RFK Jr. And Elon Musk: Two Great Dicks That Taste Like Sh*t!

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sure has come a long way from 2014, when he angered fossil fuel lobbyists by saying that climate change deniers should be jailed. Or maybe not such a long way; by 2005 he was already spreading the anti-vax gospel and falsely claiming that childhood vaccines cause autism. And now he’s running for president and everyone is reminding you what a complete freakass whackaloon he is.

We’ll do our part. Hey, remember that long-ago time in 2022 when he said, of COVID vaccine mandates, that at least in Nazi Germany “you could cross the Alps into Switzerland, you could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”

Kennedy did his part to help out that educational endeavor Monday night by sitting down with chief Twitter troll Elon Musk, who seems to love conspiratorial bullshit nearly as much as Kennedy does. He started out by thanking Musk for ending all the terrible “censorship” on the platform — by making it a free-for all for COVID and vaccine disinformation, not to mention for Nazis, far-Right conspiracy theories, and rampant hatred of transgender people, but also by actually censoring people on behalf of authoritarian governments. Kennedy also explained that in 2021, “the government pressured Mark Zuckerberg” to ban him from Instagram, although now his account has been restored because he’s running for president. Talk about ineffective censorship!

Rolling Stone reports that for the first 40 minutes of the Twitter Spaces chat, Kennedy barely talked about his candidacy, because he and Musk were too busy telling each other how much they admired each other for being courageous and shit, which is honestly what free speech is for.

At one point, Kennedy asked where Musk got the courage to be like one of America’s Founders by being “willing to take this huge, massive, unspeakable economic hit on behalf of a principle for a country in which you weren’t even born?” Musk, who does kind of have US citizenship after all, replied, “I should say I do very much consider myself an American.” Musk also acknowledged that advertisers had deserted the platform because he was so very committed to democracy, at least for people who think he’s cool, so it’s been “frankly a struggle to break even” (he is not breaking even) and then everyone with an $8 blue checkmark felt very warm that they had done their part to save America and/or Twitter.

After they both agreed that free speech is the very best, and that they both really love free speech the most, Kennedy bemoaned the sad fact that “we’re no longer living in a democratic system,” because Big Pharma controls the government and silences brave advocates of medical disinformation, which would explain why we only hear from anti-vaxxers everywhere on social media but not yet in (most) doctors’ offices.

Among other great trolls, Musk and Kennedy were joined by Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Shellenberger, author of books about how environmentalism is bad for everyone and global warming is happening but is honestly no big deal, yeesh, calm down. UPDATE/CORRECTION: I initially had a brain fart and confused Shellenberger with a different “contrarian” dipshit, Alex Berenson, formerly of the New York Times. Wonkette regrets the error.

Kennedy and Musk agreed that America shouldn’t be supporting the Ukrainian government, since as Kennedy put it, the Ukrainian people are “almost equally” victimized by America as by Russians. Musk added that the war was kind of our fault anyway, since “We are sending the flower of Ukrainian youth and Russian youth to die in the trenches, and it’s morally reprehensible,” and when you think about it, we probably shouldn’t be ordering Russia’s youth flowers around like that, how would we like it huh?

The conversation got even more sane when Gabbard added that

the U.S. had turned Ukraine into a “slaughterhouse” and blamed the conflict on an “elitist cabal of war-mongers” who had seized control of the Democratic Party.

Those war-mongers, Kennedy warned, hadn’t just taken control of the Democratic party: They were in control of the Deep State as well.

He recalled being told by Donald Trump’s former CIA Director Mike Pompeo that the “top layer of that agency is made up almost entirely of people who do not believe in the American institutions of democracy,” which is pretty rich coming from a top guy in the Trump administration.

Kennedy also said he opposed an assault weapons ban, because the Second Amendment is pretty awesome, and anyway, the problem isn’t guns, it’s antidepressant meds, which turn people into mass shooters, explaining that

“prior to the introduction of Prozac, we had almost none of these events in our country. […] The one thing that we have, it’s different than anybody in the world, is the amount of psychiatric drugs our children are taking.” He then alleged that the National Institutes of Health won’t research the supposed link between these drugs and shootings “because they’re working with the pharmaceutical industry.”

It’s pretty convincing until you remember that antidepressants are prescribed worldwide, but in countries where there aren’t more guns than people, there aren’t a bunch of school shootings. Also, maybe someone could have pointed out that only about a quarter of mass shooters use antidepressants, while 100 percent of them use firearms, albeit not usually with a doctor’s prescription.

Along the way, Kennedy also insisted that COVID was a “bioweapon,” lied that after the passage of the Affordable Care Act the “Democrats were getting more money from pharma than Republicans” (it’s the other way around, according to STAT News, but then STAT News believes vaccines work), and promised to go to the US-Mexico border to “try to formulate policies that will seal the border permanently,” so he really sounds like the mainstream Democrat that everyone on the far Right has been looking for, the end and OPEN THREAD.

[Rolling Stone / Insider / NYT]

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#TuckerTwitterFiles: Tucker Carlson censored for complaining about big tech censorship

About a year ago, Tucker Carlson wrote an opinion piece on the Fox News website complaining about big tech censorship:

To quote from his piece:

[T]he WHO’s latest finding — that the vaccine is not safe for children — threatens everything that reckless creeps like Zeke Emanuel and the pharmaceutical industry have been working for….

Facebook has just censored a woman called Michelle Coriaty-Herbst for sharing the WHO’s bulletin on vaccines word-for-word. She just posted it. Facebook deleted it. ‘Your comment goes against our community standards on spam,’ Facebook wrote. So, this is Silicon Valley’s new policy: everything about vaccines is good. Period. You are not allowed to suggest otherwise. No matter what data you might have. No matter what data you might have, no matter what a health organization might tell you.

You got that? The WHO cast doubt on vaccines for children but if someone dares to quote them … Facebook was deleting the post.

And if, like Mr. Carlson, you quote the WHO, while complaining about how big tech censored a person just for quoting the WHO, well … that is double plus ungood. For that, Tucker was put on double-secret probation by Twitter, as Paul D. Thacker just revealed:

He understates this. Not only was the WHO website stealth edited, but according to the substack linked at the end of this thread, it was immediately stealth-edited after Mr. Carlson cited them in his piece, which might have contributed to calls to suppress his column. After all, by citing what the WHO had said the day before, they were contradicting what the WHO was saying the day after. From the substack post:

When Tucker’s June 2021 report on the WHO’s vaccine recommendations hit Twitter, the WHO stealth edited their COVID vaccine page to remove language Tucker cited in his op-ed. The following day, Twitter officials began discussing Tucker’s essay and how to limit its impact without calling attention to Tucker and creating ‘political risks’ for Twitter by directly censoring Fox News.

Back to Mr. Thacker’s thread:

To review, a platform (Twitter) with an advertising deal with a vaccine manufacturer, did their best to suppress a story that, if enough people were persuaded by it, would reduce the sales of vaccines. But they also did their best to keep Mr. Carlson from finding out what they were doing, to prevent them from being called out for this corrupt behavior.

In the long arc of history, the people who try to silence critics are almost never the good guys.

Mr. Carlson, for his part, does not seem to be down about his dismissal from Fox News. Here he is laughing at someone in the media for filming him and his wife:

When he gets back ‘on the air’—and he might have a non-compete agreement that prevents him from doing that for a while—we suspect he will say some very interesting things. It might not be that he has been deplatformed, so much as unleashed.


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Putting health back in health care

Advances in medical science and technology are rapidly changing and as we saw with the pandemic, diagnostic tests play a pivotal role in health care decision making. They inform treatment decisions, save costs and, most importantly, deliver better outcomes for patients. Unfortunately, these life-changing innovations are all too often not available to many of the people who need them most. Currently, 47 percent of the global population and 81 percent of people in low and lower-middle income countries have little or no access to life-saving diagnostics.

If you’re following the policy trend at large — or even if you’re not — this is where we inevitably turn to discussions of the role of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in the pursuit of better access to screening and diagnosis. Population health is not only in the best interest of individual countries, but as evidenced by a global pandemic, it is important to global health as well. UHC — ensuring people can access the health care they need, when they need it, without financial hardship — is foundational to improving world health care.  

Currently, 47 percent of the global population and 81 percent of people in low and lower-middle income countries have little or no access to life-saving diagnostics.

So, where do we start? With better access to diagnostics.

After the world faced a global pandemic and pulled together, we all learned vital lessons which must not be forgotten. First and foremost, we saw that by working together and sharing information early, we could develop diagnostics and vaccines faster. This learning must extend beyond times of crisis.

We also saw that health systems with well-developed diagnostics infrastructure were more effective at containing and controlling the pandemic. And they were better able to continue providing essential diagnostic tests and treatment monitoring for patients with other diseases such as cancer.        

Normally, it would take years to bring a new test to market. Here — through focus and collaboration — we managed to do so in months.

As the world responded to urgent calls for better access to COVID-19 tests, hopes were also expressed that this would spark innovation leading to widespread testing, vaccines and treatments, which ultimately would reduce the spread of the pandemic.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a public health concern, the urgency galvanized companies to work at full speed. The first Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for SARS-CoV-2 were available for limited laboratory use within eight days. Only 64 days later PCR tests were authorized for use and available for scaled-up testing in major health centers.[1]

Normally, it would take years to bring a new test to market. Here — through focus and collaboration — we managed to do so in months.

As reported by the Lancet Commission, investing in diagnostic capabilities has been shown to lead to fewer misdiagnoses, better use of resources, and better patient care.

Driven by necessity, countries invested in diagnostics capabilities to fight the virus and, as reported by The Lancet, real change was seen at a pace that would previously have seemed impossible.

Why stop there? 

Ann Costello, Global Head of Roche Diagnostics Solutions | via Roche

The recommended WHO Resolution on strengthening diagnostics capacity represents an important step toward recognizing access to diagnostics as a policy priority as well as establishing concrete policy measures, to ensure equitable and timely access. It would pave the way for a considerable shift in strengthening our health care systems, driving progress toward global health equity and global health security.

As reported by the Lancet Commission[2], investing in diagnostic capabilities has been shown to lead to fewer misdiagnoses, better use of resources, and better patient care.

Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of sustainable, efficient and resilient health care systems. This in turn would reduce late-stage health care expenditures, including long-term costs of chronic disease management and disability, and better manage costs for patients, payors and governments. 

Increasing access to diagnostics is crucial to controlling and potentially even eradicating certain diseases like cervical cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis and malaria.

Laboratories are an essential component of a sustainable, efficient and resilient health system. But only if there’s enough of them and trained staff to run them. 

The crux of the matter is that staff shortages in both high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries continue to create a barrier to diagnostic services. 

How short-staffed are we? Well, to put a number on it, an estimated shortage in diagnostic workforce capacity saw a need for an additional 480,000-576,000 staff to support diagnostic testing.[2] And who loses when we don’t have enough skilled laboratory professionals? Patients.

Investment in diagnostics such as improving laboratory infrastructure and workforce development must also be supported by smart local regulatory approaches. This will ensure that patients, regardless of where they live, have timely access to innovation and safe, effective diagnostics.

Health care could enter a new golden age, shifting our focus from primarily treating disease to preserving health through prevention and by helping people live longer, more healthy lives.

This can be through adherence to international best practices, such as those created by International Medical Device Regulators Forum and implementation of regulatory reliance models — where one regulatory body (or the WHO) relies on the decisions, such as marketing authorizations, inspections and product changes, already made by trusted authorities and recognized institutions.

Governments should prioritize expansion of professionals with expertise in pathology and laboratory medicine[3] and introduce laboratory personnel as a key component of workforce initiatives to address the needs of currently over-burdened health care systems. 

A new golden age for health care?

Roche is building partnerships to increase access to diagnostic solutions in low- and middle-income countries and to strengthen targeted laboratory systems through workforce training classes. In May 2022, Roche entered a partnership with the Global Fund to support low- and middle-income countries in strengthening critical diagnostics infrastructure. The aim is building local capacity to tackle infrastructure challenges to improve diagnostic results and manage health care waste. This is in line with Roche’s ambition to double patient access to innovative, high-medical-value diagnostics for people around the world.

Health care could enter a new golden age, shifting our focus from primarily treating disease to preserving health through prevention and by helping people live longer, more healthy lives.

To achieve the golden age we need to learn from the past. All public and private stakeholders have a duty to work together to ensure diagnostics continue to improve health outcomes around the world by bringing this important resolution to life. 

Where a person lives should no longer be the key determining factor in their health. We have a tremendous opportunity here, let’s take it. 

[1] Accelerating diagnostic tests to prevent a future pandemic. Bill Rodriguez. Cepi. Available at: https://100days.cepi.net/100-days-mission-diagnostic-test-future-pandemic/ (Accessed 04.04.2023)

[2] The Lancet Commission on diagnostics: transforming access to diagnostics. Fleming, Kenneth A et al.The Lancet, Volume 398, Issue 10315, 1997 – 2050. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(21)00673-5.pdf

[3] https://www.ihe.net/ihe_domains/ihe_pathology_and_laboratory_medicine/ (Accessed: 04.04.2023)

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As COVID Tracking Wanes, Are We Letting Our Guard Down Too Soon?

April 11, 2023 – The 30-second commercial, part of the government’s We Can Do This campaign, shows everyday people going about their lives, then reminds them that, “Because COVID is still out there and so are you,” it might be time to update your vaccine.

But in real life, the message that COVID-19 is still a major concern is muffled if not absent for many. Many data tracking sources, both federal and others, are no longer reporting, as often, the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in February stopped updating its public COVID data site, instead directing all queries to the CDC, which itself has been updating only weekly instead of daily since last year

Nongovernmental sources, such as John Hopkins University, stopped reporting pandemic data in March, The New York Times also ended its COVID data-gathering project last month, stating that “the comprehensive real-time reporting that The Times has prioritized is no longer possible.” It will rely on reporting weekly CDC data moving forward. 

Along with the tracking sites, masking and social distancing mandates have mostly disappeared. President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill on Monday that ended the national emergency for COVID. While some programs will stay in place for now, such as free vaccines, treatments, and tests, that too will go away when the federal public health emergency  expires on May 11. The HHS already has issued its transition roadmap. 

Many Americans, meanwhile, are still on the fence about the pandemic. A Gallup poll from March shows that about half of the American public says it’s over, and about half disagree. 

Are we closing up shop on COVID-19 too soon, or is it time? Not surprisingly, experts don’t agree. Some say the pandemic is now endemic – which broadly means the virus and its patterns are predictable and steady in designated regions – and that it’s critical to catch up on health needs neglected during the pandemic, such as screenings and other vaccinations

But others don’t think it’s reached that stage yet, saying that we are letting our guard down too soon and we can’t be blind to the possibility of another strong variant – or pandemic – emerging. Surveillance must continue, not decline, and be improved.

Time to Move On?

In its transition roadmap released in February, the HHS notes that daily COVID reported cases are down over 90%, compared to the peak of the Omicron surge at the end of January 2022; deaths have declined by over 80%; and new hospitalizations due to COVID have dropped by nearly 80%.

It is time to move on, said Ali Mokdad, PhD, a professor and chief strategy officer of population health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. 

“Many people were delaying a lot of medical care, because they were afraid” during COVID’s height, he said, explaining that elective surgeries were postponed, prenatal care went down, as did screenings for blood pressure and diabetes.

His institute was tracking COVID projections every week but stopped in December.

As for emerging variants, “we haven’t seen a variant that scares us since Omicron” in November 2021, said Mokdad, who agrees that COVID is endemic now. The subvariants that followed it are very similar, and the current vaccines are working. 

“We can move on, but we cannot drop the ball on keeping an eye on the genetic sequencing of the virus,” he said. That will enable quick identification of new variants.

If a worrisome new variant does surface, Mokdad said, certain locations and resources will be able to gear up quickly, while others won’t be as fast, but overall the U.S. is in a much better position now. 

Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, also believes the pandemic phase is behind us

“This can’t be an emergency in perpetuity,” he said “Just because something is not a pandemic [anymore] does not mean that all activities related to it cease.”

COVID is highly unlikely to overwhelm hospitals again, and that was the main reason for the emergency declaration, he said. 

“It’s not all or none — collapsing COVID-related [monitoring] activities into the routine monitoring that is done for other infectious disease should be seen as an achievement in taming the virus,” he said.

Not Endemic Yet

Closing up shop too early could mean we are blindsided, said Rajendram Rajnarayanan, PhD, an assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. 

Already, he said, large labs have closed or scaled down as testing demand has declined, and many centers that offered community testing have also closed. Plus, home test results are often not reported.

Continued monitoring is key, he said. “You have to maintain a base level of sequencing for new variants,” he said. “Right now, the variant that is ‘top dog’ in the world is XBB.1.16.” 

That’s an Omicron subvariant that the World Health Organization is currently keeping its eye on, according to a media briefing on March 29. There are about 800 sequences of it from 22 countries, mostly India, and it’s been in circulation a few months. 

Rajnarayanan said he’s not overly worried about this variant, but surveillance must continue. His own breakdown of XBB.1.16 found the subvariant in 27 countries, including the U.S., as of April 10.   

Ideally, Rajnarayanan would suggest four areas to keep focusing on, moving forward:

  • Active, random surveillance for new variants, especially in hot spots
  • Hospital surveillance and surveillance of long-term care, especially in congregate settings where people can more easily spread the virus
  • Travelers’ surveillance, now at seven U.S. airports, according to the CDC
  • Surveillance of animals such as mink and deer, because these animals can not only pick up the virus, but the virus can mutate in the animals, which could then transmit it back to people 

With less testing, baseline surveillance for new variants has declined. The other three surveillance areas need improvement, too, he said, as the reporting is often delayed. 

Continued surveillance is crucial, agreed Katelyn Jetelina, PhD, an epidemiologist and data scientist who publishes a newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist, updating developments in COVID and other pressing health issues. 

“It’s a bit ironic to have a date for the end of a public health emergency; viruses don’t care about calendars,” said Jetelina, who is also director of population health analytics for the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute“COVID-19 is still going to be here, it’s still going to mutate,” she said, and still cause grief for those affected. “I’m most concerned about our ability to track the virus. It’s not clear what surveillance we will still have in the states and around the globe.” 

For surveillance, she calls wastewater monitoring “the lowest-hanging fruit.” That’s because it “is not based on bias testing and has the potential to help with other outbreaks, too.” Hospitalization data is also essential, she said, as that information is the basis for public health decisions on updated vaccines and other protective measures.

While Jetelina is hopeful that COVID will someday be universally viewed as endemic, with predictable seasonal patterns, “I don’t think we are there yet. We still need to approach this virus with humility; that’s at least what I will continue to do.”

Rajnarayanan agreed that the pandemic has not yet reached endemic phase, though the situation is much improved.  “Our vaccines are still protecting us from severe disease and hospitalization, and [the antiviral drug] Paxlovid is a great tool that works.”

Keeping Tabs

While some data tracking has been eliminated, not all has, or will be. The CDC, as mentioned, continues to post cases, deaths, and a daily average of new hospital admissions weekly. The World Health Organization’s dashboard tracks deaths, cases, and vaccine doses globally. 

In March, the WHO updated its working definitions and tracking system for SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants of interest, with goals of evaluating the sublineages independently and to classify new variants more clearly when that’s needed. 

Still, WHO is considering ending its declaration of COVID as a public health emergency of international concern sometime this year.

Some public companies are staying vigilant. The drugstore chain Walgreens said it plans to maintain its COVID-19 Index, which launched in January 2022. 

“Data regarding spread of variants is important to our understanding of viral transmission and, as new variants emerge, it will be critical to continue to track this information quickly to predict which communities are most at risk,” Anita Patel, PharmD, vice president of pharmacy services development for Walgreens, said in a statement.   

The data also reinforces the importance of vaccinations and testing in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19, she said.

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Matt Taibbi’s #TwitterFiles Part 19 takes deep, disturbing look at ‘The Great Covid-19 Lie Machine’

Earlier this month, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz accused independent journalist Matt Taibbi of profiting off the “Twitter Files.”

Taibbi and journalists like Michael Shellenberger and Bari Weiss have been instrumental in bringing government and media corruption to light through their work on the “Twitter Files,” despite the Democratic Party and liberal media’s coordinated campaigns to kneecap and smear them. So we’re pleased to see that Taibbi hasn’t let the likes of Debbie Wasserman Schultz deter him from lifting heavy boulders and exposing corruption.

And that brings us to the “Twitter Files,” part 19. Taibbi dropped it today, and this particular thread focuses on “The Great Covid-19 Lie Machine, Stanford, the Virality Project, and the Censorship of ‘True Stories.’”

Get comfortable — but not too comfortable. You’re in for quite a ride:

There’s been enough corruption to fill 19 of these things! And we expect that there’s still a lot more where all that came from.

So stay tuned.


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Fauci Q&A: On Masking, Vaccines, and What Keeps Him Up at Night

Jan. 30, 2023 – When he was a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, Anthony Fauci loved playing sports. As captain of his high school basketball team, he wanted to be an athlete, but at 5-foot-7, he says it wasn’t in the cards. So, he decided to become a doctor instead. 

Fauci, who turned 82 in December, stepped down as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that same month, leaving behind a high-profile career in government spanning more than half a century, during which he counseled seven presidents, including Joe Biden. Fauci worked at the National Institutes of Health for 54 years and served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 38 years. In an interview last week, he spoke to WebMD about his career and his plans for the future. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

It’s only been a few weeks since your official “retirement,” but what’s next for you?

What’s next for me is certainly not classical retirement. I have probably a few more years of being as active, vigorous, passionate about my field of public health, public service in the arena of infectious diseases and immunology. [I’ve] had the privilege of advising seven presidents of the United States in areas that are fundamentally centered around our response and preparation for emerging infections going back to the early years of HIV, pandemic flu, bird flu, Ebola, Zika, and now, most recently the last 3 years, with COVID. What I want to do in the next few years, by writing, by lecturing, and by serving in a senior advisory role, is to hopefully inspire young people to go into the field of medicine and science, and perhaps even to consider going into the area of public service. 

Almost certainly, I’ll begin working on a memoir. So that’s what I’d like to do over the next few years.

Are you looking forward to going back and seeing patients and being out of the public eye?

I will almost certainly associate myself with a medical center, either one locally here in the Washington, DC, area or some of the other medical centers that have expressed an interest in my joining the faculty. I am not going to dissociate myself from clinical medicine, since clinical medicine is such an important part of my identity and has been thus literally for well over 50 years. So, I’m not exactly sure of the venue in which I will do that, but I certainly will have some connection with clinical medicine.

What are you looking forward to most about going back to doctoring?

Well, I’ve always had a great deal of attraction to the concept of medicine, the application of medicine. I have taken care of thousands of patients in my long career. I spent a considerable amount of time in the early years of HIV, even before we knew it was HIV, taking care of desperately ill patients. I’ve been involved in a number of clinical research projects, and I was always fascinated by that because there’s much gratification and good feeling you get when you take care of, personally, an individual patient, when you do research that advances the field, and those advances that you may have been a part of benefit larger numbers of patients that are being taken care of by other physicians throughout the country and perhaps even throughout the world. 

So those are all of the aspects of clinical medicine that I want to encourage younger people that these are the opportunities that they can be a part of, which can be very gratifying and certainly productive in the sense of saving lives.

Looking back over your career, what were some of the highs and lows, or turning points?

I first became involved in the personal care and research on persons with HIV, literally in the fall of 1981. [That was] weeks to months after the first cases were recognized. My colleagues and I spent the next few years taking care of desperately ill patients, and we did not have effective therapies because the first couple of years, we did not even know what the ideologic agent was. Even after it was recognized after 1983 and 1984, it took several years before effective therapies were developed, so there was a period of time where we were in a very difficult situation. We were essentially putting Band-Aids on hemorrhages, metaphorically, because no matter what we did, our patients continued to decline. That was a low and dark period of our lives, inspired only by the bravery and the resilience of our patients. A very high period was in [the late 1990s] and into the next century [with the development] of drugs that were highly effective in prolonged and effective suppression of viral loads to the point where people who were living with HIV, if they had access to therapy, could essentially lead a normal lifespan.

We put together the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program known as PEPFAR, which now, celebrating its 20th anniversary, has resulted in saving 20-25 million lives. So, I would say that is … the highest point in my experience as a physician and a scientist, to have been an important part in the development of that program.

Do you feel like there’s any unfinished business? Anything you would change? 

Certainly, there’s unfinished business. One of the goals I would have liked to have achieved, but that is going to have to wait another few years, is the development of a safe and effective vaccine for HIV. A lot of very elegant science has been done in that regard, but we’re not there yet, it’s a very challenging scientific problem. 

The other unfinished business is some of the other diseases that cause a considerable amount of morbidity and mortality globally, diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. We’ve made extraordinary progress over the 38 years that I’ve been director of the institute We have a vaccine, though it isn’t a perfect vaccine [for malaria]; we have monoclonal antibodies that are now highly effective in preventing malaria; we have newer drugs, better drugs for tuberculosis, but we don’t have an effective vaccine for tuberculosis. So, malaria vaccines, tuberculosis vaccines, those are all unfinished business. I believe we will get there.

These new COVID-19 variants keep getting more and more contagious. Do you see the potential for a serious new variant that could plunge us back into some level of public restrictions?

Anything is possible. One cannot predict, exactly, what the likelihood of getting yet again another variant that’s so different that it eludes the protection that we have from the vaccines and from prior infection. Again, I can’t give a number on that. I don’t think it’s highly likely that will happen. 

Ever since Omicron came well over a year ago, we have had sublineages of Omicron that progressively seem to elude the immune response that’s been developed. But the one thing that’s good and has been sustained is that protection against severity of disease seems to hold out pretty well. I don’t think that we should be talking about restrictions in the sense of draconian methods of shutting things down; I mean, that was only done for a very brief period of time when our hospitals were being overrun. I don’t anticipate that that is going to be something in the future, but you’ve got to be prepared for it. There are some things that have been highly successful, and that is the vaccines that were developed in less than 1 year. And now, our challenge is to get more people to get their updated boosters. 

There’s already been criticism of the FDA’s discussion of an annual COVID-19 vaccine. One criticism is that the COVID vaccines’ effectiveness appears to wane after several months, so it would not offer protection for much of the year. Is that a legitimate criticism?

There’s no perfect solution to keeping the country optimally protected. I believe that it gets down to, “It’s not perfect, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We want to get into some regular cadence to get people updated with a booster that is hopefully managed reasonably well to what the circulating variant is. There are certainly going to be people – perhaps the elderly, some of the immune-compromised, and perhaps children – who will need a shot more than once per year, but the FDA’s leaning towards getting a shot that is [timed] with the flu shot, would at least bring some degree of order and stability to the process of people getting into the regular routine of keeping themselves updated and protected to the best extent possible. 

Do you think we need to move on from mRNA vaccines to something that hopefully has longer-lasting protection?

Yes, we certainly want next-generation vaccines – both vaccines that have a greater degree of breadth, namely covering multiple variants, as well as a greater degree of duration. So, the real question is, “Is it the mRNA vaccine platform that is inducing a response that is not durable, or is the response against coronaviruses not a durable response?” That’s still uncertain. Yes, we need to do better with a better platform, or an improvement on the platform; that could mean adding adjuvants, that could mean a [nasal] vaccine in addition to a systemic vaccine. 

Do you always wear a mask when you go out into the world? How do you evaluate the relative risk of situations when you go out in public?

I’ve been vaccinated, doubly boosted, I’ve gotten infected, and I’ve gotten the bivalent boost. So, I evaluate things depending upon what the level of viral activity is in the particular location where I’m at. If I’m going to go on a plane, for example, I have no idea where these people are coming from, I generally wear a mask on a plane. I don’t really go to congregate settings often. Many of the events I do go to are situations where a requirement for [attending] is to get a test that’s negative that day. 

When you’re in a situation like that, even if it’s a crowded congregant setting, I don’t have any problem not wearing a mask. But when I’m unsure of what the status is and I might be in an area where there is a considerable degree of viral activity, I would wear a mask. I think you just have to use [your] judgment, depending on the circumstances that you find yourself in.

Doctors and health care professionals have been through hell during COVID. Do you think this might bring a permanent change to how doctors perceive their jobs?

Health care providers have been under a considerable amount of stress because this is a totally unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in. This is the likes of which we have not seen in well over 100 years. I hope this is not something that is going to be permanent, I don’t think it is, I think that we are ultimately going to get to a point where the level of virus is low enough that it’s not going to disrupt either society or the health care system or the economy. 

We’re not totally there yet. We’re still having about 500 deaths per day, which is much, much better than the 3,000 to 4,000 deaths that we were seeing over a year ago, but it is still not low enough to be able to feel comfortable. 

As a scientist, even a semi-retired one, what scares you? What wakes you up at night with worry? 

The same thing I have been concerned about for, you know, 40 years: the appearance of a highly transmissible respiratory virus that has a degree of morbidity and mortality that could really be very disruptive of us in this country and globally. Unfortunately, we’re in the middle of that situation now, finishing our third year and going into year 4. So what worries me is yet another pandemic. Now that could be a year from now, 5 years from now, 50 years from now. Remember, the last time a pandemic of this magnitude occurred was well over 100 years ago. My concern is that we stay prepared. [We may] not necessarily prevent the emergence of a new infection, but hopefully we can prevent it from becoming a pandemic.

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To go or not to go? Von der Leyen’s COVID committee dilemma

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There won’t be any severed horses’ heads but the European Commission president may soon receive an offer that she can’t refuse — at least without causing an institutional dust-up.

Last week, the coordinators of the European Parliament’s special committee on COVID-19 voted to invite Ursula von der Leyen to appear in front of the panel to answer their questions on vaccine procurement. 

It’s not a courtesy call. EU lawmakers want to shine a light on exactly what happened during those hectic months at the height of the pandemic in 2021, when the bloc was frantically searching for vaccine doses to protect its population from the coronavirus.

The committee’s chair, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt has said she wants full transparency on the “preliminary negotations” leading up to vaccine purchases — a reference to the Commission president’s unusual personal role in negotiating the EU’s biggest vaccine contract, signed with Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. An appearance would refocus attention on von der Leyen’s highly contentious undisclosed text messages with Pfizer’s chief executive.

It’s a topic von der Leyen has so far fiercely resisted opening up about but the COVI committee invite could put the Commission president in a sticky situation.

All bark, no bite? 

On the face of it, von der Leyen could just say no. European Parliament committees don’t have many formal powers. They have no rights to compel witnesses to appear or to get them to tell the truth — and there’s no recourse if someone refuses to appear or lies in front of the committee.

Indeed, Pfizer’s Chief Executive Albert Bourla — with whom von der Leyen is reported to have conducted personal negotiations via text message — thumbed his nose at the committee more than once, and sent one of his employees instead.

Even when the Parliament does reel in a big name, the performance can be lackluster — like in the case of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who agreed to show up but then avoided answering most questions. That’s a far cry from how the U.S. Senate’s commerce and judiciary committees grilled the tech titan for hours. 

And the Commission president has already shown a penchant for being evasive when it comes the Pfizer negotiations, earning the Commission a verdict of maladministration from the European Ombudsman for its lack of transparency.

However, the fact that von der Leyen is an inter-institutional figure gives the Parliament more bite than with external guests — and may help tip the balance in the committee’s favour.

First, there’s precedent. While the Commission President usually appears in front of all MEPs at a plenary session such as in the annual State of the European Union speech, Commission presidents have appeared in front of committees in the past. Von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, appeared in front of a special committee to answer uncomfortable questions over his role in making Luxembourg a tax haven. 

Secondly, the European Parliament is tasked with overseeing the EU’s budget. With billions of euros spent in the joint purchase of the vaccines, and part of those funds coming straight from the EU’s pockets, it’s hard to argue that there aren’t important financial considerations at play, and ones that the elected representatives of the EU should be allowed to scrutinize.

Then there’s Article 13 of the EU’s founding treaty, which calls for “mutual sincere cooperation” between the EU’s institutions. It’s a point that’s repeated in an inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament and the Commission, which states that the EU’s executive should also provide lawmakers with confidential information when it’s requested — like, for example, the contents of certain text messages.

The Commission has so far been tight-lipped. When asked last week about Ursula von der Leyen’s upcoming invite to the COVID-19 committee, a Commission spokesperson said “No such invitation has been received.”

Don’t shoot the messenger 

And, in fact, it’s now up to European Parliament president Roberta Metsola to decide whether the invite will ever reach von der Leyen’s hands. The request is on her desk and, per protocol, any invitation to appear must come from the president’s office.

Metsola, who belongs to the same political group as von der Leyen (the center-right European People’s Party), confirmed to POLITICO that she has received a letter from the COVI committee and “will look at it.” “I cannot pre-empt what my reply will be to that committee,” she said.

As long as proper form is followed, Metsola should “pass on the message,” said Emilio De Capitani, a former civil servant who for 14 years was secretary of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE).

“The question isn’t abusive,” said De Capitani.  

In theory, von der Leyen, who was elected to her role by the Parliament, relies on its mandate to stay there.

“There’s nothing strange about meeting with an organ of the Parliament,” the former Parliamentary official added. “Then it will be up to von der Leyen to ask whether the hearing is in public or, behind closed doors. She could also choose to address it in plenary.” 

For political operatives such as Metsola and von der Leyen, the optics of their actions are likely to play a major role in any decision. And this invite comes at the same time as the biggest scandal in the European Parliament’s history.

An assistant for one of the MEPs in the COVI committee said the drive for transparency produced by the unfolding “Qatargate” influence scandal gave extra force to the invite.

“It wouldn’t have had the same result without Qatargate,” said the assistant. “If she says no, it will only make the problem worse.” 

Not everyone agrees. Detractors say the Parliament has lost its moral standing. And that even if none of the MEPs in the COVID-19 committee are implicated, the institution is still weakened on the whole.

“I think this [Qatargate] will make it less likely for von der Leyen to cooperate with the Parliament,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, head of the Brussels office at the think tank Centre for European Reform. She said the Commission president is riding high after weathering a pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine.

“The European Parliament in theory could force von der Leyen to appear by threatening to dismiss her — but how can they do that in the current climate?”

This article was updated Friday morning to include comment from Roberta Metsola.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.

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Robby Soave drops Facebook Files, detailing federal gov’t ‘jawboning’ to censor inconvenient content

Chances are pretty good that by this point, you’ve read through at least a couple of the extensive threads and articles known as The Twitter Files, and you’ve seen the disturbing lengths to which Democrats and the federal government have gone — with varying degrees of cooperation from Twitter execs and middle management — to suppress information and push false narratives and silence debate.

And you may have gotten the sneaking suspicion that, given just how damning and disturbing these revelations were, it was entirely possible that the suppression of information and pushing of false narratives and silencing of debate weren’t just issues at Twitter. And you’d evidently be right.

Today, Reason’s Robby Soave has a new exposé to share, and this one is all about censorship at Facebook and Instagram, carried out at the behest of the federal government, including the Centers for Disease Control. And, as was the case with The Twitter Files, you’ll want to take the time to read this one:

Good Lord.

And it gets messier still:

And there we have it. How many Twitter users were laughed at or denounced as conspiracy theorists for suspecting that censorship was at play? They turned out to be right. And now we have compelling evidence that Facebook did the exact same thing. It’s not a conspiracy theory; it’s reality.

Anyone else get the feeling that all the revelations are just barely scratching the surface of what went on between the Biden administration and Twitter and Facebook?


Help us keep owning the libs! Join Twitchy VIP and use promo code AMERICAFIRST to receive a 25% discount off your membership!

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Vaccines that prolong the immune response may give better protection

Most vaccines are designed to provoke a quick immune response, but a longer one might allow the most effective immune cells to stick around in the bone marrow


28 October 2022

Illustration of a B cell producing antibodies


Vaccines that provoke a lengthier immune response might provide longer-lasting protection against infection, due to the way certain immune cells get selected for long-term storage.

Vaccination spurs B cells, a type of immune cell, to produce antibodies against a specific pathogen, such as the influenza virus. Most vaccines are designed to create a quick and strong immune response, lasting a few weeks at most. After this, a few B cells are stored in the bone marrow as long-lived plasma cells, which provide enduring immunity.

But experiments in mice suggest a lengthier immune response would theoretically allow the most effective B cells to get recruited as plasma cells.

Because immune cells get progressively better at producing specific antibodies, researchers had assumed that the body recruited all its plasma cells from a pool of experienced B cells, several weeks after vaccination.

Consequently, many laboratories create vaccines that induce a short, sharp immune response, says David Tarlinton at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. But this is based on an idea that has never been proven, he says.

To test this, Tarlinton and his colleagues vaccinated laboratory mice with a standard research antigen and then euthanised them a few weeks later to study the bone marrow in their legs. The mice had been genetically modified in a way that created a “time stamp” showing when B cells were recruited to become plasma cells.

To their surprise, the researchers found that recruitment didn’t just happen at the end of the immune response, but every single day, they say. On average, a new plasma cell was recruited nearly every hour following a vaccination. The longer the immune response lasted, the more plasma cells ended up in the bone marrow.

“This would suggest that the longer you can prolong this immune response, the more antibody-secreting cells you will accumulate, and the best ones will be at the end,” says Tarlinton.

This means that vaccines might be more effective if they are designed to trigger months-long, rather than weeks-long, immune responses, he says. That could involve adjusting the way the vaccine delivers antigens into the body, for example, or adding other substances called adjuvants that modulate the immune response.

For the recipient, the initial inflammation and side effects would be no different from vaccines that trigger a shorter immune response, says Tarlinton.

Whether plasma cell recruitment works in the same way in response to natural infections, as opposed to vaccinations, remains to be determined, he says.

Journal reference: Science Immunology, DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abm8389

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