Monday, January 25, 2021

Pfizer, a three-time felon, behaves true to form

 From the New York Times:

In December, pharmacists made the happy discovery that they could squeeze an extra vaccine dose out of Pfizer vials that were supposed to contain only five.

Now, it appears, the bill is due. Pfizer plans to count the surprise sixth dose toward its previous commitment of 200 million doses of Covid vaccine by the end of July and therefore will be providing fewer vials than once expected for the United States.

AstraZeneca's bait and switch on the Covid-19 vaccine

Given AstraZeneca's record, can anyone be surprised by this?

Robyn Porteous writes in The Mail and Guardian:

There are many reasons I volunteered to take part in the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine trial in Johannesburg. In part, I wanted to live up to my own loud mouth. After tweeting about how the South African trials presented an incredible opportunity to gather local context-specific vaccine data, I was challenged to put my own body on the line if I felt it was so important. I signed up a week later. 

More so, I had the (admittedly idealistic) belief that by taking part in the trials, South Africa would be able to get the vaccine at a more affordable rate when it was approved for production. Recent reports, however, appear to indicate that in spite of AstraZeneca’s claim that it wanted to “provide vaccines to the widest population, with as fair access as possible”, the siren song of profit-making has beaten out altruistic intention — a story we’ve heard too many times before. 

On Thursday, a senior health official told AFP that the doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would cost South Africa $5.25 each — which is more than double the $2.16 charged for European Union members. The health department’s deputy director-general, Anban Pillay, has been quoted as saying: “We were advised that [the] Serum Institute of India has applied a tiered pricing system and, given that [SA] is an upper-middle-income country, their price is $5.25. The explanation we are given for why other high-income countries have a lower price is that they have invested in the [research and development], hence the discount on the price.” 

Friday, January 22, 2021

The God Committee

 This American Life has an episode on one of the most iconic episodes in American bioethics history -- The God Committee at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, which was given the task of deciding which patients could get life-saving dialysis in the early 1960s. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Hero's Call to Adventure

My podcast recommendation of the week is this disturbing, illuminating interview with Reed Berkowitz, a game designer, founder of the multimedia company Cybernautics and the director of the Curiouser Institute. He explains how taking part in Q Anon is like playing an alternate reality game, using the same techniques and giving users remarkably similar experiences.

Howard Johnson, tuba virtuoso, dies at 79

Howard Johnson, who set a new standard by expanding the tuba’s known capacities in jazz, and who moonlighted as a multi-instrumentalist and arranger for some of the most popular acts in rock and pop, died on Monday at his home in Harlem. He was 79.

His death was announced by his publicist, Jim Eigo. He did not specify a cause but said that Mr. Johnson had been ill for a long time.

Fluent and graceful across an enormous range on one of the most cumbersome members of the brass family, Mr. Johnson found his way into almost every kind of scenario — outside of classical music — where you might possibly expect to find the tuba, and plenty where you wouldn’t.

His career spanned hundreds of albums and thousands of gigs. He played on many of the major jazz recordings of the 1960s and ’70s, by musicians like Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, Carla Bley and Charlie Haden; contributed arrangements and horn parts for rock stars like John Lennon and Taj Mahal; and performed as an original member of the “Saturday Night Live” band.

“I could find myself in almost anybody’s record collection,” he said in an interview in 2015 for the online documentary series “Liner Note Legends.”
A remembrance on WBGO is here

Recruiting poor, illiterate research subjects into Covid vaccine trials in Bhopal

In the last week of December 2020, Chanda Devi heard a truck roll into her neighborhood in North Bhopal, Central India.

Residents were called outside by a voice, booming through loudspeakers. They were eligible to collect Rs 750 (about US$10) to receive a “corona vaccine”. The people said that they were recruiters, representing the People’s Hospital, Bhopal.

“They told us that we can get the Corona vaccine now,” Devi, 60, said. “Later we may have to pay for it. They told us that if we take the vaccine we won’t get corona disease.”

Devi, 60, sells costume jewellery house-to-house for a living, making about US$2-6 a day. She also lives in one of the areas worst affected by the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy – widely regarded as the worst industrial disaster of modern times – whose impacts echoed around a globalizing world.

The disaster took place on 3 December 1984, when about 45 tonnes of methyl isocyanate, an input in the manufacture of pesticides, leaked from the American-owned Union Carbide Corporation plant, exposing 500,000 of the city’s residents to the highly toxic gas. The leak killed nearly 4,000 people immediately and upwards of 20,000 people in subsequent years.

Many of those who survived, like Devi who was 24 at the time, have continued to live in slums just behind the now-abandoned plant. Some have suffered from long-term disabilities, such as blindness and respiratory complications. Compounding those problems, the community was also exposed for decades to groundwater contamination from years of toxic waste dumping on the site.

It was against this difficult background that Devi presented herself at the People’s Hospital, Bhopal, on December 19 2020, to take part in the randomised double-blinded Phase 3 trials for India’s leading domestically-created vaccine candidate, Covaxin, developed by the pharma company Bharat Biotech together with India’s National Institute of Virology.

Devi, who is also illiterate, did not understand, however, that she was being recruited as a clinical trial participant. She was under the impression she was going to receive an already approved COVID-19 vaccine.

The rest is here.