Posts tagged with "FEMA"

A glimmer of hope: New vaccine against COVID-19, called PittCoVacc, shows promise

April 6, 2020

It won’t help today’s patients (unless they are rats or mice); but, on April 2, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists announced in a press release that they had produced a potential vaccine against SARS-CoV-2— the new coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through an expedited testing process, the vaccine, called the PittCoVacc, could be available for use in a little over a year.

When tested in mice, the vaccine—which is delivered through a fingertip-sized patch, not an injection—produces antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be sufficient for neutralizing the virus. Indeed, PittCoVacc generated a surge of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 within two weeks of the microneedle prick.

The researchers were able to act quickly to develop the vaccine because they already had laid the groundwork during earlier coronavirus epidemics: “We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus,” said co-senior author Andrea Gambotto, M.D., associate professor of Surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine. “That’s why it’s important to fund vaccine research. You never know where the next pandemic will come from.”

“Our ability to rapidly develop this vaccine was a result of scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal,” said co-senior author Louis Falo, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of Dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC.

Compared to the experimental mRNA vaccine candidate that just entered clinical trials, the vaccine described in this paper (PittCoVacc, short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine) follows a more established approach, using lab-made pieces of viral protein to build immunity. It’s the same way the current flu shots work.

The researchers also used a novel approach to deliver the drug, called a microneedle array, to increase potency. This array is a fingertip-sized patch of 400 tiny needles that delivers the spike protein pieces into the skin, where the immune reaction is strongest. The patch goes on like a Band-Aid and then the needles—which are made entirely of sugar and the protein pieces—simply dissolve into the skin.

“We developed this to build on the original scratch method used to deliver the smallpox vaccine to the skin, but as a high-tech version that is more efficient and reproducible patient to patient,” Falo said. “And it’s actually pretty painless—it feels kind of like Velcro.”

The system also is highly scalable. The protein pieces are manufactured by a “cell factory”—layers upon layers of cultured cells engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein—that can be stacked further to multiply yield.

Purifying the protein also can be done at industrial scale. Mass-producing the microneedle array involves spinning down the protein-sugar mixture into a mold using a centrifuge. Once manufactured, the vaccine can sit at room temperature until it’s needed, eliminating the need for refrigeration during transport or storage.

“For most vaccines, you don’t need to address scalability to begin with,” Gambotto said. “But when you try to develop a vaccine quickly against a pandemic that’s the first requirement.”

Importantly, the SARS-CoV-2 microneedle vaccine maintains its potency even after being thoroughly sterilized with gamma radiation — a key step toward making a product that’s suitable for use in humans.

The authors are now in the process of applying for an investigational new drug approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in anticipation of starting a phase I human clinical trial within the next few months.

“Testing in patients would typically require at least a year and probably longer,” Falo said. “This particular situation is different from anything we’ve ever seen, so we don’t know how long the clinical development process will take. Recently announced revisions to the normal processes suggest we may be able to advance this faster.”

Among the additional authors on the study are Eun Kim, Geza Erdos, Ph.D., Shaohua Huang, Thomas Kenniston, Stephen Balmert, Ph.D., Cara Donahue Carey, Michael Epperly, Ph.D., William Klimstra, Ph.D., and Emrullah Korkmaz, Ph.D., all of Pitt; and Bart Haagmans, of Erasmus Medical Center.

Research contact: @UPMCNews

Trump: Governors are begging for equipment that ‘I don’t think they will need’

March 30, 2020

As healthcare professionals—and state and local leaders—sounded the alarm over major shortages of equipment needed to provide life-saving care to COVID-19 patients, President Donald Trump on Mach 26 shrugged off their warnings because, as he put it, “a lot of equipment is being asked for that I don’t think they will need,” The Daily Beast reported.

With cases surging nationwide—turning the United States into the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic—officials dealing with the crisis on the ground estimated a shortfall in the millions of essentials; including test kits, gloves, respirators, gowns, ventilators, and hospital beds.

Calling into Fox News host (and unofficial presidential adviserSean Hannity on Thursday, Trump boasted about his administration’s response to the virus—although on his watch, he has failed to mitigate or moderate the spread.

Asked by Hannity about his general refusal to enforce the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of needed supplies, the president insisted it hadn’t been necessary because there’s been “tremendous spirit” from corporations that he says have stepped up. This prompted him to then take some pointed shots at Democratic governors who’ve criticized the federal response.

“Remember, we are a second line of attack,” he exclaimed. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals. and the local government and the states.”

The president first took aim at Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, calling him a “failed presidential candidate” who is “always complaining” and “should be doing more” for his state. He then proceeded to attack Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who he said was “not stepping up” and “has not been pleasant.”

Claiming he gets along well with most of the other governors, the president then suggested they are asking for unnecessary supplies from the federal government while also insisting that the states should take on the majority of the burden.

Hannity, who began his program by blasting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for desperately declaring his state’s need for 30,000 ventilators, went on to say the governor’s request annoyed him. Moments later, Trump suggested the state didn’t need nearly that much equipment.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be,” he asserted. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go to major hospitals, sometimes they have two ventilators. ”

The Daily Beast reported that the death toll from COVID-19 in New York City. alone has topped 365 on Friday. The city’s entire healthcare system, meanwhile, is on the brink as more and more patients flood the hospitals. At its current pace, FEMA estimated that the city’s intensive care units would be filled by March 27.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Trump slams Puerto Rico, even before hurricane hits

August 29, 2019

As Dorian picks up power in the Caribbean, hurtling ever-closer to Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump is picking up the same diatribe he used against the island’s leadership and population during Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit the American territory in September 2017.

“We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You – Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!” Trump tweeted from the White House Wednesday morning.

Indeed, Trump and local officials—specifically, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz—have continued to trade zingers in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria over funding, the President’s disparaging remarks about the island, and more.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth,” Trump tweeted later on August 28, according to a report by CNN. “Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!” he wrote, adding, “And by the way, I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!”

Trump’s lack of empathy for Puerto Ricans has been at odds with his treatment of storm victims in the continental United States during his tenure in office, prompting criticism of racism, including from some local officials defending their home, CNN said..

Tropical storm Dorian is expected to be near a Category 1 hurricane as it approaches Puerto Rico Wednesday and could strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane before making landfall in Florida over Labor Day Weekend.

Trump declared a national emergency and ordered federal assistance to Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Yulín Cruz criticized Trump on that day, as her city prepared for another storm, telling the President to “get out of the way.”

“It seems like some people have learned the lessons of the past or are willing to say that they didn’t do right by us the first time and they are trying to do their best. That is not the case with the President of the United States. We are not going to be concerned by, frankly, his behavior, his lack of understanding, and it is ludicrous,” she told CNN.

Research contact: @CNN

Dad creates entertaining board game bed sheets for hospitalized children

May 7, 2019

After visiting a friend’s sick child in the hospital, Kevin Gatlin, a father himself, had an innovative idea—to create a way for hospitalized kids to learn and have fun while they are confined to bed all day. Now, his company, Playtime Edventures of Monroe, North Carolina, is entertaining kids nationwide, regardless of their circumstances, with interactive bedding and slumber bags.

The idea to make game-themed bed sheets came from a visit to the hospital, but was sparked by a family tradition. “Because of space, my wife would use our son’s bed as a desk,” Gatlin, who is from Charlotte, North Carolina, told CBS News. “They would do homework, play games or just watch movies. But, it wasn’t until I visited [a child] hospitalized for a long period of time did I realize that there was very little stimulation for kids confined to their hospital beds and rooms.”

Gatlin’s mother is a retired teacher, and she suggested making the games on the bed sheets educational. Gatlin enlisted the help of three teachers, a child physiologist and a family doctor to create Playtime Therapy Bed Sheets, which “provide kids a place where they could play, learn, sleep and heal.” According to Gatlin, it took more than two years to design the sheets, which have over 50 interactive games printed on them.

Each part of the bedding supports different types of learning. The pillows feature images and sentences that encourage kids to create stories. The flat sheet features giant board games, positive affirmations and colorful shapes. The fitted sheet is covered in mazes, word finding puzzles, games like checkers and tic-tac-toe, four different languages, math, grammar and geography.

“I wanted the sheets to have so many things for kids to do that they would never get bored playing with them,” Gatlin said. For game pieces, kids can use ordinary objects like coins or paper, or printable cut-outs from the Playtime Edventures website.

Donating has always been an important part of the company — Gatlin’s first order of bedding was donated to the Charlotte (North Carolina) Salvation Army for Women and Children.

Now, people all over the country buy the bedding to donate to children’s hospitals and hospices, shelters, juvenile centers, orphanages, group homes and summer camps. Bed sheets even can be purchased at a reduced cost ($24.99) and directly donated to hospitals and shelters.

Gatlin said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from both parents and hospital staff. “I’m truly happy my rbed sheets have provided a valuable service to those who deserve it,” he said. “The blessings in life come from giving not receiving.”

Gatlin still has a few more ideas on how his bed sheets can reach even more people. “I would love the opportunity to speak with the Red Cross and FEMA about providing our bed sheets during natural disasters,” he said. “Seeing families confined to shelters with nothing to do — I believe our bed sheets could provide some distraction during those hard times.”

Research contact: @CBSNews

Weather or not? Americans fear natural disasters more than terrorists or diseases (or Donald Trump)

June 12, 2018

Forget the tariff dispute with the G7 or the nuclear talks with North Korea. U.S. adults are more worried about the weather, based on findings of a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Healthcare Ready, and released on June 11.

It’s true. In fact, the responses of 1,127 Americans indicate, for the third year running, that a natural disaster—such as a hurricane, tornado, flood or wildfire—is their worst nightmare. Specifically, respondents said that they were more concerned that violent storms or fires would wipe out their homes (33%) than about potential terrorist attacks (15%), cyberattacks (8%), environmental spills (5%), or disease outbreaks (13%).

But, just because they are concerned, that doesn’t mean they are ready: More than half of Americans (53%) say they do not have any severe weather emergency plans in place, yet 42% fear a calamity. For example, only 35% of respondents said they could provide the details of their prescriptions, if they had to evacuate from their homes without their medications or medical supplies—down from 38% in 2017. Yet, a full one-quarter of respondents (25%) said they could go only two to three days without suffering from drug deprivation, if they left their supplies behind.

“These findings underscore the need to prioritize individual and community preparedness across the country in the face of threats from natural disasters, including the current hurricane season. Because we know that it’s not if, but when, a disaster will strike,” said Healthcare Ready Executive Director Nicolette Louissaint. “This annual poll provides insight that allows us to help the public and private health sectors better prepare and respond swiftly to a natural disaster, disease outbreak, or other emergency situations.”

What’s worse, just 32% of Americans believe that the federal government has enough funding to prepare communities for disasters and or to provide adequate aid during disaster recovery—which is down from previous years. Even fewer (30%) think that their own states are sufficiently funded.

“All levels of government must be involved for a swift and effective response and have to be sufficiently resourced in order to do so. Local and federal officials must also work with communities before disaster strikes to help them prepare and ultimately recover from a disaster,” Louissaint commented.

She advises Americans to take some steps to get ready now—among them:

  • Keep a written list of prescriptions, including dosage information, in a safe space;
  • Prepare an emergency kit with food, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets, clothing, and medical supplies for either sheltering-in-place or evacuation;
  • Map out the location of local hospitals, urgent care clinics and pharmacies; and
  • Discuss evacuation plans,  shelters and meeting points, and support for family members and neighbors who may need extra help.

“Now in its third year, Healthcare Ready’s survey continues to provide useful insights about what Americans fear most and how prepared they feel for a natural disaster or emergency.

Research contact: @NLouissaint_PhD

Why pet owners will risk their own lives to save Rover’s

March 2, 2018

It’s a scenario that played out recently on the NBC-TV series, This Is Us: Having heroically saved his family from a fire that was quickly engulfing their home, Jack Pearson ran back into the blaze to save his daughter’s dog. He later died at the hospital from a cardiac arrest brought on by smoke inhalation.

In real life, this episode plays out fairly often, Yahoo Lifestyle reports: This past November, a 61-year-old Florida man was hit by an Amtrak train, after running onto the tracks to save his beloved dog, Astrid.

One month earlier, a California woman succumbed to a wildfire while trying to rescue her border collie from a car. And in September, after Hurricane Harvey, a 25-year-old Texan was electrocuted after trying to save his sister’s cat from her flooded home.

Why do people take these chances for their pets? A Harris poll has found that 95% of pet owners consider their animals to be family members.

In a New York Times opinion piece, Dogs Are People, Too, written in October 2013, Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University Gregory Burns explained that this may be truer than most of us think.

“For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an MRI scanner—completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans,” Burns said. “Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: Dogs are people too.”

Of course, Yahoo points out, Burns wasn’t suggesting that dogs are actual humans, but rather that the activity in one specific area of the brain where enjoyment is felt suggests that they are more emotionally intelligent than we give them credit for.

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child,” Burns concludes.

This theory, as well as research into our co-evolution with dogs, might help explain why 40% of men who responded to a study by Georgia Regents University and Cape Fear Community College would save the life of their own dog over that of a foreign tourist. That number is higher for women, at about 45%, a story in the Huffington Post reported.

Dogs may not just feel like family; in an evolutionary sense, they truly are family. Yahoo reports that our close genetic ties to dogs also might explain why scientists find an increase in oxytocin (the love hormone) when owners gaze into their dogs’ eyes—the same hormone that increases when a mother looks at her baby.

Indeed, in a 2006 study conducted by the Fritz Institute, 44% of those who had chosen not to evacuate from a recent hurricane said it was because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind.

According to Yahoo, this finding served as a wake-up call for the federal government, which passed a law authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to include pets as a part of its rescue plan.

The law may save many households during upcoming natural disasters: According to the American Pet Products Association’s latest survey, 68% of U.S. households own a pet—a number that hovers around 85 million American homes nationwide.

Research contact: @abbyhaglage