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COVID tracker: The pandemic’s silver lining is that medical research is getting supercharged

  • FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2021, file photo, Aspen Valley Hospital clinical pharmacist Kelly Atkinson organizes the empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the command unit trailer set up next to the vaccination tent in the Benedict Music Tent parking lot in Aspen, Colo. Uncertainty over the pace of federal COVID-19 vaccine allotments triggered anger and confusion Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in some states where officials worried that expected shipments would not be forthcoming. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times via AP) Kelsey Brunner

Monitor staff
Published: 4/6/2021 12:20:02 PM

There is reason for optimism around COVID-19 right now but it’s got nothing to do with our current situation, which isn’t great.

The good news amid all the bad is that the pandemic has shaken us out of our medical-research complacency and seems ready to generate a decade or two’s worth of biotech innovation in the blink of an eye.

Like many of you, I have been injected with the first fruit of that science supercharging and will get the second dose soon.

The need for quick COVID-19 vaccines was the incentive to turn an idea that was slowly percolating through R&D labs – using mRNA, part of the Rube Goldberg cellular system for creating proteins, to make the body do our drug manufacturing for us – into a multimillion-dose vaccine production line that is saving lives all over the planet.

This astonishing success is spurring development of mRNA vaccines against HIV, the flu, even some cancers and multiple sclerosis. It’s not dissimilar to what happened after penicillin was invented; suddenly antibiotics were being created to thwart a host of historically awful diseases.

But mRNA vaccines aren’t the whole story. I can’t keep up with the flurry of news about sudden advances in vaccine production methods, genetic analysis techniques, treatments based on something called antisense molecules that I’d never heard of until last month, and more. 

The cynic in me notes that knowledgeable people have been urging the world to take this route for decades but the human toll of SARS, Ebola and even HIV wasn’t enough to make it happen. It has taken the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic to focus our attention and, more importantly, our money.

But I’m ignoring my cynical self right now. I want the pleasure of anticipating all the good medical things that are going to happen in years to come because of the pandemic.

And I’m going to do that while anticipating my second vaccine shot this month and, of course, while wearing a mask in public and keeping up social distancing and all the other habits that will prevent the current upsurge in COVID from ruining our summer.

And what about that upsurge? Here’s our weekly COVID tracker report. Daily updated charts and other information can be seen on the Monitor’s COVID-19 page at concordmonitor.com/coronavirus.

How are we doing on vaccinations? Pretty good.

By our calculation, 22% of eligible New Hampshire residents – people older than 15 – are now fully vaccinated. That percentage is increasing slowly, just one or two points a week, but it should pick up because a lot of people (like me!) are about to become eligible for their second mRNA shot.

Number of new cases – what’s the trend? Bad.

A month ago the two-week average of new cases in New Hampshire was 262. On Sunday it was 380, and had risen six days in a row. The fear is that this the effect not just of society relaxing its guard but of a more contagious variant, or perhaps more than one, starting to take hold. 

Number of hospitalizations – what’s the trend? Not good.

Although the rise is not as sharp or as consistent as with new cases, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 keeps edging up in New Hampshire. Two weeks ago the number was dipping below 70; on Sunday it was back up to 87.

Number of deaths – what’s the trend? Flat.

One average, between 2 and 2 ½ people have been dying of COVID-19 in the state each day since mid-March. The rate isn’t going up recently but it’s not going down, either.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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