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

26 october 2021

Jabs for kids
Moderna said its Covid vaccine induced the desired immune responses in children aged 6 to 11 in a clinical trial. It will now submit the results to health authorities in the US, Europe, and countries where regulators are looking to expand their vaccination programmes to children. Experts say much of the recent spike in new infections in the UK is the product of schools re-opening; besides in many cases being unvaccinated, pupils don’t need to wear masks. While the risk of severe Covid is much lower in children than adults, children can be a vector of transmission.

25 october 2021

Oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma
When is a non-story a story? The Observer makes the case that one answer is when a big research project aiming to find environmental causes of a niche cancer that affects discrete populations in China, Kenya, Turkey and Iran comes up dry. There were high hopes at the Wellcome Sanger Institute that a correlation might be found between, say, alcohol consumption or cooking oil fumes and oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, which presents in the throat and is often caught too late to treat. But there was no correlation. The most concrete finding was that external factors can increase the likelihood of cancers but in this case don’t appear to directly cause genetic mutations. The process of elimination is refined. The search goes on.

22 october 2021

It’s super effective!
A Pfizer trial to examine the real-world protection of a third jab showed it reduces the chance of getting symptomatic Covid by more than 95 per cent compared to those who have only had two doses. Of the 5,000 people studied who received a placebo, 109 were later infected with symptoms. Among the other 5,000, whose third dose came an average of 11 months after their second, just five got sick with the disease. This ought to sharpen minds in the UK, where early vaccination success means waning immunity has reared its head sooner than in other countries. About half the eight million people eligible for boosters in the UK still haven’t had them, but in many cases not for want of trying. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the NHS started allowing people to book a booster themselves. Before that, it was invite only.

21 october 2021

Pig kidney
New York surgeons attached a pig’s kidney to a human patient and found the organ filtered waste and produced urine: it worked. It’s the first real sign that animals could one day provide a steady new supply of transplant organs for human patients. In the US there are 90,240 people waiting for a kidney. But there are caveats: the pig was genetically modified to grow an organ that would be unlikely to be rejected by a human body, the human patient was brain dead and on a ventilator, and the kidney was attached to blood vessels in the patient’s upper leg outside the abdomen. Many more test cases are needed before a transplant into a living human is made, but doctors are optimistic. Robert Montgomery, who performed the procedure at New York University’s Langone Transplant Institute, told the New York Times genetically engineered pigs “could potentially be a sustainable, renewable source of organs — the solar and wind of organ availability”. We’d need to breed them first.

20 october 2021

Covid in Britain

UK Covid cases numbers are by far the highest in Europe. Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are back at levels last seen in March. Factors thought to be behind the upward trends include an end to social distancing in most settings, waning immunity from vaccinations and a widespread reluctance to wear masks even when public transport operators ask passengers to do so. The NHS Confederation urged the government to adopt a plan B based on a return to mandatory mask-wearing in crowded places. It says the health service is already “at the edge” with hospitalisations up 10 per cent in a week to 7,749, and at this rate will stumble into a full-blown crisis this winter. The government has so far ruled out any such plan B and is putting its faith in 30 million booster shots plus first vaccinations for 12–15 year olds. There is no doubt vaccinations have cut the risk of infection and especially of serious illness, but the idea they would stop the pandemic in its tracks now looks delusional – at least until more people can be persuaded to have them.