Maybe there is something I can do

Really good news ("a triple whammy"). Plus volunteers worth knowing, and 7 other things worth your time

In early March, as the Seattle area gained a reputation for being the first Covid-19 “hotspot” in the United States, a 44-year-old mother of two named Jennifer Haller who lived in the area was feeling vulnerable and powerless.

Her chance to fight back came in the odd form of a Facebook ad, asking for volunteers to be injected with experimental treatments, as part of the first tests of potential coronavirus vaccines on human subjects.

Haller, who is also operations manager at a tech startup, jumped at the chance.

“We were all feeling so helpless,” she said later. (The Telegraph, $). “There was nothing I could do to stop this global pandemic. Then I saw this opportunity come up and thought: ‘Well, maybe there is something I can do.’”

After qualifying for the test via a 15-minute phone screening and filling out 45 pages worth of waivers and disclaimers, Haller showed up at Seattle's Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute before 8 a.m. on March 16.

She rolled up her sleeve to reveal the tattoo on her right arm, and as a result of pure scheduling luck, became the first person to be injected voluntarily with any potential Covid-19 vaccine. Besides a slightly elevated temperature and a sore arm for a few days afterward, she said she’s had no ill effects.

Fast forward to Monday, and as a result of Haller’s action — along with the work of 44 other volunteers — we got the first, early stage bit of good news about a promising Covid-19 vaccination called mRNA-1273.

The company behind the proposed vaccine, Moderna Inc., announced that its preliminary tests on humans resulted in “positive interim clinical data” in a study led by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If things continue to go well, the company predicts it might have a vaccine ready for use by January.

Moderna's stock soared, as you'd imagine. But so did the rest of the market, buoyed by what one analyst called a “triple whammy” of good news:

  • The positive vaccine trial,

  • The sense that a majority of states are starting to "reopen" their economies, and

  • Comments by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell during a “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday, in which he said the Fed is “not out of ammunition by a long shot” in its resources to support the economic recovery.

Now, this is the proverbial first step in a journey of a thousand miles. So, I want to make sure we highlight the following “but … ” paragraphs...

  • But … this was just a small test, with 45 volunteers, divided were into three groups and given different doses of the vaccine candidate — then followed by a booster shot a month later.

  • But … this was only Phase I testing, largely designed to see whether the potential vaccine is safe.

  • And, but … (my high school English teacher, Mr. Servant, would cringe at that sentence construction), even if Moderna's vaccine were to emerge and be approved, we'd still have to figure out how to manufacture millions upon millions of doses.

If that last part sounds familiar, it’s part of what Bill Gates was talking about in March, when I quoted him here, about building seven separate manufacturing facilities for multiple potential vaccines, in the hope that one or two of them would be promising enough to complete.

But, this is good news. Currently, there are about 100 vaccines in development and testing around the world—in the lab and on animals. At least seven others besides Moderna's have now started testing in human beings.

Humans beings who have names — like Haller, along with Neal Browning, 46, Bothell, Washington (a dad who works as a network engineer at Microsoft), and Rebecca Sirull, 25, who had just moved to Seattle from Boston—and 42 others.

The group received a well-deserved outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike, as their names became known immediately after the tests—but it’s worth noting that their total compensation for volunteering to be tested runs only about $1,100.

“Whenever we get to the vaccine, whatever it ends up being, I will be proud to have been part of the process,” Haller said. “That humility is genuine. This is one thing I can do, and I'm happy to do it. I'm not saving the world.”

7 other things worth your time

  • “More than 130,000 autoworkers returned to factories across the U.S. for the first time in nearly two months Monday in one of the biggest steps yet to restart American industry.” (Associated Press)

  • Lawmakers in Washington say big changes to the Paycheck Protection Program are likely, including giving businesses more flexibility to spend the money on things besides salaries, and extending the time to spend it. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • President Trump announced he's been taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine for “about a week and a half” as protection against the coronavirus. But, the FDA has warned that the drug is unproven, and should only be taken in hospitals because of the risk of heart complications. Other possible side effects include anxiety, depression and hallucinations. (Axios)

  • Florida will start allowing people who own vacation homes to rent them out — but only on the condition they don’t rent to people from New York. (Daily Mail)

  • If you’re like me, and you have little kids at home during this lockdown, you’ll like this: IKEA released six illustrated instruction manuals on Instagram for building a series of at-home forts using its most popular products. (People)

  • The actor who played Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver, Ken Osmond, passed away at age 76. (New York Times, $)

  • A New Jersey gym opened in defiance of the governor’s order, attracting crowds and camera crews. Police showed up, told the group they were violating an executive order, and promptly left. (Fox 5)

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