Ph.D. scientist with a passion for scientific communication and > 20 years editorial experience
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Vaccines based on the Spike protein provide protection against COVID-19. Image shows viral particle with the S protein in red in the center. On each side is the 3-D structure of this S protein complex showing each of the three S proteins in the complex in a different color. [Compilation by Nancy R. Gough, BioSerendipity, LLC]

3 Vaccines Protect against COVID-19.

Clinical trial results from 3 vaccines show that the vaccines have good efficacy. This means that they protect the people who receive the vaccine from getting severe COVID-19. Two of the vaccines are based on a new technology that has not been used before in approved vaccines. The technology is new, however, it is not completely different from some other vaccine technologies. The two vaccines deliver instructions (in the form of nucleic acid) for your own cells to make a protein that the virus makes, so your body will recognize when the virus is present and prevent it from infecting your cells. …


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Too much histamine or prostaglandin D2 signaling or too little interferon signaling lead to increased risk for severe COVID-19.

An imbalanced immune response appears to be the key to whether a person develops severe COVID-19 with pneumonia and other complications such as coagulopathy (excessive formation of blood clots), impaired kidney function, neurological issues, and heart complications. Multiple mechanisms likely contribute to the variability in the immune response within the population and determine whether a person has asymptomatic disease, mild disease, or severe disease with potentially fatal complications. …


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Ramatroban, an allergy medicine used in Japan may be beneficial for COVID-19 treatment, especially in the elderly and obese.

An available medication used in Japan for allergies could be an effective treatment for COVID-19 in the elderly and overweight.

Obesity is associated with a pro-inflammatory state. Aging is also associated with changes in the immune system. Could there be a common change in inflammatory mediators in both of these populations that contributes to the increased risk of developing severe COVID-19?

Dr. Ajay Gupta, MD, MBBS (Chief Scientific Officer of Rockwell Medical, Inc) thinks so. He thinks the connection is prostacyclins, in particular prostaglandin D2 and thromboxane A2. Prostaglandin D2, in particular, increases with age and obesity, providing a potential molecular link between these two conditions and the risk of developing severe COVID-19.

Prostaglandin D2 has complex effects that vary depending on which cell is responding and the receptor that it activates. The effects of prostaglandin D2 mediated by activation of one of its receptors (DP2) can contribute to symptoms of severe COVID-19. Signaling through DP2, prostaglandin D2 can cause an impaired antiviral immune response called the interferon response and can suppress the activity of multiple immune cells. Together, these effects prevent the body from clearing the virus and virally infected cells. Thus, these immune-suppressing effects of DP2 signaling let the virus replicate and cause severe pneumonia in the lungs and potentially infect and damage other tissues. Additionally, prostaglandin D2 signaling through DP2 triggers bronchoconstriction that makes it harder to breathe. …


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The key to successful social interaction bubbles is preventing anyone in the bubble from getting the virus. [Credit Nancy R. Gough, BioSerendipity, LLC]

It only takes one person to turn a social interaction bubble into a germ circle.

As the cold weather comes, I am beginning to plan how to socialize safely. It will be harder to do outside visits or visits with the doors and windows open to keep ventilation high. This means I need to think more carefully about who is inside my social interaction bubble. Each household that is part of the circle extends my circle.

It rapidly becomes a complex diagram of overlapping circles. It only takes one person in any of these overlapping circles to contract SARS-CoV-2, with or without symptoms of COVID-19, and the virus can get into my circle.

So, as we move into the cooler weather, knowledge is key. Know where the people you socialize with have been. Know how many other people they have encountered, especially in close proximity. More people means more distance between you and them and keep those masks on! …


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Mutations in genes in interferon signaling and autoantibodies targeting interferon explain ~14% of severe COVID-19 cases. Image shows DNA, interferon, and antibodies. [Credit: Nancy R. Gough, BioSerendipity, LLC]

Genetic variations and autoantibodies that compromise interferon signaling explain ~14% of severe COVID-19 cases.

As researchers evaluate patients that develop severe COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV2, they are discovering answers to why some people become so critically ill and others do not. A pair of papers in Science by international teams of scientists led by Jean-Laurent Casanova reports reasons for why ~14% of severe cases of COVID-19 occur. Importantly, this information is clinically useful and will help screen at-risk individuals, prioritize vaccination, and treat patients. Additionally, these findings support a key theory regarding why COVID-19 shows so much variability: Interferon signaling varies within the population.

Genetic Variation that Compromises Interferon Signaling

In the first study, researchers proposed that genetic variations in the population may underlie susceptibility to severe COVID-19 and established the COVID Human Genetic Effort to identify such genetic mutations. …


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Lyme disease word cloud. From https://www.datadriveninvestor.com/2020/08/21/pfizer-and-valneva-join-forces-on-lyme-disease-vaccine/.

The engineered protein vaccine VLA15 induces multiple antibodies in a Phase II trial and has the potential to provide protection against the different bacteria that cause Lyme disease in North America and Europe.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria ( Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia afzelii, and Borrelia garinii) that are delivered by a bite from an infected tick. Although antibiotics can treat Lyme disease, some people do not realize they have been infected. The longer a person waits to receive treatment, the worse the outcome is likely to be. Thus, an effective vaccine would be tremendously helpful for people in regions where the disease-carrying ticks are common. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. estimates ~300,000 people are infected annually.

Valneva is a company that has completed Phase II clinical trials with a vaccine that contains parts of the protein called OspA from multiple bacterial strains. This means the vaccine could provide protection against more than one type of Lyme disease-causing bacteria. Importantly, the vaccine should be effective against the species and serotypes common in Europe — B. burgdorferi (serotype 1), B. afzelii (serotype 2), B. garinii (serotypes 3, 5, and 6) and B. bavariensis (serotype 4) — and the one species in North America — B. burgdorferi.


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CDC guidelines and news coverage sow confusion about immunity. [Credit: Nancy R. Gough, BioSerendipty, LLC]

CDC guidelines do not mean we know how long COVID-19 immunity lasts.

Lots of confusion out there today. Yesterday, I saw a tweet in the news part of Twitter titled, “CDC says recovered COVID-19 patients will have immunity for about three months.”

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Tweet on the news part of Twitter that misrepresents CDC guidelines for testing people who recover from COVID-19.

Newsweek had a similar headline: “Those infected with COVID-19 are immune for just 3 months, CDC says”

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Newsweek headline about what CDC guidelines meant about immunity.

Both headlines are misinterpretations of what CDC meant. The CDC did not state that immunity only lasts for 3 months or always lasts for as long as 3 months.

We have no idea how long immunity will last in people who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and get COVID-19. We do not know if immunity persists for different lengths of time in people who have asymptomatic disease or people who develop and recover from severe disease. …


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Different reactions to the risk of COVID-19 as represented by people toasting at a bar and someone staying home and wearing a mask. [Compilation by Nancy R. Gough, BioSerendipity, LLC]

Fear of the unknown and comfort with risk

For some, the virus is just a part of the risk of life and nothing to be terribly concerned about; for others, the virus is terrifying and any risk of exposure is too much.

Several aspects of the pandemic foster fear, especially in people who are risk averse and uncomfortable with the unknown:

  • A fraction of infected people will become desperately ill or even die, but we have no way of knowing who those people are in advance.
  • No universally effective treatment is available for those who will become severely ill with COVID-19, so we don’t know if treatment will work. …


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A dog, a man, and a woman walking in the woods

Phase II trial results show VLA15, the Valneva Lyme disease vaccine, induces antibodies.

Like many people, I enjoy taking walks in the woods and playing with my dogs at the park. Where I live, every nature walk or even being in my own backyard carries the risk of getting Lyme disease. Consequently, I have been eagerly waiting for a Lyme vaccine. Valneva has a vaccine that is showing promise in Phase II clinical trials. The results are encouraging enough that Pfizer and Valneva have joined forces to bring this to Phase III testing and hopefully to the market.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by several related species of bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia afzelii, and Borrelia garinii). A person gets the bacterial infection from a bite from an infected tick. Sometimes, but not always, the tick bite will produce a telltale bull’s eye rash, which indicates the tick bite delivered the bacteria. …


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Breath test for infectious respiratory diseases, such as COVID-19. [Credit: Nancy R. Gough, BioSerendipity, LLC, using a photo from Wikimedia. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en]

Rapid breathalyzer tests detect volatile molecules associated with infection or the vibrations of viruses themselves.

I see my mother-in-law every week. She is 93 years old with various medical conditions that put her at risk for COVID-19. After attending an outdoor event at a friend’s house, I really wanted to be able to test myself for COVID-19 before seeing her. But, right now there is now way to get a test and results fast enough for that to happen.

The event was outside with well-spaced tables on the lawn. To address the issue of food, they hired a food truck, which I thought was brilliant. There was a keg of beer and wine in bottles that each person dispensed for themselves or beverages in cans or bottles were also available in a cooler. …

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