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Coronavirus Vaccine Progress – The Challenges That Lie Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across of the globe, and as infection rates and deaths continue to climb, scientists have collectively sought to develop an effective coronavirus vaccine. Recent advances in genetics and technology have fueled these efforts, resulting in some great news in recent days. Two major groups, Pfizer and Moderna, are reporting notably high effectiveness with their coronavirus vaccines, Naturally, this has provided tremendous optimism among scientists as well as policymakers.

While this coronavirus vaccine progress is certainly welcomed, the results of current trials do raise other issues. Both vaccines require specific handling, and the number of individuals who need vaccination is massive. The question is therefore how vaccination plans are expected to proceed given these hurdles. In addition, a degree of public distrust is also present that must also be addressed. While developing a safe and effective vaccine is paramount, getting everyone vaccinated may be just as difficult.

“What would be the worst is a vaccine that’s safe, a vaccine that’s effective, a vaccine that’s distributed, and vaccine systems now able to get vaccines in the arms of people – and people just don’t take it.” – Soumi Saha, Attorney, Pharmacist and VP of Advocacy, Premier Inc.

The Latest Coronavirus Vaccine Progress Update

For many months, pharmaceutical companies and research scientists have been racing to developing an effective coronavirus vaccine. Levering technology against COVID, investigators are employing new techniques to enhance safety and effectiveness. This last week, both Pfizer (with BioNTech) and Moderna announced great safety and efficacy data from early Phase III trials. Pfizer stated its results shows a 90% effectiveness while Moderna is now reporting 94.5% effectiveness. As a result, both companies are already moving forward with vaccination plans in the coming months.

In both cases, the new technique that these companies are using involve the use of messenger RNA (mRNA). It’s notable that no other current vaccine uses this technology to stimulate immune protection against an infection. Other vaccines typically use either small doses of live virus or killed virus to stimulate the immune system. Naturally, this is not ideal with COVID, and it’s also likely to cause greater side effects. Vaccines using mRNA, however, only administer a piece of the virus to stimulate an immune reaction. In theory this is much safer yet may also be just as effective as traditional vaccines.

A line of vials of the COVID vaccine
Coronavirus vaccine progress has been made, but we still need to tackle vaccination rollout.

Both Pfizer and Moderna now report coronavirus vaccine progress using mRNA pieces responsible for producing the virus’ “spikes.” The mRNA is administered in the vaccine, which triggers the body to attack the foreign protein. Thus, when a coronavirus actually infects a person, this same spike protein is recognized by the body’s immune cells. In theory, this would enable a rapid response to exposure preventing infection. Based on the early results, this theory seems accurate. That’s why many are excited about vaccination plans in the near future.

“It was one of the greatest moments in my life and my career. It is absolutely amazing to be able to develop this vaccine and see the ability to prevent symptomatic disease with such high efficacy.” – Tal Zacks, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Moderna

The Barriers to Vaccination Plans

As mentioned, overcoming any public distrust of a coronavirus vaccine is going to be important. Public education as well as transparency regarding vaccination plans are a must in order to encourage vaccination participation. But this is not the only hurdle. For one, billions of people worldwide must be vaccinated, including hundreds of millions in the U.S. Scaling production is something Moderna and Pfizer recognize as essential. It’s also why many experts claim numerous vaccine types will be needed. This is why including logistics as part of any coronavirus vaccine progress is essential in order to save lives.

Overall, it appears thus far that Moderna’s formulation may be easier with which to work. Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures (-75 degrees Celsius). Doctor’s offices and pharmacies do not typically have such freezers. In contrast, Moderna’s vaccine can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius, which is more feasible. It can also be stored up to 30 days at this temperature while Pfizer’s product is good for 10 days at best. While Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine progress includes efforts to eventually make a powder form, this will come later. Both companies for the upcoming months are pursuing vaccination plans using only liquid vials.

Other barriers to coronavirus vaccination involve healthcare workers. Nurses will be needed to administer these vaccines, and currently, there is a notable nursing shortage. It is expected that only 6 vaccines can be given per hour by a nurse. This will require that they be trained about defrosting, diluting and administering the drug as well as patient education highlights. Also, vaccination plans for both drugs require a second dosing weeks later. Tracking this information will be a challenge as well as higher numbers of patients are managed. These are all important coronavirus vaccine progress issues that must be addressed sooner rather than later.

“There has always been skepticism about mRNA — it’s brand new and would it work? What we saw in the trials is there was no real safety concern, and the efficacy is quite impressive. We saw nearly identical results [with Pfizer and Moderna] and it almost really validates the mRNA platform.” – Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Vaccinations Plans for the Coming Months

With such promising results being released, experts are hopeful that vaccinations may soon begin to roll out. Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested that some vaccinations will begin to be administered by years’ end. This will require FDA approval, peer-reviewed analysis, and more extensive safety data. But if these vaccination plans move forward, high-risk individuals will be enrolled in the early program. This will include healthcare workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions. In terms of the rest of the population, routine vaccination will likely occur in early spring into the summer months. There is certainly cause for hope and excitement given the coronavirus vaccine progress reported. But at the same time, much work must be done to ensure such a rollout goes smoothly and efficiently.

 

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Robot Scarecrows – A New Twist on an Old Idea

Autumn is a beautiful time of year in many places. The leaves change colors in some parts of the world, and the season is historically known as a time of harvest. Holidays associated with autumn also include Halloween as well as Thanksgiving. And on of the interesting figures that has also been linked to this time of year is the scarecrow. Scarecrows helped protect the fields from pesky birds and other animals. Likewise, scarecrows often seem a bit spooky as well, which makes for some great Halloween costumes. You might say that scarecrows are simply part of an autumn tradition.

While tradition is important, so is the persistence of constant change and innovation. As such, it might not be too surprising that scarecrows are also evolving as we speak. Like some kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest influence, the modern-day scarecrow is one that’s a bit more automated. In fact, increasingly, robot scarecrows are emerging as a new-and-improved approach to this ancient concept. With robotic inventions affecting so many industries, perhaps this isn’t shocking. But as far as animals are concerned, the shock factor with robot scarecrows seems to be pretty high!

A Little Background History About Scarecrows

When farmers first sought to come up with a solution to protect their crops, robot scarecrows definitely did not come to mind. But the concept of scaring away animals and bird with man-like statues certainly did. Wooden sculptures of Priapus, known to be quite ugly as well as erect, was often used in the fields. This form of scarecrow worked so well that the Romans soon adopted the practice as well. Even ancient Japanese farmers used similar techniques to protect their rice fields. Kakashi were tall poles adorned with smelly rags and bells that accomplished the same purpose.

A robotic scarecrow coming for your women
Although it may be the premise of a science fiction/horror flick, Japanese scientists have invented robot scarecrows. Thus far, no one has met a grisly end.

As time passed, so did the basic scarecrow. Before modern-day robotic inventions, children were actually used to scare aware birds and other animals during the Middle Ages. They would clap pieces of wood together as they ran through the fields, scaring away potential pests. But after Europe was hit hard by the plague, children were less available for such tasks. It was then that farmers found out that straw-filled burlap in the shape of a person worked equally as well. For many centuries, this has been the image of a scarecrow that many of us have. But in light of recent developments, this may soon change once again.

Today’s Modern Robot Scarecrows

Robotic inventions have been introduced for a variety of uses ranging from household assistance to warehouse manufacturing. But robot scarecrows are a relatively new concept. Some robot scarecrows perform traditional tasks like frightening birds and other fowl away from crops. But others are now used to protect other valued items as well as human beings. With this in mind, the following offer a list of some of the more interesting robotic inventions in this area.

  • RoBird – The Robotic Raptor

RoBird, produced by a Dutch company by the same name is one of the more interesting robotic inventions. It certainly fits in the category of robot scarecrows, but it has more uses than that. In essence, RoBird is a flying drone that can be easily remotely controlled by any user. In addition, it is manufactured using 3D printing technologies. Its primary use has been to scare other birds away from areas like airports. But it can also be used to herd birds as well. Touted as a humane and safe way to manage the ecosystem, RoBird is a pretty cool idea.

  • Scaretech Systems – Don’t Poop on Me!

Have you ever heard of guano? If not, you should feel pretty lucky. Guano is the term used to describe bird feces from sea birds, and it has some pretty awful properties. Not only is it extremely stinky, but guano has been found to be carcinogenic. It’s also extremely expensive to remove, which is a major problem for windfarms adjacent to the sea. Fortunately, a UK-based company called Scaretech Systems offers robot scarecrows to solve this issue. Their robotic inventions consist of mannequins in bright orange jackets that emit loud noises and strobe lights. Only triggered when its motion sensors detect birds, these robot scarecrows have essentially eliminated guano problems for the industry.

“When the gulls approach, they fly around and circle out of curiosity. When the birds come up to the scarecrow and it activates, it starts screaming and the lights start flashing. It’s like a bomb going off and the birds go into panic mode and scatter in every direction.” – Terry Christie, Creator of Scaretech Systems

  • Wolf Kamuy – The Robot Monster Wolf

While guano may be a stinky mess, human encounters with wild bears is a totally different matter altogether. With bear attacks on the rise in Japan, one community has employed robot scarecrows to solve the issue. Sold by Wolf Kumay, and manufactured by Ohta Seiki, some areas in Japan are using a “monster wolf” for protection. These 3X4-foot robotic scarecrows are mounted on stainless steel posts and have loud speakers, motion sensors, and furry coats. They also have flashing red eyes while displaying 60 different types of scary sounds. Not only have these robotic inventions driven away bears, but they also keep monkeys and deer away from crops.

“We want to let the bears know, ‘Human settlements aren’t where you live,’ and help with the co-existence of bears and people.” – Yuji Ota, CEO, Ohta Seiki

Plenty More Robotic Inventions to Come

If robotics is altering the way we think about scarecrows, then additional changes are sure to come. Indeed, robotics promise greater convenience in many ways. They have the potential to make our lives both easier and better. And as these robotic inventions demonstrate, they can make us safer as well. While some fear robots could lead to job displacement, experts suggest the opposite is actually true. New jobs will become available as robotics take over more medial tasks. All of this could lead to better quality of life for all. But at least as job displacement is concerned, robot scarecrows pose little threat. From all perspectives, they are clearly a win-win scenario that can only make things better.

 

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