Edition 8 — Immunity and Vaccines

by Kartik Chaturvedi

December 4, 2020

Interesting News

Daycares in Finland Created Mini Forests in Place of Playground Equipment, and It Completely Changed Children’s Immune Systems

Many studies have shown spending time outdoors is good for eyesight, better mental health, and even respiratory strength. But now, new research shows that the outdoors are good for healthy skin and a strong immune system as well. In this study, some daycares in Finland swapped the typical concrete playground for a grass-covered “forest floor” yard, complete with a variety of plants and other flora. After 28 days, researchers tested gut and skin microbiota of all the children, and found much more diverse microbes — indicating a healthier immune system — in children that played in the forest spaces, compared to the control group of children that played in the standard daycare play equipment. While these results are small-scale and not conclusive, they show how important nature is for us, and why it should be a major, if not primary, factor in designing our homes, neighborhoods, and cities.

Less than a year to develop a COVID-19 vaccine — here’s why you shouldn’t be alarmed

We keep hearing news that COVID-19 vaccines are being “rushed” and therefore could be more risky than “normal” vaccines that take 7 to 10 years to develop. But it is important to understand what happens for most of those 10 years — the majority of time is not spent conducting trials and making a vaccine safer. On the contrary, the bulk of the so-called “development” time for a vaccine is wasted on cutting through red tape, addressing profitability concerns, and ultimately, fighting indifference from global powers.

With COVID-19, all this changed drastically. We have proven that all barriers are actually easy to overcome — simply increase funding, get the top experts together, and eliminate administrative red tape. Of course, this does not mean cutting corners in analyzing safety data or regulatory approval. In fact, these vaccines have been through the same trials and phases as any other vaccine in the past, and regulators will not approve any vaccine without sufficient safety data.

One more aspect that helped speed up vaccine development is gene sequencing. Not much attention is given to the fact that through cutting-edge technological developments, we could sequence the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus extremely quickly, without any difficulty. This created a big boost in “wait times” before vaccine development could begin.

So while people might be concerned that COVID-19 vaccines have been rushed out the door, it is because we overcame massive administrative and technological hurdles, not because safety was compromised. And that is a huge achievement for science.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Rollout Begins Next Week in the UK

The independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has given the UK government the green light to begin administering the mRNA vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The vaccine was found to be about 95% effective and trials with 43,500 volunteers across 6 countries showed no safety issues or serious side effects. The UK will get about 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people with the required two-dose regimen. Production for other vaccines is also ramping up, as the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has already made 40 million doses of AstraZeneca’s mRNA vaccine. This will ensure the vaccine can be administered within days of approval, which is expected in the coming weeks.

Tech Fact of the Week

iPhones can now automatically recognize and label buttons and UI features for blind users

Kartik's Newsletter

Subscribe to get science and tech news, new posts, and the latest updates from me.