Two Tales of Two Vaccines

Plus: Sex robots for lockdown and a biohacker webseries

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Yesterday was my first day back at a museum in a year. I took my kid to the LA Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs and let me tell you, it was wonderful. Your local science museums will be hurting from the pandemic, so please do them and yourself a favor and pick up a membership if you’re able.

Here’s the latest:

Loveless in lockdown? Not if you have a sex robot!

In the weirdest twist on the pandemic, a sex doll manufacturer is offering to help recreate lost loved ones as walking, talking robots. It’s unsurprising that lockdown has increased demand for humanoid dolls, with one company claiming a 400% increase since last year. And as the technology develops, it has become easier for companies to accommodate more personalization, leading to the bizarre but understandable urge to order a doll based on someone lost during the pandemic. I get it. This year has been hard on all of us in different ways.

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Biohacker web series coming soon?

Josiah Zayner is crowdfunding for a new web series, “Biohack the Planet,” which will highlight independent scientists and projects from within the biohacker community. Because, he says, science documentaries have so far been “boring as shit,” Zayner is taking his deplatforming from YouTube in stride and going for a new approach.

I’m excited about this and I hope it works out. I agree that it’s time for the Community Bio/biohacker/biodesign ecosystem to create more of its own art and media. So far, a lot of the narrative around the community has been garbled and has missed the mark more often than not. Here’s a conversation from last year’s Global Community Bio Summit about recentering creators and communicating about Community Bio.

Two bills in Arkansas move to curtail medical care for certain groups

Lawmakers in Arkansas want to make it illegal for doctors to treat trans youth with gender-affirming medical care and will also allow medical professionals to refuse care based on their religious beliefs. If they go into effect, these laws will disproportionately impact LGBT individuals and women.

This very bad. And it should be fought tooth and nail. In a Clubhouse room this week, The Ethics Club discussed conscientious objections and the need to support doctors who will push back despite the risks.

The Moderna vaccine sequence is on GitHub

Two Stanford scientists posted the mRNA sequence on the open code repository (with permission from the FDA), in a four-page post that details how they rescued some drops of vaccine from a VA vaccination site and sequenced it for all to see. That’s cool! But don’t get your hopes up for a garage version: Vice reports it would probably be impossible to DIY this vaccine.

A different vaccine is giving people a rare blood disorder

I have a chronic, rare blood disease called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), which causes my body to produce very few platelets, and then overcompensate by making extra large ones. So I was horrified to hear that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which for the past two weeks has been reported to cause “blood clots,” was actually causing a drastic drop in platelets and blood clots in really weird places. The syndrome that a handful of AZ patients have developed is named “vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia,” or VIPIT.

So, what authorities do here? Transparency is the key. Hilda Bastian’s piece in the Atlantic is the best reporting on this so far, and she explains the many practical and ethical sides of the issue. You don’t want to scare people out of getting the vaccine, because Covid is way worse and will cause more harm. But you can’t stay quiet because some people really are being harmed, and you want people who do experience vaccine side effects to come forward and report them. For this to happen, you need a communications campaign. But the campaign should also address misinformed and misplaced fears about risk of vaccines—which is actually miniscule.

If the vaccine regulators are out of step with their communities’ values, transparency will enable them to calibrate. They aren’t being stupid. To argue otherwise invents an easy answer to a nearly impossible conundrum—and withers public confidence in authorities at the moment when we need it most.

Extra Credit:

Can we please start over with a feminist internet? MIT Technology Review
DoorDash is delivering at-home Covid tests. CNET
Pfizer vaccine works great in older kids, says Pfizer. New York Times
Gene therapy costs coming down for mainstream applications. FierceBiotech
A 17-year-old Iowan invented color-changing sutures that will detect infection. Smithsonian Mag
The lack of parental leave is hurting everyone. Bloomberg
You’re the asshole if you lie to get a vaccine. Washington Post
What does food look like in 2017? Biodesigned
Your favorite Kirsten Dunst movie says more about you than your sign.