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Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

by LORRAINE H. MARIE
| December 3, 2021 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

A new COVID-19 variant first identified in Botswana on Nov. 24 is being detected in countries well beyond, including Canada and the U.S. Omicron has been blamed for a surge of infections in South Africa. President Joe Biden ordered air travel restrictions placed upon eight countries effective Nov. 29.

Biden argued the new variant makes clear the need for more vaccinations and that barriers to global manufacturing need to be removed. He emphasized that the U.S. has donated more vaccines to other countries than all other nations combined.

It is not known how severe Omicron can be; as of Nov. 28 no known deaths were attributed to the variant.

Developers of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine say they will know within two weeks if their vaccine protects against the Omicron variant, the Financial Times reported. BioNTech said this pathogen “differs significantly” from previous iterations of COVID-19. Moderna’s chief said Omicron poses a challenge for existing vaccines.

Is there a vaccine supply shortage? Current vaccine makers claim: “There is no mRNA manufacturing capacity in the world.” But independent experts have scrutinized the supply chain. They found more vaccines could be manufactured within months, but only if existing manufacturers transcend profit motives and share knowledge. Keeping COVID-19 vaccines in short supply may benefit the manufacturers, The Nation suggested.

It’s not a new story: In the 1990s and 2000s, HIV drug manufacturers claimed no one besides themselves could make the applicable drugs due to lack of ability. But The Nation reported that other countries did so anyway, in huge quantities and more efficiently.

“Better than we expected,” is what Israeli researchers said of the 70 percent reduced mortality rate for their new COVID-19 treatment. A group of 50 very sick and hospitalized patients, most with underlying conditions, received up to three doses of Mesencure and 6.7 percent died. That’s compared to a control group, which saw 23.3 percent die. The first Mesencure recipient, a 73-year-old woman, recovered rapidly after a single dose, leaving her bed and exercising the next day, The Jerusalem Post reported. For the research crew, this held hope for less risk for long-COVID cases and other related disabilities. Mesencure is a cell therapy, using adipose tissue from healthy donors. The cells ride the blood stream, reach the lungs and secrete anti-inflammatory and regenerative factors where they find inflammation. They also support tissue regeneration.

T-cells could be used in what is called “a new generation” of COVID-19 vaccines, shots that are expected to quickly stop the virus, The Independent reported. University College of London and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital researchers explored why some health care workers did not get ill with COVID-19 during the first wave. These people had developed special T-cells. With that information in hand, they found that T-cells can be activated to recognize replication proteins and could work well against all variations in the virus strains. Research also indicated long-lasting immunity being likely from these vaccinations.

Four prominent organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, were found liable for more than $25 million for injuries, Mother Jones reported. Plaintiffs said the far right defendants had engaged in a conspiracy to “intimidate, harass or harm.” The defense claimed that pre-rally talk of ramming protesters with vehicles was not serious, and was protected speech. There was one death and multiple injuries when a car subsequently rammed into counter protesters.

The 2021 Global State of Democracy reported that the U.S. is now listed as “backsliding” due to “weakening of checks on government and civil liberties,” and falling victim to “authoritarian tendencies.”

Blast from the past: Tokyo Rose has been brought to mind in light of recent revelations by Snopes that more than half of tweets in favor of Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal for murder in Wisconsin were foreign, written primarily in Russia, China and areas of Europe. The social media users pretended to be Americans and questioned the stability of America.

The identity of “Tokyo Rose,” the World War II Japanese broadcaster, who told soldiers the war was lost, Japan was winning and Allied soldiers should go home, appears uncertain. Historians say most World War II soldiers found the broadcasts amusing.

Today, as revealed extensively in the Mueller report on Russia’s influence on the U.S., false foreign information is dividing the U.S. population and — unlike in Tokyo Rose’s time — taken seriously. Details are found in the book “Shadow State,” by Guardian reporter Luke Harding. Currently, the faux American citizens are using social media to complain about politicians, promote conspiracy theories and generally overwhelm political dialogue. Their aim is to portray democracy as flawed and to provoke chaos or civil war, which could create an opening for seizing control of the U.S.

In 2019 the Senate Intelligence Committee sounded a warning about Russia’s information warfare campaign (that campaign is much cheaper than amassing arms), but the Trump administration ridiculed and ignored the warning.