Research and Prevention Continue in U.S.

Stimulus package passed by Congress, vaccine research accelerates

Ben Brooks and Ava Rotondo

Two trillion dollars. More than the cost of the Iran War, the largest ever U.S. stimulus package was signed into place by President Donald Trump on March 27 in an attempt to combat the effects of COVID-19 across the country.

With cases skyrocketing throughout late March, the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed, allocating a combined $2 trillion to a variety of different recipients. Of this sum, an estimated $560 billion will be sent to individuals to help those struggling as a result of the pandemic’s economic consequences.

Everyone who filed a federal tax return form and netted less than $75,000 in earnings are eligible for the full payout of $1,200 per person, or $2,400 per couple should their total adjusted gross earnings not surpass $150,000. The checks decrease in value the more money the individual makes, eventually completely disappearing after the $99,000 per person threshold. Recipients receive another $500 per child.

“I think the way they determine needs through last year’s taxes is flawed,” senior Nathan Zhu said. “I don’t think many of the poor, homeless, college students or undocumented workers have filed taxes in the last year, and they need it the most.”

Also included in the act is $30 billion to help with education. Of this, $13.5 billion is allotted to go to K-12 schools. “If it’s nationwide, I think it is adequate to try and integrate online education throughout the nation,” Zhu said. “I think it is not enough but a good start. During the Obama administration, their stimulus package in response to the 2008 crisis was around $77 billion.”

To complement the influx of money into the public school system, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos granted the power to allow states to alter and/or cancel certain standardized tests.

“I think the fact that they switched their initial proposal from targeted waivers to a blanket rule is a smart move,” Zhu said. “Every school district and state is being impacted in a different way, and I think the rule reflects this unpredictability.” With much of the world put on pause, many hope that the package will pave the path to recovery.

A COVID-19 vaccine prototype named PittCoVacc developed at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently saw success when tested in mice.

Due to the fact that scientists have never seen this strain of coronavirus before, the team is using the similar coronaviruses Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

By studying the SARS and MERS viruses, the team has found that spike proteins, a specific protein, is what provides immunity.

The tested mice experienced immunity against the virus for weeks, but researchers are unsure of how long that effect will last.

A similar MERS vaccine was previously tested, and the immunity effects lasted for about a year. It is expected that PittCoVacc will act the same way, judging from antibody levels and trends in the animal subjects after vaccination.

The next step will be to conduct clinical trials on human subjects, and those are expected to begin in the coming months.

“It would be great if a vaccine could run its course in people with efficiency, though I would worry about how rushed it seems,” senior Eli Sporn said.

White House health advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci claims that a vaccine for the new coronavirus will be available in 12 to 18 months.

“Vaccines can take years to fully develop, and it seems like putting one out in a couple of months may cause a flawed but popular solution,” Sporn said. “But really the vaccination’s criticisms are far less about its consequences and more about its possible lack of consequence, if it is incapable of doing anything.”

In the meantime, without a vaccine as protection, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been emphasizing the importance of preventing the spread of the virus by washing hands frequently and practicing social distancing, which entails minimizing time spent in public and staying at least six feet away from others.

Researchers still have a long way to go, but these recent findings provide optimism the world needs.