The 100-year life 
Health, education, living, public policy

27 November 2020

Free period products
AstraZeneca plans a new global trial of its Covid vaccine, deliberately using the low initial dose that it used by mistake on a small subgroup of its current phase 3 trial in Brazil. The idea is to find out whether the high efficacy shown in that subgroup was a fluke or real. Everyone in the group was under 55, so that may have been the reason. Equally, it could be real. Yesterday’s This Week in Virology podcast discussed the phenomenon of anti-adenovirus vector immunity, by which the body overreacts to the vector bringing the vaccine into the body rather than the vaccine itself. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine uses a harmless form of a common cold virus taken from chimpanzees as its vector. A big early dose of that vector might have prompted a reaction that limited the immune response to the virus. If so, the mess that AstraZeneca’s interim results announcement has become could have a happy ending. 

Media note: the Mirror had the scoop on the original half-dose story, back in June

26 November 2020

Free period products
Scotland has become the first country in the world to require schools, universities and local authorities to make period products freely available to all. The Scottish parliament voted unanimously in favour of the Period Products bill on Tuesday after a four-year campaign by the Scottish Labour MP Monica Lennon. It will now be up to councils and education providers to make sure tampons and pads are available for free to those who need them. Women spend an average of about £13 a month on period products and the new law will cost taxpayers an estimated £8.7 million a year from 2022. New Zealand already provides free tampons in schools, but Scotland is first with a national law. Lennon said it won’t be the last. So where’s next?

25 November 2020

Putin unvaccinated
Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine has already been given to healthcare workers, teachers and President Putin’s daughter, but not to Putin himself. It’s not clear whether this is because he’s over 65, the vaccine hasn’t been formally approved for use, or none of the research on which it’s based has yet been peer reviewed. His spokesman said simply that “the president can’t use an uncertified vaccine”. Sputnik V is an odd case. It could be a Potemkin vaccine, rushed into service for presentational purposes and later found to underperform (at best). Or, if the Kremlin’s claim that it’s safe and 91.4 per cent effective proves true, it could become a major plank of global immunisation efforts. We’ll find out soon enough.

24 November 2020

Donald Trump, still president of the US, has acknowledged that he needs to permit Joe Biden, the president-elect, to begin his transition to the presidency. (This does not mean, of course, that he accepts he lost.) Trump’s increasingly preposterous legal challenges ran into the sand – and were thrown out of court with some vigour by judges. The Trump campaign recently had to disavow one of its lawyers for her madcap theories, while other lawyers retained by the campaign realised they had to think of their reputations before presenting baseless claims. 

23 November 2020

Lockdown scapegoat
The premier of South Australia has blamed the state’s latest Covid lockdown on a single 36 year-old pizza worker accused of lying to a contact tracer. The unnamed culprit told the tracer he only ordered pizza from the Woodville pizza bar in a western suburb of Adelaide, when in fact he worked there. When the truth emerged along with his Covid positive status, officials assumed the outbreak was wider than it really was and ordered the lockdown. Steven Marshall, the premier, said at a press conference on Friday that he was “fuming”. Critics accuse him of scapegoating an individual for a collective failure to account for low-income workers’ need to keep on working.