Tuesday Reads: Jonas Salk, the Polio Vaccine, and Today’s For-Profit, Fear-Based Culture

Puppy in vest

 

Good Morning!!

I thought I’d illustrate today’s post with photos of cute puppies to offset the generally horrible news. The photo above comes from yesterday’s Boston Globe, Puppy in Boston Police Department Bulletproof Vest Melts Internet.

The photo, which was posted to Reddit, is from Massachusetts Vest-A-Dog, a non-profit that helps provide bulletproof vests, essential equipment, training, and purchase of dogs for police and law enforcement K-9 programs throughout the state.

“As K-9s are trained to give up their lives to protect their partners and all of us, we believe it is every bit as important to protect them,” according to www.mavestadog.org which is why they can run freely without pain

The story says the puppy’s name is Tuco, after a character in Breaking Bad.

Did you see today’s Google doodle? It honors what would have been Jonas Salk’s 100th birthday.

In 1954, I was 6 years old and I was among the first wave of kids who got the experimental polio vaccine at my school. We were living in Lawrence, Kansas then, and I attended Cordley Elementary School. I’m not sure if this was when I was in the first or second grade (I started kindergarten at age 4). Another girl in my class had already gotten polio and one of her legs was paralyzed. I don’t know if I was in the experimental or control group, but I do recall getting another shot the following year. Children from 44 states participated in the tests.

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A look back at Salk’s work highlights the vast differences between American culture in the mid-1950s and today. Salk never patented the vaccine, because he wanted it to be distributed to as many children as possible; so he never made a cent from his discovery. In some ways the 1950s were the bad old days, but most Americans still believed in pulling together for the public good–maybe it was a hangover from WWII.

From The Washington Post, JONAS SALK: Google says ‘thanks’ to the heroic polio-vaccine developer with birthday Doodle, by Michael Cavna.

As so many tens of thousands of children suffered from polio into midcentury, his vaccine began as the stuff of dreams; by the mid-’50s, it was the substance of a profoundly life-altering reality.

Dr. Salk had begun his journey a coast away; he got his medical degree in 1939, at the New York University School of Medicine, and was working at the city’s Mount Sinai Hospital before a research fellowship at the University of Michigan — with his mentor — beckoned. In 1947, he moved to head up the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Virus Research Laboratory, where he did the real groundbreaking work in his march toward a vaccine for paralytic poliomyelitis, or polio.

The goal, of course, was to trigger the body’s own defenses — so it would build immunity against the disease. Salk believed that antibodies could be produced by injecting not a live virus, but rather a deactivated (non-infectious) one.

At this point, enough necessary tumblers clicked into place. For one, the team of Harvard scientist John Enders solved how to grow the pure polio virus in the test tube — a crucial step that enabled Salk’s effective experimentation with a “killed virus.” And then there were the needed funds — Salk got backing from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation).

In 1954, at least 1-million children — the Polio Pioneers — were tested across the nation (this followed testing that ranged from monkeys to Salk’s own family). The vaccine was announced as safe and largely effective on April 12, 1955.

“In the two years before [the] vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000,” according to the Salk Institute. “By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.”

 Now we have panic over Ebola, and instead of focusing on developing a vaccine we have politicians cutting funds for medical research and ginning up public panic for their own selfish purposes, academics and corporations more interested in profits than saving lives, and ignorant people refusing to vaccinate their children.

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From The Atlantic, The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Forgetting the Polio Epidemic, by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz.

It started out as a head cold. Then, the day before Halloween, 6-year-old Frankie Flood began gasping for breath. His parents rushed him to City Hospital in Syracuse, New York, where a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis every parent feared most in 1953: poliomyelitis. He died on his way to the operating room. “Frankie could not swallow—he was literally drowning in his own secretions,”wrote his twin sister, Janice, decades later. “Dad cradled his only son as best he could while hampered by the fact that the only part of Frankie’s body that remained outside the iron lung was his head and neck.”

At a time when a single case of Ebola or enterovirus can start a national panic, it’s hard to remember the sheer scale of the polio epidemic. In the peak year of 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases throughout America; 3,000 were fatal, and 21,000 left their victims paralyzed. In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York, eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died, and others, including Janice, spent years learning to walk again.

Then, in 1955, American children began lining up for Jonas Salk’s new polio vaccine. By the early 1960s, the recurring epidemics were 97 percent gone.

Salk, who died in 1995, would have turned 100 on October 28. He is still remembered as a saintly figure—not only because he banished a terrifying childhood illness, but because he came from humble beginnings yet gave up the chance to become wealthy. (According to Forbes, Salk could have made as much as $7 billion from the vaccine.) When Edward R. Murrow asked him who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk famously replied, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Can you imagine that happening today? Read much more about Salk at the Atlantic link.

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Today it’s all about corporations making money from people’s misery. From LA CityWatch, How Sick is This Generation’s Pills for Profit Philosophy? by Bob Gelfand.

Here are two seemingly unrelated stories that nevertheless intersect. The first involves a scientific lecture I heard the other day. Without going into details, the story involves the discovery of a naturally occurring small protein that treats some of the symptoms of diabetes when injected into rodents, and also slows the growth of cancer cells grown in culture. It is a marvelous discovery and is supported by numerous control experiments that are very convincing.

The scientist, in a later conversation, explained that the patent on this discovery had already been submitted, even though the scientific papers  had not all been written and submitted to journals.

In another lecture a few weeks earlier, but at the same institution, we heard from a venture capitalist. He explained that the pharmaceutical companies are only interested in developments that promise to show a billion dollars in sales.

In yet a third talk by an administrator, the resident scientists and physicians were encouraged to work with the institution’s patent office as early as possible on any patentable application.

The subject of this discussion is the monetization of science and its application to pharmaceutical research. It was not always so. In some ways this is a bad thing, and in other ways it is not.

The great counterargument to the direct monetization of scientific discovery is the story of the polio vaccine. Jonas Salk and his financial supporters made no attempt to patent the Salk vaccine. There are competing stories as to the motives and law that led to this decision. One argument is that the research had been paid for by tens of millions of donations through organizations such as the March of Dimes. Another argument is that the lawyers did not believe that a patent application would be upheld. Salk famously stated that the vaccine presumably belonged to the people, perhaps implying that the mass of Americans through their donations had already earned the right to the vaccine.

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Here’s latest on the Ebola panic front. Kaci Hickox escaped her imprisonment by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie only to end up under the thumb of another stupid Republican governor Maine’s Paul LePage. Fox News reports, New fight over Ebola quarantine looms as nurse returns to Maine.

Kaci Hickox left a Newark hospital on Monday and was expected to arrive in the northern Maine town of Fort Kent early Tuesday. Maine health officials have already announced that Hickox is expected to comply with a 21-day voluntary in-home quarantine put in place by the state’s governor, Paul LePage.

However, one of Hickox’s lawyers, Steve Hyman, said he expected her to remain in seclusion for only the “next day or so” while he works with Maine health officials. He said he believes the state should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that require only monitoring, not quarantine, for health care workers who show no symptoms after treating Ebola patients.

“She’s a very good person who did very good work and deserves to be honored, not detained, for it,” he said.

LePage defended the quarantine in a news release Monday, saying that state officials must be “vigilant in our duty to protect the health and safety of all Mainers.” Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the governor, told the Portland Press Herald that authorities would take “appropriate action” if Hickox does not comply with the quarantine, though she did not specify what that action might be.

The Portland Press Herald isn’t sure whether Hickox’s Maine quarantine is voluntary or required.

Bennett, when asked whether a 21-day quarantine was mandatory or voluntary for Hickox, at first told the Portland Press Herald early Monday afternoon that it was “voluntary.” Later in the afternoon, she wrote in an email that Hickox was expected to follow the quarantine.

“We fully expect individuals to voluntarily comply with an in-home quarantine. If an individual is not compliant, the state is prepared to take appropriate action,” Bennett wrote. She was asked repeatedly by the Press Herald to clarify what “appropriate action” was, but did not respond.

Whether Hickox, who worked in Sierra Leone for Doctors Without Borders, would abide by a quarantine is unknown. Her New York attorney, Steven Hyman, emphasized her civil rights.

“There is no basis (for her) to be kept in quarantine or isolation,” Hyman said. “We are prepared to establish that in a court of law.” [….]

The Maine Attorney General’s Office declined to comment. Dr. Dora Anne Mills, a former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said she does not believe the state could impose a quarantine without a court order.

Meanwhile Chris Christie is still making a fool of himself in public. Politico reports that he’s now claiming he knows better than the CDC.

The Republican governor has faced criticism from the White House and some health experts over his and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policy for a 21-day mandatory quarantine for aid workers returning from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday, Christie said again that mounting evidence shows that the CDC will eventually come around to his policy.

“[T]he CDC has been behind on this. Folks got infected in Texas because they were behind,” Christie said, in reference to the multiple Ebola cases in Dallas. “And we’re not going to have folks being infected in New Jersey and in other states in this country. Governors ultimately have the responsibility to protect the public health and the public safety of the people within their borders when folks come in with this problem.”

He cited the five other states — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New York and Georgia — where quarantines are in place, as well as reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the military impose a 21-day quarantine for troops returning from West Africa. A Defense Department spokesman declined to confirm those reports on Monday.

The governor criticized both the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci in particular, the director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has criticized the quarantine policy. Appearing on the Sunday talk shows, Fauci called mandatory quarantine policies not “based on scientific data.”

“I think Dr. Fauci is responding … in a really hyperbolic way because they’ve been wrong before,” Christie said when asked about Fauci’s criticism.

Temple with stuffed animals

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo looks like a fool too. From The Buffalo News:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Ebola quarantine policy met with withering criticism Monday from AIDS experts who said it could be counterproductive as well as the governor’s Republican campaign opponent, who said it didn’t go far enough.
Three days after Cuomo imposed a 21-day quarantine on health workers returning from Ebola-stricken nations and a day after the governor relaxed that policy to allow people to serve their quarantines at home, more than 100 AIDS activists, researchers and doctors wrote a letter to the governor condemning his actions on Ebola.

The governor’s quarantine policy “is not supported by scientific evidence” and “may have consequences that are the antithesis of effective public health policy,” said the letter, which was signed by AIDS activists such as the head of ACT UP NY as well as more than 35 physicians, including medical school professors at Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Yale.

Most notably, quarantines “will potentially have a profound effect on efforts to recruit U.S.-based health care professionals who are desperately needed to help combat the burgeoning epidemic in West Africa while increasing stigma toward persons who come from those countries,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, criticized the governor for shifting stances on the quarantine.

“What we’re getting is a governor who’s winging it, changing the policy all the time,” Astorino said while campaigning in New Rochelle. “It’s very confusing, and it could lead to health risks for many people.”

Finally, Dallas nurse Amber Vincent has recovered and will be leaving the hospital soon.

When you want your puppy to be this cute, hire a dog groomer. Your dog will look so fabulous you would it more.

I have a few more articles that I’ll post in the comment thread. What stories are you following today? See you down below, and have a terrific Tuesday!

 


Thursday Reads: Updates on Drone Assassinations, West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, and Boston Bombing Aftermath

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Good Morning!!

I have lots of news updates for you today.

First, as I’m sure you heard, the Obama administration has finally admitted that it has killed four American citizens with drone strikes.  Charlie Savage reported in The New York Times yesterday that President Obama will give a speech this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he will

open a new phase in the nation’s long struggle with terrorism on Thursday by restricting the use of unmanned drone strikes that have been at the heart of his national security strategy and shifting control of them away from the C.I.A. to the military….

As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies.

A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.

Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted.

Savage writes that Obama may eliminate drone attacks on groups of men assumed to be associated with al Qaeda that in the past have also killed many innocent civilians. He will also argue for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and renewing efforts to return inmates to their “home countries.” CNN also has a helpful article on the President’s speech and proposed policy changes.

The speech will be at 2PM, and I will post a live blog if people are interested in watching it together. I’m sure it will be live streamed at C-Span and other news sites.

Important update on West, Texas disaster.

Yesterday evening Reuters released their own “Special Report.” on the situation.

(Reuters) – The fertilizer-plant explosion that killed 14 and injured about 200 others in Texas last month highlights the failings of a U.S. federal law intended to save lives during chemical accidents, a Reuters investigation has found.

Known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the law requires companies to tell emergency responders about the hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. But even when companies do so, the law stops there: After the paperwork is filed, it is up to the companies and local firefighters, paramedics and police to plan and train for potential disasters.

West Fertilizer Co of West, Texas, had a spotty reporting record. Still, it had alerted a local emergency-planning committee in February 2012 that it stored potentially deadly chemicals at the plant. Firefighters and other emergency responders never acted upon that information to train for the kind of devastating explosion that happened 14 months later, according to interviews with surviving first responders, a failing that likely cost lives.

It’s a complex story, and you really should read the whole thing, because the West disaster is not an isolated incident.

The lack of preparedness endangers not only firefighters and emergency medical technicians, but also people nationwide living near chemical stockpiles similar to those that exploded in West.

At least 800,000 people in the United States live within a mile of 440 sites that store potentially explosive ammonium nitrate, which investigators say was the source of the explosion in West, according to a Reuters analysis of hazardous-chemical storage data maintained by 29 states.

Hundreds of schools, 20 hospitals, 13 churches and hundreds of thousands of homes in those states sit within a mile of facilities that store the compound, used in both fertilizers and explosives, the analysis found.

The rest of the states either refused to provide Reuters with data, provided “incomplete data” or simply didn’t respond to their requests.

Since 1990, companies have reported more than 380 incidents involving ammonium nitrate to the National Response Center, a federal agency that collects reports of spills, leaks and other discharges within the United States. Eight people were killed, 66 injured and more than 6,300 evacuated in those incidents, according to the center’s data.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because reporting of these kinds of incidents is voluntary!

Update on Boston Bombing Investigation

I spent most of yesterday following breaking updates in the Boston Marathon bombing case, which continues to get stranger by the day.

Early yesterday morning, there were reports of the FBI fatally shooting a man in Orlando, Florida with connections to accused (deceased) Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. While the circumstance of the shooting are still not at all clear, here’s a brief summary of what I gleaned from reading hundreds of news reports.

Initially news reports said that a Chechen immigrant, Ibragim Todashev, had been shot by an unnamed FBI agent after Todashev attacked the agent with a knife during an interrogation at Todashev’s apartment house overnight. Todashev and a friend named Khusen Taramov had been interrogated for hours on Tuesday afternoon, according to Taramov. Then agents had let Taramov go while they continued questioning Todashev.

According to Taramov, he and his friend Todashev had been followed by law enforcement for some time and had been questioned previously. Todashev had been planning a trip home to Chechnya, but the FBI wanted wanted him to postpone it so they could continue to question him. The agents returned to question the two men further after midnight Wednesday when they learned that Todashev had decided to cancel his flight. That is when the shooting took place. At the time, two FBI agents from the Boston field office, two Massachusetts state troopers, and “other law enforcement” officers were present. It’s not clear who the other law enforcement officers were, but Emptywheel questioned yesterday whether they might have been from the FBI High Value Interrogation Group.

Later in the day it became clear that Todashev was considered a suspect in a shocking triple murder that took place in Waltham, MA two years ago on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Todashev lived in the Boston area–in Allston, Cambridge, and Watertown; and was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev through their mutual involvement in MMA mixed martial arts fighting and the two had spoken by phone or Skype about a month before the marathon bombings. Todashev is not suspected of involvement in those.

As I reported here previously, Tamerlan and Dzhokhor Tsarnaev had reportedly been connected to the murders by “forensic” evidence, presumably DNA. One of the murdered men was Tamerlan’s “best friend,” Brian Mess. The three men had their throats slit and their bodies were covered with large amounts of marijuana and $5,000 in cash. After the murders, both Tsarnaev brothers stopped seeing friends and Tamerlan did not even attend Mess’s funeral. Not long after, Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan and stayed in Russia for nearly seven months.

Back to yesterday’s events. Later reports indicated that Todarov did not have a knife when he “lunged” at the FBI agent, and it was no longer clear which law enforcement officer or officers had shot the “suspect.” A team of FBI agents are in Orlando to review the shooting, and perhaps we’ll learn more about what actually happened.

Multiple news sources have reported that Todashev had implicated himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the Waltham murders and that FBI agents were trying to get him to sign a written confession when he became enraged and attacked an agent, who sustained “non-life-threatening” injuries. Apparently Todashev didn’t want to sign whatever document the FBI agents had prepared for him. Since the FBI refuse to tape their interrogations, we may never know what the reported “implication” consisted of.

According to his friend Khusen Taramov, Todashev willingly answered the FBI’s questions.

The ex-roommate said Todashev shared the substance of his previous conversations with investigators with him and that he was completely forthcoming. That’s why he was surprised that Wednesday’s interview ended the way it did.

‘‘He told them everything,’’ Taramov said. ‘‘He told everything he knew. … I don’t know why that (the shooting) happened. It’s crazy.’’

But Taramov also said Todashev was afraid before Wednesday’s interview. ‘‘That’s what he asked me before he pretty much died,’’ Taramov said. ‘‘He asked me, ‘If something happens can you go out and tell all the truth, what exactly happened.’’’

It is clear that Todashev was prone to violence and people found him intimidating. He was involved in road rage incidents in Boston and Orlando.

Sorry I don’t have links for every detail, but the story is so complex and I’ve gotten information from so many sources that I thought it would be best for me to summarize it in my own words. There has been much more news breaking on this story, and I won’t try to include everything in this post. Anyone who is interested is welcome to ask me questions, and I’ll answer as best I can.

Here is one story from this morning from Fox Orlando: Moments leading to fatal FBI shooting in Orlando still unclear.

Federal and Central Florida law enforcement agencies are still collecting and processing evidence from the shooting scene at a condominium complex on Peregrine Avenue, near Kirkman Road and Universal Orlando, where Ibragim Todashev was shot early Wednesday.

Initially, FBI officials said Todashev, 27, became violent and lunged at an agent with a knife while he was being questioned about Tsarnaev and an unsolved 2011 triple murder in the Boston suburb of Waltham. The agent, acting on an “imminent threat,” then shot Todashev, they said.

Sources say Todashev, a Russian national living legally in Florida, was about to confess to the Waltham slaying when the shooting took place.

However, officials have backed off that preliminary account, and it’s no longer clear what happened in the moments before the fatal shooting.

“I heard a couple of loud bangs and saw a couple of cop cars riding by,” said Jared Morse, who lives in the area. “They wouldn’t let anyone out to see anything or anything like that, so they made us go back inside.”

There is one more possible connection between the Waltham murders and a massive drug bust that took place several months earlier in Watertown MA, in May 2011. It “followed a year-long investigation by federal authorities and resulted in charges against 18 people.” This was mentioned in a Washington Post Story yesterday that some friends of one of the murdered men believed there was a connection. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s likely the Tsarnaev brothers were financing their lifestyles with illegal activities, including drugs and possibly some kind of scam involving luxury cars.

Finally, a must-read article on the Boston saga and the failures of the Homeland Security Department and the Boston Police Department: BRIC-ED IN: WHY THE BPD DIDN’T THINK THAT TAMERLAN TSARNAEV WAS A KILLER. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who lives in a large city that could be a terrorist target. Basically, the article describes how the BPD ignored terror warnings and instead spent millions on surveillance of Occupy Boston and other peace and environmental groups. COINTELPRO all over again. One representative of the Massachusetts ACLU had some suggestions.

According to Kade Crockford, who tracks the BRIC for the ACLU of Massachusetts, it’s about time that authorities reconsider their priorities. “A big question,” she says, “is whether efforts to build a bigger intelligence haystack may actually be less effective than improving traditional policing methods that focus on solving crimes …”

“Perhaps instead of extensively monitoring activists who are petitioning the government through the democratic process, law enforcement resources should focus on investigating and solving actual crimes, starting with murder.”

“Fewer resources tracking peace activists and more focus on traditional homicide detective work might be the best way to ensure a world in which we are both safe and free.”

I’ll end there, and open the floor to anything you want to discuss. Please post your links in the comments and have a great Thursday!