The argument against herd immunity

In a recent article, Kaiser Health News set out to clear up the confusion on herd immunity. Herd immunity is the point at which enough people are resistant to a disease that it is unlikely to spread in the population, protecting the community from infection. According to the article, 50-70% of the population needs to be immunized to reach herd immunity for COVID-19. But experts predict this would equate to widespread illness and an “incredible number of deaths.” Further, cases of reinfection have raised questions on how long immunity lasts and whether someone who has immunity can still spread the virus. Dr. Stuart Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, concludes: “We can’t count on natural herd immunity as a way to control the epidemic.”

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From cancer research to tracking coronavirus

When COVID-19 hit, Dr. Paraic Kenny, director of the Kabara Cancer Research Institute at the Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., wondered how his team could join the fight against the pandemic. Using existing equipment and expertise sequencing patients’ tumors, he converted his lab to begin sequencing COVID-19 patient samples to better understand the virus and its spread. To his surprise, the team found a fast-growing cluster they were able to trace to a single source: a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The Washington Post breaks down the science behind Dr. Kenny’s discovery in “The code: How genetic science helped expose a secret coronavirus outbreak.”

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New report sheds further light on the opioid crisis

Ed Silverman writes for STAT that a “lack of coordination from opioid makers” hindered the success of a safety program intended to minimize opioid abuse and misuse. When the FDA began requiring REMS, or risk evaluation and mitigation strategy programs, for opioids in 2011 it was seen as an important move to curb the opioid crisis. But a new report shows that manufacturers often failed to submit required data on how often opioids were prescribed, side effects, and the results of surveys on prescriber and patient awareness of risks, such as addiction. Silverman says the conclusions are “especially problematic, when considering that, although opioid prescribing has decreased by 34% since 2012, health care providers still prescribed about 80% more opioids in 2018 than during the 1990s.”