- AstraZeneca will miss its Q2 COVID-19 vaccine shipments by half, according to a Reuters report.
- Moderna and Pfizer both expect to double their current output, and possibly triple it. Pfizer will go from four million doses a week to 13 million doses by mid-March, and 100 million doses by the end of the first half. Moderna plans on doubling its output to 40 million doses per month by April.
- Johnson & Johnson expects to have 20 million doses of its single-shot vaccine available by the end of March, and 100 million doses at the end of Q2.
- The B.1.1.7 variant now constitutes 6.2% of all new COVID-19 cases in New York City, up from 2.7% in January.
- Michael Osterholm, et al., say that prioritizing elderly (65+) for vaccination (PDF) should minimize the healthcare system strain in the coming weeks with new variants gaining traction in the US. He also recommends
- Deferring second doses of mRNA vaccines until after the surge.
- Deferring the second dose of mRNA vaccines in people with confirmed COVID-19 infections.
- Authorizing and use of the half-dose regimen for the Moderna vaccine.
- Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are slowing the pace of hospitalizations already in Scotland.
- Meanwhile in France, vaccination lags far behind shipments of vaccines, with 8 million delivered but only 3.5 million vaccinated.
- Derek Lowe's latest on mRNA vaccine manufacturing isn't exactly grim, but there are so many caveats you might swallow hard. A ton of interesting links there (and I especially recommend Jonas Neubert's look at supply chains), but the quote that really stuck with me was this:
As you would imagine, everyone involved is having quite a time meeting demand. As the article says, though, it’s hard to get a clear picture of where the exact pinch points are, because the terms of the various contracts are not public, nor are even the identities of the raw material suppliers further up the chain. But anyone who’s had to source intermediates or starting materials in the drug business at any kind of scale will appreciate that the fastest way to find out what those weak points are is to place a Big Ol’ Order for something.Lowe is, as I am, "struck by how much we’ve been able to scale up these things" despite the many potential obstacles along the way. "I’d be willing to bet that if you’d called any of [the Acuitas Therapeutics people making lipid nanoparticles] up in (say) December 2019 and asked them if they could get to where they actually are by February 2021 they’d have been terrified."
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Thursday, the EU contracted with Pfizer and Moderna to purchase 350 million more doses of their SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, making for 2.6 billion doses in the pipeline altogether. Between those two and CureVac, this means mRNA vaccines account for 1.465 billion doses:
|Technology||Manufacturer(s)||Number of Doses|
|% of total|
|mRNA||Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, CureVac||1,465||54%|
|Vectored Virus||AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson||800||29%|
|Protein Subunit||Sanofi GSK||300||11%|
Sanofi earlier this week reported they would not have a COVID-19 subunit vaccine ready this year, so this purchase looks like the plugging of a hole rather than an increase. More importantly, it seems to me that if Peter Hotez is right as to what types of vaccines are going to be the "the workhorse of this epidemic", it is getting awfully late for any technology other than mRNA.
Update: it's probably worth mentioning that once you subtract the 300M vaccines Sanofi can't deliver, suddenly mRNA has 61% of EU sales. That's quite a vote of confidence.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Most of this is from Biopharma-Reporter.com, which looks promising as a future source of news in this space:
- France will ramp up its vaccine manufacturing efforts, with
- "CDMO Recipharm will start production for Moderna at its Monts facility next month; while Delpharm will manufacture the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre from April. In May, Fareva is set to follow suit for CureVac’s vaccine."
- Other vaccines in the pipeline include "Johnson & Johnson, CureVac, Sanofi/GSK, Novavax and Valneva: with CureVac, J&J and Novavax being the most advanced of these."
- New Zealand has approved the AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Janssen vaccines.
- AstraZeneca says it could take 6-9 months to make vaccines for variant SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
- AstraZeneca has a deal with German IDT Biologika to increase production of its COVID-19 vaccine.
- German contract manufacturing firm Rentschler is expanding its UK presence, to increase materials necessary for vectored virus vaccine manufacture.
- The Biden administration has announced there should be 200 million vaccine doses by July, which should be enough to get everyone who wants a shot.
- CureVac's COVID-19 vaccine has started the approval process with the European Medicines Agency, the third mRNA vaccine in the pipeline.
- CureVac is also plotting how it will react to novel SARS-CoV-2 strains, expanding research in the UK.
Friday, February 12, 2021
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in hot water now that the state "has reported 8,600 nursing home deaths tied to the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Overall COVID-19 deaths in the Empire State exceed 40,000. ... New York only counted residents who died on nursing home property, rather than any who were transferred to hospitals. But according to the report, most of the deaths occurred in hospitals.
- The vaccination situation in Canada is even worse than that in the US. "The Canadian deficit is mostly because they don’t have enough vaccine. Canada bought doses but they didn’t invest in capacity and a deal with China fell through. As a result, Canada won’t be getting lots of vaccine until March or April."
- I mentioned mRNA scaling as an update to my roundup of recent Derek Lowe blog posts, and also in the comments there. Someone was kind enough to give an extended reply, which I repost here in its entirety:
It is possible BUT there are several hurdles to overcome.
1) Raw materials. You need recombinant *GMP quality* (as in, NOT lab quality) enzymes. These can certainly be made, the technology existed even when I was an undergrad back in the Clinton/Kurt Cobain era. Bacterial fermentation at smallish scale and relatively easy to do. Since they’re being used for industrial processing and not put into humans, you can do convenient things to improve the process like stick 6his tags on the end and tether them to IMAC resin to better control the reaction rate and set yourself up for continuous methods.
2) Liposome/LNP formulation needs to be done by process engineers who actually know a little something about liposome manufacturing. Sanofi has these, or should have, or can afford to hire them and keep them.
3) Different kinds of lipids and a wider variety need to be at least tried out, instead of this whole getting married to just one other startup’s lipid and then having a patent pissing contest with them. Never restrict yourself to a single source of anything, there is far too much risk that one source will go out of business and you’ll be screwed, unless you plan for vertical integration and make the lipids yourself at a small molecules site within your company. Which Sanofi also has the resources to do if they choose.
4) The medicinal chemists need to choose targets appropriate for the PK of intracellular transient expression. Alnylam did an excellent job of thoroughly understanding the PK of their modality, and Sanofi should follow their example.
Hope That Helps!
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Naftali Bennett, the former defense minister who coordinated much of the nation’s initial virus response and is now running to replace Netanyahu, accused the government of adopting a strategy that, in his words, can be summed up as, “We’re not going to manage the crisis in this country, we’re going to put all our eggs in the one basket: vaccines,” he told Intelligencer.That public health officials, driven by a messiah complex, might not want to surrender emergency powers is scarcely a new thing, but the idea turns up again and again. Freddie Sayers in Unherd did a good writeup on the subject of Zero COVID, a movement he claims is "crucially distinct from people who support ongoing lockdown measures to suppress the virus to a level where it is safe to reopen — for ZeroCovid believers, we cannot rest until that level is zero."
“Israel’s entire strategy relies on the hope that no variant will escape the vaccine,” he continued. “If a mutation that can bypass the vaccine appears tomorrow, we’re in trouble.”
On Thursday, at a cabinet meeting convened to debate the future of a partial, fraying lockdown, which is scheduled to end on Sunday, Netanyahu acknowledged that “the British mutation is running amok in Israel,” driving 80 percent of Israel’s recent COVID-19 fatalities.
This distinction does not actually matter. The reason for this is that the main response to outbreaks has in fact been more stringent and longer lockdowns. Essentially, whether you want to call it Zero COVID or not, what it means is putting the US in a state of permanent emergency should the virus become another of the endemic respiratory viruses. The Biden administration is waffling on whether it wants to actually do this:
So far, the Biden administration has tried to have it both ways—coddling those who appear to welcome a perpetual pandemic while assuring those who don’t that deliverance is near at hand. In a pre-Super Bowl interview with CBS News, President Biden said that it was necessary and possible for schools to reopen safely in accordance with CDC guidelines, which will be forthcoming shortly (never mind that the CDC produced just such a set of guidelines as far back as last August). But a sprawling White House COVID-19 strategy memo released by the Biden White House last month also provides for the possibility that “new coronavirus variants that may have a higher transmission rate” might forestall the resumption of full-day, in-person education. And, in a late January call with teachers’ unions’ representatives, Fauci said that those variants, which “may” be more resistant to vaccines, are likely to scuttle the president’s desire to see K-8 classrooms reopen nationally.
But once we get vaccines that, at least, will prevent hospitalization and death, there has to be some level of disease burden we're willing to tolerate rather than stay hunkered down indefinitely. The most recent bad influenza season, 2017-18, saw over 800,000 hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths (estimated). Meanwhile, in Israel, over 90% of the 60+ population has been vaccinated, and the results are quite striking:
Yes, younger cohorts now make up a larger fraction of new cases (per the New Yorker article, 44% under 19 years old and an increasing number from the under 50 crowd). But given what we know about outcomes, these groups are unlikely to get severe disease. At some point, we'll have to ramp up vaccine production and learn to live with this disease. We don't really have a choice.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
- “Vaccination Against The New Variants: Real-World Data” tackles the thorny problems posed by the B.1.1.7 (UK) and B.1.351 (South African) variants. Excerpt:
Now to the vaccinated-patient plasma samples, because that’s what a lot of people are really wondering about: how well does being vaccinated with the current agents provide you with protection against the new variants? The authors studied serum from 12 patients that had been given both doses of the Moderna vaccine and 10 patients who had had both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech one. The activity drop against the B.1.1.7 variant was only about 2-fold in both groups, whereas the overall activity drop against the B.1.351 variant was 6.5-fold in Pfizer vaccinnees and 8.6-fold in Moderna ones.This is why, frankly, I find South Africa's halting of its AstraZeneca vaccination campaign to be utterly insane: what is the point? Even if the vaccine only confers protection from severe disease, that is still worthwhile. Of course, Lowe doesn't mention that in this post, but small-scale data (n=2,000) thus far points in that direction.
What about those activity drops, especially the larger ones against the B.1.351 variant? Does that still leave room for protection? Here’s the good news: it very much does.
- In “Myths of Vaccine Manufacturing”, Lowe tackles a subject that has been on many a mind lately: how do we increase production? There are a lot of potential bottlenecks, but the biggest single one is mRNA encapsulation. As usual, emboldening is all on me:
Turning a mixture of mRNA and a set of lipids into a well-defined mix of solid nanoparticles with consistent mRNA encapsulation, well, that’s the hard part. Moderna appears to be doing this step in-house, although details are scarce, and Pfizer/BioNTech seems to be doing this in Kalamazoo, MI and probably in Europe as well. Everyone is almost certainly having to use some sort of specially-built microfluidics device to get this to happen – I would be extremely surprised to find that it would be feasible without such technology.Bottom line is that, once again, calls for the use of the Defense Production Act on the grounds that other pharma companies are twiddling their thumbs are delusional.
These will be special-purpose bespoke machines, and if you ask other drug companies if they have one sitting around, the answer will be “Of course not”. This is not anything close to a traditional drug manufacturing process. And this is the single biggest reason why you cannot simply call up those “dozens” of other companies and ask them to shift their existing production over to making the mRNA vaccines.
And let’s not forget: the rest of the drug industry is already mobilizing. Sanofi, one of the big vaccine players already (and one with their own interest in mRNA) has already announced that they’re going to help out Pfizer and BioNTech. But look at the timelines: here’s one of the largest, most well-prepared companies that could join in on a vaccine production effort, and they won’t have an impact until August. It’s not clear what stages Sanofi will be involved in, but bottling and packaging are definitely involved (and there are no details about whether LNP production is). And Novartis has announced a contract to use one of its Swiss location for fill-and-finish as well, with production by mid-year. Bayer is pitching in with CureVac’s candidate.
- A post summarizing the Gamelaya Institute's Sputnik V vaccine, which uses an adenovirus-26 and adenovirus-5 vector for the first and second doses respectively. Two-dose efficacy is 91.6% on a test population of 15,000.
My expectation is that it will deal with the B.1.1.7 [variant] at nearly the same efficacy and drop down to the 50-60% efficacy range against the B.1.351 strain, as has been seen with the other vaccines where we have such data. Based on the numbers we have, I see no reason why this vaccine can’t make a solid contribution to fighting the pandemic, and I’m very glad to have another efficacious one out there for use. Update: a skeptical take on the publication here!
The article in that final link suggests the trial involved some possibly shady dealing in terms of patient samples, using mainly young people for the Phase II trial, and unexplained dropouts of trial subjects during the test. More worrying, serological testing was done by "convenience sample", which speaks to possible monkeyshines on immunogenicity.
- Back to manufacturing, next Lowe writes about vectored virus vaccines. As mentioned by others, this is a pretty complicated process, and there are many places where it can go wrong. Ignoring the political baggage arising from the use of aborted fetus kidney cells as a feedstock (the cell lines were originally created in the 1970s, but have been cloned for decades), the big technical hangup is the fact that
Human cell culture – any cell culture – is simultaneously a scientific process and an art form. Ask anyone, literally anyone who’s done it, and if you can find someone who’s worked on it at an industrial scale, they’ll confirm that all the more vigorously. This is (or can be) the weak point of the entire viral-vector production process. When everything is working, this method for infecting living cells and turning them into virus factories is hard to beat. But it doesn’t aways work the way it’s supposed to. It appears that AstraZeneca has been having problems because one of their largest production facilities has been experiencing problems with low yields of virus, even though everything should be the same (same viral DNA, same cell line, etc.)
Some food for thought as we slowly improve on our vaccination efforts in the US.
Update: I wanted to come back to the Yahoo News story about using the Defense Production Act, but mainly for this quote from Peter Hotez about mRNA vaccines:
Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Peter Hotez, another top vaccine expert, said the current demand is pushing the limits of manufacturing a brand new technology, messenger RNA, at scale.
“We knew the mRNA vaccines were not going to be the workhorse of this epidemic. It’s a new technology, it doesn’t have that capacity for scale like other technologies do,” Hotez said.
This gets to the problem of the mRNA vaccines. We were never supposed to rely solely on the mRNA vaccines. It’s not a mature technology. It doesn’t have the capacity to do the job. We’ve known that for the whole year of 2020.
That was the whole rationale behind Operation Warp Speed: The mRNAs would be the first to get up, but then we would have later vaccines come along that are more robust in terms of production and the ability to vaccinate large numbers of people. That’s why you have the two adenovirus-based vaccines and the particle vaccines: They were they were supposed to be the worker bees on this. The mRNA was to get started, and then the others would follow it.
The multiple failures of both AstraZeneca and Janssen to scale (with the Sputnik V vaccine not even launching at scale yet) strongly suggests that Hotez — who is working on a protein subunit vaccine with Indian pharma company Biological E — is at odds with Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson's recent remarks to Barron's:
During a single-antigen pandemic, where speed is a key consideration, "I think we have to accept that ... mRNA is probably the first go-to," Hudson told the publication. But in disease areas where there are established vaccines, mRNA candidates will have to “compete with the standard of care” shots that feature a “well-characterized safety profile.” There, the “bar is high,” he added.
In other words, if you have a moving target (check) and/or a new disease (check), mRNA is the way to go. The price of a recombinant protein subunit vaccine might be cheaper once you get all the problems nailed down, but it's pretty clear that there are some very big problems with vectored virus vaccines versus mRNA.
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
It's almost as if I hadn't explained what happened to the ACLU in detail over the past few years. It's all there to be read.https://t.co/pFpbixxpvohttps://t.co/01AOQuQ1kchttps://t.co/aDPJgY6FRDhttps://t.co/ZEk49IQGKP— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) October 24, 2019
Monday, February 1, 2021
With Israel vaccinating over 50% of its population, I have been thinking for some time about the parameters of a successful vaccination program in the US.
- Mutations (i.e. variants with demonstrably biological differing properties) will continue to occur. Already the B.1.351 (South African) strain has exhibited "immune escape" from convalescent plasma, i.e. antibodies for the older strain were much less effective at fighting the virus.
- Vaccine nationalism, i.e. the country of origin will get priority for their own production, is inevitable and will continue to be a factor going forward. This is not to say it will always break down this way, as Israel attests, but it seems a general pattern until manufacturing can keep up.
- Manufacturing delays and shortfalls will persist for longer than anyone is comfortable with, in addition to pratfalls by the EU itself that prevented early vaccination rollouts. (Another post on that later.) AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax have all had manufacturing problems at one point or another. (Novavax particularly had manufacturing issues that caused them to postpone their Phase III trial.)
- I assume that by now the problems of vaccine spoilage and overly specific prioritization criteria have been laid bare, and people recognize that flexibility is important. Every arm with a shot in it is an arm closer to victory.
What Needs To Be Done?
- Manufacturing agility and volume is key. mRNA can turn around fastest of all the technologies, from what I can tell, and in fact both Moderna and Pfizer are already looking at boosters for the new variants. Vectored vaccines appear to have a complex manufacturing process that makes scaling difficult. Protein subunit and inactivated vaccines are also slower to turn around (it appears) than mRNA. The worst-case scenario is that the developed west will have to build out a lot of mRNA manufacturing capacity to inoculate whole populations in a couple months.
- Transportability and refrigeration. Vectored virus vaccines (Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, AstraZeneca) seem to have better storage requirements than the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer). Novavax can be stored at refrigerator temperatures (2-8C).
- The two prior factors will determine undeveloped world vaccinations. Distribution to Africa and other undeveloped countries with sketchy or nonexistent cold chains will preclude mRNA in those places. This means vectored virus/protein subunit/inactivated will be how those populations get vaccinated. Unfortunately, this opens the door to a longer pandemic with hot spots that can possibly cause serious mutations.
- Price and manufacturing capacity will limit vaccination in eastern Europe and other mid-tier nations. One of the big problems the EU had acquiring vaccines was getting all 27 member states to sign up at a price acceptable to its poorer members, while fending off defections from the larger countries. Consequently, if Germany is lagging the UK and US, it is still well ahead of Bulgaria or Hungary.
- Lockdowns cannot last forever. Once most affected populations are vaccinated, start reopening. Continue monitoring infections, with an emphasis on sequencing to track novel variants.
This may end up a years-long effort, especially with large-scale reservoirs of disease overseas spawning mutations. But there has to be an exit plan; the pandemic cannot be allowed to remain a pandemic out of sheer bureaucratic inertia.
I first became aware of Arkansas House Bills HB1218 and HB1231 when Arkansas Council for the Social Studies (ACSS) President Olivia Lewis posted an open letter to the state legislature regarding those bills:
(Sorry about the formatting, but I don't see an easy way to fix this at the moment.) Bill sponsor Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) has said
“The intention is - so that students, especially K-12 that are captive, are not subjected to humiliation in terms of trying to make a statement about whether there is inequality or inequity and that's been happening in some of these programs using critical race theory,” said Lowery.
He added, the inspiration behind the bill is a certain classroom activity he claims is being taught in some Arkansas schools.
"One of the specific examples is what is called the privilege walk - where all the students start in one line and a number of questions are asked,” said Lowery. “Do you have two parents, do you parents own their home, take steps forward and what it does then - it gives this definition of showing which students are supposedly privileged and which ones are not."
So there's really two things going on here: the first is the use of the 1619 Project materials in classrooms (HB1231), and the second is teaching of the "social justice" approach to race relations (HB1218).
The Flawed, Tendentious 1619 Project
The 1619 Project has drawn numerous criticisms for its shoddy, motivated scholarship. In Cathy Young's able essay at The Bulwark, she wrote that despite "includ[ing] some indisputably excellent material" it amounts to "bad history and misrepresented facts". She goes on to attack central author and promoter Nikole Hannah-Jones for
...mak[ing] several claims that radically disparage the rest of the American narrative. She asserts, for instance, that “for the most part, black Americans fought back alone,” a casual erasure of decades of abolitionist activism. The problem isn’t that white people aren’t getting enough credit; it’s that Hannah-Jones’s assertion is simply not true (“for the most part” is doing some very heavy work in that sentence) and that it strips the history of black America of its legacy of interracial solidarity. Dismissing it in one throwaway sentence is both inaccurate and unconstructive.
The central flaw of 1619, though, is in Hannah-Jones' claim that the colonies principally fought for independence in order to continue the institution of slavery. Young systematically dismantles all of this, citing approving correspondence from Benjamin Franklin of "antislavery sentiment as far south as Virginia" (quoting historian David Waldstreicher), and the "monumental ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the Quock Walker cases." It's clear that Hannah-Jones rewrote history to fit her narrative, omitting inconvenient facts.
But perhaps more stinging — coming as it did from a New York Times colleague — is Bret Stephens' October 9 rebuke in the Opinion section. Journalists, he wrote, "are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded." Hannah-Jones went on a tweet-discarding rampage shortly before his essay was published, with the Times rewriting embarrassing online materials containing blatantly indefensible claims. Stephens declared Hannah-Jones' embrace of "[m]onocausality" a central flaw of the project:
The 1619 Project is a thesis in search of evidence, not the other way around. Nor was this fire from the right: Both [Princeton historian Sean] Wilentz and [Northwestern historian Leslie M.] Harris were at pains to emphasize their sympathy with the project’s moral aims.
Yet, aside from a one-word “clarification” issued in March — after months of public pressure, The Times conceded that only “some” colonists fought for independence primarily to defend slavery — the response of the magazine has been, in effect, “nothing to see here.” In a pair of lengthy editor’s notes, [NYT Magazine editor Jake] Silverstein has defended much of the scholarship in the project by citing another slate of historians to back him up. That’s one way of justifying the final product.
The larger problem is that The Times’s editors, however much background reading they might have done, are not in a position to adjudicate historical disputes. That should have been an additional reason for the 1619 Project to seek input from, and include contributions by, an intellectually diverse range of scholarly voices. Yet not only does the project choose a side, it also brooks no doubt.
All of which is to say, the 1619 Project is, in the end, mainly a piece of agitprop rather than a sober reflection of the causes of the American Revolution and the founding of our nation. How did we get to this point?
Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, And The Academy
The answer, of course, is the overwhelming influence of Critical Race Theory (CRT hereafter) on the 1619 Project, something James Lindsay wrote about in his review at New Discourses. This is part of the larger project of academic historical revisionism under the aegis of CRT, described in Lindsay's and Helen Pluckrose's 2020 book, Cynical Theories. Their chapter on CRT outlines the history of the intellectual movement, with postmodernist theory predominating from the mid-1990s onward.
For the applied postmodernists … the focus on discourses is primarily concerned with positionality — the idea that one's position within society, as determined by group identity, dictates how one understands the world and will be understood in it. …
[The] core tenets [as advocated in Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic] unambiguously assert what is going on in critical race Theory — racism is present everywhere and always, and persistently works against people of color, who are aware of this, and for the benefit of white people, who tend not to be, as is their privilege.
The point of all this is the rejection of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech centered on character rather than identity. Instead, "[i]dentity politics restores the social significance of identity categories in order to valorize them as sources of empowerment and community". Influential Theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw "explicitly rejected universality in favor of group identity, at least in the political context in which she wrote…." The related concept of intersectionality binds up people in racial, sexual, sexual preference, immigration status, and religious categories (among others!) into a binary caste system of oppressed and oppressors based on (mainly) properties of birth. "Social Justice", Pluckrose and Lindsay continue, "in the contemporary sense is therefore markedly different from the activism for universal human rights that characterized the civil rights movements."
These movements arose in the academy, but have gained terrifying traction outside it. Propagated with every government "diversity" edict and department, university assistant dean, and corporate diversity officer, CRT is widespread, and expanding rapidly outwards. Journalist Christopher Rufo has documented a Bay Area elementary school forcing students to rank themselves according to "power and privilege", instances in San Diego and Seattle of browbeating white pupils for "spirit murdering" black and/or native American people, and a Springfield, Missouri middle school where teachers were required to "locate themselves on an 'oppression matrix'”. It's clear that CRT practitioners "see racism as omnipresent and eternal, which grants it a mythological status, like sin or depravity", according to Cynical Theories.
The Problem With HB1218 And HB1231
So to the supposed solutions, HB1218 and HB1231. Both are crude bans, which the courts largely have not supported in legislation. Julie Underwood's piece in The Phi Delta Kappan on the state of curriculum jurisprudence catalogs a number of cases:
States have some authority over curriculum as well, insofar as they often set minimum curricular requirements for school districts. However, the courts have ruled that this authority is bounded by the constraints set by both the federal and the given state’s constitution. For example:
In Meyer v. Nebraska (U.S. 1923), the U.S. Supreme Court found a state law prohibiting foreign language instruction in any school to be unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause as it was against the interest of private school foreign language teachers’ need for employment and parents’ desire for their children to learn foreign languages.
In Epperson v. Arkansas (U.S. 1968), an Arkansas statute that made the teaching of evolution in public schools illegal was held to be a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Similarly, in Edwards v. Aguillard (U.S. 1987), the U.S. Supreme Court found a Louisiana statute, which required the “equal treatment” of evolution and creation science in state classrooms, to be unconstitutional.
And in Gonzalez v. Douglas (D. Ariz. 2017), a federal District Court ruled that two Arizona curricular statutes banning ethnic studies courses were unconstitutional. The court found an Equal Protection violation in that there was evidence of racial animus in the creation of the statute, and it found Free Speech violations in that there was no legitimate pedagogical rationale behind the statute.
Underwood concludes that "courts generally defer to educational decision makers, while preferring
to expand, rather than contract, the body of knowledge presented
within schools." This makes both proposed bills look vulnerable to a First Amendment challenge.
The Timing Problem, And The Discussion We Need To Have
Remember #GamerGate? It seems a century ago. Ken White wrote a very good piece on the subject, with much wider applicability. Particularly, his point about timing resonates:
If, immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown, I started a vigorous campaign calling on society to protect convenience-store clerks from assault, people would reasonably suspect that I had a political agenda related to the shooting, not a sincere concern for the welfare of convenience store clerks.
The ACSS open letter mainly talks in generalities: the importance of "exposure to different cultures, groups, and viewpoints while in a school setting", or concerns that "secondary interpretations of history from different perspectives" will suddenly be eliminated. What's missing from all of this is an explanation of the Critical Race Theory animating much of 1619, and some of the more disturbing aspects of CRT pedagogy in the news. It is as if the Council is not particularly interested in answering any of the real objections parents might have about why public schools would want to use such divisive, biased, and politically charged materials.
The First Amendment case against HB1218 and HB1231 would seem fairly clear, but it gets murkier once you start to look more closely at CRT. John McWhorter in 2015 wrote a fine piece about the religious nature of CRT, loaded as it is with unfalsifiable first principles, carrying "clergy, creed, and also even a conception of Original Sin". But unlike Christianity, CRT offers neither grace nor atonement. Instead, "Ritual 'acknowledgment' of White Privilege is, ultimately, for white people to feel less guilty." The point is to think the right things and say the right words — in other words, indoctrination. As Epperson v. Arkansas ironically makes clear, religious instruction in the public schools is a no-no.
But even if the courts ruled against both bills, we cannot escape the cynical, malign intent of CRT and its progeny, antiracism. Dogmatic and intolerant, the stories of Maoist struggle sessions in even elementary schools make for disturbing reading. Even if you legitimately wanted to end racism — yes, it still exists — antiracist instruction will have the opposite effect. Bullying of this sort has no place in the schools, least of all by those charged with teaching.