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Newsletter: Temper those early vaccine expectations

A clinical trial participant in England is injected with either an experimental COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo shot.
A clinical trial participant in England is injected with either an experimental COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo shot. Trials like this are underway around the world.
(Oxford University)

About those coronavirus vaccines leading the race to be first — don’t ditch the masks quite yet.

TOP STORIES

Temper Those Early Vaccine Expectations

Nearly $6 billion has been allocated. Clinical trials are entering a crucial third phase. And Operation Warp Speed is getting closer to the goal of delivering 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by January.

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But when Americans line up for their immunizations, the vaccine they receive might not be what they expect. The popular notion of a vaccine — a shot in the arm that prevents diseases such as measles, polio or shingles for years or a lifetime — may not apply.

Under recently released federal guidelines, a COVID-19 vaccine can be authorized for use if it is safe and proves effective in as few as 50% of those who receive it. And “effective” doesn’t necessarily mean stopping people from getting sick from COVID-19. Much like a flu shot, it means minimizing its most serious symptoms, experts say.

Although there is no way to predict what lies ahead, the first round of COVID-19 vaccines will probably not eliminate the need for other public health measures such as masks and social distancing.

Scaling Back a Testing Task Force

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In the early days of coronavirus testing, California public health officials teamed with private industry executives for an immediate impact. The group, established by Gov. Gavin Newsom, added more than 100 new test sites in three weeks, launched partnerships with new innovative labs, and managed the flow of swabs, chemicals and gear through the state’s sprawling new testing infrastructure.

But as the state now grapples with surging infection rates and looming test supply shortages, the task force has shrunk in size and influence. Dozens of task force members have departed and not been replaced, and the senior health official who oversaw the team has resigned.

The diminished state of the task force alarms some experts and former members who say a fully staffed team is needed more than ever to help a public health department that is chronically understaffed and ill-equipped to respond to emergencies on their own. California has long fallen short on providing adequate testing the state.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

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— California has again broken a new record for the most coronavirus-related deaths in a single day, with 174 deaths reported on Tuesday. L.A. County reported 4,825 new coronavirus cases and 91 deaths Wednesday, setting a daily record for fatalities.

— Widespread mask wearing could cut coronavirus transmission in half, a top California health official said, as policymakers push face coverings to help get the state’s COVID-19 cases under control.

Modoc County, in California’s far northeast corner, has reported its first two COVID-19 infections, which means that all 58 counties in the state have now confirmed at least one case.

— Facing a flood of complaints from those unable to obtain unemployment benefits, Newsom said he has formed a “strike team” to address issues with the system and will streamline the process for resolving claims.

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— The Orange County Board of Education has voted to sue Newsom in an effort to open campuses across high-risk counties.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

Teachers Back in the Classroom?

With the Aug. 18 start of the Los Angeles Unified School District‘s school year fast approaching, parents and students are facing uncertainty over how online instruction will be conducted. That’s because the teachers union and district officials are still trying to work out the rules and schedules for distance learning.

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Secrecy around the negotiations and the apparent gridlock have spurred an advocacy group to threaten litigation against the nation’s second-largest school system if it doesn’t fix its instructional problems.

You Oughta Know

Rockers Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair were supposed to tour together this summer, before the coronavirus changed everything. Instead, they’re at their homes trying to get through the COVID-19 crisis. Recently, they talked on Zoom about songwriting during an apocalypse, reopening schools and rock-star self-care.

“We like our answers, we like our control. But this is a really great time to look at the idea of faith, the idea of trust, the idea of not knowing, and living in that kind of limbo grief, limbo fear,” said Morissette.

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“But it’s hard to get back to being an artist in all this,” Phair replied. “That’s the maelstrom that I find difficult to create within.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES

In summers past, thousands of people flocked to Raging Waters in San Dimas to cool off.

On July 19, 1987, staff photographer Al Seib captured a patron as she prepared to go over the drop of “the park’s most fearful ride.” The slide included an 80-foot drop that appeared even steeper in photos. “It was impossible to get her name as she didn’t come back to the top for another ride,” Seib said.

Raging Waters patron
July 19, 1987: A park patron screams as she begins the 80 foot-fall down the parks most fearful ride at Raging Waters. This photo appeared in the Aug. 1, 1987, Los Angeles Times.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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CALIFORNIA

University of California faculty leaders are collectively opposing a proposal to alter the search process for campus chancellors, which they believe will significantly reduce their role and potentially affect the quality of the UC system.

— As some students struggle with isolation, uneven online teaching or lack of access to computers, some of their peers have discovered that distance learning can offer a unique kind of relief — and they have thrived.

—A longtime Los Angeles police SWAT sergeant is suing the LAPD, alleging the unit is run by a “SWAT Mafia” of veteran cops who encourage the use of deadly force and ostracized him for revealing its behavior.

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— A heat wave is set to roll into Southern California beginning today, bringing dangerous temperatures and potentially hazardous fire conditions.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Pentagon said it would withdraw nearly 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany, carrying out an order from Trump to punish Berlin for failing to meet NATO defense spending targets. But most of the major moves face congressional opposition and could take years, if they happen at all.

— Federal agents who have clashed with protesters in Portland, Ore., will begin a “phased withdrawal” from the city, Gov. Kate Brown said.

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— After troubling signs this year that the COVID-19 pandemic had sharply cut into new voter registrations, stepped-up efforts by Black voter-mobilization groups have begun to show success.

— With few options to get home, some Chinese students have fallen victim to ticket scams online.

NASA’s newest Mars rover is called Perseverance, and it has already lived up to the name.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Her famous dad’s a fan. So is Phoebe Bridgers. But Gracie Abrams has a voice all her own, and it’s how she’s getting her music out during a pandemic.

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HGTV’s newest show is the feel-good you’ve been waiting for. Meet its host, interior designer Orlando Soria.

— Instagram has removed a video from Madonna’s feed after flagging the post for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

BUSINESS

— In a hearing, members of Congress were in rare bipartisan accord in putting titans of Big Tech — Google’s Sundar Pichai, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook — on the defensive about perceived abuses of their power.

Black Restaurant Week is still finding its legs in Los Angeles, but its organizers and participants are committed to seeing it through, no matter the pandemic.

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— California office and retail space rents are expected to drop as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a new survey of commercial real estate developers and financiers. But apartment rents? They will probably stay high.

SPORTS

— Major League Baseball has suspended Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly for eight games and manager Dave Roberts for one game after incidents in Tuesday’s game in Houston.

— The NBA is back today with a pair of games, including the Lakers versus the Clippers in the nightcap. Here is a team-by-team look at the 22 clubs that will resume play.

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OPINION

— If you were looking for evidence that Republicans in Congress have no sympathy for workers facing illness or worse, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes, look at their proposal for liability protection in the latest coronavirus bill. In their plan, you can’t sue your employers for giving you COVID — but they can sue you.

California schools were already unequal. Then came the coronavirus, distance instruction and “learning pods” to widen the gap, writes The Times’ editorial board.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— All 50 states have issued warnings about unsolicited packages of seeds arriving in the mail. It’s not exactly clear who is behind the packages or what their intent is, but the leading theory is that they are part of a “brushing scam.” (CNN)

— Painter Bob Ross is the ultimate calming presence, with his soothing instruction, happy idioms and baby animals. Inside his enduring appeal, 25 years after his death. (The Atlantic)

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ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

If you’re looking for a good excuse to get outdoors and forget about the coronavirus this summer, landscape designer and ceramist Dustin Gimbel’s sculpture show “Sculptura Botanica” at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar is hard to beat. “There’s nothing less stressful than going to a garden and looking at beautiful plants,” said Gimbel, who created the works of art at his home studio in Long Beach. And perhaps the best news of all: On a recent visit, it was easy to explore the 2-acre gardens on wide brick paths without bumping into other visitors.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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