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What are the ingredients of Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine?

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Facebook said on December 3 that it would remove posts with false claims or conspiracy theories about what’s in the covid-19 vaccines that everyone’s counting on.

In the face of rumors suggesting that Bill Gates has installed tracking microchips in the shots, or that the inoculations contain luciferase, a glowing chemical from fireflies whose name makes some people think of the devil, the company suggested it would be policing such claims by making reference to the “official vaccine ingredient list.”

What’s actually on the official ingredient list? This week an elderly UK woman became the first person outside of a trial to get the newly approved vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, and the US could greenlight the same inoculation as soon as Thursday, December 10. Along with the regulatory actions over the last week have come the most detailed disclosures yet of the new vaccine’s makeup.

Here, for instance, is what the US Food and Drug Administration says is in Pfizer’s vaccine:

  • Active Ingredient
    • nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) encoding the viral spike glycoprotein (S) of SARS-CoV-2
  • Lipids
    • (4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis (ALC-3015)
    • (2- hexyldecanoate),2-[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide (ALC-0159)
    • 1,2-distearoyl-snglycero-3-phosphocholine (DPSC)
    • cholesterol
  • Salts
    • potassium chloride
    • monobasic potassium phosphate
    • sodium chloride
    • basic sodium phosphate dihydrate 
  • Other
    • sucrose

Reading the ingredient list is like looking at the side of a cereal box, except that you need a degree in organic chemistry to understand it. We got help from various scientists and biotech entrepreneurs to understand what each of the ingredients does and make some educated guesses about others.

The mRNA

Pfizer’s vaccine is the first on the market that consists of actual genetic information from a virus in the form of messenger RNA, or mRNA, a type of molecule whose usual job is to transport copies of genetic instructions around a cell to guide the assembly of proteins. Imagine an mRNA as a long ticker tape carrying instructions. It’s fairly delicate stuff, and that’s why Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be kept at -100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The new vaccine, delivered as a shot in the arm muscle, contains an RNA sequence taken from the virus itself; it causes cells to manufacture the big “spike” protein of the coronavirus, which the pathogen uses to glom onto a person’s cells and gain entry. On its own, without the rest of the virus, the spike is pretty harmless. But your body still reacts to it, mounting a reaction. This is what leaves you immunized and ready to repel the real virus if it turns up.

The mRNA in the vaccine, to be sure, isn’t quite the same as the stuff in your body. That’s good, because a cell is full of defenses ready to chop up RNA, especially any that doesn’t belong there. To avoid that, what’s known as “modified nucleosides” have been substituted for some of the mRNA building blocks.

But Pfizer is holding back a little. The spike gene sequence can be tweaked in small ways for better performance, by means that include swapping letters. We don’t think Pfizer has said exactly what sequence it is using, or what modified nucleosides. That means the content of the shot may not be 100% public.

The lipids

The Pfizer vaccine, like one from Moderna, uses lipid nanoparticles to encase the RNA. The nanoparticles are, basically, tiny greasy spheres that protect the mRNA and help it slide inside cells.

These particles are probably around 100 nanometers across. Curiously, that’s about the same size as the coronavirus itself.

Pfizer says it uses four different lipids in a “defined ratio.” The lipid ALC-0315 is the primary ingredient in the formulation. That’s because it’s ionizable—it can be given a positive charge, and since the RNA has a negative one, they stick together. It’s also a component that can cause side-effects or allergic reactions. The other lipids, one of which is the familiar molecule cholesterol, are “helpers” that give structural integrity to the nanoparticles or stop them from clumping. During manufacturing, the RNA and the lipids are stirred into a bubbly mix to form what the FDA describes as a “white to off-white” frozen liquid.

Salts

The Pfizer vaccine contains four salts, one of which is ordinary table salt. Together, these salts are better known as phosphate-buffered saline, or PBS, a very common ingredient that keeps the pH, or acidity, of the vaccine close to that of a person’s body. You’ll understand how important that is if you’ve ever squeezed lemon juice on a cut. Substances with the wrong acidity can injure cells or get quickly degraded.

Sugar

The vaccine includes plain old sugar, also called sucrose. It’s acting here as a cryoprotectant to safeguard the nanoparticles when they’re frozen and stop them from sticking together. Pfizer’s vaccine has to be frozen to around -100 °F until it’s used.

Saline solution

Before injection, the vaccine is mixed with water containing sodium chloride, or ordinary salt, just as many intravenously delivered drugs are. Again, the idea is that the injection should more or less match the salt content of the blood.

No preservatives

Pfizer makes a point of saying its mixture of lipid nanoparticles and mRNA is “preservative-free.” That’s because a preservative that’s been used in other vaccines, thimerosal (which contains mercury and is there to kill any bacteria that might contaminate a vial), has been at the center of worries around over whether vaccines cause autism. The US Centers for Disease Control says thimerosal is safe; despite that, its use is being phased out. There is no thimerosal—or any other preservative—in the Pfizer vaccine. No microchips, either.

The vaccine is still known by the code name BTN162, but once it’s authorized, expect Pfizer to give it a new, commercial name that conveys something about what’s in it and what it promises for the world.

We thank the following people for explaining the vaccine ingredients: Jacob Becraft and Aalok Shah, Strand Therapeutics; Yizhou Dong, Ohio State University; Jason Underwood, Pacific Biosciences; Andrey Zarur, Greenlight Biosciences; Charles L. Cooney, MIT; and the communications staffs of Pfizer and Moderna Therapeutics.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Facebook’s ‘oversight’ body overturns four takedowns and issues a slew of policy suggestions

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Facebook’s self-regulatory ‘Oversight Board’ (FOB) has delivered its first batch of decisions on contested content moderation decisions almost two months after picking its first cases.

A long time in the making, the FOB is part of Facebook’s crisis PR push to distance its business from the impact of controversial content moderation decisions — by creating a review body to handle a tiny fraction of the complaints its content takedowns attract. It started accepting submissions for review in October 2020 — and has faced criticism for being slow to get off the ground.

Announcing the first decisions today, the FOB reveals it has chosen to uphold just one of the content moderation decisions made earlier by Facebook, overturning four of the tech giant’s decisions.

Decisions on the cases were made by five-member panels that contained at least one member from the region in question and a mix of genders, per the FOB. A majority of the full Board then had to review each panel’s findings to approve the decision before it could be issued.

The sole case where the Board has upheld Facebook’s decision to remove content is case 2020-003-FB-UA — where Facebook had removed a post under its Community Standard on Hate Speech which had used the Russian word “тазики” (“taziks”) to describe Azerbaijanis, who the user claimed have no history compared to Armenians.

In the four other cases the Board has overturned Facebook takedowns, rejecting earlier assessments made by the tech giant in relation to policies on hate speech, adult nudity, dangerous individuals/organizations, and violence and incitement. (You can read the outline of these cases on its website.)

Each decision relates to a specific piece of content but the board has also issued nine policy recommendations.

These include suggestions that Facebook [emphasis ours]:

  • Create a new Community Standard on health misinformation, consolidating and clarifying the existing rules in one place. This should define key terms such as “misinformation.”
  • Adopt less intrusive means of enforcing its health misinformation policies where the content does not reach Facebook’s threshold of imminent physical harm.
  • Increase transparency around how it moderates health misinformation, including publishing a transparency report on how the Community Standards have been enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic. This recommendation draws upon the public comments the Board received.
  • Ensure that users are always notified of the reasons for any enforcement of the Community Standards against them, including the specific rule Facebook is enforcing. (The Board made two identical policy recommendations on this front related to the cases it considered, also noting in relation to the second hate speech case that “Facebook’s lack of transparency left its decision open to the mistaken belief that the company removed the content because the user expressed a view it disagreed with”.)
  • Explain and provide examples of the application of key terms from the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, including the meanings of “praise,” “support” and “representation.” The Community Standard should also better advise users on how to make their intent clear when discussing dangerous individuals or organizations.
  • Provide a public list of the organizations and individuals designated as ‘dangerous’ under the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard or, at the very least, a list of examples.
  • Inform users when automated enforcement is used to moderate their content, ensure that users can appeal automated decisions to a human being in certain cases, and improve automated detection of images with text-overlay so that posts raising awareness of breast cancer symptoms are not wrongly flagged for review. Facebook should also improve its transparency reporting on its use of automated enforcement.
  • Revise Instagram’s Community Guidelines to specify that female nipples can be shown to raise breast cancer awareness and clarify that where there are inconsistencies between Instagram’s Community Guidelines and Facebook’s Community Standards, the latter take precedence.

Where it has overturned Facebook takedowns the board says it expects Facebook to restore the specific pieces of removed content within seven days.

In addition, the Board writes that Facebook will also “examine whether identical content with parallel context associated with the Board’s decisions should remain on its platform”. And says Facebook has 30 days to publicly respond to its policy recommendations.

So it will certainly be interesting to see how the tech giant responds to the laundry list of proposed policy tweaks — perhaps especially the recommendations for increased transparency (including the suggestion it inform users when content has been removed solely by its AIs) — and whether Facebook is happy to align entirely with the policy guidance issued by the self-regulatory vehicle (or not).

Facebook created the board’s structure and charter and appointed its members — but has encouraged the notion it’s ‘independent’ from Facebook, even though it also funds FOB (indirectly, via a foundation it set up to administer the body).

And while the Board claims its review decisions are binding on Facebook there is no such requirement for Facebook to follow its policy recommendations.

It’s also notable that the FOB’s review efforts are entirely focused on takedowns — rather than on things Facebook chooses to host on its platform.

Given all that it’s impossible to quantify how much influence Facebook exerts on the Facebook Oversight Board’s decisions. And even if Facebook swallows all the aforementioned policy recommendations — or more likely puts out a PR line welcoming the FOB’s ‘thoughtful’ contributions to a ‘complex area’ and says it will ‘take them into account as it moves forward’ — it’s doing so from a place where it has retained maximum control of content review by defining, shaping and funding the ‘oversight’ involved.

tl;dr: An actual supreme court this is not.

In the coming weeks, the FOB will likely be most closely watched over a case it accepted recently — related to the Facebook’s indefinite suspension of former US president Donald Trump, after he incited a violent assault on the US capital earlier this month.

The board notes that it will be opening public comment on that case “shortly”.

“Recent events in the United States and around the world have highlighted the enormous impact that content decisions taken by internet services have on human rights and free expression,” it writes, going on to add that: “The challenges and limitations of the existing approaches to moderating content draw attention to the value of independent oversight of the most consequential decisions by companies such as Facebook.”

But of course this ‘Oversight Board’ is unable to be entirely independent of its founder, Facebook.

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Workday nabs employee feedback platform Peakon for $700M

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Workday started the work day with some big news today. It’s acquiring employee feedback platform Peakon for $700 million in cash.

One thing we have learned during the pandemic is that organizations need to find new ways to build stronger connections with their employees, and that’s precisely what Peakon provides. “Bringing Peakon into the Workday family will be very compelling to our customers — especially following an extraordinary past year that has magnified the importance of having a constant pulse on employee sentiment in order to keep people engaged and productive,” Workday co-founder and co-CEO Aneel Bhusri, said in a statement.

Without the ability to have face-to-face meetings with employees, managers have struggled throughout 2020 to understand how COVID, working from home and all the trials and tribulations of the last year have affected the workforce.

But this ability to check the pulse of employees goes beyond this crisis period. Managers of large organizations know that the bigger and more spread out your firm becomes, the more challenging it is to understand what’s happening across the company. The company uses weekly surveys to ask specific questions about the organization. For them it’s all about getting good data, and so far customers have used the platform to ask over 153 million questions since inception six years ago.

Peakon CEO and co-founder Phil Chambers sees Workday as a logical partner. “Workday excels at helping enable customers to leverage their data. Together, we’ll be able to help drive greater productivity, talent development and employee retention for our customers — and unify how employees interact with their organizations,” he said in a Workday blog post announcing the deal.

Peakon was founded in Copenhagen in 2014 and has raised $68 million along the way, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent round was a $35 million Series B in March 2019. The deal is expected to close by the end of this quarter subject to typical regulatory review.

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Shopalyst aims to make e-commerce advertising more effective

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Indian startup Shopalyst has officially launched a new platform that it calls the Discovery Commerce Cloud, which it says can help brands take full advantage of digital advertising.

Co-founder and CEO Girish Ramachandra told me that Shopalyst was created to allow for “one seamless journey for the shopper” across advertising and e-commerce — something he said current systems are not currently designed to support.

The startup’s first product was a “universal buy button,” and Ramachandra said that has “naturally progressed” into a broader set of tools for cross-platform advertising, which Shopalyst has been beta testing for the past year.

The Discovery Commerce Cloud consists of five modules, which Ramachandra said work best together but can also be purchased separately. That includes:

  • a market intelligence product with information about what consumers are searching for and what’s popular on media and e-commerce platforms
  • an audience intelligence product to target ads based on audience interest, behavior and purchase intent
  • a Universal Ads Manager to deliver ads across Google Ads, DV360, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Ads, Twitter and TikTok
  • a landing page builder that can support instant checkout on a brand’s own direct-to-consumer site, comparison shopping across e-commerce marketplaces, instant delivery or a physical store locator
  • real-time metrics that measure the full customer funnel
Shopalyst header

Image Credits: Shopalyst

Ramachandra also noted that the ads created in the Universal Ads Builder optimized to each platform, with dynamically generated creative based on audience data. And by using the landing page builder, brands are also able to gather new data about the audience’s “shopping actions.”

“In the past, [brands] didn’t have shopping actions, because retailers don’t share that data back with them,” he said. “That is all changed. Now they’re able to acquire first-party data [from Shopalyst], which will help them use the right advertising in future campaigns.”

Shopalyst customers include Unilever, Nestle, Diageo, Nivea, L’Oreal and Estee Lauder. And while the startup was initially focused on its home market of India, the platform is now available across 30 countries.

Shopalyst also says that in beta testing, campaigns run through the Discovery Commerce Cloud have seen up to a 3X improvement in targeting relevance, a 5X increase in audience attention and an 8X increase in ad-activated shopping trips.

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