By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Some scientific studies are unusual. A recent one from Oxford is an example of that. The researcher looked at 655 stool samples.

The goal was to look at what is called the microbiome of the gut. Microbiome is a big word. It refers to the microorganisms that live in our intestine. The goal of the study was to look at what is called the microbiome-gut-brain axis.

There have been previous studies that looked at specific bacteria in the gut. For example one study looked at a bacteria called Bacteroides. That bacteria excretes a substance called GABA. People with high levels of GABA tend to have more depression than others.

Probiotics like yogurt contain microorganisms. These ingested microorganisms change the composition of the gut microbiome. Those changes result in decreased emotional responses to negative facial expressions after four weeks.

Females who consume fermented foods (natural probiotics) have less social anxiety.

A diet rich in soy products is linked to less depressive symptoms.

There has long been a suggestion that some autism symptoms might be related to the composition of the intestinal microbiome.

The recent study suggested that it was a good thing to have diversity of organisms in the gut. People with more diversity tended to have larger social networks.

What is not clear is if the diversity leads to the individuals being more social or if mixing with other people results in diversity. It is a chicken and egg type relationship.

People with lower diversity had increased levels of stress and anxiety. Many of these individuals are fastidious by nature.

That trait may lead to less exposure of outside microorganisms which could be healthy.

Again this is a chicken and egg relationship.

Infants who are breast fed develop more gut diversity in their second year of life than bottle fed infants.

People who eat cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi are more likely to have diversity. Dog owners tend to have more diversity.

That is a lot of information to find on the basis of 655 stool samples. However, it does suggest that diet can have an effect on some personality traits.


The number of new cases in California continues to surge. However, despite the Christmas holiday season, the number of new cases nationally has remained somewhat flat. For the last month the number of new daily cases had pretty much remained between 200,000 and 300,000.

Locally we have seen a similar picture. The number of new cases daily in Sussex County has remained between 100 and 250 daily for the last month.

The press is having a field day reporting on finding the new strain of COVID-19 in different locations. My first response is what is the big surprise? We knew this was coming. It is expected.

My second response is so what. Nothing suggests the new strain is more deadly. Nothing suggests that it is resistant to the vaccines.

The only issue is that it is appears to be more easily spread. That doesn’t matter if you wear your mask. That doesn’t matter if you socially distance. That doesn’t matter if you wash your hands. Thus the approach to the new strain is exactly the same as the approach to the old strain.

The U.S had gone from 9th highest death rate in the world to 6th highest. However, Eastern Europe has seen a lot of deaths with the current surge.

So Slovenia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Czechia have all moved ahead of us. That puts us at the 11th highest death rate of the world’s 200 or so countries.

Of course the total population of those five countries is less than 20 million people. That means that even a few extra deaths will inflate their numbers.

They have had a total of about 27,000 actual deaths among the five countries. That compares to more than 360,000 here.

So it is really not something for us to brag about.

Delaware has released its expected schedule for vaccine recipients.

As of January 2nd, Delaware had administered 11,274 doses of the vaccine. That is from the allocation of 56,575 doses that we received.

So far 12.8 percent of the medical/nursing home targets personnel have received that vaccine. The total number of doses allocated should be enough to cover 85 percent of that at-risk population. That would be about 5.8 percent of the state’s total population.

We have waited months for studies to be done. Pfizer and Moderna conducted in-depth evaluations of their vaccines. The evaluations showed high levels of protection after two shots of the same vaccine about three weeks apart.

Now the UK has decided that science is not really relevant any longer. They have plans to give people the first dose and delay the second for longer than the three weeks that were used in the study.

The feeling is that the second dose can then become the first dose for people who have had no dose to that point.

There is no scientific evidence that the approach will work. It is a pure guess. They might guess correctly and get more people covered quickly. They might be guessing wrong and have the vaccine be ineffective.

It makes no logical sense to spend a year doing testing to get it right and then throw all that information out the window and do it a different way.

The UK has also approved the AstraZeneca vaccine. It calls for two doses to be administered. It is more stable than the other two vaccines. Therefore, it is easier to distribute. However, in the usual two doses, it is only 62 percent effective. 

That means that about one-third of the recipients will not be protected. They can still be infected with the virus.

We do not know if that infection will be less severe than it would be in non-immunized individuals. So it is possible that it might make infected individuals less likely to have a severe case.

A small group of AstraZeneca vaccine recipients received a low dose followed by a higher dose. The effectiveness in that group was over 90 percent. However, that dosing is still being studied further. That particular regimen is not yet approved for use.

It appears that this particular vaccine will be good for countries who cannot afford to pay the high prices associated with keeping the vaccine cold. Until we know more about the high dose regimen, it is not as good as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at offering protection.

Sinopharm is one of the traditional inactivated vaccine manufacturers. It announced that its vaccine is just about 80 percent effective in Phase III trials in China.

The same vaccine showed 86 percent effectiveness in the United Arab Emirates Phase III trial. The real number is likely between the two. The formal scientific term is “regression to the mean.”

That is not as high as Moderna and Pfizer. However, it is better than AstraZeneca.

Novavax, Johnson and Johnson and Coronavac are all in Phase III trials. We are just waiting for the release of their data to see how effective they are.

Novavax just started Phase III. Johnson and Johnson completed their 45,000 enrollment on December 20th. They expect results to be announced by the end of January.

Coronavac results from their Brazil Phase III trial should be announced any day.