Noah Weiland. “Experts Sketch Gloomy Picture Of Virus Spread.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 24, 2020): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 23, 2020, and has the title “Fauci, Citing ‘Disturbing Surge,’ Tells Congress the Virus Is Not Under Control.”)

If Aerosols Transmit Covid-19, It Is Even More Prudent to Wear Masks

(p. A1) The coronavirus is finding new victims worldwide, in bars and restaurants, offices, markets and casinos, giving rise to frightening clusters of infection that increasingly confirm what many scientists have been saying for months: The virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby.

If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially-distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients.

Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.

The World Health Organization has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

But in an open letter to the W.H.O., 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people, and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations. The researchers plan to publish their letter in a (p. A5) scientific journal this week.

. . .

Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the W.H.O.’s technical lead on infection control, said the evidence for the virus spreading by air was unconvincing.

. . .

But interviews with nearly 20 scientists — including a dozen W.H.O. consultants and several members of the committee that crafted the guidance — and internal emails paint a picture of an organization that, despite good intentions, is out of step with science.

Whether carried aloft by large droplets that zoom through the air after a sneeze, or by much smaller exhaled droplets that may glide the length of a room, these experts said, the coronavirus is borne through air and can infect people when inhaled. Continue reading “If Aerosols Transmit Covid-19, It Is Even More Prudent to Wear Masks”

Many Men “in the West” View Mask-Wearing to Be “a Sign of Weakness”

(p. A4) As countries begin to reopen their economies, face masks, an essential tool for slowing the spread of coronavirus, are struggling to gain acceptance in the West. One culprit: Governments and their scientific advisers.

Researchers and politicians who advocate simple cloth or paper masks as cheap and effective protection against the spread of Covid-19, say the early cacophony in official advice over their use—as well as deeper cultural factors—has hampered masks’ general adoption.

There is widespread scientific and medical consensus that face masks are a key part of the public policy response for tackling the pandemic. While only medical-grade N95 masks can filter tiny viral particles and prevent catching the virus, medical experts say even handmade or cheap surgical masks can block the droplets emitted by speaking, coughing and sneezing, making it harder for an infected wearer to spread the virus.

. . .

Male vanity . . . appears to be a powerful factor in rejecting masks. A study by Middlesex University London, U.K., and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif., found that more men than women agreed that wearing a mask is “shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma.”

For the full story, see:

Bojan Pancevski, Jason Douglas. “Mask-Wearing Still Meets Resistance.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 29, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 29, 2020, and has the title “Masks Could Help Stop Coronavirus. So Why Are They Still Controversial?”)