Hit me with your best shot of science

Researchers work in Monoclonal Antibody Discovery Lab at TLS Foundation in Siena, Italy. (Gianluca Panella/Getty Images)

The recent photographs from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mesmerized millions of Earth-bound mortals, myself included. On display was both the spectacular beauty of deep space and the power and creativity of science.

Shortly after those photos arrived on our timelines did we learn of the uptick in cases of polio in the U.S. On display was an ongoing and by most reports growing skepticism of science.

Framing this dichotomy for me was several weeks in COVID isolation, wondering where my mild to moderate symptoms were going.

Unlike the cold or flu or any respiratory ailment, the coronavirus can play with your mind. A sniffling, sneezing summer cold or a flu bug from hell can make you feel as if you may die. With COVID … well … you know the end of that story. With nearly a million Americans lost to COVID, the deadly degree of separation is small.

On the other side of COVID, I’m left with a singular feeling: gratitude … for the healing power of science, because vaccines and boosters and antiviral medication kept me out of the hospital or worse.

Science, now in the crosshairs from Facebook University Ph.D.s in epidemiology and other online experts, has saved me for over seven decades. This newfound repudiation of lifesaving and life-enhancing has, dangerously, diminished the role and importance of science in many American lives, however. Read more

As COVID outlook improves across North Carolina, Omicron-specific boosters expected to offer ‘critical’ protections

500,000 doses of the new updated booster arriving in NC over the next two weeks

The latest wave of the COVID-19 virus is showing modest signs of improvement with 43 counties with a high risk of illness and strain on the health care system. That’s down from 62 high risk counties the previous week.

As August drew to a close, the state reported 20,855 new cases of COVID last week with 1,120 hospital admissions.

North Carolina State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Betsey Tilson told Policy Watch in a recent interview that vaccination remains the best protection against the virus as teachers and students return to the classroom.

“For our teachers and staff, being up-to-date on their vaccines and boosting is really, really important because their risk of exposure will likely get higher as we go into the fall and winter,” said Tilson. “What we really want to do is protect people from severe illness, hospitalization and death and being up-to-date on those vaccines and boosters is the best way to prevent that severe illness, and we for sure want that for our teachers, our staff and our students.”

Tilson explained while we have more immunity in our community from vaccination and past infection, staying current on the boosters is an added layer of protection.

Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorizations of the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to authorize bivalent formulations.

The updated boosters contain two messenger RNA (mRNA) components of SARS-CoV-2 virus – one of the original strain of the virus,  the other one in common with the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the omicron variant.

Targeting the omicron subvariants is an important advancement in the pandemic. The BA.5 subvariant accounted for 84% of the cases in North Carolina the week of August 20th. Another 11% were the BA 4.6 variety.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf called the updated boosters “an opportunity” to get ahead of the next wave of the virus.

“These updated boosters are critical in helping protect teens and adults from the most serious outcomes of COVID-19 caused by the currently circulating variant. Regrettably only about half of eligible Americans have received their first booster dose.”

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf

Califf noted that those who are up-to-date on their vaccines have a thirteen-fold lower risk of dying from COVID compared to those with no vaccination and a three-fold lower risk of dying for those who only had one booster compared to two.

“So this is a remarkable opportunity to improve our life expectancy and reduce the toll of mortality in our population,” Califf added.

For the Moderna vaccine, individuals 18 years of age and older will be eligible for a single booster dose of the Bivalent vaccine if it has been at least two months since they have completed their primary vaccination or received the most recent booster dose.

For Pfizer-BioNTech, individuals 12 years of age and older will be eligible for a single booster dose of the Bivalent vaccine if it has been at least two months since they have completed primary vaccination or had their last booster dose.

The CDC signed off on the boosters on Thursday.

In North Carolina, 77% of the total adult population has had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. However, only 30% of children and teens (age 6 months-17) have received one dose of protection.

Source: NCDHHS COVID Vaccination dashboard

The COVID vaccination rate has been relatively flat for most of the summer with just under 5,000 first doses and 3,800 second doses administered last week.

Dr. Betsey Tilson

But Dr. Tilson remains optimistic that those who have been holding off will take advantage of the new doses targeting the Omicron subvariants as soon as those become available after the Labor Day holiday.

North Carolina has nearly 500,000 doses arriving in state over the next two weeks. Pharmacies working with the federal government will receive 229,000 of those early doses.

Tilson also notes it’s not too early to start thinking about your annual flu shot.

Both can be received at the same time, according to the CDC.

For more on COVID, mask-wearing heading into this fall, and the latest on monkeypox, be sure to listen to our full interview below with State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Betsey Tilson:

Anthony Fauci, leader on federal COVID response, to step down in December

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: No COVID for me

Fun fact: It has been almost two and a half years since the pandemic started and I still haven’t gotten COVID. Nope. Not once.

(I can picture my very superstitious grandmother demanding I now throw salt over my left shoulder and make an “X” on the nearest mirror.)

I would say my good fortune, so far, is based on clean living but y’all know better than that. Vaccinated and double-boosted? Of course. But we all know plenty of vaxxed folks who still got COVID; they just didn’t get that sick and certainly didn’t need to go to the hospital. Big sloppy hugs and warm cinnamon rolls to science for that by the way.

It has gotten difficult to find someone who hasn’t had a positive COVID test at least once. They even have a name for us: Never Coviders. A bit on the nose but I’ll take it. Meanwhile, TikTok recently offered a couple of truly funny answers to “How have you avoided COVID?” My favorite response was “by running in a zigzag” which, as we all know, is tried and true advice from Floridians on how to outrun an alligator. Also Matt Gaetz but mostly alligators.

Another jokester insisted he avoided contracting COVID by isolating the virus, shooting it and nailing its bullet-riddled carcass to his door as a warning to any others they might not want to come calling. (Matt Gaetz wants to hate that joke but, well, guns.)

Over on Reddit, the question was posted in all sincerity but drew “I stopped licking doorknobs” and “I’m too repulsive for anything to want to inhabit my body” responses. While most people posted earnest answers—“I continue to mask up and wash my hands frequently!”—to be clear, that’s not funny. Admirable, but not funny.

Then again, earnest people always make me laugh. A few weeks ago, a Very Earnest and enraged reader demanded of me: “Do you think EVERYTHING is a joke?” I started to respond with a decidedly unfunny lecture about how being able to laugh at life’s awfulness gives us power over it, but I fell asleep mid typing. So, instead, I just responded “Yeah.”

In the vein of running zigzag from COVID and being completely un-earnest, here are my tips for avoiding it. Clearly, I know what I’m doing. And now that I’ve whistled by the graveyard sufficiently…

WISE (A**) ADVICE ON HOW TO AVOID CORONAVIRUS

  1. Make it run as a third-party presidential candidate. No one will ever see it again.
  2. Force it to only affect households that watch broadcast TV. Both of ‘em.
  3. Hang your groceries in the trees. No. Wait. That’s bears.
  4. Before it enters your nasal passages, force the coronavirus to stay for a short but informative presentation on bitcoin going on over in your intestines. (Ask Norovirus for directions if necessary.)
  5. Require the virus to make a mid-morning weekday call to the Social Security Administration. The hold time should easily surpass the life of the virus, which may also have expired simply from overexposure to Muzak versions of songs from 70s soft(headed) rock band Bread.
  6. Make it take the stairs.
  7. Force it to become a vegan. It will be so busy talking about its new lifestyle choice it will simply forget to infect you.
  8. Give the virus a few pamphlets about the end times and tell it to only infect people who open the door and greet it politely.
  9. Hit it hard right on the nose. No, wait. That’s sharks. Also, Matt Gaetz. Who, from a certain angle and with the right lighting looks…like a thumb.
  10. Make Chris Rock stand between you and the virus. He’s stronger than he looks.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her, earnestly, at [email protected].

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