• Scientists race to answer the question: Will vaccines protect us against omicron?

    There's hope that a third shot of an mRNA vaccine—a so-called booster—will work better than two shots, says virologist Pei-Yong Shi at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, who works with Pfizer. First off, he says, the third dose doesn't just return your antibody levels to what they were after the second shot. The level is even higher. On top of that, the booster can actually help broaden out your defenses so that you can fight off not just one variant of SARS-CoV-2 but many different versions of it. "The booster increases the level of antibodies that can push back against the variants," Shi says. "So that's another advantage to the booster."

  • Why some researchers think the omicron variant could be the most infectious one yet

    Over the past two weeks, omicron has spread to at least seven of South Africa's nine provinces, quickly overtaking the country's outbreak—and thus, it appears, outcompeting delta, says virologist Pei-Yong Shi of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “Based on the epidemiology data, it seems like the new variant has advantages in transmitting over the previous variants,” Shi said.

  • How Omicron Variant Rattled the World in One Week

    The speedy detection and the rapid response of global health authorities shows how the world’s fight against COVID-19 has evolved. Scientists are now focused on finding new variants. In the case of Omicron, one was beginning to spread in South Africa, a nation with the resources to identify it—and the political will to announce it to the world. Experiments using infectious virus or that tease out the effect of individual mutations on its behavior will take more time, but research that looks at the interactions between Omicron’s mutant spike and antibodies should yield some answers on the immune evasion question in as little as a week, said Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

  • Coronavirus variants: Here's what we know

    Omicron, the newest coronavirus variant, is also the quickest to be labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization because of its seemingly fast spread in South Africa and its many troubling mutations. It carries a mutation called N501Y, which gave both Alpha and Gamma their increased transmissibility. Just last week, Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch and colleagues reported in the journal Nature that this particular mutation made the virus better at replicating in the upper airway—think in the nose and throat—and likely makes it more likely to spread when people breathe, sneeze and cough.

  • Worker woes: Lack of affordable housing poses threat to island economy

    Most employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch don’t live on the island either, said Vivian Kardow, vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer. The medical branch imports 73 percent, 7,411, of its 10,122 Galveston campus employees from the mainland. Across all its campuses, the medical branch employs 15,361 people. The high cost of housing makes recruiting a challenge, she said.

  • Sherif Zaki, a legendary disease detective at CDC, dies at 65

    Current and former CDC officials spoke of a man with a unique ability to solve medical mysteries by studying tissues for the signatures of the infectious agent at play. “He really was kind of the secret weapon for a lot of what was done at CDC on emerging diseases,” said James LeDuc, who recently retired as director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Tom Ksiazek, a former CDC colleague and current professor of microbiology at UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory, said Zaki pioneered the use of immunohistochemistry to identify foreign proteins in samples sent to the CDC, to help determine the underlying pathogens for a particular outbreak and understand the disease they caused. According to Ksiazek, Zaki’s reputation for cracking hard cases meant that the CDC has been enlisted to help solve outbreaks that other laboratories couldn’t.

  • German measles may be forgotten, but it's still a threat

    In the Vaccine Smarts column, Drs. Megan Berman and Richard Rupp discuss the need for rubella immunizations. “We don’t hear much about rubella anymore, but it’s the most common cause of vaccine-preventable birth defects on the planet.”

  • George Washington stopped smallpox and saved the Revolution

    Drs. Norbert Herzog and David Niesel write about how The American Revolution made smallpox spread more likely in this country. “Soldiers from England and Germany were arriving in large numbers, and recruits from all the colonies were joining the Continental Army. Soon after taking command in the summer of 1775, Washington assured the President of the Continental Congress that he would be ‘particularly attentive to the least symptoms of the smallpox,’ with plans to quarantine those suspected of having the disease in a special hospital.” Inoculations were also part of Washington’s strategy.