About a year ago—on Nov 11, 2015—Brazil declared a national emergency after 141 babies were born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads and brains. The mothers of these babies had been infected with Zika virus, a mosquito-borne flavivirus that usually causes mild to not symptoms, in pregnancy, and officials strongly suspected a link.Now, as Zika continues to march across large swaths of the globe and thousands more babies have been born with congenital disorders, the race for a Zika vaccine is at full throttle. And experts in the field say that it’s likely there will one day be at least two vaccines used to beat back the virus.”We have at least five vaccines with our fingerprint on them,” said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “Some further along than others.”According to Fauci, this is one of the most hotly pursued vaccines in medical history, with dozens of companies, government agencies, and nations throwing billions of dollars into research and development (a BMJ editorial last week said there were about 30 Zika vaccine projects in the works).Because of the unique properties of the disease, including the strong possibility it will become endemic in parts of South America, a vaccine is necessary to prevent microcephaly and other birth defects.”Zika could be something like rubella, where the only way to prevent birth defects is to vaccinate everyone in childhood and protect future pregnancies,” said Fauci.But unlike rubella, Zika will likely be combatted by two, and not one, vaccines: First a DNA-based vaccine that will confer immunity for a shorter period and could help stamp out the current outbreak, and later a live-attenuated-virus–based vaccine that could offer lifelong immunity to recipients.DNA-based for outbreaks, travelersWhile Fauci said it’s impossible to tell which vaccine will most likely be the first to succeed and begin protect people from the mosquito-borne illness, he said a few are more “temporally likely” than others.”A straightforward DNA-based vaccine could be used in the middle of an outbreak, or before travel to an area experiencing an outbreak,” said Fauci. In that way, the Zika vaccine would act like dengue or yellow fever immunization. In fact, because Zika is a flavivirus, and so many flaviviruses have successful vaccines, researchers and pharmaceutical companies have been quick to assume Zika will be similar.In August, NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center began human trials of its investigational Zika vaccine (VRC 319), which includes a small, circular piece of DNA—called a plasmid—that contains genes that code for proteins of the Zika virus. When injected into muscle, the plasmid helps the body make virus-like particles.”The speed with this vaccine [development] is unprecedented,” said Fauci. Currently VRC 319 is being tested in humans in phase 1 trials at three clinical sites.That speed is due to a number of factors, said Sri Edupuganti, MD, MPH. Edupuganti is heading the clinical trial of VRC 319 at Emory University. She and her colleagues have tested the safety of and immune response to the injection in 11 adults, with plans to increase the study size to 30 in the coming weeks.”Because of the last 20 years of vaccine development, mainly because of HIV vaccine work, we’ve benefited from technology and strategies to quickly work on a Zika vaccine,” said Edupuganti. She explained that VRC 319 is also based on the now-abandoned West Nile virus vaccine (no major pharmaceutical companies invested in that vaccine).”Using West Nile as a backbone allowed us to be very nimble,” said Edupuganti.Live-attenuated vaccine for endemic regionsWhile some DNA vaccines are already in clinical trials, a research group at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston was one of the first approached by the Brazilian Ministry of Health in February to begin work on a live-attenuated-virus vaccine.”When you look at the most successful vaccines, polio, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, these are all live-attenuated vaccines,” said Pei-Yong Shi, PhD, a molecular biologist at UTMB. Shi’s group is using a unique reverse-genetic system to craft its vaccine. It’s the first time such technology will be used in vaccine development, and Shi said it allows his group to make a live-attenuated vaccine that’s safe for recipients.”We can manipulate the virus anywhere in its genome like a Lego block. We take out the disease-causing elements, weaken the virus, and produce an effective and safe vaccine,” said Shi.He said a live-attenuated virus-based vaccine is the best long-term solution for a disease with far-reaching consequences for countries like Brazil. Because DNA-based vaccines may need boosters or may confer immunity for only a short period, developing a safe vaccine that can be given in childhood and offer lifelong immunity before recipients bear children is the best way to protect fetuses from Zika.”Even in an endemic situation you would still have outbreaks, so there needs to be a safe and long-lasting vaccine,” said Shi, who said his team is currently working with the Instituto Evandro Chagas and National Reference Laboratory for Arbovirus in Brazil. “So there’s probably a role for more than two types of vaccine.” Shi would not say when the live-attenuated vaccine would be ready for trials. Unlike the DNA-based vaccine, a live-attenuated vaccine will have a higher safety hurdle to jump because it contains parts of the Zika virus.More interest, more moneyBefore Zika exploded, the last disease to trigger a substantial wave of vaccine activity was Ebola. But unlike the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014-2016, which prompted the NIAID to fund only three vaccine candidates, the Zika virus has been drawing more interest from major pharmaceutical companies and governments.”I don’t know exactly why there’s been so much interest in Zika,” said Fauci. “It’s probably that Ebola is always an outbreak, while Zika has the possibility of becoming endemic in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.”The possibility of Zika becoming endemic in several highly populated countries could mean a profit for companies that produce a Zika vaccine.See also:Nov 10 BMJ editorialAug 3 Emory University press release on phase 1 trialsFeb 16 UTMB press release on collaboration with BrazilNIAID Zika vaccine page
New justice minister Jeremy Wright today said the government would cancel plans for weekend court hearings if the trial proves to be unsuccessful. Wright, in his first public speech since joining the department last month, said it would be ‘crazy’ to pursue the policy nationwide if concerns raised by the profession about the ongoing regional tests proved to be correct. The former criminal barrister told a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party conference that he had met the Bar Council this morning to hear its view that weekend and evening sittings at court would not succeed. But Wright urged sceptics to give the pilot a chance before dismissing it, and said his own experience of the court system had convinced him improvements were necessary and possible. ‘I understand the concerns about weekend courts. Lots of cases won’t work in the evening or weekends but others will. Witnesses have to take several days of time out of work to sit around in a court building only to be called at the end of day three. ‘Asking them to go in on a Saturday might be an advantage to them. We will not be expecting [lawyers] to come in routinely on Sunday mornings but there may be a case for being a little more flexible about what hours we work,’ he said. The minister outlined a number of other efficiency savings he would to introduce in the court process, including reducing the number of papers and calling witnesses – especially police officers – and defendants by video link-up where appropriate. Wright, whose portfolio includes prisons, said the Ministry of Justice was committed to 23% savings on its budget – around £2bn – every year until 2015. The Gazette understands that Chancery Lane has been told that participating courts will choose from a ‘menu of options’, including extended court sittings on weekdays and Saturday afternoons, Sunday court sittings and extended use of virtual courts and video links to prisons. The Law Society, which opposes the scheme, said: ‘It is inappropriate for the courts to sit outside normal business hours and to require solicitors to attend weekend hearings, where there is no emergency and the cases are not of the sort usually undertaken at weekend sittings.’ It said the initiative will increase costs to law firms and ‘will be an expensive way of making the magistrates’ courts less efficient, at a time of decreasing workloads and when all the criminal justice agencies are struggling with budget cuts.’ The Society said it plans to monitor the pilots and gather evidence from solicitors about the problems caused and costs incurred, which it will share with the MoJ when it evaluates the pilots in the new year. Wright denied the MoJ’s savings plans would mean a cap on prisoner numbers and said it was a matter for the courts, rather than ministers, to decide who would go to prison. He did reveal that he would not support any reduction in the number of short sentences passed by magistrates and judges, despite criticism that they offer no rehabilitation to the offender. ‘Short prison sentences do work for public protection,’ he added. ‘There’s no doubt that the reoffending rates for short term sentences is pretty horrendous, but I am not of the view that all those who would have received a short sentence shouldn’t have one.’ Wright said that those expecting immediate reform of the probation and prison service would have to wait. Four new ministers were appointed to the department in David Cameron’s reshuffle last month and Wright said they needed to ‘pause for breath’ before introducing any new legislation.
The current Jamaican anti-Carifta Games sentiment isn’t new. Jamaica is so dominant at the 48-year-old track and field junior event that some fans might just be bored. Add the tight schedule between the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships and the Carifta Trials and between the Games themselves and the Penn Relays this year, and the discontent has been aggravated. However, the Games still play an important role. It is the first opportunity for young Jamaican athletes to experience international competition. The Carifta experience takes them out of familiar surroundings to other countries via air travel, and out of their school teams into a national team. It builds loyalty to the black-green-and-gold. Just as importantly, it simulates what they will experience at the highest level of the sport. EMULATE CARIFTA There’s nothing else quite like it. In fact, international officials, including IAAF President Sebastian Coe, have urged other regions to copy it. Take the Carifta Games off the calendar and you find there isn’t anything else that plays the experience-building role for the youngest ones. Every two years, the Caribbean Union of Teachers stages a 15 and under event. In 2017, the IAAF staged the last World Under 18-Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. That’s where Wayne Pinnock of Kingston College rededicated himself to athletics. Now, he is one of the globe’s pre-eminent long jump prospects. The landscape also features the Youth Olympics and the Commonwealth Youth Games, which cater to athletes under 18 years of age. However, these wonderful events are often staged so late in the year that rest for the youngsters is compromised. This was the case with the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which took place in October. The remainder of the international junior calendar caters to athletes from age 16 to 19. That bars the terrific Clayton twins, Tina and Tia, from competing at this year’s Pan-American Junior Championships. Believe it or not, Tia and Tina are just 14. Many of the region’s greats, including Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Yohan Blake and Melaine Walker, benefited from exposure at Carifta and the World Under-18 Championships. Now that the latter meet is off the schedule, Carifta is a little bit more crucial. One guess about Asafa Powell’s disappointing 2004 Olympic 100-metre showing is that he lacked experience on the international stage. Discovered as a diamond in the rough, Powell missed the ladder of junior meets that moulded his peers. Perhaps, if the former footballer had turned to track earlier and gotten experience at the Carifta Games, his 2004 Olympic debut might have had a happy ending. Thankfully, he matured, brought the 100-metre world record to Jamaica, and became a three-time Olympic 100-metre finalist and a winner of individual medals at two World Championships. In the same way, the Penn Relays helps by confronting our young athletes with the vagaries of weather. At the 2017 World Championships, a strong Jamaican team was undone by the London chill. Bolt went down, baton in hand, in the 4x100m final. Anniesha McLaughlin-Whilby suffered the same way in the women’s 4x400m final. Ronald Levy pulled just before his 110-metre hurdles heat. Blake couldn’t run flat out in the 200 metres because of the 13-degree weather and the risk of injury. Lest we forget, Jamaica’s only gold medal came from hurdler supreme Omar McLeod, who is accustomed to cold weather from his ongoing sojourn in the United States. In addition, Penn Relays often sees non-stars get college scholarships. The underlying point is that Carifta and Penn still are helpful to the Jamaican track and field effort. We remove them at our peril. Hubert Lawrence is a well-respected international track and field analyst and commentator.
By Steve ZwemkeHARTFORD, S.D. (July 25) – The biggest Saturday night obstacle at I-90 Speedway for Colin Smith was a car exiting to the pits with just two laps to go in the Coffee Cup IMCA RaceSaver Sprint Car feature.The close call came as Elijah Johnson left the track via the backstretch exit as Smith was about to lap him. Smith picked up his fourth win while Jeff Edgington crossed in second. The first-year I-90 Speedway driver has now finished in the top two in each of his last six starts.