China’s COVID-19 vaccines are being called into question after infections surged in countries using Chinese shots

People walking on a commercial street in Seychelles wearing masks
Pedestrians wear masks as they walk on a street in the capital Victoria, Mahe Island, Seychelles Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

  • Two Chinese shots have been welcomed by vaccine-deprived lower-income countries.
  • But in some, cases of COVID-19 are surging even after widespread vaccination.
  • In response, observers are questioning how well the shots work, angering China.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

By March, the Seychelles was one of the world’s most vaccinated countries. With over half of its population fully inoculated from COVID-19, the island nation off Africa was outpacing even Israel.

This speedy rollout was largely thanks to China – imports of its Sinopharm shot made up 57% of all doses delivered there.

So when the Seychelles saw a sharp rise in virus cases in mid-May, despite some 60% of the population being fully vaccinated, that came as a surprise.

Later the surprise deepened as health officials confirmed, on May 10, that more than one third of Seychelles residents to fall sick had indeed already taken their vaccines.

Since then, more countries that use Chinese vaccines have been seeing rises in cases, prompting a reckoning for China as experts reassess the effectiveness of its widespread shots.

Vaccines exported to 95 countries worldwide

While Europe and the US were hoarding the Western-made AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccines, China distributed its jabs widely. It was a lifeline for lower-income countries that had little hope of securing American or European jabs.

China’s two flagship vaccines, made by biotech companies Sinovac and Sinopharm, quickly became a soft power tool in China’s foreign policy.

According to the Beijing-based Bridge Consultancy, 95 countries have received doses of the Chinese vaccines. Out of almost 800 million doses promised by China, 272 million had been delivered as of mid-June.

Nurses wearing masks walk towards a doorway, on the wall, a poster or a man is holding a vial of COVID-19 vaccine.
Nurses prepare syringes of Chinese a Sinopharm vaccine, in Bahrain on December 19, 2020.

It is not only the Seychelles. Two other countries which are highly vaccinated and rely heavily on the Sinopharm BBIB-P vaccine – Bahrain and Mongolia – have also seen a spike in cases.

Both countries have said they still trust the vaccines. Bahrain’s undersecretary of health said that more than 90% of those hospitalized there were not vaccinated.

A policy adviser to the Mongolian Government told The Daily Telegraph that the spike in cases was due to the end of a lockdown, not problems with the vaccine.

Nonetheless, some are looking to limit exposure to the Chinese shots. Bahrain and the UAE, another early adopter of Sinopharm, have started offering the option of a Pfizer booster shot to those who had been fully vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine.

China’s other flagship vaccine, Sinovac’s CoronaVac jab, is also being closely scrutinized.

Santiago, the capital of Chile capital, imposed another lockdown on Saturday, as cases are sharply rising in spite of almost 60% of the country being fully immunized. Chile’s vaccination program uses mostly Sinovac shots.

Variants probably have a role to play in the surge, Dr Susan Bueno, a professor of immunology from the Pontifical Catholic University, previously told the BBC. Even so, variants are present in Western nations without so pronounced an effect.

The vaccines are protective against severe disease, but maybe not against infection and mild disease

“You really need to use high-efficacy vaccines to get that economic benefit because otherwise they’re going to be living with the disease long term,” Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, told The New York Times for a recent article.

“The choice of vaccine matters.”

If the vaccine is not protective against transmission of the virus, the countries might not be able to reach the elusive state of herd immunity, when enough people in the population are protected to stop the virus from spreading.

Israel seems to have recently passed that threshold. Earlier this month, when 60% of the country’s population was fully vaccinated, cases dropped to about 15 a day, and are now hovering around zero. Israel used Western shots.

An expert previously told Insider that Israel’s example suggests that other countries can reach herd immunity with a similar level of immunization.

Whereas Moderna and Pfizer shots are based on new mRNA technology, Sinovac and Sinopharm’s vaccines use an inactivated virus in their shot. This is an older vaccine technology, used successfully in other diseases for decades.

Both Chinese shots have been given emergency use authorization by the WHO within the past six weeks.

According to published data, Sinopharm’s vaccine is 79% effective at stopping symptomatic COVID-19. But there are caveats to that study, as it is based on a cohort of people under 60, mostly men, and on average pretty young, around 31 years old. Most serious COVID-19 cases are in far older people.

Looking at the data from the Seychelles, vaccine expert Dr. Kim Mulholland told The New York Times that the Sinopharm vaccine’s efficacy was closer to about 50%.

This would be consistent with the protection seen with the Sinovac vaccine. The WHO says this shot gives 50.6% against symptomatic disease, based on data from a large study in Brazil.

By comparison, Pfizer and Moderna shots confer over 90% protection.

China does not hide that its vaccines probably don’t give comprehensive protection from COVID-19.

In an interview with state-owned Chinese National Business Daily published on June 7, Shao Yiming, Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention expert, said the Chinese vaccines available in China are designed to prevent severe illness, not all infections.

Nonetheless, China has been aggressive with media outlets which have highlighted concerns about Chinese vaccines overseas.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said such reporting “exposes their unhealthy mindset of denigrating China at every turn,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying holds briefing
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying holds a weekly press briefing in Beijing on March 21, 2018.

Could the problem harm China itself?

If the vaccines turn out to not be able to prevent outbreaks, that could be a problem for China, which after the initial wave of infections in early 2020 has largely suppressed outbreaks with swift and severe lockdowns.

The country has approved four vaccines, all made in China, three of which are based on the inactivated virus, and one, designed by CanSino Biologics, which uses a technology similar to AstraZeneca.

Over 600 million people have been vaccinated. Although it is not known how many doses of each vaccine have been used, it is likely that Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm’s first vaccine make up the majority, since they were approved first.

Outbreaks of the Delta variant of the coronavirus may also complicate the situation in China. Studies from the UK suggest this variant is more likely to be able to escape even the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

In May, Yiming, China’s CDC researcher, said that the vaccines can provide protection against the variants first found in India “to a certain extent”, although he did not say which vaccines, and did not release data to support this statement.

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Photos show how people are handling extreme heat in the west, as the week sees record temperatures

People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Colorado on June 14, 2021.
People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Colorado on June 14, 2021.

  • The Western part of the country will shatter multiple heat records this week.
  • About 200 million people are expected to experience temperatures over 90 degrees.
  • Officials are warning residents to look out for signs of heat exhaustion.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The western part of the US is going through a heatwave that is likely to spark wildfires.

People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Monday, June 14, 2021.
People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Monday, June 14, 2021.

The heatwave is causing a rise in power demand across much of the Western part of the country, a region that’s already experiencing drought, Axios reported. 

The heat will take the Western region from “extreme” to “exceptional” drought.

Mary Ann Brown, center, cools off in the water with her grandchildren during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.
Mary Ann Brown, center, cools off in the water with her grandchildren during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.

The heat will dry soils further and raise power demand, which comes at a time of decreased output at hydroelectric plants, Axios reported. 

 

On Monday, about 43 million people across the West and Southwest were under heat alerts.

Dogs play in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Wednesday, June 14, 2021.
Dogs play in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Wednesday, June 14, 2021.

NBC News reported that many cities are expected to hit new records for high temperatures this week. 

About 200 million people are projected to experience temperatures over 90 degrees this week.

Sarah Bulat cools off in the water during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.
Sarah Bulat cools off in the water during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.

About 40 million will experience temperatures over 100 degrees, NBC reported. 

Cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are expected to stay above 110 for the rest of the week.

People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Monday, June 14, 2021.
People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Monday, June 14, 2021.

Even cities that sit at high altitudes in the mountains like Grand Junction, Colorado and Billings, Montana are expected to stay past 100°F this week, NBC reported.  

Death Valley is expected to reach 127°F.

Children play in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Monday, June 14, 2021.
Children play in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Monday, June 14, 2021.

Las Vegas’s National Weather Service reported that they’re forecasting 10 daily records to be broken this week.

 

⚠️ DANGEROUS HEAT is coming to the Desert SW this week, with Excessive Heat Warnings out Monday – Saturday.
What to expect in #LasVegas?

🥵 Morning temps 88-90F
🥵 Potential to break the all-time Las Vegas heat record (117F)
🥵 Numerous broken daily records#VegasWeather #NvWx pic.twitter.com/GSxKsubZMF

— NWS Las Vegas (@NWSVegas) June 14, 2021

Forecasters noted that the last time temperatures were this high, it resulted in multiple fatalities.

Boat are seen on the water during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.
Boat are seen on the water during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.

Axios reported that during a period of high heat in Southern Nevada that lasted from June to early July 2013 “nearly 30 fatalities and over 350 heat-related injuries as well as temporary power outages” were reported. 

The National Weather Service has warned people to watch out for signs of heat exhaustion.

Sarah Bulat (L) and Tricia Watts relax in the water during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.
Sarah Bulat (L) and Tricia Watts relax in the water during a heat wave in Lake Havasu, Arizona, U.S. June 15, 2021.

⚠️KNOW THE SIGNS!⚠️

Heatstroke is caused when the body overheats due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. It’s a medical emergency & can be life-threatening! If you or someone you know is showing signs of heatstroke, call 9-1-1 immediately! #nvwx #azwx #cawx #vegasweather pic.twitter.com/BeFFssNFNG

— NWS Las Vegas (@NWSVegas) June 14, 2021

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A ‘supertaster’ gene that makes people more sensitive to bitter flavors may also help protect against COVID-19

tongue
  • The T2R38 gene makes people more sensitive to bitter tastes and also enhances immune function.
  • It has been linked to stronger immunity against infections. Research suggests that includes COVID-19.
  • “Supertasters” with two copies of the gene may be less likely to get COVID-19 and develop severe illness.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Despite performing countless procedures that increased his risk of exposure to the coronavirus, Dr. Henry P. Barham has not gotten sick yet.

The ear, nose, and throat doctor, who works at Baton Rouge General in Louisiana, was grateful for his luck but baffled as to how he stayed healthy. He and his colleagues all wore protective gear at work, but some of them still got COVID-19, he told the Washington Post.

The answer, according to his research, may lie close to his area of expertise: the nose.

Barham is studying T2R38, the so-called “supertaster” gene which makes people more sensitive to the bitter notes in broccoli, spinach, and coffee.

Those who inherit the gene from both of their parents also have stronger immunity to respiratory and sinus infections – and according to Barham’s latest research, they may be better protected against COVID-19.

The supertaster gene enhances innate immune function

The T2R38 gene arms the body with superior natural defenses against intruders like the coronavirus.

Those who have two copies of the gene typically have extra hairlike filaments, called cilia, in the airway to sweep bugs away. They also produce more mucous membranes to keep invaders out and create nitric oxide to kill the pathogens that get into the body.

All of these layers of immunity help the body fight off infections, so Barham wondered if those who inherit the gene – himself included – might have an innate advantage over COVID-19.

His hunch was supported when his friend got a serious case of COVID-19, but the man’s wife remained healthy. Bahram gave them both a taste test where they rated the bitterness of paper strips from 1 to 10, revealing that his friend was a “nontaster” and his wife was a supertaster.

A person’s supertaster status can predict the severity of COVID-19

Barham went on to test his hypothesis, first in a group of 100 people who previously had COVID-19 and then in nearly 2,000 people who had been exposed but not fallen ill.

He used the same taste test he gave to his friends to classify people as supertasters, tasters, and nontasters. In the second study, a subgroup also submitted spit samples for genetic testing.

The larger study, published in JAMA Network Open last month, revealed that nontasters were more likely to get COVID-19, stay sick for longer, and require hospitalization. Nontasters who got COVID were sick for an average of 23.5 days, compared to 5 days for supertasters.

None of the supertasters who got sick in the study required hospitalization. Overall, the researchers were able to predict how ill a person would get based on their taster status with 94% accuracy.

However, supertasters can get sick too, and the classification system Barham used was inexact. Giving patients a taste test is not a surefire way to determine if the have the T2R38 gene, so more research needs to be done with genetic testing to support the findings.

Still, Barham’s research is a step towards unraveling the mysteries of COVID-19, public health expert Amesh Adalja told the Washington Post, and it could someday be used to help hospital workers make tough decisions about treating patients.

“Immune profiling could be a way to help them make those decisions, but it’s going to take some time to change how people approach this,” Adalja told the Post.

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Delta virus variant, which took over in the UK and threatens the US, doubles the risk of hospitalization, new data says. But vaccines are still effective.

A health professionals gives a woman wearing a mask a COVID-19 vaccine in the arm in Scotland.
A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Glasgow, Scotland on May 14, 2021.

  • Risk of hospitalization is 85% higher with the Delta variant, new data from the UK shows.
  • The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are still highly protective against the disease.
  • But both were less protective against the Delta variant, which is 60% more infectious.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is linked to an 85% higher risk of hospitalization, according to a new study from part of the UK.

The findings from Scotland were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet on Monday.

Around the same time UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed easing final lockdown restrictions for another four weeks, citing concerns about the fast-spreading variant.

This variant, also known to scientists as B.1.617.2, was first identified in India. It is 60% more transmissible than the variant Alpha (B.1.1.7, first seen in the UK), which had been dominant in the UK but was fast supplanted by the Delta variant.

Delta can now be found in 74 countries, and US officials have warned that it could become dominant in the US.

In the UK, the latest data showed that Delta was to blame for more than 90% of new cases.

Last week, Dr. Antony Fauci, the White House chief medical advisor, warned that the Delta variant, then behind 6% of US cases, could become dominant in the US if people don’t get fully vaccinated.

Although the new variant appeared more dangerous, vaccines still help.

Another dataset released by Public Health England the same day showed that vaccines are still effective, albeit to a lesser extent than with earlier variants.

To calculate the increased hospitalization risk, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Public Health Scotland looked at records from EAVE-II, a surveillance database that tracks COVID-19 cases in Scotland.

The researchers looked at 19,543 confirmed infections, a little fewer than half of which were the Delta variant.

After adjusting for factors such as sex, deprivation, age, and comorbidities, the scientists found that people with the Delta variant were 85% more likely to be hospitalized.

According to the study, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines provided 79% and 60% protection each, down from 93% and 73% respectively with the previously-widespread Alpha variant.

The authors warned that their data on vaccines was preliminary, and other tests may find different figures.

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Graph shows how US COVID-19 spikes track strongly with the places where people are refusing vaccinations

coronavirus vaccine eu
A coronavirus vaccine.

  • COVID-19 cases are falling where most people are vaccinated, and vice versa, The Washington Post found.
  • Vaccination rates are lower in southern US states.
  • 43.7% of the US population is now fully vaccinated.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Coronavirus cases in the US are rising in areas that have lower vaccination rates, a Washington Post analysis found.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Post produced a quadrant graph that shows the number of COVID-19 cases dropping where most people have been vaccinated, and increasing in many areas where they haven’t been:

Some 43.7% of the US population has been fully vaccinated – meaning they have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot, or both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine – and 52.5% has received at least one dose, the CDC said.

Vaccination rates are lower in southern states, the data shows.

Experts told The Post that they are concerned about what will happen in these areas as people mingle. All US states have loosened or removed their lockdown restrictions over the past few weeks.

The Post’s analysis comes as the US edges near recording 600,000 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Transplant patients ‘desperate’ for COVID vaccine protection are getting illicit 3rd doses – and it might be working for some

a man with a heart transplant seen getting a COVID-19 shot
A doctor administers a second COVID-19 vaccine injection to a heart transplant recipient on February 20, 2021 at a hospital in Strasbourg, France.

  • It can be hard for people with transplant organs to derive the same benefits from vaccines as other people.
  • A new study suggests giving them 3 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, instead of 2, can help.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For tens of thousands of Americans with suppressed or compromised immune systems, getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 hasn’t led to disease protection. Receiving a third vaccine dose might help fix the problem, at least for some of those patients.

A new study – conducted on patients with organ transplants who took it upon themselves to get illicit vaccine booster shots in the US – suggests that the third try may be the charm when it comes to some immunocompromised people and vaccination.

Out of the 30 patients enrolled in the study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 12 achieved high antibody levels after the third vaccine, two patients had low but detectable antibodies, and the remaining 16 patients remained antibody negative after their third dose booster.

It didn’t really seem to matter whether the participants mixed and matched their shots. There was limited success with all different combinations of third doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (none of the patients had J&J initially).

“People want to return to their lives, and they will go to great lengths to do so: to go back to work, to go back to church, to see the grandkids,” Dr. William Werbel, an infectious disease clinician at Johns Hopkins who led the new study, said. “They were somewhere on the spectrum between frustrated and desperate.”

Hoping that a third dose might be the ticket to resuming some of their bygone activities, many rolled up their sleeves once again. Their mixed success in the third dose trial is a promising signal that COVID-19 booster shots can be safe and effective, and that the side effect profile of a third shot could be quite similar to a second.

Hundreds of transplant patients have already gotten a third vaccine dose

lung transplant patient smiling, arms crossed, getting ready for a run
Edgardo Diaz, 30, gets ready for a run in his Oak Forest, Illinois, neighborhood on June 17, 2020. He is believed to be the first lung transplant patient to receive plasma for COVID-19 and recover.

Werbel said there were already “hundreds” of transplant recipients around the US who’d made up their minds to get a third vaccine, even though the practice is not federally recommended.

Rather, because many transplant patients are active on a nationwide organ network that connects patients and doctors to share experiences and best practices, he already knew it was happening.

“We basically had the privilege of working with patients who said, ‘Hey, I’m going to get vaccinated next week. How can I help contribute to studying whether this works?'” Werbel said. “I have to plead somewhat ignorance about how people were doing it, because it’s not authorized that way.”

He called the new study findings, which are still preliminary, “encouraging.” But the third doses were not a smashing success, only markedly improving antibody levels in about half of the participants.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the 16 patients in the study who remained antibody negative gained no benefit from taking the third vaccine dose; antibodies aren’t the only piece of the puzzle in determining a person’s immunity to COVID-19. But it does suggest there might be something about the way their immune systems operate that isn’t giving them great vaccine protection.

“These patients take medicine specifically designed to prevent rejection of their heart, or their lung, or their kidney, whatever was given to them,” Werbel said. “These medicines are explicitly designed to reduce the potential to react to new things. That’s why patients don’t always create good response to vaccine antigens, the proteins in the vaccines.”

In France, the government does endorse third doses of COVID-19 vaccines for organ transplant recipients and others with compromised immune systems.

Proof of concept that boosters can work

Dr. Rishi Seth of Sanford, gets COVID vaccine
Dr. Rishi Seth, a hospitalist at Sanford Health Fargo, gets a COVID-19 shot.

The study is one of the first to show that mixing and matching booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines is both safe and effective – at least for some people.

“It’s a little hard to generalize to the healthy population, just because the healthy population cranks out so much antibody and other immune response to these vaccines,” Werbel said.

Side effects after a third vaccine dose were similar to those experienced after a second, including mild to moderate fatigue and arm pain. One patient rejected her donated organ – a heart – seven days after her booster vaccination, but it’s unclear whether that was related to the vaccine administration. (She is now recovering.)

Werbel cautioned that it is still too soon to say how well-protected from disease these patients may be through vaccination.

“Transplant patients really shouldn’t consider themselves to be fully protected or vaccinated until we learn more, and that honestly means it’s important for people around them – really important for people around them – to get vaccinated,” he said.

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Caterpillar fungus, the world’s most valuable parasite, can cost up to $63,000 per pound

  • Caterpillar fungus is a hybrid of a fungus that kills and lives in caterpillars.
  • It can sell for up to three times its weight in gold and can cost as much as about $63,000 per pound.
  • Some towns in the Himalayas rely on collecting and selling this fungus for a living.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: What would you do if a fungus invaded your body, and started consuming you from the inside? It sounds like something out of a horror film, but that’s actually what happens to a certain type of baby moth.

The fungus eats its way through the helpless moth larvae and then sprouts out of their heads like a spring daisy. But this rare hybrid, the caterpillar fungus, isn’t just totally fascinating, it’s also expensive. Sometimes selling for more than 3 times its weight in gold!

Caterpillar fungus grows in the remote Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains but that’s not the only place you can find it. Here we are in New York City’s Chinatown. And nestled among countless drawers of dried mugwort leaves and hibiscus flowers,

There it is a small pile of 50 or so pieces of dried caterpillar fungus. Here, 1 gram of it costs about $30. But even that might be considered a good deal. Vendors on eBay, for example, list a gram for up to $125. The price is so high because this hybrid creature is incredibly rare.

It shows up for only a few weeks each year in remote regions of Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan. And even then, the fungus can be tricky for collectors to find, hidden amidst a sea of grass. For centuries, it’s been a staple of traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine.

Kelly Hopping: “Traditionally, it was used as a general tonic, for immune support.”

For instance, a family might add half of this to a chicken soup. And it’s even rumored that it can be used as a sort of Himalayan viagra though there’s little evidence to back it up. People also buy the fungus as a gift or use it for bribes or as a status symbol. As a result, better looking pieces fetch a higher price.

Kelly Hopping: “It’s all dependent on exactly the color of the caterpillar fungus, even the shape of its body when it died, all of these things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with medicinal value make all the difference for the economic value.”

In 2017, for example, high quality pieces sold for as much as $140,000 per kg, or about $63,000 per pound. Now, caterpillar fungus has always been pricey. But experts say its value really skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s because of a growing Chinese economy, and the resulting increase in disposable income. Which ultimately, helped drive a massive boom in harvest.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, for example, collectors reportedly hauled out more than three times as much caterpillar fungus in the early 2000s, than they did in the 1980s. And now, many families depend on the cash it brings in.

In fact, experts say that up to 80% of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling caterpillar fungus. One district in Nepal reported collecting $4.7 million worth of caterpillar fungus in 2016. That’s 12% more than the district’s annual budget! But those profits are at risk.

Surveys indicate that annual harvests have recently declined.

Kelly Hopping: “The collectors themselves mostly attributed this to overharvesting, acknowledging that their own collection pressure was driving these declines.”

And it doesn’t help that it’s difficult to regulate the harvest.

Daniel Winkler: “All these different political units have different policy. In the end, it is really down to county level, how it’s implemented.”

Climate change is also causing problems. You see, the fungus is more abundant in areas with long, cold winters, which are increasingly hard to come by.

Daniel Winkler: “For the rural economy, if there’s a lot of loss, that would be devastating.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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Wuhan virologist Dr. Shi Zhengli denies COVID-19 lab leak theory in rare interview

Wuhan lab
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (C) on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 27, 2020. – Opened in 2018, the P4 lab conducts research on the world’s most dangerous diseases and has been accused by some top US officials of being the source of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In a rare interview with The New York Times, Wuhan virologist Dr. Shi Zhengli denied claims that the COVID-19 virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting gain-of-function experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses,” she told The Times. Experts in the international community have struggled to gain transparent access to the lab, in order to determine the coronavirus’ origin.

“How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” Zhengli said in the interview. “I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,” she said.

Dr. Zhengli said that claims that the lab bolstered the virus and kept information about it’s spread under wraps are “speculation rooted in utter distrust.”

“I’m sure that I did nothing wrong,” she told the Times. “So I have nothing to fear.”

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The UK is delaying lifting its COVID-19 restrictions by 4 weeks until July 19, Boris Johnson announced

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is delaying lifting COVID-19 restrictions until more people get vaccinated against the virus.

He said at a press briefing on Monday that the restrictions will be in place until at least July 19. The restrictions were due to be lifted on June 21, but reopening has now been pushed back by four weeks.

“By Monday the 19 of July we will aim to have double jabbed two-thirds of the adult population,” Johnson said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for more updates.

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Just because you’ve been vaccinated doesn’t mean you can stop caring about America’s vaccine campaign

vaccine selfie
  • Things are getting back to normal, but vaccine rates continue to lag in some parts of the country.
  • Areas of low vaccine coverage will see surges, especially as new variants enter the mix.
  • The government must engage in door-to-door outreach to get vaccine rates up, or risk COVID surges in under-vaccinated areas.
  • Abdullah Shihipar is a writer who covers public health, class, and race.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Things are finally beginning to return to normal for fully vaccinated people. Those that have received their shot(s) are seeing friends again, meeting up in bars and restaurants, and engaging in activities they’ve been putting off for more than a year. Some states are even reaching upwards of 70% of their population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all on the decline and the US seems to finally be rounding the curve. With all this good news, it can be tempting to think that the pandemic is over.

Unfortunately, this is far from the case.

Globally, thousands of people continue to die from the virus each day and many countries remain in lockdown, unable to vaccinate their populations due to a lack of vaccine supply. Here at home, practically everybody who is being hospitalized and dying of the virus — a number that is still in the hundreds per dayhave not been vaccinated yet. Vaccination rates are also not consistent throughout the country, while states like Vermont have vaccinated over 70% of their population with at least one dose, states in the deep south like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have vaccinated less than 40% of their population. In fact, the New York Times predicts it will take Alabama and Mississippi over a year to reach 70% of adults with one dose. At the county level, there are still many counties that have less than 30% of their residents fully vaccinated, compared to over 50%nationally.

Disparities persist as well – as of late May, only 22% of Black people in the US have received at least one dose, and vaccination rates for Black people are lower than that of white people in every state. According to the CDC, vaccine coverage tends to be lower in counties that had lower socioeconomic status and a higher number of households that had single parents, children, and disabled people.

The government needs to step in with resources and support to get more people vaccinated.

So why should you, as a vaccinated person, care?

While we may be able to return to our lives safely, pandemics do not end through individual actions alone. None of this occurs in a vacuum and until we get to a point where few people are dying of COVID, it will continue to be everybody’s problem. For one thing, this mixed vaccination coverage will create surges and hotspots in communities where vaccine coverage is low. This is especially a concern in the south as people head indoors because of rising temperatures. In these places, social distancing and masking should be reinstated. Unfortunately, now that the honor system for wearing a mask is all but gone, this seems unlikely.

Then, there are the variants. More transmissible and deadlier variants are spreading throughout the world. Britain and other countries are dealing with the Delta variant, whereas Brazil is struggling with the Gamma variant. In the UK, despite having a higher percentage of people with one shot, the Delta variant is now the dominant strain and threatens to delay reopening. The Delta variant will soon spread throughout the US, making the surges we see amongst unvaccinated people more severe. While there is thankfully no case of a variant completely rendering a vaccine useless, there are instances of it reducing a vaccine’s effectiveness. The vaccines are doing amazingly well against the novel coronavirus, but we still cannot remain complacent against the risk of those mutations.

So, why aren’t people getting vaccinated? Some people are worried about side effects and can’t take time off work, others think the vaccine isn’t free, and some are undocumented and are worried about immigration enforcement. Meanwhile, a recent poll taken by YouGov shows a third of Black and Hispanic respondents and more than a third of those who make less than $50k have not been encouraged to get the vaccine at all.

It’s time for the government to go all out

All levels of government in the US have been united in their message that it is up to individuals to get vaccinated if they want to. The federal and some state governments have set up incentives from free beer and sports tickets to lotteries. But these programs assume the problem is merely hesitancy and don’t actually address the reasons why people are hesitant. What we need is to bring the vaccines to the people.

Imagine a vaccination campaign where the federal government uses its resources to go door-to-door with multilingual information about vaccines. People can ask questions, get registered to get vaccinated, and request transportation or a home visit, which also allows the government to do follow up visits. In addition to this, the government could ensure “vaccine sick leave” and allow workers to take paid time off work to get vaccinated and recover.

The government already has the resources – FEMA, the Postal Service, and the Census Bureau – to reach as many communities as possible. We know from the census that when a proactive effort is made to reach people, participation goes up – this is what happened in New York City, which saw a historic response rate in a year where other places struggled. Already, some communities are utilizing the door-to-door approach, but we still need a coordinated effort led by the federal government to enact this on a national scale.

All of this creates an atmosphere of understandable fear and discomfort; which will create strains amongst some social circles as some of us are ready to go out and others are not. For disabled and immunocompromised people especially, these fears are not irrational. We won’t exit this pandemic as individuals. Either we do it together, or we remain stuck in it.

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