Monday, December 14, 2020

How did that COVID-19 vaccine happened so fast?

December 14, 2020

How did that COVID-19 vaccine happen so fast? 

Years, even decades of research brought us to yesterday, the initial rollout of a vaccine for COVID-19, the most disastrous public health calamity in modern times.

In layman's terms, the Pfizer vaccine is all about genetics, DNA, and cell biology. The vaccine utilizes our genetic processes and what they do...which is to create life in our bodies and in all living things. We lay people have known about genetics since high school, when we studied a little bit about Gregor Mendel and his experiments with peas. Mendel discovered the basic principles of heredity and laid the mathematical foundation of the science of genetics. 

What James D. Watson and Francis Crick discovered by 1953, and which revolutionized biology and medicine, was how each of our 30 trillion cells (except for mature red blood cells) is able to pack inside its nucleus the 20,000 genes that serve as the instruction manual for us and for all living things.

DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material from which the 46 chromosomes in each cell's nucleus are formed. DNA contains the codes for the body's approximately 20,000 genes, which govern all aspects of cell growth and inheritance. Watson and Crick discovered that DNA has a double helix structure--two intertwined strands resembling a spiraling ladder. A gene is a distinct section of that DNA and contains the codes for producing specific proteins involved in our body function. In a very short-handed description, genes send information to single-strand structures called messenger RNA (messenger ribonucleic acid). It is the messenger RNA that leaves the cell's nucleus and begins the process of protein building, the essential work of life.

What the scientists and doctors at Pfizer accomplished was to harness the messenger RNA of the Corona-19 virus, which is the active agent of the of the corona virus. The scientists made a synthetic copy of the virus's messenger RNA instead of using a section of living, or dead, virus as has been typically done in previous vaccines. Also, it has been reported that the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are less risky to the body and easier to make in mass doses...qualities much needed in an unprecedented pandemic.

As noted scientist and Nobel laureate Leon Cooper said, our investment in basic scientific research must be generous and ongoing. Advances that led to the creation of the personal computer, for example, relied on previous research on transistors, which relied on previous research in basic physics. Had the revolution in our understanding of genes and cellular biology not stood where it is, these vaccines, providing hope to a despairing world, would not have been possible.

FYI -- There's a basic explanation of DNA, genes and cells in my book, "Healing the Brain: Stress, Trauma and Development" by David Balog.

Start reading it for free:

Can we settle the election selection, please?

Today is the meeting of the Electoral College, the appendix of our election system. Not in one place, but in 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia, the electors, for whom votes were actually cast on November 3rd, will gather in a pro-forma manner and choose our president. It appears that Joe Biden will speak after the electors cast their votes.

It all used to be so easy, before Donald Trump. He continues his dangerous game of contesting the legitimacy of president-elect Biden and for his own selfish benefit, refuses to concede the election. The next stop on Trump's train wreck is the joint meeting of the Senate in the House of Representatives on January 6th, where the electoral votes will be officially counted and certified. And there's where Trump and his anti-democracy Gunga Dins will fight the certification of the electors, a process ironically (and worse) overseen by Vice President Mike Pence. While he is certain to fail again, Trump has delivered more mayhem on democracy and distrust in the system, both now and for the foreseeable future. A final kick as he walks out the door.

By the way, one of Biden's electors meeting at the state capitol in Albany, New York, will be Hillary Clinton.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

I've got something to say

I've got something to say 12/13/20

Top news

The vaccines are coming!

A day after the US Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee voted to recommend the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for immediate emergency use.

You can get the whole exciting story about the approval and the rollout at the link below. But this is such fantastic news. And it has nothing to do at all with Trump, Jared, Ivanka, Don Jr, Eric or any of the miserable Trumps. But I just want to say a word about confidence that people should have in the vaccine. I had the honor of working alongside many top scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. They are passionate, dedicated, rigorous, consummate professionals. Despite what Trump spilled out as misinformation, he will soon be gone and the adults, the highly trained, highly experienced leaders of the best health organizations in the world will take the stage. I never worked with Dr. Fauci, but I did some work with his boss Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health. I cannot of course guarantee anything. I am not medically trained but I could not have done my job as a science writer without following the same rigorous standards for honesty and safety that these world-class professionals practice every day. 

Here's the link to the CNN story.

Trump attends a football game.

Just a day after suffering what most people acknowledge was a humiliating loss for his attempted coup d'etat, Donald Trump traveled to West Point to watch the annual Army-Navy football game. Honestly, he was treated like a conquering hero, receiving a standing ovation and great acclaim from the cadets, the midshipmen in the crowd, and from the football players.

What makes this ominous? Who is going to have to escort Mr. Trump out of the White House when all of his efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden fail? In an interview earlier this year, Biden himself said that, in all seriousness, there are plenty of military personnel ready to escort Trump out of the White House. But as with all things Trump, there's no certainty about anything. Will this be another crisis from this miserable president that we will have to endure?

Barely taking a breath, or pausing from his rage tweeting, Trump is now apparently moving on to other lawsuits, concocting plans to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes in Congress on January 5th, and any mayhem that he and his embattled and belittled team can dream up.

At the suggestion of a friend, I poked my nose into a few clips of the wacky world created by One America News and Newsmax, the two cable networks fighting their way to the bottom of the pool to beat out the now too-snowflakey Fox News. If you haven't seen these media creatures, you may want to take a look at them, but be forewarned, it ain't pretty. Seeking a new personal low bar, the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz popped his head on one of the two channels and gave a surprisingly honest recount of yesterday's Supreme Court decision, only to be hushed up and quickly dismissed from his guest appearance.

I've always wondered about the phenomenon of right-wing talk. How could people listen to the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Ingraham? Very simply, said a friend years ago. Listeners don't have to think. Limbaugh said it himself early in his career: He would tell his mass audience what to think, what to do, and that was it. And conservative right-wing issues can be reduced to simple matters, black-and-white answers, no muss, no fuss. For better or worse liberal media takes time. They explain, deliberate, and ask people to think.

Which is why a video clip I'll link below very much explains the power of Trump's authoritarian narcissism. People are exhausted and if somebody can take away the thinking part, life would get much simpler. I think that's at the core of why people think Trump is the greatest president ever, the greatest thing since sliced bread, practically the incarnation of the Messiah.

I'm reminded of the most recent devastating, Constitutional crisis before the present, the Bush v Gore election of 2000. As a matter of fact today is the 20th anniversary of Al Gore's concession. It was a depressing day for those who had counted on and needed a President Gore. Ironically, now-Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, who is said to be very watchful of the Court's legacy, was stunned by the negative reaction to the Court's intervention and decision in Bush v Gore. I remember the late journalist Cokie Roberts seriously complaining on the news that she needed this to come to a conclusion because she had to arrange a holiday party at her local Crate and Barrel. Thanks, Cokie. 

Also, a couple I knew, newlyweds and avid Fox viewers, wished after 30-something days that the whole mess was over and that the Supreme Court just picked one, anyone, they didn't care. They also didn't care that somebody sitting next to them might have a non-Fox view of the world and would be greatly affected by the decision.

And here's the link to that video on authoritarianism, narcissism, and the American way right now.


Speaking of great scientists, my new book is out profiling the work of the top brain scientists who are working to treat and possibly cure some of our most devastating diseases and disorders. What's in it for you? Since brain-related diseases and disorders account for more than half of our healthcare budget, the success of brain research could make a big dent in our healthcare crisis. 

High priorities include memory loss and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and much more. They are also working on basic research to understand the magnificent resource we all possess, the brain, to optimize our health and make for a happy, fulfilling life.

Please have a look.

I think you might like this book – "Heroes of Medicine: Changing the Face of Healthcare" by David Balog.

Start reading it for free: 

And let's end with a cute doggy picture.