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Coronavirus Vaccine Bottle

Scientists Aren’t Convinced A “Warp Speed” Vaccine Will End The Pandemic

The American people, along with the rest of the world, are placing their hopes of defeating Covid-19 and ending this pandemic on a vaccine. There are multiple trials occurring around the world all at different stages, and while a safe and effective vaccine is top priority, time is also a factor considering this virus is continuing to infect and kill people.

Clinical vaccine trials are mainly meant to show whether a Covid-19 vaccine candidate will prevent any symptoms of the disease. The trials typically study between 30,000 to 60,000 volunteers, and some scientists are worried that the time spent on these trials will be too brief and too small to prove if the vaccine can actually prevent individuals from being hospitalized and dying, instead of just preventing a sore throat. 

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The United States specifically should wait for the most optimal vaccine to be on the international market, according to Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

“There’s a tension between getting every piece of information and getting a vaccine out in time to save lives. Would we like to know if the vaccine reduces illness or mortality? Of course. But there is a real time pressure. This is a pandemic. It’s explosive.”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public meeting this Thursday to discuss how rigorously Covid-19 vaccine candidates would need to be tested before the US considered them safe enough for distribution. “Simply preventing mild cases is not enough and may not justify the risks associated with vaccination,” said Peter Doshi, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

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On the other hand researchers also know that vaccines that prevent mild versions of a disease typically prevent the more severe version of the disease as well, so there are still good reasons to focus on studies involving milder cases of Covid-19. For example, according to Doshi, the original trials for a measles vaccine showed that it only prevented the virus itself, but not hospitalizations or deaths. Later studies, however, showed that the vaccine drastically reduced mortality, and according to the World Health Organization worldwide deaths from the measles fell by 73% in between 2000 and 2018 due to vaccines. 

In general, proving a vaccine can prevent severe illness and death is much harder than showing it can protect against mild illness, because hospitalizations and deaths are more rare. Individuals who volunteer for vaccine trials are also typically on the healthier side. 

“We’re probably not going to have the perfect vaccine. But I do think we’re likely to have vaccines that, if we can show they’re safe, can put an inflection point on this pandemic. … I think it’s still important to have a vaccine that has some effect even on mild illness.”

As it currently stands the Covid-19 pandemic has infected 8.7 million people in the US alone, and the mortality rate is about .6%. Leading scientists believe that the ideal vaccine will provide a sterilizing immunity front he virus. This would mean that the injection would prevent all symptoms of Covid-19 as well as secondary infections that could typically occur from the virus. Trials are projected to grow almost 10 times the sizes they are now as the months progress, and like any vaccine, the world won’t truly know how well it works until it’s actually here. 

World with Mask

The World Has Now Experienced 40 Million Cases Of Covid-19 

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has now surpassed 40 million worldwide. According to Johns Hopkins University, which has been collecting data on the pandemic since it first started in March, global cases surpassed the 40 million mark this past Monday.

The reality is, however, that the actual worldwide total is likely much larger, as testing site access is a major variable and many individuals who contract the virus are asymptomatic and don’t even know that they have it. The same argument can be applied to the number of deaths associated with Covid-19; which currently stands at 1.1 million worldwide. 

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The United States, India, and Brazil have reported the highest number of cases globally. The US has encountered 8.1 million cases, India 7.5 million, and Brazil 5.2 million. Europe has also seen major new surges in cases within the past month, and has experienced more than 240,000 Covid-19 deaths. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed last week that Europe had reported a record breaking weekly high of 700,000 Covid-19 cases. The WHO also claimed that these cases in Europe are responsible for a third of the cases globally. Specifically, Britain, France, Russia, and Spain account for about 50% of the new cases appearing in the region of Europe. Many smaller countries are also seeing intense outbreaks when compared to the beginning of the pandemic. 

“The new measures being taken across Europe are absolutely essential in stopping COVID-19 from overwhelming its hospitals. Those include new requirements on mask-wearing in Italy and Switzerland, and closing schools in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic.”

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The WHO also explained that Europe would be “closing restaurants and bars in Belgium, implementing a 9 p.m. curfew in France and having targeted limited lockdowns in parts of the U.K.” The agency also claimed that several cities in Europe need to prepare for an “overwhelming” amount of hospital patients who will require intensive care services. While it’s imperative that everyone work together to slow the spread of the virus, the possibility of a second-wave has already become a reality for some parts of the world, so the time to prepare is now. 

WHO estimates that 1 in 10 people worldwide have contracted the virus at this point; that’s around 780 million people. If those stats are accurate the actual number of Covid-19 cases is 20 times higher than the official number of cases being reported. 

Some researchers and experts have argues that if we allow Covid-19 to spread in populations that are not totally vulnerable it could help build a general herd immunity in the world, however, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus isn’t as convinced that herd immunity may help curb the spread of the virus, however, the world needs a vaccine, not deliberate exposure to this virus. 

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical.”

The United Nation’s health agency agreed with Ghebreyesus, and hopes within the coming weeks to collect enough data on Covid-19 to determine if any possible vaccines that are currently being tested are effective enough to be distributed by 2021.

Long Covid Virus

New Research Examines ‘Long Covid’ Patients Experiencing Ongoing Coronavirus Symptoms

Scientists are defining “Long Covid” as the long-lasting impact of coronavirus infection for certain patients who continue to feel symptomatic weeks after being deemed negative; which may be affecting people in four different ways. People living with long-term Covid-19 symptoms could have a certain psychological element to the reasoning behind their lingering symptoms, however, new research suggests these patients need more medical support.

Most individuals who test positive for Covid-19 are told they’ll recover within two to three weeks depending on the severity of infection. Now, new reports from the National Institute for Health Research suggests that there could be thousands of US residents living with “ongoing Covid,” or what feels like a never ending battle with the coronavirus due to consistent symptoms. 

“The fluctuating and multi system symptoms need to be acknowledged. A common theme is that symptoms arise in one physiological system then abate only for symptoms to arise in a different system.”

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The report found recurring symptoms were impacting individuals breathing, brain function, heart/cardiovascular symptoms, livers, and skin. There are four different syndromes that researchers are using to categorize these Long Covid patients; permanent organ damage to the lungs and heart, post-intensive-care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome, and general continuous Covid-19 symptoms. 

Some of the individuals who have experienced symptoms or any of the syndromes listed above have likely stayed in the hospital for longer than initially anticipated, while others may have never even been tested or diagnosed. That’s the difficulty with a virus that presents itself like the common cold and now seasonal allergies as well. Some individuals won’t even think twice about a runny nose and scratchy throat that lingers for weeks on end because it’s normal for this time of year. 

The report suggests that researchers are working on a way to diagnose “ongoing Covid” as a means of helping these patients access the proper support and resources they need to feel better faster. Dr. Elaine Maxwell is one of the report’s main authors who discussed how those who had been severely sick with Covid-19 would likely be impacted the most with ongoing Covid while individuals at a lower risk of death (younger individuals with no preexisting conditions) were less likely to continue to feel symptomatic. 

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“For some, this is related to their rehabilitation following a hospital admission – but others are reporting life-changing experiences that follow an initial infection that they managed at home, with symptoms becoming more severe over time.”

However, there are also instances appearing with individuals being hospitalized for ongoing Covid symptoms who have previously not tested positive for the virus, while individuals who had to be ventilated for several weeks are fully recovered and not experiencing any lingering symptoms. If anything, this is just another stark reminder that this virus is completely unpredictable, and we all should be taking it as seriously as possible. 

The other major concern that’s intensified with this research is the way that Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting certain parts of the population depending on socioeconomic status. Black and Asian communities alone have seen much higher death rates due to the coronavirus, and there are major concerns for all socially disadvantaged groups that don’t normally have access to proper medical facilities to be tested and treated. These individuals are also suffering for months on end with no recognition simply due to the fact that they can’t afford a standard hospital visit. 

In America alone, there have been close to 8 million confirmed positive cases of Covid-19, with about 217,000 deaths. Those statistics alone should be staggering enough to make you wear your mask, and stay home as much as you possibly can in the coming months until a proper drug treatment or vaccine is established.

Doctor with Covid-19 Vaccine

AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Being Reviewed For Approval In Canada And Europe 

U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca has long been leading the race in developing a vaccine to fight off Covid-19. The company partnered with the University of Oxford in the beginning of the pandemic to begin preliminary research on ways to treat and destroy the virus. However, within the last four weeks the team has fallen behind on their trial operations.

AstraZeneca made the announcement in September that they would be temporarily pausing its late-stage clinical studies for the Covid-19 vaccine in the US, Europe and Canada due to participants getting infected with the virus itself. Now, the company has since resumed its trials in multiple countries and is already being reviewed for potential regulatory approvals in Canada and Europe. 

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However, trial operations within the US have slowed tremendously, leaving the nation way behind in its development. Initially, the trial’s were paused after a participant in the U.K. developed an unexplained illness after receiving the experimental vaccine. This pause in trial is rather routine, as most vaccine and drug trials need to do a full investigation when unexplained results appear; like the illness the participant in the U.K. experiences. 

AstraZeneca was obviously transparent in the beginning of this trial that unexpected illnesses and other side effects were to be expected in any sort of medical trial, and luckily the incident with the participant in the U.K. ended up being as routine as any other side effect to appear during a trial; hence the restarting of trials in Europe and Canada. 

Regulators in Brazil, India, South Africa, and Japan have reviewed the findings from AstraZeneca’s trial, and have allowed late-stages clinical trials to resume. This is also occurring in Canada and Europe, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still hasn’t allowed the company to resume their clinical trial.

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AstraZeneca recently claimed that they were working closely with the FDA to provide all the information needed in order for the administration to resume the trial. The FDA has since widened their investigation and are now looking at data from clinical trials regarding similar vaccines developed by the same scientists working on the Covid-19 treatment. 

This process is to determine if similar side effects that occured to the patient in the U.K occured in other vaccine trials developed by the same individuals; it is still unknown how long this data analysis will actually take. However, the agency is under immense pressure from the government to resume the trial process as the election gets closer and closer. 

Back in May the U.S. government agreed to pay over $1.2 billion for AstraZeneca to supply 300 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to the nation. The company won’t be able to send those doses, however, until the FDA gives emergency use authorization, which won’t happen until the trials are able to fully resume. 

For now, residents of the U.S. will have to wait to see how long it takes for the FDA to complete their investigation and restart the trial process to get a vaccine on the streets as soon as possible.

Covid Studies

Researchers Pressured To Focus On Sex Differences In Covid-19 Studies 

When it comes to medical research in general, unless a disease or virus has proven to only impact one sex over the other, men and women are often grouped together in terms of how doctors experiment to catch and fight new diseases. However, this process can be quite deadly, for example in the late 1990’s a heart drug named digoxin was marketed as being effective and safe, but after a while women were noticing a higher-rate of negative side effects when compared to men who took the drug. 

After further research it was discovered that the drug was actually attributing to a higher mortality rate in women but was decreasing mortality in men. So when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, some experts are wondering why there isn’t more of a focus on how this virus affects the sexes differently, if at all. 

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Covid-19 seems to be impacting all demographics relatively equally, however, it’s already been thought of that men are twice as likely to die from the virus as women. That said, the main researchers around the world that are focusing on treatments for this virus are paying little to no attention to the variations in how it impacts an individual based on their biological sex. 

One study showed that only 416 of the 2,484 Covid-19 clinical trials currently occuring around the world account for sex/gender as a criteria for volunteer recruitment. When research around the malaria treatment drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was saturating media timelines a few months ago, studies showed that the drug caused heart-rhythm side-effects that could be deadly. These side effects, however, were mainly occurring in women. 

There is a general recognition today that women aren’t as heavily involved in clinical trials as men. One of the known reasons for this is due to a series of birth defects and other problems resulting from fetal exposure to certain experimental drugs during clinical trials between the 1940s and 1970s. These defects created a massive ripple effect of scientists excluding women from medical trials if they’re at an age when they’re still fertile. 

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Systemic racism in general has also caused a lot of scientists to view caucasian males as the “normal” when it comes to population types, therefore however their bodies react to whatever treatment is being tested will be universal for everyone else. Back in 2001 10 different drugs were pulled from the market after it was discovered that 8 of them were posing greater health risks for women over men due to a lack of inclusion in trials. Londa Schiebinger is a history of science professor who recently discussed the importance of sex analysis in clinical trials. 

“The problem is, if you don’t do sex analysis – if males and females have very different responses – you could miss accurate data on everybody.”

Many research funding agencies now have requirements for sex analysis’ in trials. Women have different hormone types and levels than men. They also have smaller kidneys and more fat tissue which is extremely important when it comes to medical research and dosage information. When it comes to infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, women are proven to have stronger immune systems in general due to their double X chromosomes. So in the same regard, ensuring that equal parts men and women are involved in all Covid trials is imperative for measuring all types of immune responses to this unpredictable virus.

Ice Sheets

Melting Ice Sheets Will Cause Global Sea Levels To Rise Over 15 Inches By 2100

A new study performed by an international team of more than 60 ice, ocean, and atmospheric scientists has estimated that if humans keep emitting greenhouse gases unnecessarily at the rate that we’re going now, global sea levels will rise more than 15 inches by 2100.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere every day, and they impact climate change by causing global temperatures to increase, leading to a myriad of other detrimental environmental events. One of these events includes the melting of ice sheets from some of the worlds largest bodies of ice.

As things continue to heat up, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are particularly worrying scientists, as they’re both located at opposite poles of the world and their simultaneous melting is causing the entire planet to struggle. Sophie Nowichi was the project leader of this study and recently released a statement about how the major uncertainty regarding ice sheets specifically has made it hard to measure just how severe things can get in terms of global warming.

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“One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes to how much sea levels will rise in the future is how ice sheets will contribute, and how much the ice sheets contribute is really dependent on what the climate will do.”

This study is a part of a larger initiative known as the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project (ISMIP6). This initiative is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The team working for ISMIP6 has been measuring how sea levels will rise between 2015 and 2100, specifically in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

They found that higher emissions of these greenhouse gases extending throughout time will cause Greenland to contribute about 3.5 inches to the global rise in sea levels, while levels from Antarctica are a little harder to calculate based on the massive size. Antarctica has bodies of ice known as “shelves” which scientists are predicting will break down over time and cause an even more devastating increase to sea levels. 

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Right now it’s predicted that at the current rate of emissions Antarctica can contribute around 12 inches to sea levels in the future. Helene Seroussi is an ice scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who worked on the study and recently released a statement emphasizing that this particular study is only providing predictions for ice loss between 2015 and 2100, and doesn’t take into account the already significant amount of loss that’s already occurred. 

“The strength of ISMIP6 was to bring together most of the ice sheet modeling groups around the world, and then connect with other communities of ocean and atmospheric modelers as well, to better understand what could happen to the ice sheets.”

According to Seroussi and other researchers working on the study it took over 6 years of workshops, conferences, and data exchange between scientists from around the world to compile these predictions and work together on ways in which humans can potentially correct their mistakes in regard to climate change. 

The specific report from the ISMIP6 will help the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with their special report regarding melting ice and global sea levels/climate change in general. This report is projected to compile data from a multitude of major studies and will be released in 2022.

Contract Tracing

Contact Tracers In Ireland Express Concern Over Future Outbreaks 

Contact tracers in Ireland have been working tirelessly since the pandemic began to make calls to individuals who are sick and trace possible public areas of exposure. Eamonn Gormley, a tracer working at the University College of Dublin described the extremely disheartening work that they do to the media recently, claiming that the sick individuals they talk to often sound worried about their health and fear for their loved ones that they may have infected. 

“In a lot of cases people were suffering from extreme physical distress, one person I talked to collapsed on the floor and we could hear them gasp for air.” 

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Gormely claims that calls like that are rather rare, but still stick with you. Contact tracers, in general, have the responsibility of notifying individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 and getting as much information from them as possible in regards to what public spaces they entered within the time-frame of infection. 

In Ireland specifically, many infected people are revealing a multitude of locations they were in close contact with others in, and it’s raising some major concerns. Locations such as pubs, homes, schools, salons, and planes have all been listed recently from Irish individuals who are currently suffering from the coronavirus. 

Ireland saw a steady decrease in case numbers throughout the months of June and July, however, in August numbers began to rise by the hundreds. Within the past month the country saw 2,077 new cases appear; in total they’ve recorded around 31,800 infections and 1,800 deaths. The biggest concern at the moment, however, is the number of individuals that infected patients are claiming to have been around prior to being tested. 

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According to UCD’s tracing center, the average number of individuals a Covid-19 patient has claimed to be in close contact with is 10. Some patients have disclosed they’ve been around 25, 30, even 50 other people before receiving their results. The largest number so far has been 83 close contacts, according to Gormely.

Ireland is joining a growing list of European countries all experiencing major spikes in case numbers. Philip Nolan, the chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modeling Advisory Group, recently claimed that he’s greatly concerned over the lack of action in response to these spikes. 

“Case numbers appear to be growing exponentially and are likely to double every 10 to 14 days if every one of us does not immediately act to break chains of transmission of the virus.” 

Ireland has around 280 active contact tracers with hundreds more on standby. Over 1,000 calls are made every single day from centers located all throughout the country. In one center, the campus has 70 tracers spread out in three rooms. 20 of the tracers in that particular center are environmental health officials and the rest are volunteers. 

Tracers have a very specific code of conduct as well that bars them from expressing any judgement to those who have broken any quarantine rules of health and safety procedures. The goal is not to reprimand, but to gather as much information as possible so that individuals who need to quarantine, do. With the help of a new app as well, tracing has become even easier for these tracers as they continue to navigate this unpredictable pandemic. 

Coronavirus against the UK

UK Joins List Of European Countries Experiencing Rise In Covid-19 Cases 

The UK has joined the likes of France, Spain, and Germany this week as they continue to struggle with a slew of new coronavirus cases. Within a twenty-four hour period this past weekend over 3,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England after dozens of schools in the country reported outbreaks. 

Hospitalization rates are still low, however, past outbreaks have proven that it takes a few weeks after a major outbreak for hospital room occupancies to go up, so only time will tell if that remains as it is now. The UK is one of the countries that endured an intense and prolonged lockdown in the beginning of this pandemic, so any sort of new outbreak is very worrisome; especially one that impacts thousands. 

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Ministers are currently debating how to better control the situation, but have also received major backlash for their decision making regarding reopening schools and other educational establishments that are now directly leading to new cases. One thing is guaranteed, if the government doesn’t act soon infection, hospitalization, and death rates will be increasing in the coming weeks. 

States in the US and areas of Brazil have already begun closing schools that were previously reopened due to the same reasoning. Citizens are calling upon ministers to stop prioritizing the economy over human lives and close schools down. While the economy may take a massive hit due to these closings, it’s not worth it to have such large groups experiencing new outbreaks, simply to keep the economy in a relatively steady place. 

Other countries in Europe, and throughout the world, have implemented what’s generally referred to as a “zero Covid elimination strategy” that aims to stop community transmission and keep case numbers as low as possible, for as long as possible. In Scotland, for example, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has continuously given daily Covid media briefings to keep the public just as informed as the government is everyday; this has already led to a decline in case numbers in Scotland. 

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The testing and tracing systems in the UK are as greatly criticized as they are in the US as well. Testing sights aren’t as accessible and available as they should be, and results need to be made available within 24 hours to give citizens a better gage as to who needs to be quarantined. As of right now, citizens are travelling hundreds of miles in England to get tested. 

The reopening of schools and overall “relaxed” attitude the ministers are exhibiting by prioritizing the economy over health is also motivating the public to return to a life of normalcy. If world leaders are saying it’s okay for certain establishments to be open to make money, why wouldn’t citizens take advantage of that?

As of right now, it’s unlikely the UK will endure another nationwide lockdown as the ministers are expected to implement some major changes within the next week that will aim to slow down community transmission and keep everyone home. What’s most important is that the public listens to their healthcare professionals when it comes to case numbers and infection rates. Experts who are dealing with this virus head on everyday know first hand how bad the world still is in relation to this pandemic. So stay home as much as possible, wash your hands, wear facial coverings, and practice social distancing whenever it’s warranted.

Wildfires

NASA Tracking California Wildfires From Space

California is currently enduring one of the worst wildfire seasons in its history. After the devastating fires that caused thousands to evacuate in winter 2019, NASA has decided to use some of its resources to assist the state in tracking the fires in hopes to predict how they’ll move.

The scientists helping with this mission are a part of the agency’s Applied Sciences Disaster Program in the Earth Sciences Division. The division is currently making maps and other data products that can be used by experts to track any active fires and the smoke plumes that they emit. This information is not only extremely useful in tracking current wildfires, but also for identifying areas that may be susceptible to future ones.

David Green, the manager of the Disasters Program at NASA claims that the information will also be used after the fires are put out, to watch out for any environmental hazards that may occur as a direct result of the fires; landslides, mudslides, sinkholes, etc. 

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“When disasters like this occur, we are able to swiftly respond to requests from our partners who need images and mapping data.”

The data is collected from a multitude of satellites that pass over the state. Multiple satellite instruments are used to capture and track different kinds of environments near the wildfires such as desert terrain, bodies of water, forest land, and more. This information is crucial for post-fire hazards as well as tracking how each element of the fire (smoke plumes, flames) is moving. 

The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument is able to view Earth’s surface in visible infrared and thermal-infrared wavelengths. This basically means the satellite is able to detect, capture, and track the smoke, heat, and size of the fires and thus track the way its moving. The ASTER data specifically is helping firefighters on the ground locate the source of these fires so that they can better allocate their resources. 

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Another satellite instrument being used is known as the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR), which captures images that helps scientists better understand how high and far smoke particles from the plumes travel. The data also can identify what type of particles are in the smoke specifically. This information is especially crucial as it informs experts what areas of the country are at risk of poor air quality and visibility. 

Airborne smoke particles can also be extremely harmful to our health, as inhaling massive amounts of plume smoke can increase one’s chance of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. So tracking the smoke specifically is just as important as tracking the fires themselves. NASA is currently working with the California National Guard in sharing this data so they can properly send out their resources to the places that need it most. 

In combination with other scientific instruments on the ground, these multiple satellites can help scientists predict future wildfires by characterizing the ones that have been appearing most often within the past year. By labeling each type of wildfire, scientists are able to understand their long-term effects and how they start in the first place. As of right now data collection and the wildfires are ongoing, if you live in California remain diligent, and listen to your local firefighters when it comes to future procedures.

Vaccine in Doctors Hands

Possible Covid-19 Vaccine From Oxford Will Be Presented To Regulators This Year

The Oxford Vaccine Group has been tirelessly working on various drug treatment/vaccine options for the Covid-19 virus since the pandemic first emerged in early 2020.