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  • COVID-19 Updates: CDC Recommends Pfizer Booster Shots for People Over 65, at High Risk
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Joe Raedle / Getty Images More than 4.7 million people globally have died from COVID-19.More than half of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated.COVID-19 booster shots may roll out later this month for some people in the United States. Update on COVID-19 numbers Globally, there have been more than 230.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 4.7 million associated deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.The United States has reported more than 42.7 million confirmed cases and more than 685,000 associated deaths. Currently, more than 212.8 million people in the United States have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with more than 182.9 million people fully vaccinated. Healthline updates this page on weekdays. For up-to-date information about the virus, go here. 9/24/21 2:42 p.m. PDT — CDC director recommends booster shot for younger, at-risk workers Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for younger, at-risk workers, in an unusual break with the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel. “Today, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, MPH, endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation for a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in certain populations and also recommended a booster dose for those in high risk occupational and institutional settings,” the CDC said in a statement. The ACIP had recommended the booster only for Americans 65 and older and for those over 50 with underlying medical conditions — and voted against giving doses to younger at-risk workers, reported STAT News. However, Walensky said that the CDC can best serve U.S. public health needs by also providing booster doses for “[t]he elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19.” Pandemic might be over in a year, says Moderna CEO Moderna’s CEO, Stéphane Bancel, told Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung that the COVID-19 pandemic might be over in a year due to increased vaccine supplies, reported Reuters. “If you look at the industry-wide expansion of production capacities over the past six months, enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated. Boosters should also be possible to the extent required,” he told the newspaper in an interview, reported the news service. According to Reuters, he also said Moderna is currently testing “delta-optimized” variants in clinical trials that will form the basis for the booster vaccinations in 2022. “We are also trying out delta plus beta, the next mutation that scientists believe is likely,” he said, adding that COVID-19 vaccines could soon be available for infants. Nurse assaulted for giving COVID-19 vaccine On Monday, a man entered a Brunet Pharmacy in Sherbrooke, a city in southern Quebec, to accuse a nurse of vaccinating his wife without his permission, Sherbrooke Police spokesman Martin Carrier told CNN. “Right at the beginning, the suspect was very angry, very aggressive, he asked the nurse why she vaccinated his wife without approval, without his consent,” Carrier told CNN. “And he punched her right in the face multiple times so the nurse didn’t have the time to defend or explain herself … and she fell to the ground and the suspect left running out of the drugstore.” Because of this incident, the pharmacy is suspending vaccinations at that location, reported CNN. 9/23/21 1:36 p.m. PDT — FDA authorizes COVID-19 booster shots for people over 65 or at high risk The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the OK for some people to get COVID-19 booster shots. People who have had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least 6 months ago and who are over age 65 or at high risk of infection or severe disease can get another dose of the vaccine. The news comes days after a key FDA panel recommended that boosters be limited to older adults and those at high risk. Most vaccine effectiveness wanes over time, especially for older adults Protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines appears to wane over time, especially for people 65 and older, reported CNN. Ruth Link-Gelles, PhD, who helps lead the CDC’s Vaccine Effectiveness Team, reviewed studies looking at the overall effectiveness of vaccines in different groups between February and August to find similar patterns for Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines, which both use mRNA technology. “For individuals 65 plus, we saw significant declines in VE (vaccine effectiveness) against infection during Delta for the mRNA products,” Link-Gelles told a meeting of CDC vaccine advisers. “We also saw declines, particularly for Pfizer, for 65 up that we’re not seeing in younger populations. Finally, there’s evidence of waning VE against hospitalization in the Delta period,” she added. According to Link-Gelles’ presentation, the Moderna vaccine had higher effectiveness than Pfizer-BioNTech’s, however. Interestingly, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine effectiveness actually increased over time. This held even as the more infectious Delta variant began to spread widely in the United States. 9/22/21 2:20 p.m. PDT — Moderna vaccine still effective 5 months after being administered The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine appears to remain effective at providing protection against the coronavirus at least 5 months after it’s administered. A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine followed more than 30,000 people, half of which were given the Moderna vaccine and the other half a placebo. The vaccine provided 98.2 percent protection against severe disease and 93.2 percent protection against symptomatic infection. The vaccine also provided 63 percent protection against asymptomatic infection. U.S. to donate more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses The Biden administration announced that it will purchase and donate an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccines. In total, the United States has now pledged to donate more than 1 billion vaccine doses to developing countries, according to The Associated Press. The new doses will be purchased from Pfizer-BioNTech. For months, vaccines have been widely available in the United States, while other countries have barely begun to give out any COVID-19 shots, even to those at high risk. U.S. officials have been criticized by the World Health Organization and others for not donating more vaccines to developing countries. San Diego hospitals prepare for surge of flu and COVID-19 In California, San Diego County reported 365 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths Monday, as the region’s hospitals say they’re preparing for a “fifth surge,” reported NBC San Diego. Dr. Christopher Longhurst, chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego Health, told NBC that medical professionals were burnt out and relief was not on the way. “It is absolutely clear there will be a fifth surge — period,” Longhurst said. “So we are expecting a winter surge and unfortunately we talked about this last year about being concerned about a ‘twindemic’ of both flu and COVID.” Longhurst warned NBC that relaxed pandemic measures will bring resurgent COVID-19 and flu cases. “We did not see it last year because of the sense of masking that was in place, but we’re worried this year that we will see, with reduced public health measures, both COVID and flu making a resurgence at the same time,” he said. Deaths from COVID-19 rise in U.S. While U.S. COVID-19 cases are no longer surging, the daily average remains high at about 134,000. However, deaths are rising, according to data from The New York Times. Deaths are now averaging more than 2,000 a day. The last time the United States had such a high death rate was in February, before vaccinations were widely available. Due to the nature of COVID-19, deaths have traditionally lagged behind trends in overall COVID-19 cases. 9/21/21 2:33 p.m. PDT — Johnson & Johnson announces booster dose confers ‘strong and long-lasting’ protection Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announced data showing a two-dose version of its COVID-19 vaccine provides 94 percent protection against symptomatic infection. “Our large real-world evidence and Phase 3 studies confirm that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong and long-lasting protection against COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Additionally, our Phase 3 trial data further confirm protection against COVID-19-related death,” said Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen division, in a statement. “A single-shot COVID-19 vaccine that is easy to use, distribute and administer, and that provides strong and long-lasting protection is crucial to vaccinating the global population,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson, said in the statement. “At the same time, we now have generated evidence that a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly,” he said. According to Mammen, while J&J’s single-shot vaccine generates “strong immune responses and long-lasting immune memory,” when a booster shot is given, the strength of protection against COVID-19 is increased further. Nearly 26% of all COVID-19 cases nationwide in children COVID-19 cases have continued to increase “exponentially” among children across the United States, and now account for nearly 26 percent of all cases reported nationwide. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported 225,978 new cases among children over the past week, slightly fewer than the week before, when the AAP reported 243,373 new cases.   The weekly case number reported yesterday shows a roughly 215 percent increase in COVID-19 cases among children since the week of July 22 to 29, when the AAP counted 71,726 cases. COVID-19 is now most deadly pandemic in U.S. history More than 18 months since the novel coronavirus was detected in China, the COVID-19 pandemic is now the most deadly in U.S. history. The 1918 flu pandemic led to about 675,000 deaths, according to the CDC. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 677,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID-19. 9/20/21 3:11 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds safe and effective, study finds Today, drugmaker Pfizer announced positive results from the company’s phase 2 clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. “Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine. We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement. “Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. — underscoring the public health need for vaccination,” he said. According to Bourla, these trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old. “We plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency,” he said. According to Pfizer, the trial included 2,268 participants ages 5 to 11. Two 10-microgram vaccine doses were administered 21 days apart. This is a smaller dose than the 30-microgram doses used for children 12 and older. CA has lowest COVID-19 case rate in U.S. California, at one point the country’s COVID-19 epicenter, is now the U.S. state with the lowest positivity rate per 100,000 people, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. As of Saturday evening, 24.99 new confirmed cases were reported for every 100,000 people in California. The state reported a daily average of 8,172 new cases over the past 8 weeks and averaged 92 deaths due to COVID-19 complications per day during that time, according to the California Department of Health. As of Saturday, more than 77 percent of California’s population is vaccinated, according to the state’s health department, reported CNN. COVID-19 caused deaths to outpace births in Alabama According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, in 2020 there were roughly 7,000 more deaths than births in Alabama, with 10,605 more total deaths in 2020 than in 2019. The death rate in Alabama for 2020 was the highest ever recorded and surpassed the state’s birth rate, according to the state’s top doctor, who cited data going back to 1900, reported Business Insider. “This past year, for Alabama, the year 2020… we are going to have more deaths in the state of Alabama than we have ever had in the history of the state of Alabama, by a lot,” Alabama Health Director Scott Harris told AL.com. “We’re going to have around six or seven thousand more people who died in our state this past year than any year we have ever had, going back to the year 1900. That’s how far I’ve asked our staff to go back,” he continued. 9/17/21 3:00 p.m. PDT — Key FDA panel votes to recommend COVID-19 booster shots for people over 65 Today, a key panel of both government and outside health experts convened to debate whether there’s enough evidence to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to a wide swath of people. The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee met for a lengthy meeting. The committee looked at evidence from Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Israel to see whether booster shots were safe and effective. The committee unanimously voted to recommend booster shots for people over age 65 and those who are immunocompromised. The committee voted against recommending booster shot for the general population. The Biden administration had touted that booster shots would be available to people in the United States starting Sept. 20, pending authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But health experts, including those from the FDA, expressed skepticism that there was enough evidence to support giving a booster shot to people who were not at higher risk of severe disease. The FDA does not have to follow the panel’s recommendations, but it often does. By this weekend, COVID-19 will become the deadliest U.S. pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic will become the deadliest pandemic in U.S. history this month, surpassing the 1918 flu pandemic. More than 675,000 people died in the United States during the 1918 flu pandemic, according to the CDC. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 671,000 people have died in the United States. There were 3,415 deaths in the last 24 hours alone, according to The New York Times. Could ‘hybrid immunity’ offer better protection? While the FDA debates whether all people need a booster shot, experts told Yahoo! News that they’re learning more about “hybrid immunity.” Hybrid immunity is the “super” immune response someone gets after having COVID-19 and then getting vaccinated. “The best thing we can hope for is that three vaccine doses will emulate the super immune response, found among those previously infected with the virus,” Dr. Paul Goepfert, an infectious disease physician and director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic, told Yahoo! News. “This [type of immunity] will protect against variants in the future,” he added. A June review published in Science found that people with hybrid immunity experience up to a 100-fold increase in antibody response than what they built up after having COVID-19. Another (not yet peer-reviewed) study from August found that people who had an infection and then were vaccinated were protected against Delta, the most infectious coronavirus variant, and Beta, the most lethal. 9/16/21 3:28 p.m. PDT — Health departments plan for potential booster rollout Local health departments across the United States are moving ahead with plans for a COVID-19 vaccine booster rollout starting next week, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to authorize boosters for most people. Last month, President Biden announced plans for COVID-19 booster doses to be offered starting the week of Sept. 20, subject to sign-off from the FDA and CDC. However, health departments planning on administering boosters can’t wait for these details to be finalized, according to CNN. “We don’t want to be unprepared,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday. She also confirmed that local health departments are planning now to be ready after the FDA reviews Pfizer’s data, especially as health departments are currently “really overwhelmed” responding to surges of COVID-19 cases, working to get unvaccinated people inoculated, and preparing for flu season. Moderna study supports booster shots Drugmaker Moderna has released data suggesting that while its COVID-19 vaccine is effective in preventing serious health issues or death from coronavirus “variants of concern,” vaccine effectiveness does decrease over time. “It is promising to see clinical and real-world evidence adding to the growing body of data on the effectiveness of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a statement. According to Bancel, the increased risk of breakthrough infections in study participants vaccinated last year compared with participants more recently “illustrates the impact of waning immunity” and supports the need for a booster shot to maintain high levels of protection. “We hope these findings are helpful as health authorities and regulators continue to assess strategies for ending this pandemic,” he continued. 9/15/21 3:38 p.m. PDT — Alaska’s largest hospital begins rationing care due to COVID-19 ABC News reported that Alaska’s largest hospital is beginning to ration healthcare, as the facility is overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 patients. “While we are doing our utmost, we are no longer able to provide the standard of care to each and every patient who needs our help,” Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, chief of staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, wrote in an op-ed published by Anchorage Daily News. According to Walkinshaw, the acuity and number of COVID-19 patients now exceeds hospital resources and ability to staff beds with professionals like nurses and respiratory therapists. “We have been forced within our hospital to implement crisis standards of care,” she wrote. Grim milestone: 1 in 500 Americans have died of COVID-19 The United States has reached a new milestone in the pandemic: 1 in 500 Americans have died from COVID-19. As of Sept. 14, 663,913 people in the United States died of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Census Bureau lists the U.S. population was 331.4 million as of April 2020. Health experts have hailed vaccinations as the best protection against COVID-19, noting that most people hospitalized with and killed by COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The CDC recommends everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear masks indoors in areas with substantial or high community COVID-19 transmission. Side effects from COVID-19 booster will be similar to 2nd shot Officials from Pfizer and BioNTech said people could expect to have some mild side effects after getting a COVID-19 booster, similar to the side effects people experienced after their second dose. The data comes from a new study that was submitted to the FDA as Pfizer and BioNTech ask for authorization to give vaccine booster shots to people over age 16. In the study that involved 300 people, about 63 percent reported feeling fatigue, around 48 percent reported having a headache, and 39 percent had muscle pain. Most of the reactions to the vaccine booster were mild or moderate, according to CNBC. 9/14/21 3:49 p.m. PDT — U.K. to offer COVID-19 vaccine boosters for everyone over age 50 The United Kingdom will start giving COVID-19 booster shots to everyone over age 50, according to The Associated Press. The AP reported that a U.K. medical panel on vaccinations and immunizations advised that people over age 50 be allowed to get COVID-19 booster shots, as immunity may wane over the winter months. Healthcare workers and people who are immunocompromised will also be able to get COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Mu variant is the most resistant to antibodies from previous infection or vaccination, study finds A new but not yet peer-reviewed study has found that the Mu variant is the most resistant variant to antibodies from either previous infection or vaccination. “The Mu variant shows a pronounced resistance to antibodies elicited by natural SARS-CoV-2 infection and the BNT162b2 [Pfizer-BioNTech] mRNA vaccine,” the study authors wrote. “Since breakthrough infections are a major threat of newly emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, we strongly suggest to further characterize and monitor the Mu variant.” Newsweek recently reported that Mu is now present in all 50 U.S. states. However, according to the latest CDC data, the variant still represents only 0.1 percent of U.S. cases. Job postings requiring vaccination have increased As more people return to the workplace after months working remotely, vaccination status is becoming a condition of employment, according to CNBC. Job postings requiring vaccination have spiked since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to jobs site Indeed, showing increasing numbers of employers requiring candidates be vaccinated, reported CNBC. “A few weeks ago, job postings on Indeed requiring vaccination started to take off and have accelerated since,” AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, told CNBC. 9/13/21 3:00 p.m. PDT — 60% of workers support vaccine requirements, survey says According to USA Today, millions of workers face new federal vaccine rules in the wake of President Biden’s Sept. 9 order that employers of at least 100 people require staff to either be vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing. Most experts say that vaccine mandates are legal as long as employees can seek accommodations for legitimate medical or religious reasons, reported USA Today. A survey released by business management platform Qualtrics found that 60 percent of workers support vaccine requirements, although 23 percent said they’d consider quitting if their employer imposed such a rule.  “The president’s order means employers can stop discussing whether to impose a vaccination requirement, and begin the next important step of communicating with their employees about how they will act on it,” Sydney Heimbrock, Qualtrics’ chief industry adviser for government, said in a statement, according to USA Today. Mu variant affecting all 50 states The Mu variant of the coronavirus is confirmed to be in all 50 U.S. states after the mutation was detected in Nebraska, reported Newsweek. According to Outbreak.Info, as of Sept. 4, almost 6,000 Mu variant sequences have been detected worldwide. More than 2,400 of those sequences were discovered in the United States. However, Mu is still relatively rare in the United States, despite at least one case in every state and the District of Columbia. It’s not yet clear whether Mu is likely to have an impact similar to the highly infectious Delta variant, reported Newsweek. Experts say even with increasing cases of Mu, the Delta variant remains the most concerning. “In some countries, the proportion of cases with the Mu variant is increasing,” Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, WHO’s technical director for COVID-19, told Newsweek. “But in other countries, the proportion of Mu is decreasing. Where Delta is, Delta takes over really quickly.” “I think the Delta variant, for me, is the one that’s the most concerning, because of the increased transmissibility,” she added. Upstate NY hospital loses staff over vaccine mandate A hospital in upstate New York is “pausing” deliveries of babies because of maternity unit employee resignations over the state’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, health officials say, reported CNN. According to CNN, Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, about 60 miles northeast of Syracuse, will soon temporarily close its maternity ward. “We are unable to safely staff the service after September 24. The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital. It is my hope that the Department of Health will work with us in support of pausing the service rather than closing the maternity department,” Gerald Cayer, CEO of the Lewis County Health System, said at a news conference Sept. 10, reported CNN. Cayer confirmed there are 165 employees throughout the Lewis County Health System who haven’t received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine yet. He added that several other departments were at risk “based on the number of unvaccinated individuals in those departments.” 9/10/21 3:04 p.m. PDT — Pfizer to seek FDA authorization to give vaccine to kids over age 5 The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech will soon ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for authorization to give vaccines to children over the age of 5. The news came from a report in the German news outlet Der Spiegel. The New York Times reported that officials will be giving data from vaccine trials to the FDA in the coming weeks and ask that the emergency use authorization be expanded to allow children over age 5 to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for use in children 12 and over. No vaccine is available for children under 12 in the United States. Biden gives more details on plan to use vaccine requirements to battle pandemic According to President Biden’s Sept. 9 speech to the nation, getting every American vaccinated along with masking and expanded testing to identify infections are essential measures to win the “battle” against COVID-19. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said. “And it’s caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.” He also lambasted elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19. Biden said that instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, these officials are ordering mobile morgues for unvaccinated people who are dying from COVID-19 in their communities.    Biden confirmed that almost 75 percent of those eligible have received at least one shot. But he emphasized that the number of people who are still unvaccinated is significant.  “That’s nearly 80 million Americans not vaccinated,” he said. “The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals, are overrunning the emergency rooms and intensive care units.” Biden gave more details in his plan: An emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test at least once a week.Extending the vaccination requirements that the administration previously issued in the healthcare field. Requiring all executive branch federal employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated. Texas sees most deaths since start of pandemic In states across the South and Midwest, hospitals are once again overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated — with Texas reporting the highest number of deaths since the pandemic began, reported WABC News. According to WABC, Christina Martinez was in a coma for 6 weeks with COVID-19. She has a message to share about why she finally got vaccinated: “People don’t like to be told what to do but it is for your own safety,” she told WABC. However, there’s mounting resistance to Biden’s recently announced pandemic measures. Some Republican governors are threatening to sue the Biden administration over the new mandates, reported WABC. But the outlet pointed out that experts say the president appears to have solid legal standing under the executive orders and emergency rules. 9/9/21 3:16 p.m. PDT — Biden plan to require many employees to be vaccinated or tested On Thursday, Sep. 9, President Biden announced new steps in his administration’s COVID-19 response. It will involve more vaccination requirements. Biden’s plan will require companies with 100 employees to require their employees to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Biden also announced other steps including increased access to rapid tests, requiring employers to provide paid time off for vaccinations, and requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated. Biden had strong words for people who were still unvaccinated and pushed people to get vaccinated if they’re eligible. “We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin,” he said. “And your refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing.” Risk of severe breakthrough infection higher for older adults and those with underlying conditions For people who are fully vaccinated, the risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is much lower than the risk for unvaccinated people, reported CNN. As of August 30, the CDC has received reports of only 12,908 severe COVID-19 breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people that resulted in hospitalization or death. That’s a miniscule fraction of the over 173 million people who have been fully vaccinated. It represents a less than 1 in 13,000 chance of experiencing a severe breakthrough case, reported CNN. But in those rare cases when the fully vaccinated develop COVID-19, CDC data suggest that older adults and people with multiple underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk of severe illness. United Airlines announces unvaccinated employees face unpaid leave, termination United Airlines says that over half its employees who were unvaccinated last month have received their shots since the airline announced COVID-19 vaccination would be required, reported the Chicago Sun Times. However, United Airlines has announced on Sep. 8 that most employees who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 after October 2 will face either termination or unpaid leave, reported the Independent. According to CNBC, United said if an employee’s request for a religious exemption is denied, they must be vaccinated within 5 weeks of the denial notice and get the first shot by September 27 or face termination. Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, and airport customer service agents who interact with customers and are granted those exemptions can return to work “once the pandemic meaningfully recedes,” United said, without specifying the timeframe, reported CNBC. Moderna says they’re working on joint flu and COVID-19 vaccine The pharmaceutical company Moderna said in a presentation today that they’re working on a joint COVID-19 booster and flu shot, according to NBC News. At this point, the joint vaccine is still in the experimental stage and it’s unclear if it will be effective at preventing disease. The flu season is expected to start in the United States this fall. 9/8/21 2:16 p.m. PDT — More than one-quarter of new COVID-19 cases are in children COVID-19 cases are surging, with an increasing proportion of them reported in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). More than 250,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in just 1 week. Children now make up more than 26 percent of new COVID-19 cases, reported the AAP. But there shouldn’t be a big increase in cases related to school reopenings “if we do it right,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We’ve gotta get the school system masked in addition to surrounding the children with vaccinated people,” Fauci told CNN . “That’s the solution.” He also stressed vaccination for those eligible is crucial. However, schools, especially in the South, started the new semester in August. Many districts, particularly those without mask mandates, are seeing a big jump in cases, reported CNN. According to the network, doctors and experts warn it could happen again when students in much of the rest of the country return to school after Labor Day weekend, unless there’s strong action to keep the coronavirus in check. Biden to deliver major speech on next phase of COVID-19 response President Joe Biden is prepared to give a major address on the next phase of his pandemic response this week, according to a report from CNN. The speech is expected to cover issues related to COVID-19 and schools, private companies, and requirements for federal employees. The speech was initially slated for today, but a White House official told CNN yesterday morning that the timing is still fluid, and it would instead be presented Thursday, Sept. 9. “On Thursday, the President will speak to the American people about his robust plan to stop the spread of the Delta variant and boost vaccinations. “As the President has said since Day 1, his administration will pull every lever to get the pandemic under control. On Thursday, the President will lay out a six-pronged strategy that will help us do just that, working across the public and private sectors,” the official said, reported CNN. Doctors confirm Mu variant found in at least 50 Houston patients Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital have discovered cases of the Mu variant among patients being treated for COVID-19, the hospital confirmed Monday, reported Click2Houston.com. Doctors confirmed cases of the Mu variant in roughly 50 patients. “We had our first case of Mu back in May,” Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist and a clinical pathologist, told Click2Houston. Long pointed out they didn’t refer to those cases as from the Mu variant until the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the variant as such last week. “Once the WHO declared that this would be the Mu variant, we went and looked and saw that we had had a few cases here and there dating back all the way till May,” Long told Click2Houston. 9/7/21 2:30 p.m. PDT — U.S. tops 40 million COVID-19 cases In less than 2 years since COVID-19 was first detected, the United States has now topped 40 million cases of the disease. Despite widespread access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, only about 62 people of people over age 12 have been fully vaccinated. Additionally, the rise of the more infectious Delta variant has led to a significant rise in COVID-19 cases. Florida sees deadliest COVID-19 surge of the pandemic The Associated Press (AP) reported that while Florida’s vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, COVID-19-related death is still on the rise. This may be due in part to the state’s larger elderly population and a state government that’s fighting mask mandates. According to the AP, hospitals have had to rent refrigerated trucks to store more bodies, and funeral homes have been overwhelmed. However, one positive sign is that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida has dropped over the past 2 weeks from more than 17,000 to 14,200 on Sept. 3, indicating the surge is easing, reported the AP. New U.S. infections up by over 300% since last Labor Day Daily coronavirus infections are more than four times what the United States saw on Labor Day last year, with daily deaths almost twice as high, reported USA Today. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, this is a 316 percent increase over last year’s figures. We can blame this rise on the highly infectious Delta variant and a significant number of people in the United States refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, reported USA Today. The newspaper emphasized that some U.S. hospitals have become so crowded with COVID-19 patients that physicians may be compelled to make life-or-death decisions on who gets an ICU bed. 9/3/21 1:28 p.m. PDT — Officials may need more time before widely recommending booster shots According to a new report, federal officials have told the Biden administration they may need more time to review data before recommending COVID-19 booster shots to most of the U.S. public. The New York Times reported today that Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Biden administration that they may only be able to recommend boosters for a subset of the U.S. population. Reportedly, they may only have information for people who already received the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The Biden administration had announced plans for a major push of COVID-19 booster shots pending FDA approval. Pediatric COVID-19 cases on the rise According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), child COVID-19 cases are on the rise, with roughly 204,000 cases added last week. For the week ending Aug. 26, children were 22.4 percent of reported weekly COVID-19 cases. The AAP gathered COVID-19 data from 49 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam to find the rate of child COVID-19 cases was 6,374 cases per 100,000 children as of Aug. 26. The AAP emphasized that while children are contracting infections, they’re not experiencing severe disease. “At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” AAP said in a statement. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.” Mu variant not an ‘immediate threat,’ says Fauci The coronavirus variant Mu, designated a “variant of interest” earlier this week by the World Health Organization (WHO), is not an “immediate threat” to the United States, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reported The Washington Post. Fauci said at a Sept. 2 news briefing that the Mu variant is “not at all even close to being dominant,” and that the Delta variant remained the cause of almost 100 percent of U.S. cases. However, he confirmed that “we’re keeping a very close eye on it.” According to the Post, the WHO says the Mu variant has “a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape.” But the organization emphasized further study is needed to find out whether the Mu variant will be resistant to currently available vaccines. 9/2/21 2:06 p.m. PDT — 1 in 7 children with COVID-19 develop long-haul symptoms A new study out of the United Kingdom has found that about 1 in 7 children who develop COVID-19 end up having long-term symptoms, reported Reuters. The study looked at children between the ages of 11 and 17. While children in the study rarely had severe initial symptoms, they were at increased risk of having lingering symptoms weeks or even months later. About 14 percent of children with COVID-19 reported symptoms including fatigue and headaches 15 weeks after developing the disease. The study is a preprint and has not yet been peer reviewed. COVID-19 cases milder in vaccinated people, study confirms A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom offers large-scale, real-world data on how well vaccination protects us against “breakthrough” coronavirus infections, and how well it protects against severe illness. Researchers found that people who contracted the coronavirus after being fully vaccinated were nearly twice as likely to feel no symptoms when compared with the wider population. According to CBS News, the results are encouraging, and this study could help policymakers and epidemiologists fill a significant gap in understanding the true effectiveness of three of the major vaccines being used worldwide. Survey says most U.S. companies could mandate COVID-19 vaccination in coming months Over half of U.S. companies have planned to mandate COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace by the end of the year, with nearly 25 percent considering vaccination as a condition for employment, according to a national survey of nearly 1,000 employers, reported Reuters. Google, Walmart, McDonald’s, and United Airlines are among a growing list of companies requiring some or all staff to be vaccinated, reported Fortune. According to Reuters, the survey polled 961 U.S. companies that together employ nearly 10 million people. The survey found that over half of employers could have one or more vaccine mandate requirements by the end of 2021, more than doubling the current number of employers requiring proof of vaccination. 9/1/12 2:08 p.m. PDT — Mu is the newest variant of interest The World Health Organization (WHO) has added another variant of COVID-19 to its list of ‘variants of interest.’ According to The Guardian, the Mu variant (B.1.621) was added to the WHO’s watch list on August 30 after being detected in 39 countries and found to have mutations that could make it less susceptible to the immune protection many have acquired. Data from the U.K. government shows there have already been 48 confirmed or probable cases in that country, while the Mu variant has been responsible for 852 cases in Colombia, according to information from the GISAID COVID tracking initiative. The Mu variant has also been identified in Florida, reported WFLA News, with the new variant spreading quickly in the Jacksonville area. Although the Mu variant makes up less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19 cases globally, it may be gaining ground in Colombia and Ecuador where it’s 39 and 13 percent of COVID-19 cases respectively. COVID-19 will accelerate dementia pandemic, experts say Scientists and psychiatrists warn that COVID-19’s degenerative effect on the brain will accelerate a dementia pandemic that could affect an estimated 80 million people by the end of the decade, reported the Financial Times. On Wednesday, Sep. 1, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), the global federation of dementia associations, unveiled a specialist working group to better understand the problem’s scale and recommend ways to fight it. “We don’t want to scare people unnecessarily,” Paola Barbarino, ADI chief executive, told the Financial Times. “But many dementia experts around the globe are seriously concerned by the link between dementia and the neurological symptoms of COVID-19.” Recent research finds that COVID-19 damages the brain in several ways. It might attack brain cells directly, reduce blood flow to brain tissue, or trigger production of immune molecules harmful to brain cells. “Infection with the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, can cause memory loss, strokes, and other effects on the brain,” the study authors wrote. Woman charged for using fake COVID-19 vaccine card in Hawaii KITV Island News reported that a 24-year-old Illinois woman is behind bars on Oahu, charged with using a fake vaccination card to bypass mandatory quarantine. According to KITV, the woman, identified as Chloe Mrozak, presented a vaccination card showing she’d been immunized with the ‘Maderna’ vaccine — a misspelling considered a clear sign that her document was fraudulent. KITV reported that she’ll return to court on Wednesday, with the Illinois resident facing up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, if convicted. Two FDA officials leave as agency debates COVID-19 vaccines for children The New York Times reports that two vaccine regulators are leaving the Food and Drug Administration. The resignations come as the FDA is reviewing data on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 12. Dr. Marion Gruber, the director of the FDA’s vaccines office and her deputy, Dr. Philip Krause, will both leave by November. The officials are leaving in part due to concerns that COVID-19 booster shots are being recommended without enough evidence they’re effective, according to the New York Times report. 8/31/21 1:46 p.m. PDT — Moderna vaccine stimulates double the antibodies than Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, study finds Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was able to generate more than double the antibodies of another mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech in new research directly comparing immune responses to the inoculations, reported Bloomberg. The study involved nearly 2,500 workers at a major Belgium hospital system. Researchers found that antibody levels among people who hadn’t contracted a coronavirus infection before receiving two doses of the Moderna vaccine averaged antibody levels of 2,881 units per milliliter, compared with only 1,108 units per milliliter in a similar group who were given two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. According to Bloomberg, the results, published in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest a reason for the difference could be due to Moderna’s vaccine having almost three times more active ingredient than the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, and the longer interval between shots. Florida reports more COVID-19 deaths now than all of 2020 More deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Florida this year than in 2020. The disease is now the third leading cause of death in the state, according to a Florida Department of Health report released Aug. 27, reported USA Today. According to USA Today, the report said cumulative COVID-19 deaths have reached 43,979 in Florida as of Aug. 26, with last year’s COVID-19 deaths recorded at only 21,673. The latest data shows less than 9 months into 2021, 22,306 people died from the coronavirus or COVID-19-related complications, outpacing the number of dead in the last year, reported USA Today. The first deaths from the pandemic in Florida were recorded in the first week of March 2020 and totaled 21,673 by Dec. 31, 2020. Many other states have been reporting more COVID-19 deaths in 2021 than in 2020, even though a third of the year remains, reported USA Today. 8/30/21 2:27 p.m. PDT — 100,000 more people may die in U.S. from COVID-19 before pandemic is over With almost 100,000 U.S. adults hospitalized due to COVID-19 and infections surging among the unvaccinated, possibly another 100,000 people could die from the disease by December, according to a recent University of Washington model. “What is going on now is both entirely predictable, but entirely preventable,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN‘s Jake Tapper on Sunday, reported the network. Fauci said while the outcome of this model is possible, “We know we have the wherewithal with vaccines to turn this around.” “We could do it efficiently and quickly if we just get those people vaccinated,” he continued. “That’s why it’s so important now, in this crisis that we’re in that people put aside any ideologic, political, or other differences, and just get vaccinated.” U.S. sticks with 8-month timeline on booster shots The United States is sticking with its 8-month timeline for COVID-19 booster shots, at least for now, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday, reported USA Today. According to USA Today, on Friday, President Joe Biden had suggested the administration was considering whether booster shots should be given as soon as 5 months after vaccination in response to the Delta variant that’s driving up COVID-19 rates across the country.  However, on Sunday, Fauci said health officials are open to shifting the recommendation based on evolving information, but the 8 months timeline will remain — for now. “We’re not changing it, but we are very open to new data as it comes in. We’re going to be very flexible about it,” Fauci said, reported USA Today. Unvaccinated, maskless teacher transmits virus to students in California An unvaccinated California teacher transmitted the Delta variant to a group of elementary school students and others, according to a report from the CDC. The CDC reported that the teacher from Marin County became symptomatic on May 19, and experienced symptoms such as cough, fever, and headache. Initially attributing the symptoms to allergies, the teacher continued working — reading aloud to students without a mask or face covering, despite requirements from the school to do so when indoors, the CDC said. The teacher tested positive for COVID-19 2 days later. 8/27/21 2:00 p.m. PDT — Florida sees largest single-day increase in deaths since pandemic began According to the Miami Herald, on Aug. 26, Florida reported 21,765 more COVID-19 cases and 901 deaths to the CDC, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data. All but two of the newly reported deaths occurred after July 25, with roughly 78 percent of those people dying in the past 2 weeks. The majority of deaths happened during Florida’s latest surge in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the Delta variant. The Herald reported that this is the largest single-day increase to the death total in the state’s COVID-19 pandemic history. ‘We’ve lost hundreds of children,’ surgeon general says According to CNN, returning to in-person learning has resulted in thousands of students across the United States being quarantined, as COVID-19 among children surges to levels not seen since winter. With the increased threat, the U.S. surgeon general urges parents and officials to take measures that reduce children’s infection risk. “If they are around people who are vaccinated, everyone in the household gets vaccinated, that significantly reduces the risk to our children,” Dr. Vivek Murthy said in a conversation hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, reported CNN. In classrooms, Murthy continued, there are layers of protection that the CDC has laid out to keep children safe, including mask use, properly ventilating buildings, and regular COVID-19 testing. “Even though our kids do better, that doesn’t mean that COVID is benign, it doesn’t mean that it’s harmless in our children,” Murthy said. “In fact, we’ve lost hundreds of children to COVID-19.” Child dies of COVID-19 in Virginia Yesterday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced the death of a child in the Northern Region who had COVID-19. According to the VDH, the child was between 0 and 9 years old. The department will not disclose more information to protect privacy and out of respect for the child’s family. VDH confirmed that this is the first reported COVID-19 death of a child in the Northern Region in Virginia. “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of this child for their tragic loss,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said in a statement. “Across the country, COVID-19 continues to cause illness and death. The delta variant is now the most predominant strain across the country, and it spreads more easily from one person to another,” he continued. “We urge everyone to take precautions to protect themselves and those around them. Everyone aged 12 and older who is eligible to get vaccinated is encouraged to do so as soon as possible.” Evictions can resume, Supreme Court decides The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is allowing evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the pandemic, reported The Associated Press (AP). According to the AP, the court’s decision ends protections for about 3.5 million people in the United States who reported facing eviction in the next 2 months, according to Census Bureau data from early August. Conservative justices ruled that the CDC lacked the authority to do so under federal law without explicit congressional authorization, reported the AP. Three liberal justices dissented. “If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the court wrote, reported the AP. 8/26/21 2:30 p.m. PDT — White House accelerates rollout of Regeneron’s COVID-19 treatment According to Yahoo! News, health officials agree that if you are newly diagnosed with COVID-19 and have an above-average risk of getting seriously ill, you should quickly seek treatment with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ monoclonal antibody therapy. “Importantly, since July 1st, we have shipped over half a million lifesaving therapeutics to treat COVID patients — half a million therapeutics that are preventing hospitalizations and saving lives,” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a recent press briefing. He added that the administration continues to accelerate the use of these treatments. “In fact, in just the first two weeks of August, we shipped more than 10 times the amount of treatments we shipped to states in the entire month of June,” Zients said. Yahoo reported that the federal government is covering the costs, with some states setting up free infusion centers for the antibody cocktail that’s been shown to reduce hospitalization rates by 70 percent for people at high risk of severe COVID-19 when they’re treated within 10 days. Firing medical workers who refuse vaccine OK, proposed NY rule says Medical workers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 could be fired under an emergency edict expected to win New York State Health Department approval today, reported the New York Post. “Covered entities may terminate personnel who are not fully vaccinated and do not have a valid medical exemption and are unable to otherwise ensure individuals are not engaged in patient/resident care or expose other covered personnel,” the proposed rule states, according to the Post. This policy was first announced by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s health department last week. Healthcare workers will have until Sept. 27 to receive their first vaccine dose. “This mandate will both help close the vaccination gap and reduce the spread of the Delta variant,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement. “I want to thank all New York State’s healthcare workers for stepping up once again and showing our state that getting vaccinated is safe, easy, and most importantly, effective.” Demand for monoclonal antibody treatment ‘skyrocketing’ For most of this year, reported USA Today, the drugs former President Donald Trump credited for his quick recovery from COVID-19 have sat unused on government shelves, but now demand is skyrocketing. According to USA Today, this week about 1,200 Houston-area patients will receive REGN-COV, a monoclonal antibody made by drugmaker Regeneron. “We’ve seen an exponential rise in demand,” Dr. Howard Huang, who has led Houston Methodist Hospital’s monoclonal antibody effort, told USA Today. He added that demand for sotrovimab, another monoclonal antibody used under emergency use authorization for COVID-19 treatment, has spiked nearly 300 percent over the past month. New plan: COVID-19 booster shots starting at 6 months According to The Wall Street Journal, federal regulators will likely approve a third COVID-19 shot for fully vaccinated adults starting at least 6 months after the second dose — rather than the 8-month gap announced previously — a person familiar with the plans told the Journal. Data from vaccine manufacturers and other countries under review by the Food and Drug Administration is based on boosters being given at 6 months, the person added. The unnamed source also told the Journal that approval for boosters for all three COVID-19 shots being administered in the United States — those manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — is expected in mid-September. Hospitalizations soar amid Delta surge More than 100,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States, reported The Washington Post — a level not seen since Jan. 30 when COVID-19 vaccines weren’t widely available — as the country struggles to contain a surge of the highly infectious Delta variant. Hospitalizations are highest across the South, where every state in the region has a higher portion of its population currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than the national level, according to a Washington Post database. However, according to the Post, although many hospitals are under strain and report shortages of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, overall deaths are far lower. The daily average of deaths by end of January was 3,100 and only about 1,100 as of Aug. 25. Unvaccinated people have 29 times higher risk of hospitalization, CDC study finds According to an Aug. 24 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on data out of Los Angeles County, unvaccinated people are nearly five times more likely to contract a coronavirus infection and over 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. “This means that vaccinated persons are much less likely to have severe illness and may only have mild symptoms,” Dr. Sharon Balter, one of the study’s authors and an infectious disease director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told NBC News. “This is a great reason to get vaccinated.” Even as the highly infectious Delta variant increased from 8 percent of positive cases analyzed by the department to roughly 90 percent by the end of July, researchers found that COVID-19 vaccines were still offering effective protection against severe symptoms, reported NBC News. “These infection and hospitalization rate data indicate that authorized vaccines were protective against SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe COVID-19 during a period when transmission of the delta variant was increasing,” said the report. 8/25/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Studies find vaccine effectiveness declined sharply amid Delta spread, unvaccinated much more likely to be hospitalized An updated report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that while the now FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines were roughly 90 percent effective in preventing infection with the pandemic virus, SARS-CoV-2, from December to April 2021 — before the delta variant had spread throughout the U.S. Their effectiveness has now dropped to only 66 percent. According to STAT News, experts say there are several factors that could be influencing the observed decline in effectiveness: Delta is more capable of causing breakthrough infections than other forms of the virus, and study authors note some waning in the immune system’s ability to block infections could be occurring as well.As mitigation efforts have eased, increasing social contact among individuals has caused transmission to pick up.People are simply more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 than they were during the early days of vaccine rollout. STAT News also reported that findings of another study published Tuesday show that in Los Angeles County, from May through July 2021, unvaccinated people had five times the rate of COVID-19 infections as those vaccinated, and were 29 times more likely to be hospitalized.  Johnson & Johnson booster shot generated big immune response, reported drugmaker According to CNN, a second, booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s single dose COVID-19 vaccine generated a “big spike” in antibodies against the pandemic virus, the company reported Wednesday. The drugmaker announced that people who received a second shot, 6 to 8 months after their initial dose, experienced a nine-fold increase in antibodies 28 days after the latter, CNN reported. “New interim data from these studies demonstrate that a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine generated a rapid and robust increase in spike-binding antibodies, nine-fold higher than 28 days after the primary single-dose vaccination,” the company said in its statement. COVID-19 vaccines effective at preventing severe COVID-19, study finds New research by scientists at Erasmus Medical Center and Radboud University in the Netherlands, examined vaccine “breakthrough infections” in a large group of vaccinated healthcare workers (HCWs). Researchers used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of a breakthrough infection: the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA or antigen in a respiratory specimen collected from a person 14 or more days after completing all recommended doses of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized COVID-19 vaccine. The findings, not yet peer-reviewed, show that HCWs who received either an mRNA vaccine or viral vector vaccine between January and May 2021 experienced no serious infections, and none of the infected HCWs were hospitalized. “Phase IV studies have confirmed that vaccination is highly effective at preventing COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality,” the study authors wrote. “Although vaccine effectiveness will never reach 100%. Our study supports the excellent effectiveness of vaccination in preventing severe SARS CoV-2 related disease.” 8/24/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — 1 in 5 COVID-19 cases are in children A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that 1 in 5 new COVID-19 cases are in children. At least 180,175 children tested positive for the coronavirus this past week, making up more than 22 percent of COVID-19 cases. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 4.5 million U.S. children have tested positive for the disease. More employers expected to require employees to get COVID-19 vaccine On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years and older. Experts have said full approval may pave the way for employers to require workers to get vaccinated. President Joe Biden said as much in remarks he made after the FDA announcement. “If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local leader who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that — require it. Do what I did last month and require your employees to get vaccinated or face strict requirements,” he said. Chevron reportedly enacted a policy requiring some employees to get vaccinated. Additionally, the New York City school system said that all staff will need to be vaccinated. According to the most recent data from the CDC, only 51.6 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated so far. It’s unclear whether the FDA approval and employer requirements will drastically increase the vaccination rate. However, Dr. Peter Hotez, vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, is skeptical that the FDA’s decision will have the desired effect on vaccination holdouts, but that the employer mandate could be key. “I do think there will be a modest increase, but, look, we have a long way to go to fill this gap,” Hotez told CNN. “I think having the full approval will certainly convince some, but it’s just one of a dozen fake talking points put out there by the disinformation campaign. And, I think a number of people are just going to revert to one of the other ones.” “The thing that may really motivate people to get those lifesaving vaccines is if the authorization paves the way for employers, businesses, and schools to mandate vaccinations,” he said. Approval for children ages 12 and up could be coming soon While the FDA has only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for ages 16 and up, CNN reported that full approval for children 12 and older is likely coming soon. “I don’t think it’ll be long before they extend it to 12 to 15,” Dr. Bob Frenck, director of the Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told CNN. “Maybe within a few weeks to a month or so.” According to Frenck, it appears kids can get a much smaller dose of vaccine than adults and still get the same immune response — meaning vaccine supply can be stretched further. “We took a step back after we did the adolescents, and we looked at the dosing, because we thought that we may be able to use a lower dose and be able to get the same immune response,” Frenck told CNN. He explained that only one-third of the adult dose, just 10 micrograms, will stimulate a strong immune response in children as young as 5 years. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN he was confident the trials would show good efficacy among younger children. “I don’t think there’s going to be any question that this is going to be effective in the children at that younger age. I have no doubt about that,” Fauci told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. 8/23/21 4:17 p.m. PDT — FDA gives full approval to Pfizer vaccine The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today that Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine is now fully approved. According to the FDA, the vaccine previously known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine will now be marketed as Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. “The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” said acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, in a statement. “While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product.” Dr. Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in that same statement that the FDA evaluated scientific data and information included in “hundreds of thousands of pages,” conducted their own analyses of Comirnaty’s safety and effectiveness, and “performed a detailed assessment of the manufacturing processes, including inspections of the manufacturing facilities.” “The FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine marks a pivotal milestone in the nation’s quest to control the effects of this pandemic,” said Dr. Barbara D. Alexander, president of Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), in an emailed statement. She emphasized that FDA approval is “the culmination of intense, collaborative scientific research.” Parents catching COVID from their school-age children As children go back to school, they are increasingly developing COVID-19 and passing it on to their parents, according to NPR. NPR reported that in the 2 weeks leading up to classes, 3,255 students tested positive for the coronavirus in the Los Angeles Unified school district. In Florida’s Brevard Public Schools, more than 3,000 students and staff had to go into quarantine. In Hawaii, some schools are canceling in-class learning completely in a return to remote instruction. “Time and time again we’re seeing kids return to school and then come home — either after an exposure or sick themselves,” Dr. Nicole Braxley, an emergency medicine physician at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento, told NPR. “The virus sheds for a couple of days before the patient has symptoms. Entire families are suddenly exposed.” 8/20/21 12 p.m. PDT — Texas schools allowed to enforce mask requirements The Texas Education Agency says it will temporarily not enforce a ban on mask mandates in the state. Gov. Greg Abbott has faced criticism and legal challenges for banning schools from enforcing mask-wearing. The decision comes after the state Supreme Court voted that schools could temporarily enforce mask requirements.  U.S. travel restrictions to Canada and Mexico to continue through Sept. 21 The Department of Homeland Security announced that nonessential travel will continue to be restricted for people using land or ferry crossings from Canada or Mexico. The restrictions will be in place through at least Sept. 21. The agency said the restrictions are to help combat the rise of COVID-19 amid the surge in Delta variant cases. Increasing COVID hospitalizations creating new demand for vaccine The alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is convincing more Americans to get vaccinated now than in the past 6 weeks, reported CNN. Over 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered Thursday, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. The average pace of those seeking vaccination is over 70 percent higher than 1 month ago. The increase in vaccinations is occurring as hospitals and other healthcare systems report dire situations with patients flooding waiting rooms largely due to the highly infectious Delta variant. This week, Alabama officially ran out of ICU beds. Lauren Meyers, director of the University of Texas Covid-19 Modeling Consortium, told CNN that area hospitals are at a “breaking point.” “We are sort of in a very dire situation in Austin,” Meyers told CNN. 8/19/21 2:28 p.m. PDT — Vaccine protection remains strong, except for nursing home residents, CDC reports According to a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the CDC, mRNA vaccine protection against the most severe effects of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death, remains strong. Research published by the CDC as three articles finds that in New York, a total of 1,271 new COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred among fully vaccinated adults, compared with 7,308 among unvaccinated adults. Another study evaluated 21 hospitals in 18 states to find the duration of mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) effectiveness against COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in adults ages 18 or older. It showed sustained effectiveness over a 24-week period, including among groups at higher risk of severe disease. The third study found while two doses of mRNA vaccines were 74.7 percent effective against SARS-CoV-2 infection among nursing home residents from March to May 2021, from June to July 2021, when the Delta variant predominated, effectiveness declined significantly to 53.1 percent. Alabama has run out of ICU beds The state of Alabama has officially run out of ICU beds, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.  Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told WSFA 12 there were 11 patients who needed ICU care but did not have a bed available. “We’ve never been here before. We are in truly now in uncharted territory in terms of our ICU bed capacity,” Williamson told WSFA 12. In the past week, over 26,000 people have developed COVID-19 in Alabama, according to Johns Hopkins University. Delta variant could force Israeli lockdown, new restrictions announced Health officials say they’re worried that the new Delta variant could force Israel into lockdown, as the nation reaches a high number of active cases, compared with 2 months ago, according to The Jerusalem Post. The new strain originated in South America and was identified in the United States. “If it reaches Israel, we will get to the lockdown that we so desperately want to avoid,” Dr. Asher Salmon, director of the Ministry of Health’s Department of International Relations, told the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee, reported the Post. He added that the new variant appears to be more contagious and more resistant to the vaccines. According to the Post, a new system of travel restrictions came into effect on Monday. All inbound travelers must now self-isolate, even if vaccinated or recovered, unless they arrived from a selected list of “yellow” countries. The Post also reported that with the previous system, nations that required quarantine had to be explicitly mentioned and approved. Currently, the list of yellow countries includes Hong Kong, Hungary, Taiwan, Moldova, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the Czech Republic, reported the Post. Fully vaccinated adults with Delta ‘can match virus levels of unvaccinated’ Fully vaccinated adults can have virus levels as high as unvaccinated people, if they contracted the Delta variant. This is according to a ‘sweeping’ analysis of U.K. data, reported the Guardian. According to an expert, the implications of this on transmission remain unclear. “We don’t yet know how much transmission can happen from people who get COVID-19 after being vaccinated — for example, they may have high levels of virus for shorter periods of time,” Sarah Walker, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, told the Guardian. “But the fact that they can have high levels of virus,” she continued, “suggests that people who aren’t yet vaccinated may not be as protected from the Delta variant as we hoped.” 8/18/21 3:00 p.m. PDT — Federal officials say booster shots will be available this fall Top U.S. health officials now say that COVID-19 booster shots will be made available to people within the coming weeks. Currently, only people who had mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, meaning people with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, will be eligible. The decision came after new data found that the Delta variant led to an increase of COVID-19 breakthrough cases where people had mild to moderate disease symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will still have to review and approve administering boosters to the public. Experts stress that the vaccines are still very effective for a large swath of people and that they protect against severe forms of disease for many. CDC finds Delta variant accounts for almost 99 percent of U.S. cases A Tuesday report from the CDC found that the Delta variant now accounts for over 98.8 percent of U.S. cases. Cases in Riverside County, California, have reached levels not seen since February 2021. Four Oklahoma health systems pleaded with Oklahomans to be vaccinated and wear masks, as hospitals are being “crushed under the strain,” reported USA Today. “Oklahoma, we really need to stop debating this vaccine and start fighting the virus and its variants,” Dr. Julie Watson, the chief medical officer for Integris Health, told USA Today.  “The virus is what is undermining our way of life, robbing mothers and fathers of health and of a future with their children — taking years away from those who deserve to live their lives to the fullest,” Watson said.  Texas governor tests positive for COVID-19 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tested positive for COVID-19, according to a press release from the Office of the Texas Governor. “The governor has been testing daily, and today was the first positive test result. Governor Abbott is in constant communication with his staff, agency heads, and government officials to ensure that state government continues to operate smoothly and efficiently. The Governor will isolate in the Governor’s Mansion and continue to test daily. Governor Abbott is receiving Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment,” announced the press release. Abbott is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has not experienced symptoms of the disease. His wife has tested negative for the coronavirus. Australia protects thousands of teenagers against COVID-19 The Wall Street Journal reported that health officials in Sydney, Australia, have rushed to protect thousands of students from COVID-19. This is ahead of in-person, end-of-year school exams that are feared could accelerate disease transmission in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, last week a concert hall was repurposed as a mass vaccination clinic for teenagers. Up to 40,000 shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, intended for rural towns, were diverted to children from Sydney’s suburbs that are current disease hot spots. Authorities said more than 15,000 students were protected against infection by the end of last week. 8/17/21 2:26 p.m. PDT — White House expected to recommend COVID-19 booster shots for everyone Officials in the Biden administration are expected to recommend that U.S. adults should receive a vaccine booster shot 8 months after their second dose, reported CNN. The plan would involve administering third shots beginning in mid to late September if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives authorization. Pfizer announced Monday that the drugmaker has submitted initial data to the FDA to support the use of booster doses for their COVID-19 vaccines. “Vaccination is our most effective means of preventing COVID-19 infection — especially severe disease and hospitalization — and its profound impact on protecting lives is indisputable,” Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer at Pfizer, said in a statement. “The data we’ve seen to date suggest a third dose of our vaccine elicits antibody levels that significantly exceed those seen after the two-dose primary schedule. We are pleased to submit these data to the FDA as we continue working together to address the evolving challenges of this pandemic.” The plan could be announced as soon as this week, reported CNN. “ACP supports the approval of the use of an additional mRNA COVID-19 vaccine dose for those who are immunocompromised and are in immediate need,” said Dr. George M. Abraham, MPH, FACP, president, American College of Physicians (ACP), told Healthline in an emailed statement. Single COVID-19 case sparks lockdown in New Zealand According to the BBC, the case was detected in Auckland, which will be locked down for a week, while the rest of New Zealand will be in lockdown for 3 days. Authorities say they’re assuming the new case was caused by the Delta variant. Roughly 20 percent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated, reported BBC, and Coromandel, a coastal town the person with COVID-19 had visited, will also be in lockdown for 7 days. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the toughest “level 4” rules will be required, reported the network. This means closing schools, offices, and all businesses, with only essential services remaining operational. BBC also reported that data released by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health on Monday showed that all COVID-19 cases detected at the country’s border in recent weeks had been Delta. “We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance,” Ardern said in a televised national address, reported BBC, calling the Delta strain “a game changer.” New Zealand Health Chief Executive Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said the COVID-19 case was a 58-year-old man who became symptomatic on Saturday, reported the Express. The man’s wife was also tested and returned a negative result. Mask shortage looms as Delta surges On July 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance to recommend masking for even fully vaccinated people in certain situations. But according to new reports, masks are becoming hard to find — especially in some COVID-19 hot spots. “While the growth in mask sales is not as high as last year, in part because people likely have leftover inventory, the double-digit growth in the last 3 weeks has been striking,” Vivek Pandya, Adobe Digital Insights lead analyst, told USA Today. “It has also moved in the same direction as the news uptick around the Delta variant.” 8/16/21 1:50 p.m. PDT — Number of children in hospital with COVID-19 hits record high As COVID-19 cases surge, more and more children are being affected by the disease. On Saturday, the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19 hit a record high of more than 1,900 cases according to Reuters. Children under age 12 still cannot be vaccinated for the disease leaving them vulnerable to infection, even as over 50 percent of the U.S. is now fully vaccinated. In a single week, more than 120,000 children tested positive for COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. High school student dies from COVID-19 days before start of school A 16-year-old high school student recently died due to COVID-19, according to WRAL.com. “He loved being active, he was in my gym class, he talked to everybody,” the student’s friend, Seth Marshall, told WRAL. School officials said the child was airlifted to the hospital after his condition worsened, and he passed away days before the start of school, reported WRAL. Marshall told WRAL that the death is affecting him because his friend felt more like family. “It was just great seeing him every day, when you were down he boosted your spirit,” Marshall said. He added that his friend’s death is proof that COVID-19 is real and dangerous. According to WRAL, school officials have not yet released the deceased teen’s name. Babies born during pandemic experience many cognitive deficits, study finds A not yet peer-reviewed study from Brown University, and published in preprint, found that babies born during the COVID-19 pandemic may have significantly reduced motor, verbal, and overall cognitive performance when compared to children born before it began. For the study, Brown University researchers analyzed data from an ongoing longitudinal study of child neurodevelopment. They compared scores in 2020 and 2021 to those from 2011 to 2019. The findings suggest that verbal, nonverbal, and overall cognitive scores have gone down since the pandemic began – with infants born during the pandemic demonstrating significantly lower performance than those born before. “Our results seem to suggest that early development is impaired by the environmental conditions brought on by the pandemic,” the study authors wrote. 8/13/21 1:19 p.m. PDT — FDA authorizes additional vaccine dose for immunocompromised people The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that organ transplant recipients and others with severely weakened immune systems can receive a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to be better protected against the highly infectious Delta variant, which continues to surge. This decision is an amendment to the emergency use authorization (EUA) under which mRNA vaccines are currently being used. The decision doesn’t apply to the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has seen far less use in the United States than the mRNA vaccines. “The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease. After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines,” acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. According to an FDA press release, the administration also authorized monoclonal antibody treatments for emergency use during the pandemic for people 12 years and older who weigh at least 88 pounds, have tested positive for COVID-19, and are at “high risk” for developing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, or both. French police investigate COVID-19 vaccine certificate fraud Police in France are investigating a series of COVID-19 vaccine certificate frauds after several doctors reported having their health service accounts hacked, according to the Guardian. At least 55 false documents were obtained after hackers gained access to the online account of a doctor near Bordeaux, reported the Guardian. Another physician in Marseilles also reported a similar incident. Other medical professionals have told authorities about attempts to access their accounts. “Health pass fraud is very serious and is severely punished. Nobody should be cheating with the vaccine,” a local deputy prefect, Martin Guespereau, told journalists, reported the Guardian. 8/12/21 3:26 p.m. PDT — San Francisco becomes second major city to require vaccination for indoor activities San Francisco has become the second major city to require vaccination for many indoor activities after New York City announced a similar requirement earlier this month. One major difference is that people in San Francisco will have to be fully vaccinated, whereas in New York, people could be partially vaccinated. Mayor London Breed made the announcement today and said that people visiting a variety of indoor settings including bars, restaurants, and gyms will be required to show proof of full vaccination. People picking up takeout orders at restaurants will not have to show proof of vaccination. Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. They're how we can live our lives together, safely. San Francisco will be requiring proof of vaccination for patrons and employees in a number of indoor settings, including bars, restaurants, gyms, and large events.— London Breed (@LondonBreed) August 12, 2021 New mask mandate in Philadelphia amid rising COVID-19 cases Philadelphia officials announced a new mask mandate on Wednesday, August 11 as they try to fight the rising number of COVID-19 cases, reported 6ABC News. The city will require masks be worn inside businesses unless the business requires proof of vaccination. According to 6ABC, the mask mandate became effective at 12 a.m. on Thursday. “That means everyone in Philadelphia must wear a mask when going into any business or institution, with an exception for those that require vaccinations. Restaurants and bars will need to require masks for all staff and customers, except when people are seated and actively eating and drinking,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said. People will be required to show their vaccination card or a photo of the card to prove their vaccination status. In announcing the new mandate on Wednesday, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city would offer guidance to businesses if they needed it, but that they, essentially, are the enforcers. The city plans to fine noncompliant businesses, reported NPR. “That’s part of running a business in this environment, in this pandemic, is checking that people follow the rules,” Kenney said, according to NPR, pointing to restaurants already requiring proof of vaccination. 8/11/21 3:09 p.m. PDT — CDC advises pregnant people to get a COVID-19 vaccine The CDC is advising pregnant people to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Previously, they advised that people who are pregnant should be offered the vaccine. The advisory change comes after new research found there was no increased risk of miscarriage in people given an mRNA vaccine during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Many major medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, had already advised that people who are pregnant should get vaccinated for COVID-19. Growing support for vaccine passports as Delta threatens travel According to CNBC, a survey found 81.8 percent of Americans support the idea of vaccine passports — digital or physical proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Travel website Upgraded Points surveyed 1,000 people in June to find nearly 82 percent of U.S. respondents support vaccine passports proving COVID-19 vaccination — and almost 55 percent agree that hotels and other travel-related businesses should require proof of vaccination status. Nearly 60 percent also believe unvaccinated passengers of airlines, cruise ships, trains, and buses should be segregated from vaccinated passengers. Alex Miller, founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, told CNBC he suspects the acceptance of vaccine passports would have been lower had the survey been conducted just a few months ago. “Vaccine passports have become more and more of a reality with time and appear to be a potential path to normalcy,” Miller said. “The more they are discussed and even introduced, the more likely people may be to get the vaccine, which will ultimately aid in the overall goal of limiting the spread of COVID-19.” One mRNA vaccine could be more effective against Delta than the other, study finds All COVID-19 vaccines currently administered in the United States are shown to dramatically reduce virus risk, severe disease, and death. But according to a recent, not yet peer-reviewed study, one mRNA vaccine stands out against the Delta variant. “Although clinical trials and real-world studies have affirmed the effectiveness and safety of the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines,” the study authors wrote, “reports of breakthrough infections and persistent emergence of new variants highlight the need to vigilantly monitor the effectiveness of these vaccines.” Researchers compared the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer in the Mayo Clinic Health System from January to July 2021, during which either Alpha or Delta variant was highly prevalent. According to researchers, the efficacy of Moderna’s vaccine dropped from 86 percent in early 2021 to 76 percent by July, when Delta became the dominant strain. However, during the same period, Pfizer vaccine effectiveness saw a steep decline from 76 to just 42 percent. 8/10/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Children under 12 at high risk for developing COVID-19 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the COVID-19 case rate has skyrocketed to levels last seen before current vaccines were available. There’s also new data showing that the Delta variant is more infectious and leading to increased transmissibility when compared with other variants — even in vaccinated individuals. ABC News now reports that demand is skyrocketing for a vaccine to protect young children who aren’t yet eligible for treatment, a group facing more cases than ever before during the pandemic. Over 94,000 children were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, according American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) figures cited by ABC, and hospitals nationwide are reporting more and more children in their pediatric COVID-19 units. Pfizer has said it will submit vaccine safety data on 5- to 11-year-olds by the end of September. Moderna has said it will do so in the middle of the fall. It will then be up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on how quickly it grants the authorization. The vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 would be the same composition, but a smaller dose. The FDA also isn’t likely to require an extended period of safety data collection for the younger age group. “Just so everyone understands, we are going to be very careful as we get down to smaller children,” said Peter Marks, the FDA’s vaccine chief, in a May event with the group BlackDoctor.org. “We have to reduce the dose of the vaccine, we’re more cautious about side effects, it takes longer to do the development,” Marks added. Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls for hospitals to stop nonessential procedures With COVID-19 surging in Texas, the governor is calling on hospitals to stop nonessential surgeries. Governor Greg Abbott is asking hospitals to postpone elective medical procedures in an effort to avoid overwhelming healthcare facilities. Abbott’s administration is facing legal challenges from his handling of the COVID-19 surge. Local government leaders in Texas are suing over the governor’s directive that bans local municipalities from implementing mask mandates.  NIH to study how effective COVID-19 booster shots are for people with organ transplants The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has started a new study to see how effective a COVID-19 booster shot is for people who’ve had an organ transplant. The study will look at people who’ve had a kidney transplant and who didn’t have an immune reaction to two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. A third dose will be given to see whether it can spur the immune system to provide protection. People who’ve undergone organ transplants have to take immunosuppressive drugs and can be at risk for a COVID-19 infection even after vaccination.  8/9/21 12:00 p.m. PDT— FDA approval may boost vaccination rates Experts say full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for COVID-19 vaccines may significantly boost vaccination rates. Michael Wolf, PhD, associate vice chair for research in the department of medicine at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, told CNN that full FDA approval could get roughly 5 to 10 percent more people vaccinated. Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said the FDA is working on getting the approval soon. “I think from the standpoint of the public, it [FDA approval] really shouldn’t matter,” Offit said. “It’s been given to half of the American population. We have more than 300 million doses out there. This is far from experimental.” Pentagon will require troops to get vaccinated against COVID-19 The Pentagon is going to require all troops to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 15, according to a report from The Associated Press. A memo obtained by the AP from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended troops get ready for the new requirement. “I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” licensure by the FDA, “whichever comes first,” Austin said in the memo to troops, according to the AP. 8/5/21 2:17 p.m. PDT — Moderna vaccine still effective months later Vaccine maker Moderna has released new data that their COVID-19 vaccine remains 93 percent effective 6 months after it’s administered. The company said Thursday, August 5, that it’s also working on a single shot to provide an annual booster for COVID-19, as well as the flu and respiratory condition RSV. While the data appears to show that the vaccine will remain effective, company officials say there may still be a need for a COVID-19 booster shot. “We believe that increased force of infection resulting from Delta, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) fatigue, and seasonal effects (moving indoors) will lead to an increase of breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals,” the company said in an investor presentation posted to its website, NBC News reported. The average COVID-19 cases nationwide are now running in excess of 120,000 a day. Although some of those are breakthrough cases in the previously vaccinated, the CDC warns that the unvaccinated are 8 times more likely to contract Delta and 25 times more likely to die from it, reported NBC. COVID-19 cases in children surge with 72,000 cases in 1 week The Delta variant is now affecting many children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Children now make up 19 percent of — or nearly 1 in 5 — COVID-19 cases nationwide, according to the AAP. Pediatric cases have been steadily increasing in July as the Delta variant has swept through the United States. Nearly 4.2 million U.S. children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Southeast Asia hit hard from Delta variant Nations across Asia are up against their worst COVID-19 outbreaks of the pandemic, spurred by low vaccine rates and the highly contagious Delta variant, according to CNN. Southeast Asian nations that managed to contain outbreaks last year are now struggling with overwhelmed health services, a lack of hospital beds, equipment, and oxygen, reported CNN. They’ve also reimposed lockdowns, shuttering factories and restricting the movement of citizens already experiencing financial hardship. A military coup in Myanmar has brought that country to the verge of collapse as an ensuing bloody crackdown shattered the health system — and completely stalled their vaccination program. While wealthier countries, like the U.K. and Singapore, are seeing renewed outbreaks, they have fully vaccinated over half their populations, reported CNN. By comparison, Vietnam has fully vaccinated less than 1% of its population, Thailand around 5%, the Philippines 9.3%, and Indonesia — the epicenter — only 8%, according to Our World in Data. 8/4/21 1:46 p.m. PDT — Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may get full FDA approval by early September The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is projecting full approval for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine by early September, The New York Times reported today, citing several people involved in the effort, according to Reuters. The FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine in December, and full FDA approval could convince more people to get vaccinated, as it might reduce any doubts about the drug’s safety. Since the vaccine is currently available to everyone eligible who wants it, what’s the difference between an EUA and full approval? The FDA says it’s a matter of scale. The FDA reviews much more data, over a longer time, before granting full approval. “FDA makes its decisions based on its analysis of the benefits and risks for the intended population who will receive the vaccine, as well as the disease(s) to be prevented,” the FDA confirmed. The FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could initiate a series of vaccine mandates across the United States, including military personnel and civilians working for the Department of Defense, who must be vaccinated or face regular testing, according to The New York Times. Up to 98% of COVID-19 cases in U.S. are from Delta variant The Delta variant, including several of its sub-lineages, is currently responsible for roughly 93.4 percent of COVID-19 cases circulating in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This situation is even more dire in certain parts of the country. In Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, the Delta variant accounts for more than 98 percent of circulating coronavirus. The variant has driven a sharp surge in infections and hospitalizations just before most school years begin across the nation.  The Department of Education’s road map for returning to school includes guidance for wearing masks, which is pitting educators in many school districts against state officials. WHO calls for moratorium on COVID-19 booster shots until more people have access to vaccines Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) are calling for a moratorium on COVID-19 booster shots until at least 10 percent of people from all countries are able to get vaccinated. The call for a moratorium comes as vaccination rates have risen in developed countries, while developing countries have had little or no access to the vaccines. Israel is the first country to have started COVID-19 booster shots in people with compromised immune systems. Other countries including the United States are considering whether a booster shot would be beneficial. “So far, more than 4 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally. More than 80 percent have gone to high- and upper-middle income countries, even though they account for less than half of the world’s population,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing. 8/3/21 2:26 p.m. PDT — Biden to update nation as Delta variant surges Today, President Biden will provide an update on his administration’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts as the Delta variant tears across the United States, a White House official told CNN. The news comes as partial vaccinations in adults have reached 70 percent. This was a goal the Biden administration had hoped to reach by July 4. According to reports, Biden will speak about recent actions by the private sector to require vaccinations, the recent uptick in vaccinations, “and the tremendous grassroots work Americans are doing every day to get their communities vaccines.” Biden will also update the nation on his administration’s global vaccination efforts and announce that the United States has shipped more than 110 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to more than 60 countries, according to the White House. The White House notes this is more vaccine donations than all other countries combined. Biden will also announce that the work to vaccinate the rest of the world “has just begun,” according to the White House official. In addition, starting at the end of the month, the administration will begin shipping 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses that the country has pledged to purchase and donate to 100 developing countries, reported CNN. New York City will mandate vaccination to access gyms, restaurants, performances New York City will be the first major U.S. city to mandate proof of COVID-19 vaccination for customers and staff at restaurants, gyms, and other indoor businesses as the United States enters a new phase in the battle against the Delta variant, according to Reuters. About 60 percent of all New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to city data. But certain areas, largely low-income communities and communities of color, have lower vaccination rates, reported Reuters. The policy will begin Sept. 13 and is similar to measures taken in France to prevent disease spread. “We know this is what’s going to turn the tide,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference, reported Reuters. Part of the initiative will be a “Key to NYC Pass” to serve as proof of vaccination for workers and patrons at fitness centers, restaurants, and entertainment venues, the mayor said. Pandemic increasing risk of childhood nearsightedness, study finds According to a new study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, more children may have become nearsighted as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers analyzed eye test data from roughly 2,000 school-age children in Hong Kong. They found that the rate of myopia (nearsightedness) was double that found in a pre-pandemic study of children the same age. Researchers cautioned that both increased screen time and decreased outdoor time has been implicated in the development of myopia. “We showed a potential increase in myopia incidence, significant decrease in outdoor time and increase in screen time among schoolchildren in Hong Kong during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study authors wrote. “Our results serve to warn eye care professionals, and also policy makers, educators and parents, that collective efforts are needed to prevent childhood myopia—a potential public health crisis as a result of COVID-19.” 8/2/21 2:09 p.m. PDT — Increased risk of hospitalization from Delta variant, studies find As the Delta variant creates a new wave of coronavirus infections in the United States and worldwide, disease experts are researching whether this variant is making people sicker than before, especially those who are not yet vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that Delta, first identified in India and now dominant worldwide, is “likely more severe” than earlier versions of the coronavirus, according to an internal report made public on July 30, reported Reuters. The CDC cited research from Canada, Singapore, and Scotland that shows people with coronavirus infections from the Delta variant are more likely to be hospitalized than people earlier in the pandemic. Disease experts have told Reuters that these three studies suggest increased risk from Delta, but the study populations were limited and findings have not yet been reviewed by outside experts. “It’s difficult to pin down increase in severity and population bias,” Lawrence Young, PhD, a virologist at the Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom, told Reuters. The vast majority of COVID-19 cases that require hospitalization are now happening in people who are unvaccinated. No lockdowns, even with current wave of Delta variant, says Fauci Thanks to the more infectious Delta variant, COVID-19 cases are rising throughout the United States, according to the most recent CDC data. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, says new lockdown measures are unlikely. “I don’t think we’re going to see lockdowns,” Fauci told ABC News yesterday. “I think we have enough of the percentage of people in the country, not enough to crush the outbreak, but I believe enough to not allow us to get into the situation we were in last winter.” He also warned that “things are going to get worse” as the Delta variant spreads. “We’re looking, not, I believe, to lockdown, but we’re looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up, which is the reason why we keep saying over and over again, the solution to this is get vaccinated and this would not be happening,” Fauci said. He confirmed that what we’re seeing now is an “outbreak of the unvaccinated,” and that “from the standpoint of illness, hospitalization, suffering, and death, the unvaccinated are much more vulnerable.” 7/30/21 1:57 p.m. PDT — Delta variant is more infectious than common cold, according to CDC The Delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads far more quickly, according to an internal federal health document covered in the Washington Post. The internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) slide presentation stated that the Delta variant was far more transmissible than previous strains. The document also argues that officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.” “Although it’s rare, we believe that at an individual level, vaccinated people may spread the virus, which is why we updated our recommendation,” an anonymous federal health official told the Post. “Waiting even days to publish the data could result in needless suffering and as public health professionals we cannot accept that.” CDC Director: The Delta variant is ‘unforgiving’ In an exclusive interview with Healthline published today, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky spoke about the work done by the CDC to protect Americans and explained why some guidance regarding masks has changed. “What I will say is we have an extraordinary team and they are mission-focused, collaborative, and wanting to do right by the American people,” she said. “Do they wish we were in a different and better place? I think everyone does. Are they tired? Yes, but that does not change their mission-critical focus right now. Everyone is determined. They want to help.” She said that new data helped spur new guidance. According to this data, a vaccinated person who contracts the Delta variant may be able to pass it on to others. “For those rare people, we thought it was really important for those people to know that they are at risk of giving disease to someone else,” Walensky said. Does COVID-19 cause cognitive issues or potentially dementia symptoms? According to USA Today, researchers are concerned that survivors of COVID-19 infection may experience long-term consequences that include dementia. With large numbers of people complaining of “brain fog,” attention problems, and confusion after their illness, scientists are examining whether COVID-19 has long-term consequences for brain health. Early trials have found an association between COVID-19 infection and brain changes commonly seen in people who develop dementia. “While some studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infects brain cells directly, others found no evidence of the virus in the brain,” lead study author Feixiong Cheng, PhD, assistant staff in Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute said in a statement. “Identifying how COVID-19 and neurological problems are linked will be critical for developing effective preventive and therapeutic strategies to address the surge in neurocognitive impairments that we expect to see in the near future.” While Cheng and his team discovered little evidence that COVID-19 directly targets the brain, they did discover close relationships between SARS-CoV-2 and the genes/proteins associated with several neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s. “We discovered that SARS-CoV-2 infection significantly altered Alzheimer’s markers implicated in brain inflammation and that certain viral entry factors are highly expressed in cells in the blood-brain barrier,” Cheng explained. “These findings indicate that the virus may impact several genes or pathways involved in neuroinflammation and brain microvascular injury, which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease-like cognitive impairment.” 7/29/21 3:35 p.m. PDT — Biden announces federal workers must have vaccinations or tests President Joe Biden announced new requirements for federal workers amid the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases pegged to the Delta variant. Biden is requiring federal workers to either get vaccinated or face weekly testing, according to NPR. The Delta variant has led to an explosion of COVID-19 cases in the United States, quadrupling in a few weeks. “Vaccines are the best defense against you getting severely ill from COVID-19 — the very best defense,” Biden said according to NPR. Federal workers will also have to wear masks while at work if they’re not vaccinated. While not a vaccination mandate, the Biden administration is reportedly hoping that the new requirements will spur more federal employees to get vaccinated. Postal workers union against federal vaccination mandates, but encourages members to get the jab voluntarily The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) announced on Wednesday that it opposes a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate from the White House, but still encourages workers to get vaccinated. “Maintaining the health and safety of our members is of paramount importance. While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to voluntarily get vaccinated, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent,” the APWU said in a statement. The Union emphasized that issues related to vaccinations and testing for COVID-19 in the workplace must be negotiated with the APWU, and at this time, “the APWU opposes the mandating of COVID-19 vaccinations in relation to U.S. postal workers.” 7/28/21 2:58 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 hospitalizations jump nearly 50% in a week Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are now surging as the United States deals with a major increase in the disease, pegged to the more infectious Delta variant. According to CDC data, the 7-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations has risen about 46 percent compared to the previous week. Currently, the 7-day average for hospitalizations is about 5,186. Unique qualities of Delta variant led to new CDC mask guidance CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained that new evidence showing vaccinated people could transmit the Delta variant to others led the CDC to change its mask guidance. “With prior variances, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others. But with the Delta variant… you can actually now pass it to somebody else,” Walensky told CNN. “But with the Delta variant, we now see in our outbreak investigations that have been occurring over the last couple of weeks, in those outbreak investigations we have been seeing that if you happen to have one of those breakthrough infections that you can actually now pass it to somebody else,” she continued. COVID-19 cases are surging in the United States, fueled by the Delta variant, and largely among unvaccinated individuals. The U.S. 7-day average of new daily cases has quintupled from 11,790 on June 23 to 61,976 on July 27. 7/27/21 2:50 p.m. PDT — CDC advises some vaccinated people to wear a mask indoors The CDC has issued new guidance for vaccinated people as COVID-19 cases surge again. The CDC is now advising people in areas with a high amount of viral transmission to wear masks while indoors even if they are fully vaccinated. They are also advising that everyone at K-12 schools wear a mask regardless of vaccine status. The change comes after the more infectious delta variant has been sweeping through the United States, pushing a major increase in COVID-19 cases. In a media briefing today, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in rare cases people who were vaccinated were able to still transmit the virus and that clusters of COVID-19 cases have been reported in vaccinated people. “The delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus,” she explained. Five times greater risk of death for those ‘shielding’ from COVID-19, Scottish study finds People at high risk cautioned to shield (self-isolate) in the first wave of COVID-19 were five times more likely to die after being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus than those at low risk from the disease, according to new research from Glasgow University in Scotland. The findings suggest that efforts to protect the most vulnerable population didn’t prevent significant rates of infection in these high-risk groups, with many people losing their lives to the pandemic virus. “The 2.03% of people advised to shield were, nonetheless, eight times more likely to have confirmed infections than the low-risk category, five times more likely to die following confirmed infection and 49 times more likely to die from COVID-19 overall,” the study authors wrote. According to researchers, while selective testing might explain the rate of confirmed infections, it doesn’t explain higher overall mortality, suggesting that the shielding strategy was “not as effective as was hoped.” They add that 28.8 percent of the population would need to have been under lockdown to prevent 80 percent of deaths — but this isn’t currently considered politically expedient. “Shielding is probably best viewed as an intervention to protect individuals, to be used alongside other population-wide interventions such as physical distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene,” study authors concluded. Hundreds of San Francisco bars will require proof of vaccination to enter Hundreds of bars in San Francisco will start requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from customers who would like to drink inside the premises, an industry group said Monday. “Effective Thursday, July 29th, 2021, it will be the official position of the SF Bar Owner Alliance that any customer who wishes to remain inside our establishments show proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID19 test. Guests without these verifications are welcome to sit outside in parklets or other spaces we offer,” reads the statement as reported by KRON4 News. The group, representing about 500 San Francisco bar owners, said it polled members before announcing the decision, with 85 percent agreeing with the move, reported NBC Bay Area. San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted her support for the group. This is a responsible decision by the SF Bar Owner Alliance that will help protect employees and customers.We need everyone to get vaccinated, especially as the Delta variant continues to spread. It's how we can keep our city and our residents safe. https://t.co/RAENDN4SrK— London Breed (@LondonBreed) July 26, 2021 7/26/21 2:39 p.m. PDT — Medical groups call on healthcare employers to mandate vaccination The American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Physicians (ACP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Public Health Association (APHA), and more than 50 additional groups have issued a joint statement calling on health and long-term care employers to institute COVID-19 vaccine mandates for their employees. “This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” reads the statement. The statement also points out that highly contagious variants, including delta, and “significant” numbers of unvaccinated people, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are again rising throughout the United States. “Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” the health organizations wrote. According to the CDC, only 49 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so far. Biden administration says long COVID-19 can be considered a disability On the 31st anniversary of the American Disabilities Act, the Biden administration has given guidance that having symptoms of long COVID-19 or long-haul COVID-19 can be considered a disability under civil rights laws. This decision means some people dealing with debilitating symptoms from long COVID-19 may be entitled to protection from discrimination. Diana Zicklin Berrent, an advocate for people with long COVID-19 and founder of Survivor Corps, wrote on Twitter that this was a “major step in the right direction.” #LongCovid is now considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act 💪We have far to go but this is a major step in the right direction. https://t.co/jjzk4lsx0o— Diana Zicklin Berrent (@dianaberrent) July 26, 2021 7/23/21 1:45 p.m. PDT — 40% of this week’s COVID-19 cases come from 3 states About 40 percent of COVID-19 cases detected this week came from three states: Florida, Texas, and Missouri. White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients confirmed that Florida contributed the highest number of COVID-19 cases, with 1 in 5 infections coming out of that state alone. Zients added that those states with the highest case numbers, like Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada, have also had higher rates of newly vaccinated residents than the national average. Zients pointed out that areas with increasing cases are also seeing a rise in vaccination numbers. “For the second week in a row, states with lower vaccination and higher case rates are seeing their vaccination rates grow faster than the national average,” he said. “People in these states are feeling the impact of being unvaccinated and responding with action.” According to the most recent figures from the CDC, only 48.8 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated so far. About 20% of new COVID-19 cases in LA are in vaccinated people, but few have symptoms As the delta variant spreads, more people are becoming ill with COVID-19. While the vast majority are in unvaccinated people, health authorities say some vaccinated people are testing positive as well. Los Angeles health officials said about 1 in 5 people who tested positive for COVID-19 were vaccinated. But a key difference is that they were far less likely to become seriously ill and need to be hospitalized. County officials estimate that just 0.0059 percent of all fully vaccinated people in Los Angeles County have had to be hospitalized for COVID-19. Man with COVID-19 boards flight disguised as wife amid surge of infections An Indonesian man with COVID-19 boarded a domestic flight disguised as his wife, wearing a niqab to cover his face and carrying fake IDs and a negative PCR test result, reported The Associated Press (AP). According to the AP, police said a flight attendant aboard a Citilink plane traveling from Jakarta to Ternate in North Maluku province on Sunday noticed the man changing his clothes in the bathroom. “He bought the plane ticket with his wife’s name and brought the identity card, the PCR test result, and the vaccination card with his wife’s name,” Ternate police chief Aditya Laksimada said after arresting the man upon landing, reported the AP. “All documents are under his wife’s name.”  7/22/21 2:24 p.m. PDT — Biden Says Full FDA Approval For COVID-19 Vax Likely by Fall During a town hall on July 21 designed to reach Americans skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccines, President Joe Biden said he expects the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to give full approval this fall for the vaccines. Biden said that he is not pressuring the FDA and that he came to this conclusion after talking with scientists. “My expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus others in the field, is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval,” Biden said according to The New York Times. U.S. COVID cases triple in 2 weeks COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in the United States over 2 weeks amid an abundance of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting healthcare professionals, and pushing clergy into the fray, reported the Associated Press (AP). “Our staff, they are frustrated,” Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville in Florida, told AP. “They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.” According to the AP, Jeremy Johnson, lead pastor of one of Missouri’s largest churches, said he has heard the reasons congregants are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. He wants them to know it’s not only OK to get vaccinated, it’s what the Bible urges. “I think there is a big influence of fear,” Johnson told AP. “A fear of trusting something apart from scripture, a fear of trusting something apart from a political party they’re more comfortable following. A fear of trusting in science. We hear that: ‘I trust in God, not science.’ But the truth is science and God are not something you have to choose between.” 7/21/21 11:38 a.m. PDT — Study says J&J vaccine not as effective against the delta variant A new study that has not yet been peer-reviewed reports that Johnson & Johnson’s adenovirus vector COVID-19 vaccine may not be as effective against the delta variant as mRNA-based alternatives. These findings contradict the vaccine maker’s claims of single-dose effectiveness against the variant. According to researchers, the millions of people who received the J&J single-dose drug might need a second dose of mRNA technology vaccine. “The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J&J vaccine,” Nathaniel Landau, PhD, a virologist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine who led the study, told The New York Times. “But we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J&J or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna.” Beta variant raises concerns in parts of Europe As the United States struggles to contain the delta variant, parts of Europe are contending with the COVID-19 beta strain that was initially identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Already dealing with a surge in cases of the delta variant, the U.K. government changed its pandemic policy regarding international travelers from France – which has already recorded cases of beta in some of its territories. “Anyone who has been in France in the last 10 days will need to quarantine on arrival to England in their own accommodation and will need a day 2 and day 8 test, regardless of their vaccination status,” the U.K. government announced. “This includes any fully vaccinated individual who transits through France from either a green or another amber country to reach England.” According to CNBC, France defended its COVID-19 case record by noting that most cases of the Beta variant are in its overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte, both situated in the Indian Ocean and not on mainland France. Former surgeon general urges everyone to wear masks Dr, Jerome Adams, the former U.S. surgeon general for the Trump White House who once advised against face masks, now says even the fully vaccinated may need to mask up. “More people than ever — vaccinated and unvaccinated — are going maskless,” he told NPR. “It doesn’t seem to have convinced anyone to get vaccinated.” Adams added that the CDC needs to change its guidance on masking requirements in light of new COVID-19 outbreaks and the more contagious delta variant. “Last year, Tony Fauci and I famously, prematurely, and wrongly advised against masks. I felt it was the best call at the time but now regret it,” Adams posted on social media. He expressed concern that the CDC is making a similar misstep. “I’m worried the CDC also made a similarly premature, misinterpreted, yet still harmful call on masking in the face of delta variant,” Adams wrote. 7/20/21 11:18 a.m. PDT — Delta variant now responsible for 83% of new U.S. COVID-19 cases Health officials say the delta variant now accounts for 83 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told a Senate hearing today that the new variant has jumped from 50 percent of new cases on July 3 to its current rate. Another CDC official told CNN last week that “we should think about the delta variant as the 2020 version of COVID-19 on steroids.” Health officials say that current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the delta variant, but more than half of the country remains unvaccinated. Olympic COVID-19 isolation bubble already ‘broken,’ says expert The “isolation bubble” system that Olympic Games organizers set up to prevent disease spread in the Tokyo Games Olympic Village is already broken, and there’s a risk that COVID-19 could spread more widely from inside it, a public health expert said today. Olympic officials have reported the first positive test among athletes in the Olympic Village. There have been 67 cases detected so far among those accredited for the games since July 1. According to The Associated Press, a new case among 13 added to the official total Tuesday includes a “games-concerned personnel” in Tokyo, a category that includes team officials and sports staffers who are not staying at the village. “It’s obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken,” said Dr. Kenji Shibuya, the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, who in April co-authored a British Medical Journal commentary that said the Olympics must be “reconsidered” due to Japan’s inability to contain coronavirus cases, reported Reuters. “My biggest concern is, of course, there will be a cluster of infections in the village or some of the accommodation and interaction with local people,” Shibuya added. U.S. is losing ground in pandemic battle, experts say According to CNN, our battle against COVID-19 is far from over. Among examples of the stymied efforts to contain the pandemic, the network reported that: New guidance for schools released yesterday from the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing dampened hopes that children could go back to mask-free school days this fall.The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 700 points July 19 in its biggest drop of the year as alarm over delta variant infections “hammered” travel, leisure, and energy stocks previously buoyed by the idea of a summer of freedom.First lady Jill Biden’s trip to Japan later this week will likely underscore the risk that the Summer Olympic Games will be defined by the pandemic, as positive tests cloud Friday’s opening ceremony, including one by a young U.S. gymnast. According to CNN, all these developments represent the realization that any hopes COVID-19 would be in the “rearview mirror” this summer might be unfounded, and that a new national effort may be warranted. “If we don’t get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you’re going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Monday. 7/19/21 9:53 a.m. PDT — U.S. Olympic gymnast tests positive for COVID-19 It’s just 4 days before the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and COVID-19 has already cast its shadow over the games, reported CBS News. Officials say there are at least 12 new COVID-19 cases connected with the games since Sunday, including a U.S. gymnast and cases among other athletes within the Olympic Village. In a statement released today, USA Gymnastics confirmed that a replacement athlete for the women’s artistic gymnastics team had tested positive and that “the local government determined that the affected replacement athlete and one other replacement athlete would be subject to additional quarantine restrictions.” “Accordingly, on Monday, the Olympic athletes moved to separate lodging accommodations and a separate training facility, as originally planned, and will continue their preparation for the Games,” the team said.  The news on the gymnast came just hours after U.S. tennis player Cori “Coco” Gauff announced she had tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Olympic Games. Pediatricians recommend masks for all schoolchildren, vaccinated or not Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all children over 2 years of age wear masks when returning to school this year, regardless of vaccination status. Officials at the AAP also said that school employees should wear masks. The AAP calls the new guidance a “layered approach.” “We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” Dr. Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, told NBC. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking, and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.” Unvaccinated people facing ‘most serious’ virus of their lives, expert says With vaccination rates still short of the threshold needed to stop the spread of COVID-19, most unvaccinated people in the United States will likely contract the rapidly spreading delta variant, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “And for most people who get this delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital,” Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation” yesterday. The delta variant, already detected in every U.S. state, is estimated to account for more than half of new COVID-19 cases in 5 of the 10 regions into which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services divides the country, reported ABC News. “Variant proportions are dynamic and difficult to predict due to reporting delays, the presence of multiple variants, and changing incidence,” the CDC told ABC News in a statement. Recent research examining 62 cases of the delta variant found viral loads roughly 1,200 times higher than viral loads in 63 cases from the 2020 epidemic wave, reported CNN. The delta variant is also sending younger, previously healthy people to hospitals, the majority of whom are unvaccinated. 7/16/21 2:33 p.m. PDT — 38 states see at least 50% increase in COVID-19 cases At least 38 states are seeing at least a 50 percent increase in COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Many experts have attributed this rise to slowing vaccination rates, with less than 50 percent of the United States fully vaccinated. “We’re seeing this because the public misunderstood the CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people as ‘We can now do whatever we want. Even if we are unvaccinated, we can now behave as if we are vaccinated,’” CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper yesterday, according to the network. According to the CDC, pandemic cases are going up everywhere in the United States, with an average of new cases at least 10 percent higher than a week ago. 6 New York Yankees test positive for the coronavirus Outfielder Aaron Judge is among six New York Yankees baseball players who tested positive for the coronavirus yesterday, forcing postponement of the team’s home game against the Boston Red Sox and leaving other players on the American League All-Star team undergoing testing to confirm they didn’t contract an infection, ESPN was reportedly told by sources. “It’s a fluid situation that could spread,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN. “It has spread to some degree.” According to ESPN, this is the second outbreak on the Yankees team this year despite exceeding the 85 percent vaccination threshold allowing teams to enjoy relaxed protocols. “I guess the last year, year and a half, has in some ways kind of prepared you for this kind of stuff,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told ESPN. “Certainly disappointing and frustrating, and don’t want to be sitting here talking about this, and desperately want us to go back to as normal as possible.” 7/15/21 3:37 p.m. PDT — Missouri health officials request alternate care site amid surge of patients Officials in Missouri are asking for help from the State Emergency Management Agency to set up an alternate care site to help treat the growing number of people with COVID-19. According to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in Missouri, cases have risen in the county by 43 percent in the last 7 days. SGCHD and @gcoem submitted a request to MO Dept. of Health and Senior Services and the State Emergency Management Agency for a COVID-19 Alternative Care Site. The request is in response to the growing need for medical care due to the virus.News release: https://t.co/g4h7r3zhBc— S-GC Health Dept. (@SGCHD) July 14, 2021 LA County officials say every hospitalized person with COVID-19 at county hospital is unvaccinated The delta variant is continuing to spread in the United States, mainly among unvaccinated populations. In Los Angeles, health officials have highlighted how rare hospitalizations are for people who are fully vaccinated. Dr. Christina Ghaly, county health services director, said that no one with COVID-19 at a county hospital was vaccinated against the disease, according to CNN. “To date, we have not had a patient admitted to a [Department of Health Services] hospital who has been fully vaccinated, with either the J&J, Pfizer or Moderna vaccine,” Ghaly told the board of supervisors, according to CNN. “Every single patient that we’ve admitted for COVID is not yet fully vaccinated,” she said. Republican vaccine resistance ‘major challenge’ in fight against pandemic Increasing conservative resistance to COVID-19 vaccines is alarming public health experts and creating a major challenge as the United States tries to move past the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) cheered talk of a lower-than-expected vaccination rate over the weekend, according to The Hill. Also, Tennessee will end outreach to teens regarding vaccination, including for COVID-19, amid pressure from the state’s Republican lawmakers. This resistance helps explain why more than 30 percent of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated, with even higher percentages in Republican-leaning states, reported The Hill. “It’s really profoundly sad to note that essentially almost 100 percent of every person who’s admitted to the hospital today with COVID could have been prevented,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told The Hill. Experts say more than 99 percent of the people now dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated, reported The Hill. COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be remarkably safe and effective after tens of millions of people have received them. 7/14/21 1:13 p.m. PDT — Delta variant accounts for almost 60% of U.S. COVID-19 cases, CDC says The highly contagious delta variant of the novel coronavirus initially identified in India now accounts for roughly 60 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to data from the CDC, reported ABC News. According to ABC News, data updated yesterday evening by the CDC shows the delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is estimated to be responsible for 57.6 percent of newly confirmed cases nationwide from June 20 through July 3. The estimate was only 31.1 percent for the 2 weeks prior. “The delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in cases and death,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a COVID-19 press briefing on July 12, reported ABC News. Children at risk as delta variant spreads Dr. Peter Hotez, vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN that if adult vaccination rates, and rates of children 12 and older, continue to lag amid increased spread of COVID-19, the youngest members of the population will be most affected. “Transmission will continue to accelerate… and the ones who will also pay the price, in addition to the unvaccinated adolescents, are the little kids who depend on the adults and adolescents to get vaccinated in order to slow or halt transmission,” Hotez told CNN. Hotez emphasized that although many people may brush off the risk that low vaccination rates pose to children, citing their low COVID-19 death rates, children remain at risk of serious complications, reported CNN. Yesterday, health officials from Mississippi announced that seven children were in the ICU as a result of the delta variant and two were on life support, reported ABC News. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the rates of new cases this past week are at least 10 percent higher than the rates of new cases the previous week in 46 states. 7/13/21 3:10 p.m. PDT — Health officials want to investigate COVID-19 booster shots for side effects The United States is reviewing the need for a third COVID-19 booster shot among people who have already been vaccinated, but more data is needed to know whether additional shots could increase the risk of serious side effects, a U.S. health official said today, reported Reuters. The official added that the second dose for two-shot COVID-19 vaccine regimens was associated with higher rates of side effects, and suggested a third dose might come with more serious side effects. “We’re keenly interested in knowing whether or not a third dose may be associated with any higher risk of adverse reactions, particularly some of those more severe — although very rare — side effects,” said Jay Butler, deputy director at the CDC, during a media briefing, reported Reuters. According to Reuters, Butler also said he hasn’t seen evidence of waning immunity to the coronavirus among U.S. residents who received vaccinations in December or January. He said existing vaccines provide significant protection against the coronavirus delta variant, which has become the dominant variant in the United States. COVID-19 outbreak tied to Ohio church retreat A COVID-19 outbreak was reported among attendees of a church retreat, officials announced, reported ABC News. Health officials confirmed at least 30 positive cases have been identified in people who took part in the event. According to ABC, Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health said more than 800 people attended the Baptist Church retreat in Miamisburg, Ohio, from June 27 to July 3. Dr. Michael Dohn, medical director for Dayton & Montgomery County Public Health, spoke about his concern, reported ABC. “Unvaccinated people, including children under 12 years of age, are up to 100 times more likely to get sick after exposure to COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated individuals,” he said. “The outbreak demonstrates that the COVID-19 virus is still circulating and continues to make people sick,” Dohn added. 7/12/21 3:58 p.m. PDT — FDA to add warning about rare neurological disorder to Johnson & Johnson vaccine The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to add a warning to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine saying that it may lead to a slightly increased risk of a rare nerve disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome, according to The New York Times. Officials have detected about 100 suspected cases of the nerve disorder in the 12.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines administered in the United States. Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare neurological disorder in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system. Symptoms can include mild, temporary weakness and tingling to more serious issues, including some cases of paralysis. Most people recover from even serious cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people develop Guillain-Barré syndrome every year in the United States, according to the CDC. COVID-19 cases increase nearly 50% in U.S. As the coronavirus delta variant rapidly spreads, U.S. “hot spots” have seen rising cases. The United States is averaging about 19,455 new COVID-19 cases over the last 7 days, a 47 percent increase from the week prior, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, reported CNN. “In places like Missouri where ICUs are packed, you’re going to see a surprising amount of death,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN. At Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, more than 90 percent of ICU patients are on ventilators. Many patients are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer, told CNN July 11. This is especially concerning, he explained, because during last year’s peak, there were only 40 to 50 percent of ICU patients on ventilators. According to Reiner, rising COVID-19 death rates typically follow 3 to 4 weeks behind spikes in cases. It takes a week for people to get sick enough to need hospitalization, and then often another couple of weeks for the infection to become fatal, reported CNN. “We will start to see an increase in mortality in this country,” Reiner said. Rare case shows it’s possible to contract 2 coronavirus variants at same time, says expert Scientists have found evidence that it’s possible to contract two different coronavirus variants at the same time. Researchers from Belgium have presented a case study of an unvaccinated older woman who was found to have infections with both the alpha and beta coronavirus variants. Experts presented the case study at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases this weekend, announcing it’s believed to be the first known case of double infection, which underscores the need to be alert to this possibility. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed. The 90-year-old patient died in a hospital in Belgium in March. “This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,” said lead study author and molecular biologist Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen from the OLV Hospital in Aalst, Belgium, in a statement. “Both these variants were circulating in Belgium at the time, so it is likely that the lady was co-infected with different viruses from two different people. Unfortunately, we don’t know how she became infected,” she said. Israel will start giving COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to high-risk adults Israel has become the first country to start giving COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, according to The Washington Post. The Israel’s Ministry of Health is giving booster shots only to severely immunocompromised adults. In the United States, the CDC has said there’s not enough evidence that booster shots are needed. However, Pfizer and BioNTech have said they will ask for emergency use authorization for their COVID-19 booster shots. 7/9/21 2:57 p.m. PDT — Booster shots not yet needed, CDC-FDA joint statement says On July 8, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint statement regarding whether fully vaccinated people in the United States require a “booster” shot of COVID-19 vaccine. “The United States is fortunate to have highly effective vaccines that are widely available for those aged 12 and up,” reads the statement. “People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as delta.” The CDC and FDA also emphasized that people who are not vaccinated remain at risk, and “virtually all” COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated people. “We encourage Americans who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and their community,” advised the agencies. In a statement to CNN today, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, “We don’t know whether booster vaccines will be needed to maintain protection against COVID-19 until additional data is collected,” adding that “limited data available on how long the protection from current doses lasts and whether an additional booster dose would be beneficial and for whom.” Pfizer, BioNTech ask for emergency authorization for booster shots While the FDA and CDC say U.S. people do not need a booster shot at this time, Pfizer and BioNTech are already planning to ask for authorization to start administering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, according to Reuters. The pharma companies will ask that a booster shot be allowed under emergency circumstances due to a greater risk of infection about 6 months after the vaccine and due to the rise of new, more infectious variants. CDC says vaccinated students, teachers don’t need to wear masks CDC officials have released new back-to-school guidelines about how to prevent COVID-19 transmission. The CDC now prioritizes reopening schools to avoid learning loss for children. While vaccinations are recommended for those eligible, the CDC also has guidance for what teachers and school officials can do to cut down on the risk of transmitting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Among its recommendations, the CDC is advising unvaccinated students and teachers to stay masked indoors, and that physical distancing measures be used to decrease the risk of transmission. The CDC says students and teachers don’t need masks outdoors. Additionally, the CDC says testing measures should be used to ensure an outbreak isn’t missed. 7/8/21 3:41 p.m. PDT — Global COVID-19 deaths top 4 million Eighteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, its death toll has now topped 4 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. While cases have slowed in some countries, like the United States and United Kingdom, due to vaccinations, low vaccination rates and new, more infectious variants have led to a surge in cases in other areas. Fauci says healthy vaccinated people don’t need to mask indoors Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, clarified his statements about wearing a mask while being fully vaccinated. In an interview set to air tomorrow, July 9, on SiriusXM Doctor Radio’s “Doctor Radio Reports” with Dr. Marc Siegel, Fauci said most vaccinated people will be safe without needing to wear a mask. “If you’re a healthy person, you really don’t have to wear a mask indoor or outdoors because the protection that’s afforded to you by the vaccines that we have available, particularly the mRNA vaccines that are 94 and 95 percent effective,” he said. “You’re really very, very highly protected.” Fauci clarified that in a previous interview he had mentioned that in rare cases, vaccinated people living in places with low vaccination rates may want to consider going the “extra mile” depending on the state of their health. “I said, depending on your personal situation, you… might want to consider wearing a mask even if you are fully vaccinated,” he said. “For example, someone who’s an elderly person who may not actually have a full robust protection, even though the protection is very, very high, or someone with an underlying condition,” he said. FDA approval for vaccines could be this month, says expert Twenty-four states have seen COVID-19 cases increase by at least 10 percent over the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health experts and the federal government are pressing for more people to get vaccinated, reported CNN, and the delta variant has only increased the pressure. According to CDC estimates, the delta variant accounted for nearly 52 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States over the last 2 weeks that ended July 3. “We should think about the delta variant as the 2020 version of COVID-19 on steroids,” Andy Slavitt, a former senior adviser to Joe Biden’s COVID Response Team, told CNN. “It’s twice as infectious. Fortunately, unlike 2020, we actually have a tool that stops the delta variant in its tracks: It’s called vaccine.” Slavitt also explained that for fully vaccinated people, the delta variant “presents very little threat to you, very unlikely that you’re gonna get sick.” According to Slavitt and other experts, full approval for COVID-19 vaccines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might encourage more people to get vaccinated, reported CNN. According to the network, Slavitt added that full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could come as early as this month. Tokyo bans Olympic spectators amid COVID-19 emergency The Tokyo Olympics will take place without spectators, organizers said today, as rising infections force Japan to declare a state of emergency in the capital that will continue throughout the event, reported Reuters. According to Reuters, although widely expected, this move still marks a sharp turnabout from weeks before, when organizers claimed they wanted to hold the global sporting showpiece with some spectators. “It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said following talks between government officials, Tokyo organizers, and Olympic and Paralympic representatives, reported Reuters. “I am sorry for those who purchased tickets.” 7/7/21 2:43 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 vaccines protect against latest variant, says White House The White House issued a vote of confidence that COVID-19 vaccines are effective against a new coronavirus variant that’s causing concern among health experts. The new variant is called lambda. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called it a “variant of interest” because it has mutated in a way that might make it more transmissible among humans, and it may not be affected by “neutralizing antibodies” produced inside the body by the vaccines, reported Yahoo! News. “I’ll certainly leave it to doctors to discuss this, but early data suggests that the vaccines continue to work against the variants, including this variant, and that’s why we’ve been focusing so much on increasing vaccinations across the country,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a White House briefing yesterday. She emphasized that, as with every variant, getting vaccinated is the “best way” to protect yourself and others, and the administration will continue to assess data as it becomes more widely available. Global health officials are also downplaying the lambda variant as a major new threat as the pandemic wanes in the United States and across the world, according to Yahoo. “So far, we have seen no indication that the lambda variant is more aggressive,” Jairo Mendez-Rico, PhD, a WHO virologist, told a German media outlet, reported Yahoo! News. “It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don’t yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta.” Biden warns nation that millions are still unvaccinated In a July 6 briefing, President Biden again pushed for all eligible people in the United States to get vaccinated against COVID-19, emphasizing the importance of being protected against the rapidly spreading delta variant. “So, if you’re vaccinated, you’re protected. But if you’re unvaccinated, you’re not, and you’re putting yourself and more importantly maybe, from your perspective, your family and your friends at risk,” Biden said. “So, please get vaccinated now. It works. It’s free. And it’s never been easier, and it’s never been more important.” During the briefing, Biden outlined his administration’s plan to get unvaccinated people immunized against COVID-19. These measures include: Renewed emphasis on getting the vaccines to more family doctors and healthcare professionals so more people can get vaccinated at their doctor’s office.Increased efforts to get adolescents ages 12 to 18 vaccinated.Sending out more mobile clinic units to vaccinate people at special events, summer festivals, sporting events, or places of worship. 7/6/21 3:04 p.m. PDT — Cases could surge in U.K. as pandemic restrictions lifted Daily coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom could reach 100,000 this summer as the government moves to end almost all COVID-19-related restrictions later this month, the country’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said today. Javid told BBC Radio 4 that COVID-19 case numbers, currently around 25,000 each day, are expected to double ahead of the July 19 deadline to lift pandemic restrictions as the more transmissible delta variant drives a surge in infections. “As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly, and they could go as high as 100,000 case numbers,” Javid said. Even at its worst peak in January 2021, Britain’s daily cases never surpassed 60,000 a day, reported The Washington Post. According to Public Health England (PHE), the delta variant accounts for at least 95 percent of new cases in the United Kingdom. WHO declares lambda variant a ‘variant of concern’ The lambda variant, which is believed to be first detected in Peru about 1 year ago, is a new concern to scientists who say these virus mutations are potentially resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, reported Fox News. The World Health Organization (WHO) said these mutations could increase the lambda variant’s transmissibility or even its resistance to “neutralizing antibodies,” with the WHO declaring it a “variant of interest.” 7/2/21 2:40 p.m. PDT — Moderna and Pfizer vaccines prime T cells to fight virus variants, study finds Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) have found that T cells, or immune cells, from people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 or received doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are able to recognize several coronavirus variants, reported San Diego News. The new study, recently published in Cell Reports Medicine, finds both CD4+ “helper” T cells and CD8+ “killer” T cells continue to recognize mutated forms of the coronavirus. This response is key to our body’s complex immune response to the virus, and allows the immune system to eliminate infected cells and stop severe infections. “This study suggests that the impact of mutations found in the variants of concern is limited,” said LJI professor Alessandro Sette, Dr.Bio.Sci., study senior author and member of the LJI Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research, in a statement. “We can presume that T cells would still be available as a line of defense against viral infection.” The current study includes data on four of the most common variants of concern (VOC), according to an LJI press release. LJI also announced that ongoing studies have been expanded to a larger panel of variants, including the delta variant, which became common after the study was initiated. The research team has established relationships with more than 20 different laboratories around the world to help monitor T cell reactivity to VOCs. “These variants are still a concern, but our study shows that even if there is a decrease in antibodies, as other studies have shown, the T cells remain largely unaffected,” said LJI instructor Alba Grifoni, PhD, in a statement. “The vaccines still work.” NJ governor weighs in on reinstating mask mandates According to NJ.com, it’s been just over a month since New Jersey dropped its statewide mask mandate in most places amid increasing vaccinations and plummeting COVID-19 cases. The rapid spread of the delta variant has prompted new and occasionally contradictory guidance on mask use in many areas worldwide, yet the CDC continues to recommend that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most settings because they’re protected against variants. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was asked Wednesday if the delta variant might lead him to reinstate mask mandates in the state, according to NJ.com. “I hope we don’t have to go back,” Murphy said. “We would not have taken the steps we’ve taken with any expectation that we would have to go backward.” “If we have to, we will, clearly,” he added. “We’ll continue to monitor the data points that we’ve talked about every time we’ve been at this table for the past 16 months, and right now it’s hard to argue anything other than we are in really good shape, and we just hope it stays that way.” Over 1,000 counties in U.S. have less than 30% vaccination coverage While the overall vaccination rate for adults is hovering around 57 percent nationwide, pockets of the United States have vaccination rates far below that number. Officials from the CDC reported that 1,000 counties have a COVID-19 vaccination rate under 30 percent. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said these counties are primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, and they remain at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially as the more infectious delta variant continues to spread. “There are communities that are vulnerable and where we are now seeing surges in cases, and indeed also hospitalizations, due to what could be the spread of the delta variant and low vaccination rates in these communities,” she said.  Johnson & Johnson vaccine appears to protect against variants, effective for at least 8 months New data from Johnson & Johnson has found that its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be protective against the new infectious delta variant. Additionally, the vaccine appears to provide durable protection against infection for at least 8 months. The study has been ongoing for 8 months, and there’s no sign the vaccine is likely to stop working at the 8-month mark. “Current data for the eight months studied so far show that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine generates a strong neutralizing antibody response that does not wane; rather, we observe an improvement over time. In addition, we observe a persistent and particularly robust, durable cellular immune response,” Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement. 7/1/21 2:39 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 cases up 72% in U.K. last week as delta variant spreads Officials in Britain said nearly 28,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the last week, a 72 percent increase compared with the previous week, according to Reuters. While Britain has been able to push for a significant portion of the population to get vaccinated, it still has not reached herd immunity. As the delta variant, believed to be more infectious, continues to spread, unvaccinated people are at significant risk of developing COVID-19. The delta variant now accounts for more than 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom. New study finds pets may get COVID-19 from their owners Researchers have found that pets may develop COVID-19 if their owners are sick. The study, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is being presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases next weekend. Researchers looked at pets in the homes of people known to have tested positive for COVID-19. They found pets in more than 20 percent of these households had antibodies to the coronavirus. This doesn’t mean the animals were severely ill, but it does show they can harbor the virus and potentially pass it on to other people or animals later. “If you have COVID-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people,” Els Broens, PhD, associate professor for veterinary medicine at Utrecht University and a study co-author, said in a statement. “The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health — they had no or mild symptoms of COVID-19 — but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population,” she said. Vaccinated people likely have fewer symptoms, lower viral load in rare cases of breakthrough infection COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be very protective against the virus, but they’re not perfect. In rare cases, often in less than 5 percent of cases, breakthrough infections, or when a vaccinated person develops COVID-19, have been known to occur. New research from an ongoing University of Arizona Health Sciences study finds that in these rare cases, the vaccines still provide protection. Researchers from the University of Arizona found that vaccinated study participants tended to have milder symptoms, a shorter infection time, and a lower viral load, meaning less viral material in the body, than unvaccinated study participants who developed COVID-19. “If you get vaccinated, about 90 percent of the time you’re not going to get COVID-19,” Dr. Jeff Burgess, associate dean for research and professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and principal investigator of the study, said in a statement. “Even if you do get it, there will be less of the virus in you and your illness is likely to be much milder,” he said. 6/30/21 3:28 p.m. PDT — CDC director says vaccines should protect people from delta variant In a television interview, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that the rise of the delta variant is concerning, but that vaccinated people are likely still safe. She also addressed seemingly contradictory mask policies, like those advised by the World Health Organization and Los Angeles County health officials, that recommend people continue to wear masks regardless of vaccine status. Walensky said those masking policies are really to protect unvaccinated people from the delta variant. “Areas where we have low vaccination, that is where the virus is likely to take hold,” she said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Those masking policies are really to protect the unvaccinated.” She reiterated that with nearly 2 out of 3 U.S. adults fully vaccinated, the delta variant is unlikely to cause many breakthrough infections. “The vaccinated population we believe is still safe,” Walensky said. Engineers create a face mask that can detect the coronavirus Engineers from Harvard and MIT say they have created a face mask that can detect the coronavirus while being worn. The masks have tiny disposable sensors that could potentially be altered to detect other viruses as well. The researchers were able to use freeze-dried synthetic biology sensors to detect virus material. The sensors can be activated by the wearer, and the results are only visible inside the mask for privacy purposes. It takes about 90 minutes to get test results after the test has started. “This test is as sensitive as the gold standard, highly sensitive PCR tests, but it’s as fast as the antigen tests that are used for quick analysis of COVID-19,” said Peter Nguyen, PhD, a research scientist at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and one of the lead authors, according to a press release. The face mask is currently a prototype, but the engineers have filed a patent and are reportedly looking for manufacturers. 6/29/21 1:06 p.m. PDT — LA officials ask everyone to mask up indoors due to spread of coronavirus variants Los Angeles County public health officials are asking all residents, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to still wear masks indoors to avoid another spike of coronavirus infections. The recommendation is a precautionary measure that officials hope will curb the spread of the new delta variant that’s rapidly spreading throughout the globe. The variant has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in other countries, like Australia, that previously managed to keep a low case count during the pandemic. According to Los Angeles County health officials, the delta variant now makes up half the variants being sequenced in the county, and it accounts for 1 in 5 new infections nationwide. Europe may see ‘fourth’ wave of COVID-19 due to delta variant The delta variant could cause another surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe, warned Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin, reported Yahoo! News. Martin also said indoor dining would not reopen as planned in Ireland. Instead, it will be restricted to people who are fully vaccinated or those who have had a previous infection. 6/28/21 2:03 p.m. PDT — Study finds mRNA COVID-19 vaccines may protect against disease for years A new study published today in Nature found evidence that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech may provide lasting protection against the disease. Researchers found evidence that the vaccine set off an immune response that may last indefinitely. “It’s a good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine,” Ali Ellebedy, PhD, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis who led the study, told The New York Times. One major caveat is that the protection provided by these vaccines may not last if the coronavirus drastically mutates. However, current virus variants do not appear to cause high rates of symptomatic infection in people who are vaccinated. Australia grapples with new COVID-19 surge Australia is grappling with a new surge of COVID-19 cases that has led to lockdowns in major cities, including Sydney. This is the first time the country has seen multiple outbreaks in different territories at the same time, according to the BBC. Experts say the new delta variant, which is likely more infectious, may be behind the rise in cases. Brad Hazzard, New South Wales health minister, called the delta variant a “very formidable foe,” according to the BBC. “No matter what defensive steps we’re taking at the moment, the virus seems to understand how to counter-attack,” he said. Officials are pushing people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus. Just 5 percent of Australia’s population is currently fully vaccinated. 6/25/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — NIH starts COVID-19 vaccine study in people who are pregnant The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is starting a study on how the COVID-19 vaccine affects people who are pregnant. The study will follow 750 pregnant individuals and 250 people postpartum to see the impact the vaccine has on their health. The participants and their newborns will be followed for the first year after birth to see the impact of the vaccines. Experts have mostly been pushing people who are pregnant to get vaccinated, even though pregnant people were not included in original trials. Experts point out that the dangers of COVID-19 are particularly severe for people who are pregnant, since they’re considered immunocompromised. COVID-19 cluster seen in kindergarteners Despite a nationwide drop in COVID-19 cases, Nevada officials are dealing with multiple outbreaks of the new delta variant. One cluster, involving nine cases, was seen in 5- and 6-year-old students at an elementary school in Reno, Nevada, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. While young children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, they’re still at risk for developing the disease. U.S. Surgeon General warns against misinformation With a dangerous COVID-19 variant on the rise, health experts urge hesitant people to get vaccinated. However, the U.S. Surgeon General warns that a big obstacle stands in their way: misinformation. “There is so much misinformation out there about the vaccine, coming through so many channels — a lot of it being spread on social media,” Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN. “It’s inducing a lot of fear among people.” “Two-thirds of those who are unvaccinated in polls say that they either believe the myths about COVID-19 or think that they might be true,” he said, adding that he’s worried about those who are unvaccinated as the variant spreads. Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, estimate that 70 to 85 percent of Americans will need to become immune to COVID-19 either through vaccination or developing the disease in order to control community spread, reported CNN. But after initial surges, vaccination rates have slowed, and only about 54 percent of the population has received at least one dose. Critically, more than 1 in 10 people who received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have missed their second dose, according to data shared with CNN by the CDC. Australia and Israel face COVID-19 outbreaks despite high levels of vaccination According to NPR, rising COVID-19 cases around the world are forcing some governments to reimplement lockdown measures to control disease transmission. From Australia to Israel and around Europe, health officials are announcing new restrictions ahead of the weekend as they report clusters of outbreaks and try to mitigate further transmissions, reported NPR. Decisions have come as the more transmissible COVID-19 delta variant becomes the dominant strain in several countries. NPR lists Australia, Portugal, and Israel as nations reinstituting pandemic measures amid surges in new cases. This is occurring even while in the United States, many places are reopening despite warnings from health officials. 6/24/21 2:17 p.m. PDT — Delta variant has new mutation called ‘delta plus’ A mutation of the delta coronavirus variant has emerged. Called “delta plus,” it’s starting to worry global experts, according to CNBC. India has dubbed delta plus a “variant of concern,” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transmissible. In the United Kingdom, where the delta variant is now responsible for most new COVID-19 cases, Public Health England noted in its last summary that routine scanning of COVID-19 cases in the country found almost 40 cases of the newer variant, which has acquired a spike protein mutation called K417N, or delta plus, reported CNBC. Public Health England also noted that, as of June 16, cases of the delta plus variant have also been identified in the United States (83 cases when the report was published last Friday) as well as Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey. The Indian health ministry released a statement on June 22 that said INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories genome sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had informed the ministry that the delta plus variant has three worrying characteristics: increased transmissibilitystronger binding to receptors of lung cellspotential reduction in monoclonal antibody response Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist as well as vaccines and health systems expert based in New Delhi, told CNBC that while the government should remain alert to the progress of the variant, there’s “no reason to panic.” “Epidemiologically speaking, I have no reason to believe that ‘Delta plus’ alters the current situation in a manner to accelerate or trigger the third wave,” Lahariya told the network via email. Israel says as many as 50% of new COVID-19 cases from delta variant are in people already vaccinated As Israel faces a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant, the country’s health officials say as many as half of those cases are among people who were vaccinated, reported Business Insider. According to Dr. Chezy Levy, Israel’s health ministry director-general, fully vaccinated people in contact with the delta variant will now have to quarantine. “Even though the numbers are low, the fact that this is reaching vaccinated people means… that we are still checking how many vaccinated people have also been infected,” Levy said, Haaretz reported. Speaking with state broadcaster Kan public radio, Levy said that approximately 40 to 50 percent of new cases were people who had been vaccinated. He did not appear to specify a time frame for the new cases, according to news reports. 6/23/21 3:12 p.m. PDT — CDC group reports 12.6 cases of heart inflammation per 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses A few rare cases of heart inflammation are “likely” associated with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, according to experts on a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CNBC, panel experts reported there have been more than 1,200 cases of myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) or pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) in people who have received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Most of the people affected were men under 30. Nearly 80 percent of those affected have recovered, and nine people were hospitalized. Two were in intensive care as of June 11. Over 70% of people over 30 have received at least 1 vaccine dose The Biden administration won’t reach its goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said yesterday, reported USA Today. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have reached the goal already. But some states have less than 50 percent of their adults vaccinated, Zients said at a White House briefing. Still, the goal of at least partially vaccinating 70 percent of people ages 30 and older has been reached, he emphasized, adding that the administration is also on track to hit the 70 percent target for ages 27 and older by Fourth of July weekend. “And let’s remember, when the president took office, we were at approximately 5 percent of adults with one shot. So, in just 5 months, we have been racing from 5 percent to 70 percent,” Zients said. Zients explained that achieving 70 percent of adults vaccinated was an “aspirational target,” and pointed out that the administration has met or exceeded it for most of the adult population, calling this a “remarkable achievement.” Delta variant ‘greatest threat’ to U.S. efforts against COVID-19, declares Fauci White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that the highly contagious delta variant is the “greatest threat” to the nation’s attempt to eliminate COVID-19, reported CNBC. The virus strain makes up about 20 percent of all new cases in the United States, up from 10 percent about 2 weeks ago. Fauci added that the delta variant appears to be “following the same pattern” as the alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, with infections in the United States doubling roughly every 2 weeks. “Similar to the situation in the U.K., the delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19,” Fauci said, reported CNBC. According to the network, health officials say there are reports that the delta variant causes more severe symptoms, but more research is needed to confirm those conclusions. 6/22/21 1:40 p.m. PDT — Delta variant likely to become the dominant variant within weeks in U.S. The highly transmissible delta variant is likely to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the United States within a few weeks, according to new data. Originally detected in India, the delta variant is now being found throughout the United States, even as cases decline amid increasing vaccinations. While vaccinations continue, the rate of people being vaccinated has been declining since a high in April. Experts are concerned that new coronavirus variants could continue to spread among unvaccinated people, prolonging the pandemic. Missouri hospital sees surge of COVID-19 cases as vaccinations slow With only 45 percent of U.S. people fully vaccinated and only 16 states that have fully vaccinated more than half their populations, health experts worry about the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, reported CBS News. It’s 60 percent more contagious than the alpha variant first detected in the United Kingdom, which was the previous variant of concern, according to infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm, PhD. “In the areas where they have large pockets of unvaccinated people, we can surely expect to see surges in cases, in some situations challenging the healthcare capacity of that local area,” Osterholm told CBS News. According to the CBS, one hospital over capacity is Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Mercy Hospital President Craig McCoy told CBS the hospital is “holding patients in the ER, waiting on admissions, waiting on discharges on any given day.” McCoy told the network that at Mercy hospital, almost every COVID-19 patient is unvaccinated. “We’ve only had two that have come out as inpatients that have been fully vaccinated. The vaccine, from everything we can see, does appear to be effective against the delta variant,” he said. 6/21/21 2:35 p.m. PDT — Ugandan coach tests positive for COVID-19 in Japan weeks before Olympics A member of the Ugandan Olympic team tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan, according to the BBC. The Ugandan team is only the second foreign Olympic team to arrive in Japan ahead of the Olympic Games scheduled to take place next month. In recent months, Japan has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, which has led to criticism that the Olympic Games should be canceled. Officials have rebuffed these criticisms. This week, Japan announced that up to 10,000 spectators will be allowed to watch the games. Additionally, COVID-19 cases are now declining. The states lagging in vaccinations While many states are making great strides in vaccinating residents against COVID-19, the ones that aren’t may soon need to deal with a more transmissible variant, experts say, reported CNN. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows about 45 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But states like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming have only fully vaccinated less than 35 percent of residents, according to CNN. The delta variant, believed to be more transmissible and able to cause more severe disease, might cause an upsurge in infections, but those levels will vary depending on each region’s rates of vaccination, Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told “Face the Nation.” “When we look across the United States, we see wide variance in terms of vaccination rates,” said Gottlieb, comparing places like Vermont and Connecticut that have high vaccination rates with other states currently struggling to achieve 50 percent of residents vaccinated. Biden likely to miss goal of 70% partial vaccination in adults It’s looking like the United States might miss President Biden’s target of 70 percent of adults being, at least partially, vaccinated by July 4. A vaccine expert said time is running out to get ahead of the potential spread of virus variants, reported CNN. “Vaccines are our only way out of this,” Dr. Paul Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Unless we vaccinate a significant percentage of the population before winter hits, you’re going to see more spread and the creation of more variants, which will only make this task more difficult.” To attain herd immunity, or the point at which the virus is not easily transmitted in the community, experts have estimated it would require the inoculation through infection or vaccination of between 70 and 85 percent of the population, reported CNN. “You would have thought at the beginning of this, knowing that vaccines are our only way out of the pandemic, the hardest part would have been figuring out how to construct these vaccines,” Offit continued. “The hardest part is convincing people to get it, which is remarkable.” 6/17/21 1:39 p.m. PDT — Delta variant now variant of concern The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that the delta variant, first detected in India, is now a variant of concern (VOC), meaning it poses a significant threat to unvaccinated people, reported NPR. “A very recent data — literally yesterday and the day before — shows that, in fact, it is a more dangerous virus in the sense that it can potentially make people more severely ill,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told NPR. “So the combination of more transmissibility and a greater severity of disease appropriately prompted the CDC to elevate it to a variant of concern,” he said. According to NPR, this virus variant is the most contagious yet, and the CDC estimates it may be responsible for nearly 10 percent of all new cases in the United States. In certain western states, the delta variant may be responsible for nearly 20 percent of cases. This risk has public health officials stressing the benefits of vaccination, which is shown to be highly effective against the delta variant. “If you are vaccinated, you’re going to be protected, which is another very good reason to encourage people strongly to get vaccinated,” Fauci told NPR. “If you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting infected with the virus that now spreads more rapidly and gives more serious disease.” Rising COVID-19 cases in England are driven by unvaccinated people COVID-19 cases are rising exponentially across England and are driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated people, according to scientists, reported the Guardian. According to the Guardian, a study commissioned by the U.K. government called the REACT study found that infections increased by 50 percent between May 20 and June 7, which coincided with the rise of the delta variant that now dominates in the United Kingdom. “We observed that growth was being driven by younger age groups, with five-fold higher rates of swab-positivity among younger children (ages 5 to 12 years) and young adults (18 to 24 years) compared with those aged 65 years and older, and 2.5-fold higher rates among those below 50 years compared with those 50 years and above,” the study authors wrote. The study authors added that their findings suggest that imminent expansion of the vaccine program to people ages 18 and above “should help substantially to reduce the overall growth of the epidemic.” 6/16/21 3:27 p.m. PDT — WHO says delta variant now circulating in 80 countries The delta variant of the coronavirus is now circulating in 80 countries, according to officials from the World Health Organization (WHO). The delta variant was first identified in India in the fall of 2020, and has been rapidly spreading globally. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead for the WHO, said in an interview posted on Twitter that all four variants of concern are more transmissible than the original virus variant. “If it can spread more easily, then more people can get infected quickly, and if a system is overwhelmed… it can overburden the health system,” she said. New York lifts pandemic restrictions New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that since the state has reached 70 percent vaccination, he will lift pandemic restrictions. Unvaccinated people are still required to use face masks as per federal guidelines, according to a press release from the governor’s office. “What New York has done is extraordinary. Not only do we have the lowest COVID positivity rate in the United States of America, we have hit 70 percent vaccination ahead of schedule. We successfully deployed the weapon that will win the war, and New York led the nation,” Cuomo said in the statement. According to Cuomo, at one point the state had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 48.16 percent. The governor confirmed that the positivity rate is now 0.40 percent, the lowest rate in the country. California also lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions yesterday. The Golden State ended capacity limits, physical distancing, and, for people already vaccinated, mask requirements. California’s reopening allows vaccinated people to go without masks in most situations. This puts the state in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Masks are still required on public transportation, in hospitals and jails, and at schools and child care centers, pending updated guidance from the CDC. 899 people received expired COVID-19 vaccines at Times Square, need to get another shot Nearly 900 who were vaccinated against COVID-19 at Times Square in New York City earlier this month received expired doses of the vaccine, reported Business Insider. The 899 people received the expired doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the former NFL Experience building in Times Square between June 5 and June 10. These people should schedule another shot as soon as possible, the New York City Health Department said, reported The Associated Press (AP). “We apologize for the inconvenience to those receiving the vaccine batch in question and want people first and foremost to know that we have been advised that there is no danger from the vaccine they received,” ATC Vaccination Services, the company that administered the shots under contract to the city, said in a statement, reported AP. 6/15/21 2:25 p.m. PDT — Deaths from COVID-19 now top 600,000 in the U.S. Despite dropping caseloads of COVID-19, the death toll continues to grow in the United States. The country has now reported more than 600,000 deaths from the disease, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The United States has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths globally since the start of the pandemic. New reported cases have dropped significantly as vaccinations have increased in the United States. AstraZeneca antibody drug fails to prevent COVID-19 symptoms, large trial finds A study key to demonstrating the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s antibody drug combination, AZD7442, found it was only 33 percent effective at preventing symptoms of the disease in people exposed to the coronavirus, according to Bloomberg. The outcome is disappointing for the drugmaker, as this drug was hoped to be a bright spot in the company’s efforts to fight the pandemic following the mixed success of its COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford, reported Bloomberg. “While this trial did not meet the primary endpoint against symptomatic illness, we are encouraged by the protection seen in the PCR negative participants following treatment with AZD7442,” AstraZeneca Executive Vice President Mene Pangalos said in a statement. “We await results from PROVENT, our pre-exposure prevention trial and TACKLE, our treatment trial in preventing more severe disease, to understand the potential role of AZD7442 in protecting against COVID-19,” he said. According to CNBC, AZD7442 belongs to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies, which mimic natural antibodies produced by the body to fight infections. Similar therapies developed by drugmakers Regeneron and Eli Lilly have already received approval by U.S. regulators to treat nonhospitalized people with COVID-19. Vermont reaches vaccination milestone, lifts all pandemic restrictions Vermont crossed a major vaccination milestone yesterday with more than 80 percent of the state’s eligible population receiving at least one vaccine dose, according to data from the state’s health department. Consequently, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has dropped all remaining pandemic restrictions throughout the state, fulfilling a promise he made last month to lift restrictions once the state eclipsed that milestone, reported NBC5 News. “There are no longer any state COVID-19 restrictions,” Scott said during a news conference, reported NBC5. “None.” “So unless there is a federal requirement in place, like for public transportation or long-term care facilities, employers, municipalities, and individuals can operate under the same conditions as before the pandemic,” he said. 6/14/21 12:20 p.m. PDT — Novavax notes success in latest vaccine trial Today, drugmaker Novavax announced that its COVID-19 vaccine was 90 percent effective against disease and protected against virus variants in a large phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the United States and Mexico. Company officials added that the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing moderate to serious disease. The findings indicated that the two-shot vaccine had an overall effectiveness of about 90 percent, with preliminary data showing it was safe. This puts the vaccine at about the same level as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine. “Today, Novavax is one step closer to addressing the critical and persistent global public health need for additional COVID-19 vaccines. These clinical results reinforce that NVX-CoV2373 is extremely effective and offers complete protection against both moderate and severe COVID-19 infection,” Stanley C. Erck, president and CEO of Novavax, said in a statement. “Novavax continues to work with a sense of urgency to complete our regulatory submissions and deliver this vaccine, built on a well understood and proven platform, to a world that is still in great need of vaccines,” he said. Novavax intends to file for regulatory authorization in the third quarter. Delta variant likely to become dominant in U.S. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told “Face the Nation” yesterday that the coronavirus variant known as delta is likely to become the dominant source for new infections in the United States and could lead to new outbreaks in the fall, with unvaccinated people being most at risk. “Right now, in the United States, it’s about 10 percent of infections. It’s doubling every 2 weeks,” Gottlieb said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to see a sharp uptick in infections, but it does mean that this is going to take over. And I think the risk is really to the fall that this could spike a new epidemic.” Gottlieb emphasized the delta variant is going to continue to spread, citing new data from prominent British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, PhD. “There was data out from Neil Ferguson this week showing it’s about 60 percent more transmissible than 1.1.7, which was that old U.K. variant that they’re now calling the alpha variant,” Gottlieb explained. “So, this is more contagious. It appears that people who get this virus have higher viral loads and they have those viral loads for longer periods of time. So they shed more virus,” he said. Black, Latino Americans have higher COVID-19 death rates Black and Latino Americans once again have the highest death rates from COVID-19. During spring 2020, Black Americans had the highest death rate. Last summer, Latino Americans had the highest rate, particularly from outbreaks in Texas and California. This past winter, the pandemic spread across most of the nation, with white Americans having some of the highest death rates. This summer, the high death rates have returned to Black and Latino communities. Experts say these two groups have less access to health services, have lower vaccination rates, and are more likely to have jobs that put them in contact with the public. 6/11/21 12:20 p.m. PDT — Delta variant spread worries health experts Many U.S. states and communities are far from achieving a level of COVID-19 vaccination that could prevent future outbreaks of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant. The variant, which fueled the recent surge of cases and deaths in India, presents some real risks. According to experts in the United Kingdom, the Delta variant is 40 to 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant that first emerged there in late 2020 and was up to 70 percent more transmissible than earlier versions of the coronavirus. In Great Britain, the Delta variant is currently responsible for 91 percent of new COVID-19 cases, with cases doubling over the past week, according to The New York Times.  Although all two-dose COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the variant when fully administered, a recent study from Public Health England (PHE) finds this variant’s “immune escape” properties reduce protection to only 33 percent of people between the first dose and second dose. Delta is now driving “an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the U.K.,” Dr. Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, told the Financial Times. “The U.K. has rapidly changed from one of the best performing nations to a nation again struggling with rising cases.” Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the Delta variant’s spread and dominance in the United Kingdom could mean trouble for the United States, where the variant currently accounts for 6 percent of all infections, rising to 18 percent or higher in certain Western states. Johnson & Johnson vaccine expiration dates extended The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced it is extending the expiration date on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Agency officials said the vaccine can be stored at low temperatures for 4.5 months instead of the 3-month limit originally ordered. Millions of doses were in danger of being tossed out next month. FDA officials also ordered Johnson & Johnson to discard 60 million vaccine doses made at a Baltimore facility due to concerns the manufacturer had not followed proper practices. The agency is allowing 10 million doses from that complex to be distributed with a warning label. CDC schedules emergency meeting on heart inflammation concerns The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called an emergency meeting to discuss reports of heart inflammation issues after the administration of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The meeting of CDC advisors will take place on June 18. So far, the agency has identified 226 cases believed to be myocarditis or pericarditis. Although the cases are a tiny fraction of the 130 million people in the United States who’ve received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, the numbers are still higher than expected. 6/10/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Moderna asks FDA to allow COVID-19 vaccine to be given to children over 12 Officials at Moderna are asking the FDA to give emergency use authorization to their COVID-19 vaccine in people over the age of 12. “We are pleased to announce that we have submitted for an emergency use authorization for our COVID-19 vaccine with the FDA for use in adolescents in the United States,” Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said in a statement. “We are encouraged that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents.” They have also filed for authorization in Canada and the European Union. Currently, the only COVID-19 vaccine available to children between the ages of 12 and 16 is the one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. Another vaccine on the market may help children get more access to the vaccines. Unvaccinated at risk for a more dangerous coronavirus variant, surgeon general says Although there is an ongoing decline in COVID-19 cases in the United States, the surgeon general warns those still unvaccinated to not let their guard down, reported CNN. “For those who are unvaccinated, they are increasingly at risk as more and more variants develop,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Wednesday, reported CNN. He specifically cited the B.1.617.2, or Delta variant, that was first identified in India. “The news about the Delta variant is evidence of really why it’s so important for us to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Murthy said, adding that the Delta variant is more transmissible and potentially more dangerous. According to CNN, many health experts and officials share concerns over the risk of variants bringing an end to a nationwide reopening. “We don’t want to let happen in the United States what is happening currently in the U.K., where you have a troublesome variant essentially taking over as the dominant variant, which has made it a very difficult situation in the U.K.,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Wednesday, according to CNN. Fauci added that the Delta variant accounts for over 6 percent of sequenced virus in the United States. Houston hospital suspends nearly 200 employees who refused vaccination A Houston hospital has suspended 178 staff members who have refused to follow the facility’s mandate that all employees be fully vaccinated by Monday, reported NBC News. Almost 25,000 Houston Methodist staff members have been fully protected against COVID-19 as part of a vaccination requirement announced in April, Houston Methodist’s president, Dr. Marc Boom, said in a statement Tuesday, according to the network. However, 178 unvaccinated employees who did not receive religious or medical exemptions for the mandate were suspended without pay. This number includes 27 staff who were only partially vaccinated. “We won’t have the final numbers for 2 weeks, as employees can still get vaccinated with their second dose or with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Boom’s statement said, according to NBC. “I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first.” 6/9/21 1:36 p.m. PDT — Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine effective against variants, study finds A new study has found that Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine initiates multiple immune responses, making it highly protective not only in the United States but also in Brazil and South Africa, where different coronavirus variants are circulating.  The researchers found that people in various parts of the world who received the shot were protected against severe disease, no matter which virus variant was circulating. “Functional non-neutralizing antibody responses and T cell responses were largely preserved against SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the study authors wrote. “These findings have implications for vaccine protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.” Thousands of Johnson & Johnson vaccines may expire before they’re used Hundreds of thousands of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines may expire before they can be administered, according to Kaiser Health News. The shots last for 3 months when refrigerated and up to 2 years when frozen. Local health departments may have a backlog of shots as demand for vaccines has waned. While the vaccines can be redistributed to other areas or countries in need, Johnson & Johnson and the Food and Drug Administration are also waiting for new evidence to see whether the vaccine will remain viable after its initial expiration date. 6/8/21 2:05 p.m. PDT — Pfizer begins testing COVID-19 vaccine in children under 12 Pfizer announced today it will begin testing its COVID-19 vaccine in a larger group of children younger than 12 after selecting a lower dose of the shot in an earlier stage of the trial, reported Reuters. The study will enroll up to 4,500 children at more than 90 clinical sites in the United States, Finland, Poland, and Spain, the company said. According to Reuters, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorized for use in children as young as 12 in Europe, the United States, and Canada. Children receive the same dose as adults, 30 micrograms. Vaccinating children and young people is considered a critical step toward reaching herd immunity and taming the COVID-19 pandemic, reported Reuters. We must redouble vaccination efforts to hit president’s July 4 goal, expert says Despite signs of normalcy returning across the United States, from in-person graduations to maskless Memorial Day weekend celebrations, experts warned CNN that the country must redouble efforts to get more people vaccinated by July 4. According to CNN, President Joe Biden has called for 70 percent of all adults to have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by July 4. But a recent CNN analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data finds we’re not likely to hit that target until mid-to-late July. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the network he agrees the country isn’t on track to hit the milestone. “So we’ve got to redouble of our efforts,” he told CNN. “States really have to pick up pace. If we just keep going at the status quo I don’t think we’re going to hit that 70 percent by July 4.” 6/7/21 12:20 p.m. PDT — July 4th vaccination goal of 70% may be tough to reach Experts are expressing concern the United States may miss the vaccination goal set by President Joe Biden for July 4. They say that goal of 70 percent of U.S. adults receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose may not be reached until mid-July. The country is now averaging about 1 million vaccinations a day, down from the peak of 3.3 million in April. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Friday that the best way for the country to avoid COVID-19 surges is to get vaccinated. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over — and it is not over yet,” Fauci said at an event hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Complacency, he added, could lead to “another surge — particularly with variants floating around — that could set us back to the time when we had to shut down things.” Vaccination rate still low in Black communities Another concern is the pace at which Black Americans are being vaccinated. Officials say the vaccination blueprint that’s worked with other ethnic and racial groups isn’t doing enough to win over Black Americans. According to the most recent CDC data, less than 10 percent of Black Americans have been fully vaccinated against the disease. “It’s a tough layer that we have to address — it requires relationship building and it’s going to take a little longer,” Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, who sits on the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, told Politico. “We have a systemic issue here.” 6/4/21 4:10 p.m. PDT — CDC director urges teens to get vaccinated Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), urged teens to get vaccinated and recommended parents who have questions to speak with their child’s health providers, local pharmacists, or health departments, reported The Washington Post. “I strongly encourage parents to get their teens vaccinated, as I did mine,” she said during a briefing yesterday, reported the Post. Walensky added that until teens are fully vaccinated, “they should continue to wear masks and take precautions when around others who are not vaccinated to protect themselves, their friends, family and community.” 6/3/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Biden administration outlines plan to send 25 million vaccines to other countries With vaccination demand in the United States waning, the Biden administration is now looking to send millions of doses abroad to fight COVID-19, according to Reuters. About 19 million doses will be given to COVAX, the campaign run by the World Health Organization to get vaccines to developing countries. The other 6 million doses will be given directly to countries including Canada, Mexico, India, and South Korea. While more than 50 percent of the U.S. population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, many countries have yet to even start a mass vaccination campaign. The World Health Organization has been pushing for wealthier countries to donate vaccines to poorer countries to fight the pandemic globally. Should a strain develop in other parts of the world, it can quickly spread to the United States. COVID-19 cases lowest since pandemic began The United States has brought new COVID-19 cases down to their lowest level since the pandemic began in March 2020. The country averaged about 15,622 new cases per day over the past week, which is a 30 percent improvement over the week before. Also, new cases declined in 43 states, with the other seven holding steady, reported Axios. Additionally, since vaccinations are rising, there’s less chance that we could see another major spike similar to what we saw this winter. According to a recent story in The Washington Post, the risk for unvaccinated people is still about as high as it’s ever been, with an average of roughly 500, mostly unvaccinated, people dying per day from COVID-19 in the United States. India orders unapproved COVID-19 vaccine as nation struggles against second wave Today, India signed its first order for an unapproved COVID-19 vaccine, one day after criticism from the South Asian country’s supreme court over a bungled vaccine rollout that left millions of people vulnerable after almost 338,000 deaths, reported Reuters. According to Reuters, only 4.7 percent of the 950 million adult population has received two vaccine doses, as the world’s second most populous country reels from a nationwide second wave of infections that has killed about 170,000 people in April and May alone. The government will buy 300 million vaccine doses from local firm Biological-E, and has put down an advance of $205.6 million, the health ministry said, even though the vaccine is still going through phase 3 clinical trials, reported Reuters. “The arrangement with Biological-E is part of the wider endeavor of the government of India to encourage indigenous vaccine manufacturers by providing them support in research & development and also financial support,” the ministry said in a statement, reported CTV News. According to CTV News, the official recorded caseload since the start of the pandemic now stands at 28.4 million, which is the second-highest in the world after the United States.

  • CDC recommends Pfizer-BioNTech Boosters for Older Adults and Others at High Risk
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images Millions of Americans who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are now eligible for boosters.The FDA and CDC are expected to review data later on boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.The CDC has recommended that people 65 years old and older and those at high risk of contracting the virus receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine booster shots. Millions of people in the United States fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for a booster dose now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has green-lighted its use in specific high-risk groups. This aligns with the Food and Drug Administration’s update this week of the vaccine’s emergency approval. But it partially goes against a decision made Sept. 23 by the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee. In a Sept. 24 announcement made well past midnight, the CDC recommended that the following people who have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should receive a booster dose at least 6 months after their second dose: People 65 years old and older and residents of long-term care facilities.People ages 50 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19. The agency also said the following people fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech might choose to receive a booster at least 6 months after their second dose, based on their benefits and risks: People ages 18 to 49 years old with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of COVID-19.People ages 18 to 64 years old who are at higher risk of acquiring the coronavirus or passing the virus due to their job or the institution in which they live. “I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses [to these groups],” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said in a news release. “This aligns with the FDA’s booster authorization and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot.” This recommendation applies only to people who have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The FDA and CDC are expected to review data later on boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. CDC committee focused on people most at risk The CDC director’s decision matches the update that the FDA made Sept.22 to the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. However, it partially goes against the recommendation of the CDC’s vaccine advisory group, which on Sept. 23 approved all but the last of the booster categories. After a two-day meeting, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted unanimously to approve boosters for people 65 years old and older and residents of a long-term care facility. Although data on the benefits of COVID-19 vaccine boosters is limited, it is clearest for older adults, especially those with chronic medical conditions. The ACIP also approved the following two categories — adults younger than 65 years old with underlying medical conditions — but with some members voting against each of these recommendations. The category involving occupational and institutional risk resulted in the most disagreement among committee members. This vote was defeated by a 9-to-6 vote. Some members felt healthcare workers, who are exposed to COVID-19 patients daily, should be able to get a booster. “[Healthcare workers] are critical and cannot be forgotten,” said Dr. Helen Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Providing this group with greater protection would also help maintain the health system’s capacity, which is facing a surge of unvaccinated patients with COVID-19. However, healthcare workers with underlying medical conditions would fall under one of the other categories, which would protect the most vulnerable among this group. Other ACIP members were more concerned about the impact that the broad wording of this last category would have on booster rollout. Dr. Sarah Long, a professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, felt the category was too “open-ended,” given the lack of data to support boosters in healthy younger people, even those exposed to the virus. Dr. Pablo Sánchez, a professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University–Nationwide Children’s Hospital, agreed. “We might as well say give [the booster] to everyone 18 and over,” he said. Sánchez was also concerned that recommending boosters so broadly would send the wrong message about the COVID-19 vaccines. “We have a really effective vaccine,” he said. “[This is] like saying it’s not working, but it is working.” One member expressed concern that because people in the last category could decide on their own if they needed a booster, those with good health literacy would be more likely to gain access to the additional dose. The committee also reviewed survey data during the meeting that showed people who have already received a third dose of the vaccine were more likely to be white. Recipients of other vaccines must wait for boosters Several ACIP members seemed to suggest that decisions on boosters should be held off until additional doses are available for all three vaccines being used in the United States. Fifty-five percent of people in the United States are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Of these, an estimated 26.4 million of the more than 100 million people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be potentially eligible for a booster on Sept. 27, according to data presented at the ACIP meeting. This includes 13.6 million people 65 years old and older. However, another 23.4 million people who received the Moderna-NIAID vaccine and 3.3 million people who received a single dose of J&J would be at least 6 months since their last dose on this date. These people would not be eligible for a booster until the FDA and CDC have reviewed the data. Rolling out Pfizer-BioNTech boosters before the other two could also be difficult to implement in specific settings. In long-term care facilities, residents vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech would be eligible for a booster, while others would have to wait. Several committee members reiterated that the most significant impact on the pandemic in the United States would come from increasing vaccine coverage. The majority of people hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 in the country are unvaccinated. In addition, one-quarter of people in the United States eligible for a vaccine have not received a single dose, according to the CDC. Millions of people in the United States have not yet received the second dose of an mRNA vaccine, leaving them only partially protected. Given the large number of unvaccinated people, Ellie Murray, ScD, an epidemiologist at Boston University School of Public Health, who is not an ACIP member, cautioned against thinking boosters alone would be enough. “Vaccines are one of the best inventions humanity has ever made, [in my opinion],” she wrote on Twitter. “But don’t be surprised when boosting the 55 percent of Americans who are fully vaccinated doesn’t end the pandemic.”

  • FDA OKs Pfizer-BioNTech Boosters for Adults 65+, Others at High Risk
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images The Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for people ages 65 and older.The approval also includes people ages 18 through 64 at high risk of severe COVID-19 or at higher risk of infection due to their job or the institution where they live.The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is currently fully approved in the United States as a two-dose regimen for people 16 years and older under the brand name Comirnaty. People ages 65 and up and those at high risk of severe COVID-19 or infection will soon be able to get a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their second injection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the existing emergency use authorization (EUA) for this vaccine to allow the use of a single booster dose in people: ages 65 and olderages 18 through 64 who are at high risk of severe COVID-19ages 18 through 64 who are at higher risk of contracting an infection due to their occupation or the institution in which they live The booster can be given at least 6 months after the second dose. This change only applies to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The FDA will review booster applications from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson at a later date. On Monday, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend almost identical eligibility criteria for boosters of this vaccine. The one addition made by the FDA was institutional risk of infection. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock also provided some insight into which subgroups fall under the EUA. The authorization would allow for booster doses “in certain populations such as healthcare workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others,” she said in a news release. “This is a really amazing… for people who are at severe risk for COVID: older adults, as well as people who are at risk [of infection] in healthcare settings and other high-risk settings. A third dose will protect them,” FDA committee member Dr. Amanda Cohn, a chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Monday. She pointed out that many of the people in these high-risk groups were vaccinated in December 2020 or January of this year, so they’re more likely to be at risk of infection due to waning immunity after vaccination. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently fully approved in the United States as a two-dose regimen for people ages 16 and older under the brand name Comirnaty. Initial doses of the vaccine are also available under an EUA for 12- to 15-year-olds. This group, and 15- and 16-year-olds, would not be eligible for boosters at this time. People with weakened immune systems are already able to get a third dose of an mRNA vaccine in the United States. This is not considered a booster dose, but a way to help increase people’s initial immune response. Emergency approval, which was used initially for all COVID-19 vaccines, is a faster regulatory route intended for a public health emergency, such as a pandemic. As part of the EUA, the FDA will continue to monitor data on the safety and effectiveness of booster doses for these groups. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet to discuss whether the CDC should recommend the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for these groups. However, even if the CDC makes a different recommendation on boosters, healthcare professionals can offer booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to anyone who meets the FDA’s eligibility criteria. Pfizer makes case for booster doses During the daylong meeting on Monday, the FDA advisory group reviewed evidence from Pfizer on the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of its vaccine. The panel also heard from two Israeli researchers, who presented data from that country suggesting a drop in protection offered by the vaccine several months after the second dose. The data showed that all age groups saw waning protection against infection 6 months after vaccination. There was also a drop in protection against severe illness among people 60 years or older. This trend was less clear for younger age groups. In making its case for approval, Pfizer scientists cited the real-world data from Israel, as well as data from laboratory studies and clinical trials. Lab data showed a boost in antibody levels after a third dose given at least 6 months after the second dose. Clinical trial data found that the side effects of the third dose were similar to the first two. In some cases, the side effects were less severe after the third dose. “These data, and the larger body of scientific evidence presented at the meeting, underscore our belief that boosters will be a critical tool in the ongoing effort to control the spread of this virus,” Kathrin U. Jansen, PhD, senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, said in a news release. Clearer booster benefits for older adults The FDA’s advisory committee initially voted on whether to recommend boosters for everyone 16 years or older.  This vote failed, with 2 members voting for and 16 members voting against. Some members felt that while there was strong evidence of the benefit of a booster for older adults, more safety data is needed for younger age groups. In particular, they focused on the risk of heart inflammation: myocarditis and pericarditis. These conditions can occur after vaccination with an mRNA vaccine. They are more common after the second dose, and in male adolescents and young adults. Most people recover quickly with treatment. Israel recently started rolling out boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to younger age groups. Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, director of public health services at the Israel Ministry of Health, said during the meeting that more than 6,000 16- to 18-year-olds have received a third dose. The Israel Ministry of Health is actively monitoring all cases of heart inflammation in this group.  So far, the rate of myocarditis or pericarditis appears to be smaller after the third dose than the second dose, she said. However, Alroy-Preis added that these young adults have been followed for fewer than 30 days. Some members of the FDA committee felt a longer follow-up would be needed to know the true risk of heart inflammation after a booster dose. Healthcare workers included in EUA Not all fully vaccinated healthcare workers are at risk of severe COVID-19, although many are at risk of contracting the coronavirus due to exposure to COVID-19 patients. However, several committee members felt that this group should be included in the EUA because of the impact infections among healthcare workers would have on hospitals’ ability to deal with surges of severely ill patients. “The [healthcare] systems are so overstretched now that we can’t even have healthcare workers get mild infections or be positive, because by staying home, that [creates] even more of a risk of failure of the whole system,” said committee member Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa.

  • 1 in 5 Parents Too Busy to Cook During Pandemic: Fast, Healthy Options
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    A new study found that many parents say their kids have been eating fast food more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic. But health experts say there are alternatives to eating out that are fast, easy, and nutritious. mixetto/Getty Images According to a new poll, 1 in 5 parents reported feeding their children fast food more often than they did prior to the pandemic.Parents of children with overweight reported eating out at least twice a week.Reasons given included being too busy or too stressed.However, experts say a healthy meal at home does not have to be complicated or time-consuming.They suggest that working on healthy behaviors rather than dieting is the best approach for kids. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have found opportunities for healthier eating and more physical activity. However, for others, it has meant increased stress and less movement as homes shifted to being both school and workplace. This has also made it more difficult for parents to find the time or energy to always prepare nutritious meals at home. According to the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, about 1 in 5 parents reported that their kids had started to eat fast food more often than prior to the pandemic. The poll, which included responses from 2,019 parents of children aged 3 to 18, further reported that about 1 in 6 parents said that their child eats fast food at least twice a week. Parents who reported that their children with overweight were about twice as likely to also say that their children ate fast food twice a week, compared with parents who reported that their child was a healthy weight for their age and height. When asked why they weren’t able to prepare meals at home, about 40 percent of parents said that they were simply too busy. About a fifth of parents reported feeling too stressed. These barriers to healthy eating were reported most often among those families with children with overweight. Simple but healthy meal options Nutritional experts say, however, that putting together a healthy meal at home doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. It doesn’t necessarily even have to involve cooking. Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy, chair of the department of public and allied health in the Bowling Green State University College of Health and Human Services and associate professor of food and nutrition, suggests using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as the starting point for planning your meals. “To summarize, half our plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables, half our grains should be whole, proteins should be lean, dairy should be low fat, and variety is encouraged,” said Ludy. Simple meal suggestions that Ludy offered included: For breakfast, plain, low fat yogurt topped with fresh or frozen fruit, chopped nuts, and whole grain granola.For lunch, a nut butter sandwich on whole grain bread filled with sliced apples or bananas, along with baby carrots or cucumbers on the side, and a low fat milk to drink.For dinner, whole wheat tortillas with black beans or shredded chicken, brown rice, mashed avocado, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and shredded cheese.For a snack, hummus with sliced peppers or whole grain crackers. “These are great options,” said Ludy, “because they require minimal preparation time, are balanced in healthy carbohydrates and lean proteins, provide choices with fillings/add-ins, and are easy enough to involve kids in preparation.” How parents can help children manage weight gain Therese S. Waterhous, PhD, RDN, CEDRD-S, an eating disorder expert in private practice in Corvallis, Oregon, said the best practice for weight loss, especially with children, is to take a non-diet approach. Diets do not work, she explained, and most people gain back any weight lost. “Instead of dieting, it’s good to choose health-enhancing behaviors and work on those,” she said. She said that, when it comes to eating, no foods should be off-limits, but do focus on optimizing health so that children grow and develop to their potential. She suggested that it is “crucial” to not make young children or teens feel badly about their bodies. This leads to stress and, in some cases, eating disorders. “Weight stigma is very harmful to kids and it is rampant in our society,” said Waterhous. “Rather than focus on the weight, it is best to focus on those health behaviors.” Instead of demonizing certain foods, focus on getting enough fuel, enough protein, enough vitamins and minerals, she said. Specifically, she said, most young people do not get enough produce, which provides important nutrients and fiber. She suggests including two to three servings of vegetables or fruit at every meal. One serving is about 1/2 cup or one medium piece of fruit, she added. Consider healthier options when you eat at restaurants Even with the best of intentions, however, there may still be times when a quick meal at a restaurant is the option that best works with your busy schedule. Ludy offers the following tips for making the best choices when you do eat out: Add veggies whenever you can. For example, request lettuce and tomatoes on sandwiches, peppers and onions on burritos, or mushrooms and olives on pizza.Choose drinks like water, 100 percent fruit juice, or plain low fat milk instead of sodas or sweet tea.Opt for sides like apples slices or carrot sticks instead of chips or fries.Order small or child-sized portions.Try to make fast food only an occasional occurrence.Model healthy eating for your children by making healthy choices for yourself. Waterhous further suggests that you can get a sandwich or a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store as the basis for your meal. Then, add simple options like fruit salad, a tossed salad, or vegetables at home to complete your meal. To add some starch with your chicken, you could have rice, mashed potatoes, or a slice of bread, she said. You can even cook your side dishes ahead of time and reheat for dinner.

  • Salmonella Outbreak Detected in 29 States; Experts Still Don’t Know Cause
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Mint Images/Getty Images At least 279 people have contracted salmonella infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.At least 26 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. CDC experts think the outbreak may actually be much larger than what’s been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning of a fast-growing Salmonella outbreak that has been detected in 29 states.  It’s unclear what’s causing the Salmonella Oranienburg infections, but multiple cases have been traced back to restaurants.  As of Sept. 21, 279 people have contracted an infection, according to an update released by the CDC. Twenty-six people have been hospitalized. There have been no deaths.  The CDC suspects the case count is much higher but is being underreported since so many people who contract a salmonella infection recover at home without medical care.  What to know about the outbreak It typically takes 3 to 4 weeks for health officials to determine whether a salmonella infection is part of a larger outbreak.  To determine the cause of these recent infections, state health officials have been interviewing people sick with a salmonella infection about the foods they ate and restaurants they visited.  Many of the cases have been traced back to the same restaurant, which could help health officials identify the source of the outbreak.  As of Sept. 21, 279 people from 29 states have contracted an infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella. The bulk of these cases, 81, have been reported in Texas. Oklahoma follows with 40 cases.  Illinois, Minnesota, Virginia, and Massachusetts have seen between 10 and 25 cases. How the CDC is investigating the outbreak Dr. Louis Morledge, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that the CDC looks at patterns of reported infections and outbreaks across the country.  The agency partners with local health agencies to identify clusters of illnesses. More research is then conducted to identify potential sources.  The bacteria causing the infections undergo whole genome sequencing by the CDC, according to Dr. Michael Lin, an associate professor of internal medicine with the division of infectious diseases at Rush University Medical Center.  “This type of genetic fingerprinting allows public health to identify infections that could be linked to a common source, such as a contaminated food product,” Lin said. Here’s what usually causes Salmonella outbreaks According to Morledge, salmonella infections are typically more common during summer months.  “Warmer weather and unrefrigerated foods create ideal conditions for Salmonella to grow,” Morledge said.  Careful preparation and storage of food is crucial.  All perishable food items should be refrigerated or frozen. And all foods should be cooked thoroughly before consumption.  Lin said eating anything uncooked or undercooked runs the risk of being contaminated with Salmonella.  “Eating cooked food is generally safer when eating at restaurants,” Lin said.  Why some people get sicker Salmonella causes diarrhea, and most people recover at home. But some people may develop more severe illness and require antibiotics or hospitalization.  How sick a person gets depends on a few factors.  “It may have to do with the initial quantity consumed of the food source and the amount of bacteria it contained,” Morledge said.  The person’s immune system status also likely plays a role, along with their body’s ability to digest and eradicate the infection.  People with compromised immune systems or underlying health issues may have more severe reactions to the bacteria. In certain instances, salmonella infections can become life threatening if left untreated. “For people with severe infection or in people at high risk for severe infection, antibiotics are warranted. With proper management and early diagnosis, most patients have a full recovery,” Lin said. Anyone experiencing prolonged diarrhea and fever should contact a healthcare professional immediately.  The bottom line The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued warning of a fast-growing Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 279 people across 29 states. The source of the outbreak is unknown, but health officials are actively investigating clusters of infections. Most people with a salmonella infection recover at home, but those with more severe illness may require antibiotics or hospitalization. 

  • Here’s Where COVID-19 Cases Are Rising and Falling
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have declined to 82,000, although experts remain concerned about the impact these cases are having on overall medical services. Jon Cherry/Getty Images New COVID-19 cases have plateaued at about 120,000 per day in the United States.The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations also decreased slightly this past week.The daily vaccination rate in the United States fell to 600,000 per day. Experts say that elected and community leaders need to continue to promote the benefits of vaccination. Editor’s note: This story is updated regularly as new statistics are released. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and vaccinations remained stable in the United States this past week while the number of deaths increased once again. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 7-day average number of new U.S. COVID-19 cases is at 121,000 per day, slightly higher than it was earlier in the week. The total number of new COVID-19 cases for the week that ended Sunday was listed at 1,030,779, almost exactly the same as the previous week. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 for the same time period were listed as 14,091, a 20 percent increase from the prior week. Hospitalizations are at slightly more than 82,000, about 5,000 fewer than it was earlier in the week. Meanwhile, the 7-day average of vaccine doses administered in the United States has fallen to 600,000, the lowest rate since mid-July. Overall, the United States has reported more than 42 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States have now surpassed 684,000, more now than the 675,000 deaths recorded during the 1918 flu pandemic. There have been 4.7 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide, less than 10 percent of the 50 million who died globally during the 1918 flu pandemic. A CDC report released Sept. 10 stated that unvaccinated people in the United States are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die from the disease than people who are vaccinated. The rate of transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on a county-by-county basis as of Sept. 20. Source: CDC Despite the stabilization in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, experts aren’t convinced yet that the current surge has peaked. “We are not yet out of the woods. I will feel more confident about the state of COVID when we start to see an actual dip in cases and hospitalizations, and an increase in those that are fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Jamila Taylor, director of healthcare reform and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, also feels we may not have reached the top of the curve. “In some parts of the country, the number of new cases and hospitalizations seems to have plateaued, but we cannot count on a downturn,” he told Healthline. “There continues to be so much transmission among unvaccinated people that large numbers of serious cases could continue for many more weeks,” he said. “Of course, the great sadness is that virtually all these illnesses and hospitalizations could have been averted by vaccination.” Of particular concern is the growing number of COVID-19 cases among children, especially those under the age of 12 who aren’t yet eligible to get vaccinated. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that more than 925,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 4 weeks. Children now represent nearly 26 percent of the total new cases in the United States. State numbers There were 36 states that reported an increase in new COVID-19 cases for the week that ended Sunday. There were 20 states the previous week. Connecticut had the largest jump, with a 42 percent increase to 5,409 cases. Montana was next with a 41 percent hike to 5,997 cases. Wisconsin reported a 40 percent increase to 17,900 new cases, while Maine saw a 39 percent jump to 3,400 cases. In overall numbers, the CDC reports that Texas had the most new cases in the past 7 days with 90,752, about 15,000 fewer than earlier this week. Florida is second with 59,993 new cases this past week, about 4,000 fewer than earlier this week. Ohio is now third with 46,535 cases, with New York in fourth with 36,676 cases and Georgia right behind with 35,013 cases per 100,000. The CDC reports that Alaska is the leader on a per capita basis, with 821 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days. West Virginia is second with 689 cases per 100,000 residents, while Wyoming is third with 638 cases per 100,000 residents. Montana is fourth with 602 cases per 100,000 residents. Kentucky is fifth at 588 cases per 100,000 residents. California has the lowest per capita rate at 86 cases per 100,000 residents, the only state with a rate of less than 100 per 100,000. Schaffner said states with high rates of COVID-19 transmission can affect the country as a whole. “Areas of ongoing intense COVID transmission can be a reservoir for spread to other parts of the U.S. through travel and the interactions of populations,” he said. “This mixing is occurring briskly as our population wishes to return to a semblance of normal behavior and activities.” Here’s a look at those states with the highest per capita caseload and their percentage of fully vaccinated people: StateDaily cases per 100,000 residentsFull vaccination rateAlaska82150%West Virginia69840%Wyoming63841%Montana60248%Kentucky58851%Source: CDC There were 42 states that reported an increase in COVID-19-related deaths for the week that ended Sunday. There were 32 the previous week. Delaware had the highest jump with an increase of 122 percent to 20 deaths. Next was Vermont, with a 120 percent hike to 11 deaths. Iowa recorded a 113 percent increase to 64 deaths, while Alabama reported a 104 percent increase to 534 deaths. North Dakota saw a 100 percent hike to 14 deaths. Texas recorded the most COVID-19 deaths over the past 7 days with 1,962. Alabama is next with 942 deaths, followed by Georgia with 870 deaths and Louisiana with 339 deaths. Ohio is fifth with 331 deaths this past week. Where we are with vaccines The CDC reports there have been more than 387 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered across the United States. More than 212 million people have received at least one dose. More than 182 million people are fully vaccinated. That means that 64 percent of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose. More than 76 percent of the country’s adult population has received at least one dose. California has administered the most doses, with more than 50 million. That’s followed by Texas with more than 32 million. Florida has administered more than 26 million doses, while New York is close behind at more than 25 million doses. Pennsylvania is fifth with more than 16 million. None of those states, however, is in the top five for percentage of the population that’s received at least one dose: States with the highest percentage of vaccination (total population)1. Vermont: 77%2. Massachusetts: 77%3. Hawaii: 76%4. Connecticut: 76%5. Rhode Island: 74%Source: COVID Act Now On Friday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced that COVID-19 booster shots can be given to people at high risk of serious disease and workers in high-risk settings as well as adults 65 years and older. So far, only the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot has received FDA approval. Pfizer also announced on Monday that its vaccine proved to be safe and effective in younger children in a recent clinical trial. The company is now asking the FDA for an emergency use authorization to make the vaccine available to children ages 5 to 11. Taylor and Schaffner both see the announcement as positive news. “I think it will have a major impact,” Taylor told Healthline. “Cases among children have been rising, and many parents remain fearful about transmission among their children. Back to school has been particularly stressful because of this. Ensuring a safe and effective vaccine for this age group is also critical in increasing our overall number of vaccinated people in the U.S.” “This announcement is good news for the many parents who have wanted to extend the protection of COVID vaccination to their younger children 5 to 11 years of age,” added Schaffner. “Of course, both the FDA and CDC and their respective advisory committees still need to review the data carefully, but I anticipate that COVID vaccine will become available for these younger children by late fall. “In the meantime, all children age 12 and older are eligible for vaccination and less than half of them have received the vaccine. We need to protect these still unvaccinated children,” he noted.

  • No, Iodine Won’t Prevent or Treat COVID-19
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Giselle Flissak/Getty Images A new video went viral claiming iodine can be used to help prevent COVID-19. Experts say that is false and makes no sense because COVID-19 is the result of a virus, not bacteria. Also, gargling and ingesting iodine solutions can be dangerous. Getting medical advice solely from social media trends is usually not the best way to safeguard your health. Often, it can be dangerous. A recent YouTube video that went viral on Facebook and Twitter is spreading incorrect information about how gargling the antiseptic iodine can prevent COVID-19 — an absolutely incorrect notion, according to experts. The video was shared in April and has been viewed more than 155,000 times. According to the caption, doctors suggest gargling with povidone-iodine to prevent COVID-19 from entering the lungs. None of this is true. And it can even be dangerous if you end up swallowing the iodine. “You should not ingest or gargle with iodine in order to prevent COVID-19,” said Dr. Theodore Strange, interim chair of Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. “I don’t know where this idea came from. Iodine does have properties to be an antiseptic. We put it on cuts and lesions, and it has been used in mouthwash in the past. It cleanses the skin and kills bacteria. But COVID is not a bacteria. It is a virus.” How to use iodine safely Iodine, in the proper amounts, can be good for the body. The body cannot produce it on its own, so we must obtain it from food. Iodine is naturally occurring in certain foods, like fish, shrimp, seaweed, and other seafood. Infants also get a small amount of iodine from breast milk. But too much iodine can harm the body, particularly the thyroid. It can cause a goiter, thyroid gland inflammation, and, in some cases, thyroid cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. Povidone-Iodine solutions sold at pharmacies are designed to treat mild cuts and scrapes by killing bacteria. It is not intended to be gargled or ingested. Large doses of iodine can cause burning in the mouth, throat, stomach, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can even cause neurological side effects. “If you don’t swallow [iodine] it is relatively safe, but if you do swallow it you can have gastrointestinal upset,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases. “There is no good scientific, rigorous data to support [using iodine to prevent COVID-19],” he says. “If there were something that simple that was useful in preventing or treating COVID, every doctor in every country would be advocating for it.” The best way to treat COVID-19 Vaccines remain the best, most effective way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which can cause COVID-19. This is something the experts agree on. In addition, the measures that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended since the beginning of the pandemic still hold. This includes frequent hand-washing, face coverings, and physical or social distancing. But above and beyond, the vaccine is the proven most effective way to help stop the spread of COVID-19. “The vaccine is our way out of this. It is based on the history of other diseases like polio, smallpox, and diphtheria,” said Strange. “The vaccine is the most important thing we should be talking about.”

  • How Did This Happen? The U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Has Surpassed 1918 Flu Total
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Experts blame misinformation and low vaccination rates for the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Orbon Alija/Getty Images The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed the total number of fatalities of the 1918 flu pandemic despite the medical advances of the past century.Experts say one reason is that the 1918 flu and COVID-19 are two different viruses that work in different ways.They add that the primary factor is misinformation that has spread on social media, discouraging people from getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The 1918 flu pandemic, which ranks as one of the deadliest in modern history, has just been surpassed by COVID-19 – in the United States, at least. That 1918 pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide and at least 675,000 in the United States. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has killed fewer than 5 million people worldwide, about 1/10 the total of the 1918 flu. However, more than 680,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, putting it ahead of the country’s flu pandemic more than a century ago. Put another way: 1 in 500 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, and the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight.  Daily deaths in the United States have reached 1,900 a day during the current surge fueled by the Delta variant, mainly affecting the population of 71 million unvaccinated people. But how did we get here, and what can we learn by comparing these two public health emergencies?  Different viruses, different times   The first step is not to draw too close of a comparison between these two viruses, says Andrew Noymer, PhD, MSc, an associated professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine. “COVID-19 is not some 21st century version of the 1918 flu. In many ways, COVID-19 is less severe,” Noymer told Healthline. “But with COVID, we are witnessing the emergence of a whole new disease, one that will be with us — in some form — for decades if not centuries,” he added. “The 1918 flu was with us for one flu season, the fall and winter of 1918–19. We are now in our second fall after our second summer of COVID, and all signs point to approaching our second winter.” Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, a chair and professor of clinical laboratory science at Texas State University, elaborated on the differences between the diseases.  “The two kill differently,” he told Healthline. “The flu killed many due to secondary bacterial pneumonia (there were no antibiotics back then), while those with COVID-19 died from an overactive immune response that resulted in multiple organ failure.” Although there are some similarities, modern medicine is more effective at fighting COVID-19 than the medical community was at fighting H1N1 in 1918.  “Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) can develop in both cases,” Rohde explained. “As a complication from influenza, ARDS had a 100 percent fatality rate compared with a 53.4 percent mortality rate as a complication from COVID-19. So, flu was much more of a nasty virus without any checks on its virulence like we have today (monoclonal antibodies, antibiotics, vaccines, more knowledge about health treatments with steroids, placement of patients, ventilators, etc.).” Another factor is that the U.S. population is more than three times larger than in 1918, so the death rate for COVID-19 would need to be three times higher to match the number of that earlier pandemic.  It’s also possible that more than 675,000 people died in the United States in 1918.  “That number was an extrapolated estimate by a historian, Alfred Crosby, in the late 1970s,” Susan Jones, PhD, a Distinguished McKnight University professor in the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, told Healthline. “There is nothing magic or even particularly authoritative about it. Many states did not keep records of flu mortality at that time. We actually do not know how many Americans died of influenza in 1918-19 and, of course, all mortality statistics are somewhat slippery, even today.” Also, the interconnectivity of the global community via air travel and other rapid transit means more viruses have an opportunity to blow up in today’s world.  “In 1918-19, H1N1 influenza was probably greatly assisted in becoming a global pandemic by World War I,” Jones said. “Today, we don’t even need an event of that scope. Our trade and travel networks are enough to create rapid global transmission.” Similar approaches, different tools Whatever the precise numbers are, the United States is the global leader in COVID-19 deaths, despite some similar public health approaches between the two pandemics. “The overall public messages during 1918 and 2020/21 were eerily similar in some respects: Face coverings, mass gathering cancellations, and isolation at home were employed during both,” Richard J. Webby, PhD, an influenza researcher at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Tennessee, told Healthline. “It is interesting to note that there were certainly differences in how U.S. states implemented these controls during 1918 with a clear association of speed and enforcement of lockdowns to pandemic impact,” he says. “These associations are a little more complicated with the COVID pandemic due to our far great interconnectivity and travel capabilities.” With one notable exception: We have effective vaccines against COVID-19.  So why are our death rates worse? Across the board, experts interviewed by Healthline pointed to “misinformation” as a key culprit.  “In 2020, we had a new obstacle that certainly was not around in 1918: the internet,” Jyotsna Shah, PhD, MSc, an immunologist and president of IGeneX Inc, told Healthline. “While the internet provides us easy access to updates from the CDC and WHO, it also provides easy access to less reputable sources, who may be spreading false information.”  Robert G. Webster, PhD, an infectious disease expert also at St. Jude, put it more bluntly. “This is a war that the U.S. is losing when they have the weapons to win,” he told Healthline. But, Webster says, different rules in different states — many of which do not adhere to the best recommendations of the scientific community such as lockdowns where necessary and masking — has led to a “disastrous situation where people are dying due to misinformation.” “There is no simple solution for politicians and governors who are essentially killing their constituents,” Webster said. ‘When the pandemic is over, and the COVID-19 virus is under control, then it is strongly recommended that the U.S. convene a commission to make recommendations to prevent such a disaster from occurring again in the future.”

  • Why It’s Better to Get a Flu Shot Now Rather Than Later
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Experts say getting a flu shot now can benefit you, your family, and healthcare facilities. Studio4/Getty Images Experts say getting a flu shot now can bolster your immune system early before the flu season is fully under way.They say even people who are relatively healthy should get the vaccination to prevent spreading the disease to others.They also note that flu vaccinations help keep the healthcare system from becoming overloaded. The best time to get your annual flu shot is now. That’s the advice from experts who say the beginning of autumn is not too early to get your annual vaccination against influenza. “From now on through October into the first couple of weeks in November is the optimal time to be vaccinated against the flu,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting the flu shot by the end of October to prepare for peak influenza season, which is typically in February. The CDC has this recommendation in place for anyone above the age of 6 months. Schaffner tells Healthline that, even if you don’t get vaccinated by the end of October, it’s not too late. Why this year is different Schaffner said the 2021-2022 flu season will be different from last year’s, because we’re in a different place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Let’s look over our shoulder for a moment. Last flu season was the lowest flu season in anyone’s memory. We think that was because of all the COVID-related shut-ins,” Schaffner said.  He noted that many people didn’t go to an office for work, people wore masks and washed their hands, and children didn’t physically go to school. “When children are infected with the flu virus, they produce very large amounts of virus, more so than do adults, and they also shed the virus for longer periods of time,” Schaffner said. He explained that, as children interact among themselves, they spread the virus and then bring it home to their families.  “All the children are back in school, many of them unmasked. Many adults are unmasked. They’re going out to work again, to entertainment venues, religious services, and the like,” Schaffner said. “The opportunity is there once again for the influenza virus to start spreading rather widely,” he added. “I can’t tell you whether it’ll be mild, moderate, or severe, but we will have the flu.” Even ‘healthy’ people need the flu shot We’ve all heard so much about COVID-19, Schaffner noted, that it’s a good time to remind people of the seriousness of influenza.  “Influenza is a separate respiratory virus that’s very, very nasty. It creates in and of itself a huge surge in hospitalizations and deaths every year,” Schaffner explained. “The deaths are concentrated in older people and younger people who have underlying illnesses, but everyone can be a flu spreader,” he added. Even still, there are some people who believe they are healthy enough not to need the flu shot. “That comment translates to ‘I’m fine being sick for a week with flu, because I don’t think I will be hospitalized,’” Dr. David J. Cennimo, FACP, FAAP, FIDSA, an infectious disease specialist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Healthline.  Cennimo explained that, every year, some people “who thought they were very healthy still get very sick.”  “They may become infected and become the vector that spreads the virus and infects a more vulnerable person,” he said. Getting the flu shot protects not only yourself, but also everyone around you, Cennimo noted. What’s really at stake Schaffner said one of the most common reasons people have for not getting the flu shot is that it isn’t that effective. “I like to paraphrase that old French philosopher Voltaire, who reminds us that waiting for perfection is the great enemy of the current good. The current vaccines are the best that current science can produce for us this flu season, and they will prevent thousands of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths,” he said. “Although it’s not perfect, it can make your illness milder, and we can all benefit from that,” Schaffner added. Right now, as COVID-19 is still a big part of everyday life and is overloading the healthcare system, keeping yourself protected through vaccinations is the best way to do your part.  “If we do have a substantial outbreak of influenza, it’s going to strain our already very strained healthcare system even more,” he said. “As we have seen with COVID-19, people can have the flu, not realize it and gravely affect someone vulnerable, like the elderly, children, and those who have an impaired immune system, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and people with HIV or pulmonary disease,” Cennimo said. “Anything we can do as individuals to help protect our healthcare system we ought to do, and what we can do is get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID,” Schaffner added. “They are quite different germs, so we need different vaccines to prevent them.” The CDC has removed the initially suggested 2 week spacing between a COVID-19 vaccine and other shots, so you can actually get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccination at the same time, Cennimo said. 

  • How Surging Delta Variant Is Leading to Rationed Care at Hospitals
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Evgeniy Shkolenko/Getty Images More than 9 months after COVID-19 vaccines were first administered to the general public, health systems in multiple states are reporting having to ration care.The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare has implemented Crisis Standard of Care, essentially rationing care in order to save as many people as possible.In Montana, the governor deployed at least 400 National Guard troops to help a hospital system that will imminently start rationing care. ​As the Delta variant surged in the United States, hospitals in some states have become overwhelmed. As a result, some non-COVID patients are starting to be affected by the ongoing pandemic and in some cases are facing rationing of medical treatment and inability to find a hospital bed. When hospitals run out of beds or staffing is low, tough decisions need to be made about who gets a priority of care. There are reports about hospitals choosing who gets an intensive care unit bed and who doesn’t — a difficult but sometimes necessary decision with the limited resources that are available. Hospitals in multiple states report care is being rationed One of the biggest concerns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was that COVID-19 patients could overwhelm hospitals and healthcare workers would have to make agonizing decisions about who would be treated. For the first 18 months of the pandemic, that worst-case scenario was largely-avoided in most hospitals. Now, more than 9 months after COVID-19 vaccines were first administered to the general public, health systems in multiple states are reporting having to ration care. Providence Alaska Medical Center, a major hospital system in Alaska, warned last week that they are no longer able to provide a consistent standard of care for each patient. “We are faced with a situation in which we must prioritize scarce resources and treatments to those patients who have the potential to benefit most,” the Medical Executive Committee wrote in an open letter. “We have been required to develop and enact policies and procedures to ration medical care and treatments, including dialysis and specialized ventilatory support,” the committee wrote. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has implemented Crisis Standard of Care, essentially rationing care in order to save as many people as possible. The department clarifies that people should be ready to get a different sort of treatment in the hospital than they might expect. They may have to wait for beds, or they may be given repurposed beds in areas like conference rooms. Additionally, some people who are extremely ill may not be given lifesaving access to therapies like ventilators if they are in short supply. “In other words, someone who is otherwise healthy and would recover more rapidly may get treated or have access to a ventilator before someone who is not likely to recover,” the Idaho DHW said. “The situation is dire — we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” said Idaho DHW director Dave Jeppesen. In Montana, the governor deployed at least 400 National Guard troops after the Barrett Hospital & HealthCare system said they would imminently have to implement crisis of standard care meaning care would be rationed, according to the Associated Press. These states are just one of the most extreme examples of what happens when so many people need care in a pandemic and there is just not enough staff or resources to go around. Rationing care in an emergency While the pandemic may have taken over headlines, other smaller medical issues still need to be treated. In the ER, physicians still have to treat patients who show up with critical conditions unrelated to COVID-19. These include traumas, heart attacks, strokes, organ transplant complications, and even the extremes of diabetic complications. Intensive care units throughout the country have seemingly filled up with COVID-19 patients, many of them unvaccinated, leaving people who also need beds for non-COVID reasons frustrated waiting for an opening.  When intensive care unit beds become scarce, hospitals must reconfigure resources, create contingency plans for additional beds or treatment of these patients, and sometimes make decisions as to which patients get priority. “While unfortunate, this is not the first time we have had to ration resources,” said Arthur Caplan, PhD, founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York. Caplan explained that making decisions about who gets treatment is not a new phenomenon. “We routinely see this with patients waiting for a transplant,” he said. While it may not seem fair to some, ethicists and committees must make difficult decisions on patient outcomes — especially in times when there are limited resources. “Physicians and nurses do not want to sort out people for medical care. Their responsibility is to treat everybody equally and to not make judgments,” Caplan told Healthline. Rationing of care comes in various forms. “We can see it not only with hospital beds and staff, but also with things like dialysis machines and even palliative care,” Caplan told Healthline. How to get medical help if care is being rationed As people have concerns regarding COVID-19 and coming to a hospital, some are leaving their healthcare on the back burner and are waiting until the last moment to seek medical advice or treatment. But experts say waiting to seek emergency medical care can in certain cases end up as a life-or-death scenario. Experts say while it may be frightening if medical care is being rationed, it is not a good idea to wait if you have concerning symptoms. Instead, they stress that people can try seeking care from primary or urgent care professionals. Seeking early medical care allows clinicians in many cases to treat conditions before they require more intensive treatment. Getting antibiotics early for an infection from a primary or urgent care physician may mean you can avoid being admitted to the hospital when there few beds to go around “With the stress currently being placed on the healthcare system, people should think about strategies to minimize the need to be seen at the hospital if possible. As the old adage goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” said Alex Jahangir, MD, division chief of Orthopedic Trauma at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and the chairman of the Nashville Metro Coronavirus Task Force. Not everything needs to come to the hospital. If you are unable to see your primary care professional, simple conditions like the occasional dry cough, nasal congestion, or even a rash can likely be treated with over the counter remedies and without a hospital visit. By using telemedicine for things that you can easily see or hear, patients have access to an entourage of professionals that can quickly and efficiently take care of them. If telemedicine is not something you are comfortable with, going to see a professional at an urgent care center can be equally effective. Jahangir told Healthline, “with flu season just around the corner, one of the easiest things to do is to receive the flu vaccine to lower the risk of becoming seriously ill.” “People with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension should be vigilant in ensuring these chronic conditions are under control to avoid a crisis that would require a hospital visit,” he said. When to go straight to the hospital   Undoubtedly, some medical conditions cannot wait for a primary care doctor appointment, an urgent care facility, or even telemedicine. Some conditions will need emergency medical attention such as a traumatic injury, shortness of breath, or any type of chest pain or stroke-like conditions, to name a few. Plea to get vaccinated Health officials are pleading with the public to get vaccinated and take measures to safeguard their health. “Our hospitals and healthcare systems need our help,” Idaho DHW director Jeppesen said. “The best way to end crisis standards of care is for more people to get vaccinated. It dramatically reduces your chances of having to go to the hospital if you do get sick from COVID-19. In addition, please wear a mask indoors in public and outdoors when it’s crowded to help slow the spread” Rajiv Bahl, MD, MBA, MS, is an emergency medicine physician and health writer. You can find him at www.RajivBahlMD.com.

  • Here’s Exactly Where We Are with Vaccines and Treatments for COVID-19
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Scientists around the world are working on a number of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei/Getty Images Scientists around the world have developed treatments and vaccines for the new coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.Several companies are working on antiviral drugs, some of which are already in use against other illnesses, to treat people who have COVID-19.At the moment, three vaccines that are used as a preventive measure against the disease are being distributed in the United States. HEALTHLINE’S CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE Stay informed with our live updates about the current COVID-19 outbreak. Also, visit our coronavirus hub for more information on how to prepare, advice on prevention and treatment, and expert recommendations. With confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassing 30 million and continuing to grow, scientists have spent the past year developing vaccines and treatments to slow the pandemic and lessen the disease’s damage. On Oct. 22, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the go-ahead to Veklury (remdesivir), the first drug approved for the treatment of COVID-19. It is intended for use in adults and children 12 years and older. The agency has also issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for several other treatments, including convalescent plasma therapy, a drug used to sedate people placed on a ventilator, and two drugs for people undergoing a type of blood purification known as continuous renal replacement therapy. An EUA allows doctors to use these drugs to treat people even before the medications have gone through the formal FDA approval process. As we wait for additional treatments and the distribution of already approved vaccines, there are still other tools we can use to protect ourselves and others from the new coronavirus. “Even though technological advances allow us to do certain things more quickly, we still have to rely on social distancing, contact tracing, self-isolation, and other measures,” Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, told Healthline. COVID-19 vaccines Vaccines are designed to protect people before they’re exposed to a virus — in this case SARS-CoV-2.  A vaccine basically trains the immune system to recognize and attack a virus, even one it hasn’t seen before. While vaccines imitate an infection, they almost never cause illness. Vaccines also protect the community by reducing the spread of disease among people. This protection is known as herd, or community, immunity. Here’s a look at some of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine projects: Moderna / National Institutes of Health. The company began testing its two-dose messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine in March in a phase 1 clinical trial, with promising results. In late July, Moderna began phase 3 clinical trials of the vaccine. In late August, company officials said preliminary phase 1 trial data showed that the vaccine elicited a promising immune response in 10 people between the ages of 56 and 70 as well as 10 people over age of 70. The company announced in late October that it had finished recruiting all 30,000 participants in the phase 3 trial. This included more than 7,000 people over the age of 65 and more than 5,000 younger people with chronic conditions that increase their risk of severe COVID-19. In early October, company officials announced their vaccine won’t be available for wide distribution until spring 2021. Later in the month, Moderna’s CEO told investors that the trial’s data and safety monitoring board could start analyzing study data in November. In mid-November, Moderna officials reported that their vaccine had achieved an effective rate of 94 percent in initial phase 3 trial results. Experts said more testing and more information is needed. On November 30, Moderna officials said they would apply to the FDA for its vaccine to be approved for emergency use. On December 18, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine. The company began shipping out the product three days later. On May 25, company officials announced their vaccine was shown to be effective in clinical trials against COVID-19 in children 12 to 17 years old. In early June, Moderna officials asked the FDA to grant them emergency use authorization to administer their vaccine to children from 12 to 17 years old. In September, Moderna officials said they are developing a combination booster shot for both COVID-19 and the flu. The single shot has yet to go through a clinical trial. On September 22, the company also released results of a phase 3 clinical trial that showed its COVID-19 did not lose any of its effectiveness 5 months after a second dose had been administered. Pfizer / BioNTech / Fosun Pharma. Drugmaker Pfizer teamed up German biotech company BioNTech and Chinese drugmaker Fosun Pharma to develop a two-dose mRNA vaccine. In mid-August, company officials said the vaccine had produced a “robust” response in a phase 1/2 clinical trial. The company launched a phase 3 trial in late July, with a goal to recruit 30,000 people from the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany. They later announced plans to increase this to 44,000 people. In October, the company said it received approval to enroll children as young as 12 years in the trial — the first American trial to include this age group. As of late October, the trial had enrolled more than 42,000 people. At the time, the company had not yet conducted an interim analysis of the study data, which puts it behind its original goal of doing so by September. However, the company still expects to have enough data sometime in November to apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA. On November 9, the company announced that its vaccine had been more than 90 percent effective in clinical trial participants. A few days later, company officials announced they were applying for an emergency use authorization from the FDA for their vaccine. It was the first regulatory approval in the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine. The officials said the vaccine could be available to high-risk groups as early as mid-December. On December 8, the FDA released documents that reported the Pfizer vaccine offers some protection after the first dose and nearly full protection after a second dose. On December 11, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine. The company started distributing the product two days later. In late January, company officials said a study indicated their vaccine is only slightly less effective against the COVID-19 variant from South Africa. In mid-February, a study from Israel reported a 94 percent decrease in symptomatic COVID-19 cases among people who received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That study also indicated the vaccine was 85 percent effective 15 to 28 days after an initial dose. In mid-February, Pfizer officials announced that they believe their vaccine can be stored at regular freezer temperatures. In late February, a study from the United Kingdom reported that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine can reduce the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus by 70 percent with an 85 percent reduction after two doses. In early March, a study out of Israel reported that the Pfizer vaccine was highly effective in preventing COVID-19 in people with a variety of conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. In mid-March, company officials released from clinical data from Israel, reporting their vaccine was 97 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease from COVID-19. In mid-May, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to children 12 years to 15 years old. In early June, Pfizer officials announced they will begin testing their vaccine on children younger than 12. They expect results from the clinical trial participants between the ages of 5 and 11 in September. Inovio. When COVID-19 appeared in December, drugmaker Inovio had already been working on a DNA vaccine for MERS, which is caused by another coronavirus. This allowed the company to quickly develop a potential COVID-19 vaccine.  Company officials announced at the end of April that it had enrolled 40 healthy volunteers in its phase 1 trial. In late September, the company announced that its phase 2/3 trial is on hold as the it responds to the FDA’s questions about the study. In early August, company officials announced their vaccine has to be shown to be 93 percent effective after 6 months. However, they said they believe a third dose of booster vaccine will be needed in the near future. In mid-August, Pfizer and BioNTech officials submitted their early clinical trial data to the FDA as part of their application to receive approval for a COVID-19 booster shot. On September 20, company officials reported the first trial of their COVID-19 vaccine on children ages 5 to 11 showed the vaccine was safe, well tolerated, and produced a robust antibody response. The companies plan to apply for an emergency use authorization from the FDA. Sanofi / Translate Bio. Drugmaker Sanofi announced in February that it would work with Translate Bio to develop an mRNA vaccine. Preclinical testing showed that the vaccine could elicit a strong immune response in mice and monkeys. The company expects results from its phase 2 trial in early December. After that, they will start a phase 3 study. CanSino Biologics. Scientists at this Chinese company are also working on a potential vaccine that uses an adenovirus known as Ad5 to carry coronavirus proteins into cells. In late July, they reported that participants in a phase 2 trial showed a strong immune response when given the vaccine. However, they noted older adults had a weaker response, suggesting two doses might be needed for that segment of the population. The Chinese military approved the vaccine in June, allowing the vaccine to be given to its armed forces. In August, the company began phase 3 trials in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Gamaleya Research Institute. This Russian institute developed a vaccine that includes two adenoviruses, Ad5 and Ad26. In August, President Vladimir Putin announced that the country’s regulatory agency had approved the vaccine, even before phase 3 trials had started. Russian officials later said the vaccine had received a “conditional registration certificate.”  Results of a phase 1/2 trial found that the vaccine elicited an immune response with mild side effects. Phase 3 trials are currently under way in Russia, Belarus, United Arab Emirates, and India. Johnson & Johnson. Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announced in late July that it had begun a phase 1/2 trial in people after their adenovirus vaccine had shown promising results when used in monkeys. In late September, the company announced it was starting a phase 3 trial of its one-dose vaccine with 60,000 participants. In mid-October, the company announced it was pausing this trial due to an “unexplained illness” with one of the participants. The company has since received permission to restart the study. In mid-November, Johnson & Johnson officials said they expected their vaccine to be ready for FDA approval by February. In mid-January, company officials reported that in early clinical trials nearly all participants developed an immune response from the vaccine. In addition, the response lasted for at least 71 days. In late January, company officials announced that their vaccine was 66 percent effective overall and more than 50 percent effective against the new variants. In early February, Johnson & Johnson requested an emergency use authorization for its vaccine. FDA regulators will examine the data in the ensuing weeks because this is the first of the one-dose vaccines. An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to consider the company’s request in late February. In late February, company officials announced they will be able to deliver 20 million doses of their vaccine by the end of March. In late February, the company received emergency use authorization from the FDA for its single-dose vaccine. In early March, the White House announced that Merck will help Johnson & Johnson manufacture its vaccine so the company can hit production targets. In mid-September, company officials announced that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine produced a strong immune response in participants in a clinical trial. The boosters were given 2 months to 6 months after the initial vaccine dose. AstraZeneca / University of Oxford. A phase 1 clinical trial at the University of Oxford began in late April. The vaccine is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus, which shuttles coronavirus proteins into cells.  In August, AstraZeneca began phase 3 trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. These trials were halted in September when a study volunteer developed a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis. The trials were restarted a week later in Brazil and the United Kingdom. In late October, the FDA authorized the U.S. trial to resume. In mid-November, company officials said their vaccine had produced a strong immune response in a clinical trial that involved people over the age of 70. Data released on December 8 indicated that the vaccine was safe but only about 70 percent effective. In early February, company officials announced that phase 3 clinical trial results showed that their vaccine was 82 percent effective after 12 weeks. They added that the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death. They also noted that the vaccine achieved up to a 67 percent efficacy in preventing disease transmission. A few days later, South Africa officials suspended plans to inoculate their front-line healthcare workers because clinical trials indicated the AstraZeneca vaccine wasn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness with the COVID-19 variant now dominant in that country. In mid-February, the World Health Organization approved an emergency use authorization for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be distributed worldwide. Sanofi / GSK / TranslateBio. Drugmaker Sanofi is pursuing two vaccines. The company is working with drugmaker GSK on a vaccine based on proteins from the coronavirus. When combined with another compound, called an adjuvant, the proteins elicit an immune response. They expect results from a phase 2 trial in early December, after which they will begin a phase 3 study. Sanofi is also working with biotech company Translate Bio to develop an mRNA vaccine. They expect to start clinical trials in December. Novavax. This company received up to $388 million in funding this spring from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a group that has funded COVID-19 vaccine development. The vaccine is made by attaching virus proteins to microscopic particles. In August, Novavax launched a phase 2 trial in South Africa. A month later, the company began a phase 3 trial in the United Kingdom. It plans to start another phase 3 trial in the United States by the end of November. In late January, company officials announced their vaccine was 90 percent effective overall and 60 percent effective against the South African variant. University of Queensland in Australia / CSL. Researchers at the university developed a vaccine by growing viral proteins in cell cultures. They began preclinical testing stages in early April. The phase 1 trial in people began in early July. A phase 2/3 trial is expected to start late this year. Wuhan Institute of Biological Products / Sinopharm. Chinese company Sinopharm is testing an inactivated virus vaccine developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. After a successful phase 1 trial, researchers launched phase 3 trials in the UAE in July and a month later in Peru and Morocco.  Beijing Institute of Biological Products / Sinopharm. Sinopharm is testing a second inactivated virus vaccine developed by Beijing Institute of Biological Products. Phase 3 trials began in June in the UAE and in September in Argentina. In September, the UAE approved the vaccine for use on healthcare workers even before the results of the phase 3 trials. Sinovac Biotech. This Chinese company launched phase 3 trials of its inactivated virus vaccine in Brazil in July, Indonesia in August, and Turkey in September. In August, the Chinese government issued emergency approval for the vaccine for use on high-risk groups. Bharat Biotech / Indian Council of Medical Research / Indian National Institute of Virology. Indian company Bharat announced in late October that it was beginning a phase 3 trial of its inactivated virus vaccine. Repurposed vaccines Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia is conducting a phase 3 trial of the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine to see if it also protects people from the coronavirus. This trial is being run in Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Some scientists think the polio vaccine might boost the immune system just enough to fight off the new coronavirus, although there’s no evidence yet to confirm this theory. Two U.S. researchers also suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine might offer protection against inflammation and sepsis in people with COVID-19. They recommend starting a clinical trial with the MMR vaccine in healthcare workers. Antivirals Antivirals are drugs that are used for treating viral infections. Some antivirals target specific viruses, while others work against a number of viruses. These drugs can work in different ways such as preventing the virus from entering host cells, replicating, or releasing viral particles to infect other cells. In June 2021, White House officials announced they will spend $3 billion this year on developing antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 symptoms. They said the new medications could be ready by the end of this year and could possibly be used to treat other pandemic viruses in the future. Here are some of antivirals being eyed as treatments for COVID-19. Many of these have been approved for other conditions or have been tested on other viruses. Remdesivir (brand name Veklury). Developed a decade ago, remdesivir failed in clinical trials against Ebola in 2014. But it was found to be generally safe in people. Research with MERS, a disease caused by a different coronavirus, showed that the drug blocked the virus from replicating. In April, drugmaker Gilead Sciences announced that preliminary data from a trial of remdesivir overseen by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had “met its primary endpoint.” Based on these results, the FDA issued an order on May 1 for the emergency use of remdesivir for hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19.  In August, the agency broadened the EUA to allow for use of the drug in all hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including children. The results of a phase 3 trial published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that remdesivir shortened the hospital stay of COVID-19 patients by about 5 days. People taking remdesivir also had a lower risk of dying compared to those who had been given an inactive control substance. On Oct. 22, the FDA approved remdesivir for use as a treatment for COVID-19 in adults and children 12 years and older. The drug is the first approved by the agency as a treatment for COVID-19. Not all clinical trials have found that remdesivir is effective. A study published in The Lancet in May reported that participants in a clinical trial who took remdesivir showed no benefits compared to people who took a placebo. Preliminary results from a World Health Organization trial released in October found that remdesivir had little effect on how long people stayed in the hospital and no effect on their risk of dying. Remdesivir is also being tested in many COVID-19 clinical trials around the world, including in combination with other drugs such as interferon beta-1a and a highly concentrated solution of antibodies. In mid-September, officials at Eli Lilly announced that in early stage trials their anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib when added to remdesivir can shorten hospital stays by 1 day for people with COVID-19. Olumiant, which is the name baricitinib is sold under, is already used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions that involve overactive immune systems. The drug is also being tested in children with moderate to severe COVID-19. In mid-November, FDA officials announced they had granted an emergency use authorization to use the baricitinib-remdesivir combination therapy for treatment on hospitalized adults and children who need supplemental oxygen. In mid-July, a study concluded that remdesivir provided no clinical benefit to people hospitalized with COVID-19 and may have actually extended their stay in the hospital. AT-527. This drug was developed by Boston biotech Atea Pharmaceuticals and is being developed in partnership with drugmaker Roche. Atea began a phase 2 trial in May, testing the drug in people hospitalized with moderate COVID-19.  The company plans to test the drug next year outside the hospital setting, and test to see if the drug can work in people recently exposed to the coronavirus. EIDD-2801. This drug was created by scientists at a nonprofit biotech company owned by Emory University. Research in mice has shown that it can reduce replication of multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Pharmaceutical company Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP signed an agreement in May to develop this drug. A phase 1 trial of this drug began in April in the United Kingdom, followed in July by a phase 2 trial. Unlike remdesivir, EIDD-2801 can be taken orally, which would make it available to a larger number of people. Favipiravir (brand name Avigan). This drug, which is manufactured by the Japanese company Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., Ltd., is approved in some countries outside the United States to treat influenza. Japan, where the medication is made, is sending the drug to 43 countries for clinical trial testing in people with mild or moderate COVID-19. Canadian researchers are testing to see whether the drug can help fight outbreaks in long-term care homes. In September, Fujifilm released the results of a phase 3 trial that began in March. COVID-19 patients taking the drug improved after 12 days on average versus more than 14 days on average for people taking an inactive placebo. The company is seeking approval of the drug in Japan as a treatment for COVID-19. Fluvoxamine. This drug is already used to treat people with obsessive/compulsive disorder. In mid-November, a study with 152 participants reported that the medication was effective in easing symptoms of COVID-19. In early February, a study indicated fluvoxamine could help prevent mild COVID-19 symptoms from becoming worse. Kaletra. This is a combination of two drugs — lopinavir and ritonavir — that work against HIV. Clinical trials are being done to see whether this drug combo also works against SARS-CoV-2. There have been mixed results. One small study published May 4 in the journal Med by Cell Press found that lopinavir/ritonavir didn’t improve outcomes in people with mild or moderate COVID-19 compared to those receiving standard care. Another study, published May 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the drug combination wasn’t effective for people with severe COVID-19. But another study found that people who were given lopinavir/ritonavir along with two other drugs — ribavirin and interferon beta-1b — took less time to clear the virus from their body. This study was published May 8 in The Lancet. A U.K. study published in October in The Lancet found that the drug combo did not reduce the risk of dying, length of hospital stay, or need for mechanical ventilation in COVID-19 patients. Merimepodib (VX-497). This drug, developed by ViralClear Pharmaceuticals Inc., has been previously shown to have antiviral and immune-suppressing effects. It was tested against hepatitis C but had only modest effects. The company is running a phase 2 trial of this drug. People with advanced COVID-19 will be randomized to receive either merimepodib with remdesivir, or remdesivir plus a placebo. The company ended its phase 2 trial in October after concerns about the drug’s safety. Niclosamide. ANA Therapeutics began a phase 2 and 3 trial in October of oral niclosamide, a drug that’s been used for more than 50 years to treat tapeworms, to see whether it helps people with COVID-19. Earlier studies showed the drug had antiviral and immune-modulating activities. Umifenovir (brand name Arbidol). This antiviral was tested along with the drug lopinavir/ritonavir as a treatment for COVID-19. Researchers reported in mid-April that the three-drug combination didn’t improve the clinical outcomes for people hospitalized with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. A July review of 12 studies found that Arbidol didn’t improve outcomes in people with COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies Monoclonal antibodies trigger the immune system to attack a virus. Like antibodies made by the body’s immune system, these lab-made molecules target a specific invader, such as SARS-CoV-2. AstraZeneca received funding in October to begin phase 3 trials of its anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody combo drug AZD7442. One study will examine whether the drug can provide protection for up to 12 months. The drug is made of two antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, isolated from the blood of a couple from Wuhan, China. Celltrion. This South Korean company began a phase 3 trial in October of its monoclonal antibody treatment, CT-P59. It’s being tested in people who have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19 to see whether the drug can prevent infection. Edesa Biotech Inc. received approval to begin a phase 2 trial of its monoclonal antibody drug, EB05. The company thinks its drug could reduce the overactive immune responses associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Eli Lilly. In early October, Eli Lilly reported that a new treatment involving two antibodies showed promising results in reducing SARS-CoV-2 levels. The treatment was given to people with COVID-19 who hadn’t been hospitalized.  The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. People who received the antibodies had significantly reduced virus levels after 11 days. They also had slightly less severe symptoms compared to participants who received an inactive placebo. In mid-October, the National Institutes of Health paused the phase 3 trial of Eli Lilly’s antibody over potential safety concerns. The drug was being tested in combination with the antiviral remdesivir. In mid-November, the Eli Lilly drug bamlanivimab received an emergency use authorization from the FDA for use on people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at risk of hospitalization or severe symptoms. In mid-January, researchers reported that bamlanivimab taken along with etesevimab reduces the amount of COVID-19 viral load in people with mild or moderate symptoms. Also in mid-January, Eli Lilly officials announced that bamlanivimab significantly reduced the risk of contracting symptomatic COVID-19 among nursing home residents and employees. The phase 3 trial included 666 employees and 299 residents. In early March, company officials reported that a phase 3 clinical trial revealed a drug combination of bamlanivimab and etesivmibab produced an 87 percent lower risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. is testing a two-antibody combination in four groups: people hospitalized with COVID-19; people with symptoms of the disease but not hospitalized; healthy people at high risk for getting sick with COVID-19; and healthy people who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. On Oct. 7, the company asked the FDA for emergency approval of its antibody mixture, or “cocktail.” The announcement came a few days after President Trump was treated with the drug for COVID-19. Regeneron officials said doses for 50,000 people would initially be available. In mid-October, the company reported its antibody mixture had performed well in a clinical trial involving hamster and rhesus macaque monkeys. In late October, the company announced it would stop recruiting participants who need high levels of supplemental oxygen into its phase 2 and 3 trial due to potential safety concerns. People who need low or no supplemental oxygen will continue to be enrolled. In January 2021, company officials announced that its antibody cocktail appears to be effective against the United Kingdom and South African variants of the novel coronavirus. In June 2021, a new study revealed that the Regeneron antibody combination reduced the risk of death for people hospitalized with COVID-19 who don’t mount an immune defense on their own. In July 2021, health experts said the Regeneron antibody cocktail is being used to help treat people who’ve been vaccinated but still become ill with COVID-19. Sorrento Therapeutics. This small biotech company announced in May that it has an antibody drug that’s been effective in early testing in blocking SARS-CoV-2. The company says the drug could potentially be used to treat people with COVID-19 as well as help prevent infection.  A preprint study published in September found that the antibody protected Syrian golden hamsters that were infected with SARS-CoV-2. Vir Biotechnology has isolated antibodies from people who survived SARS, a disease caused by another coronavirus. The company is working with Chinese firm WuXi Biologics to test them as a treatment for COVID-19. In October, Vir and drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline began a phase 3 trial of its antibody therapy VIR-7831. In late May, the FDA approved an emergency use authorization for the drug known as sotrovimab. In early November, Reuters reported that a large-scale plan by the World Health Organization to supply COVID-19 drugs to poorer countries would focus on antibody treatments and steroids but not include remdesivir. Convalescent plasma therapy Along the same lines, the FDA has announced a process for medical facilities to conduct trials on an experimental treatment that uses blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19. The theory is that their plasma contains antibodies that will attack this particular coronavirus. In late March, the New York Blood Center began collecting plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19. In late May, researchers reported that 19 of 25 people with COVID-19 who were treated with convalescent plasma transfusions at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas had improved. Eleven of those patients have been released from the hospital. Mayo Clinic and Michigan State University are also leading convalescent plasma programs. In late August, the FDA approved an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma therapy to treat COVID-19. Some experts, however, said more research needs to be done on this type of treatment. A phase 2 trial published in The BMJ in October found that this treatment didn’t prevent people from developing severe COVID-19 or reduce their risk of dying. Immune modulators In some people with COVID-19, the immune system goes into overdrive, releasing large amounts of small proteins called cytokines. Scientists think this “cytokine storm” may be the reason certain people with severe COVID-19 develop ARDS and need to be put on a ventilator. Several immune suppressants are being tested in clinical trials to see whether the drugs can quell the cytokine storm and reduce the severity of ARDS. Dexamethasone. The inexpensive corticosteroid is already approved for other conditions and can be given orally or intravenously. Preliminary results published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a moderate dose of dexamethasone reduced death in people hospitalized with COVID-19 on a ventilator and people receiving supplemental oxygen but not on a ventilator. Other drugs being tested include baricitinib, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, and IL-6 inhibitors. Eli Lilly announced in October that baricitinib in combination with remdesivir reduced recovery time and improved clinical outcomes in people with COVID-19. The largest benefits were seen in those receiving supplemental oxygen or noninvasive ventilation. In October, the National Institutes of Health began a phase 3 trial of three immune modulators: infliximab, developed by Johnson & Johnson; abatacept, developed by Bristol Myers Squibb; and cenicriviroc, developed by AbbVie. The FDA has also approved a device that filters cytokines out of the blood of people with COVID-19. Stem cells Athersys Inc. began a phase 2 and 3 trial that will examine whether the company’s stem cell treatment could potentially benefit people with ARDS. Mesoblast has also developed a potential stem cell treatment for ARDS. The company is enrolling people with moderate to severe ARDS into a phase 2 and 3 clinical trial in the United States. As of October, the company had enrolled more than half of the participants for the phase 3 trial. Other treatments Scientists are also looking at other ways to target the virus or treat the complications of COVID-19. Antibody cocktail. In July 2020, researchers at Columbia University in New York announced some initial success in using a mix of antibodies to potentially treat people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection. They said the antibodies were collected from people hospitalized with COVID-19. The drug mixtures were tested on human cells as well as hamsters. If proven safe and effective, the antibodies would be given via blood transfusions to people who recently contracted the virus. Antiviral drugs. In September 2021, Pfizer and Merck both announced new clinical trials for their oral antiviral medications to treat COVID-19. The Pfizer drug, known as PF-07321332, is designed for people with COVID-19 who are not considered at high risk for serious illness. The Merck pill, which goes by the name molnupiravir, is designed for people who live in the same household as someone who has a symptomatic case of COVID-19. Both medications are designed to prevent the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 from replicating. Apilimod. In late July, Yale University announced it’s conducting a trial with AI Therapeutics on a drug known as apilimod. Yale officials said the medication has been proven safe in treating autoimmune diseases and follicular lymphoma. They said preliminary research indicates apilimod can block cellular entry of the new coronavirus. The drug has been granted fast-track status by the FDA. Arthritis Drugs. In early January, hospital officials in the United Kingdom reported that tocilizumab and sarilumab, drugs used to treat arthritis, can reduce the length of time spent in a hospital by 10 days. They added that the two drugs can reduce the risk of death from COVID-19 by 24 percent for people who are seriously ill with the disease. Blood thinners. In mid-September, U.S. researchers announced they’ve started two clinical trials to look at the possibility of using blood thinners to treat COVID-19. One trial would focus on people with COVID-19 who have been hospitalized while the other would center on those with COVID-19 who weren’t hospitalized. In mid-February, a study reported that blood thinners given as a preventative treatment to people within 24 hours of their hospitalization for COVID-19 reduced the risk of death from the disease. Cannabinoid drug ARDS-003. In mid-September, officials at Canada-based Tetra Bio-Pharma announced they had received FDA approval to start a phase 1 trial of a synthetic cannabinoid drug to treat COVID-19. Company officials said the medication may provide protection against ARDS, a condition that’s the most common cause of death for people with severe COVID-19. Diabetes drug. In late September, researchers reported that the diabetes drug sitagliptin reduced death and improved clinical outcomes in people with type 2 diabetes who were given the drug after being hospitalized for COVID-19. Researchers said it’s possible that sitagliptin could also help people without type 2 diabetes who develop COVID-19. Feline coronavirus drug. In early September, a study reported that a drug sometimes used to treat a coronavirus illness in cats showed promise in a trial against COVID-19 in humans. The drug hasn’t been approved by the FDA for use in cats or people, but researchers say it’s shown indications it can stop SARS-CoV-2 from replicating by targeting a key part of the virus’s cellular machinery. Gout drug. A study published in early February reported that colchicine, a drug used to treat gout, reduces the need for supplemental oxygen as well as speeds up the recovery for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Researchers said people treated with colchicine needed oxygen to help breathing for three fewer days on average. They also spent on average two fewer days in the hospital. Ibuprofen. In early June, scientists started a clinical trial to see whether the pain medication could be used for people hospitalized with COVID-19. Their theory is that ibuprofen’s anti-inflammatory qualities could help ease breathing difficulties associated with the illness. Interferon beta. In mid-July, scientists in the United Kingdom reported success in initial tests with a protein called interferon beta. The body produces this protein during viral infections. The researchers said the protein is inhaled directly into the lungs of someone with a SARS-CoV-2 infection in hopes of stimulating an immune response. They said the protein reduced the odds of developing a severe form of the disease in hospitalized patients by 79 percent. Preliminary results from a study by the World Health Organization found that interferon beta didn’t help people with COVID-19. Molnupiravir. This drug, manufactured by Merck, is an oral antiviral agent. In early March, results from a phase 2a clinical trial indicated the drug may reduce the length of illness derived from COVID-19 infections. Nasal spray. In late September, officials at Australian biotech company Ena Respiratory reported that a nasal spray used to treat colds and flu was highly effective in an animal study in reducing SARS-CoV-2 replication. Human trials are scheduled to start soon. Nitric oxide. In October, Nitric Oxide Innovations (NOI) LLC announced plans to begin a phase 2B and 3A outpatient clinical study of NOviricid, an oral lozenge that stimulates the production of nitric oxide in the body.  The study will enroll African Americans, a group that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Earlier research has suggested that nitric oxide might work as a treatment for COVID-19 by improving blood vessel function. It may also prevent certain viruses from replicating. Synthetic antibodies. In mid-August, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco announced they had created synthetic antibodies that may neutralize the new coronavirus. The compound still has to go through clinical trials, but the scientists said it could be available within a few months in a nasal spray or inhaler. Repurposed drugs. A study released in September 2021 reported that there are nine currently used drugs that could possibly be repurposed to treat COVID-19. In a trial on human cells, the researchers said these drugs help stop the novel coronavirus from replicating after it has entered a cell. The drugs have not been tested yet on patients. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. These drugs received emergency use authorization from the FDA at the end of March. On June 15, the FDA revoked that authorization, citing studies that indicated hydroxychloroquine didn’t significantly help people with COVID-19 and may have caused serious health risks. At the time of the FDA authorization in March, manufacturer Novartis donated about 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine and 1 million doses of chloroquine to the nation’s existing Strategic National Stockpile. The United States is now left with 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine and 2 million doses of chloroquine in its emergency stockpile. Clinical results for the drugs have been mixed. Studies published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the drugs didn’t help people with COVID-19. In late May, the World Health Organization announced it was halting its clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine due to safety concerns. In mid-June, the National Institutes of Health halted its clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine after data showed that the drug was no better than an inactive placebo. In late June, British officials announced they would restart a global clinical trial on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. In late July, scientists in Brazil announced that hydroxychloroquine given alone or with other drugs didn’t improve the condition of people hospitalized with mild to moderate COVID-19. In late September, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that hydroxychloroquine was no more effective in preventing the contraction of the new coronavirus in people who took the drug as opposed to those who didn’t. In early March, the a panel of experts from the WHO stated that hydroxychloroquine should not be used to prevent or treat COVID-19. Clinical trial stages Phase 1. The drug is given to a small number of healthy people and people with a disease to look for side effects and figure out the best dose.Phase 2. The drug is given to several hundred people who have the disease, looking to see whether it works and if there are any side effects that weren’t caught during the initial testing.Phase 3. In this large-scale trial, the drug is given to several hundred or even up to 3,000 people. A similar group of people take a placebo, or inactive compound. The trial is usually randomized and can take 1 to 4 years. This stage provides the best evidence of how the drug works and the most common side effects.Phase 4. Drugs that are approved for use undergo continued monitoring to make sure there are no other side effects, especially serious or long-term ones. Read this article in Spanish.

  • Vaccination Rates, Not Holiday Weekends, Are Now the Major Cause of COVID-19 Case Increases
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Smaller gatherings over the Labor Day weekend don’t appear to have had a major impact on COVID-19 cases. Ross Helen/Getty Images COVID-19 cases in the United States have decreased during the past 2 weeks, although some states are becoming “hot spots.”Experts say it doesn’t appear that travel and gatherings during the Labor Day weekend had a major impact on COVID-19 transmission.They say low vaccination rates and large gatherings without mask mandates are bigger factors. More National Guard troops are being dispatched to Kentucky hospitals this week as nearly 70 percent of the state’s 96 hospitals are facing severe staffing shortages after a sharp spike in COVID-19 admissions. The state is considered a COVID-19 hotspot. New cases have averaged more than 4,000 per day the past week, with only about 51 percent of the state’s eligible residents are fully vaccinated. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear urged residents to get vaccinated and not count on getting monoclonal antibody treatments. He said that the federal government is dealing with supply shortages because of extraordinary demand for the antibody treatment. “What this shortage ought to tell you is that if you’re unvaccinated and you get really sick, not only might there not be a bed in the hospital for you because they are so full, but that monoclonal antibody treatment might not be there for you either,” Beshear said. Part of a Labor Day surge? Due to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that unvaccinated people in the United States stay home over the Labor Day weekend. CDC officials added that even vaccinated people needed to consider the risk of holiday travel. The number of new cases was growing so rapidly that hospitals in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana were running low on oxygen supplies. But according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, the number of new cases nationally is down 12 percent the past 2 weeks. “If you look at the U.S. case counts, I think you might be able to discern a small bump that could be from Labor Day weekend,” Dr. George Rutherford III, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California San Francisco, told Healthline. “However, so far, it’s not very large and may just be a biological variation.” The numbers are still trending up in some parts of the country, but Dr. Amesh Adalja, FIDSA, an infectious diseases specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Maryland, said that may be due to other reasons. “There are some states where cases are increasing, such as Montana, Alaska, and West Virginia,” he told Healthline. “But that is likely a reflection of low vaccination rates, a different delta timeline and high rates of social interaction among the unvaccinated. That’s irrespective of whether it’s a holiday weekend.” Many factors Experts say it’s hard to distinguish the impact of the Labor Day weekend with so many other factors going on at the same time. “There have been all kinds of football games, college and professional, that are going on. Add to that, children are going back to school, older kids are going to college,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee. “There’s so much going on, I don’t know that we can attribute or anticipate a special surge due to Labor Day,” he told Healthline. Schaffner said that there may be some small outbreaks that could be linked to a particular event, but most health departments don’t have the capacity to investigate them because they’re busy dealing with COVID-19 cases. He noted that some areas of the country are seeing a plateau in the numbers of cases and hospitalizations. “I think we may be seeing a convergence of two things,” he said. “Slowly but surely, more people are getting vaccinated. The other is more rapid. More and more of the unvaccinated are actually experiencing infection that results in protection,” Schaffner explained.  But he says there are still troubling hotspots.  “It’s really quite extraordinary. In parts of the country they are talking about triaging, rationing care,” he said. In contrast to states like Kentucky, California now has the lowest COVID-19 case rate in the country for the past week, despite battling the highly contagious Delta variant. Still, some hospitals in the state’s Central Valley are struggling with a surge of new cases. In that part of the state, far fewer residents are vaccinated.

  • Pfizer Recalls Anti-Smoking Drug Chantix Over Cancer Concerns: What to Know
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    The drug Chantix is usually taken for 12 to 14 weeks by people who want to stop smoking. Westend61/Getty Images Pfizer has recalled its smoking cessation drug Chantix due to concerns over a potential cancer-causing ingredient.Experts say people taking Chantix should continue using the medication until they can talk with their doctor about potential alternatives.They also note that the health risks from smoking outweigh the concerns over Chantix. Pfizer is recalling its anti-smoking drug Chantix after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that long-term use of the medication can lead to an increased risk of cancer. FDA officials did add that there is no immediate risk to people taking Chantix and that people using the drug “should continue taking the current medicine until their pharmacist provides a replacement or their doctor prescribes a different treatment.” The FDA approved the prescription medication in 2006 to help adults quit smoking. It’s typically used for 12 to 24 weeks. The FDA also pointed out the benefits of quitting smoking still outweigh any cancer risk from taking Chantix. What’s causing the concern? The concerns over Chantix center on nitrosamine, a chemical found in tobacco, tobacco smoke, and foods such as fish, fried food, meat, and beer. Some nitrosamines have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Nitrosamines have no known industrial use. They’re often produced as unintentional byproducts of food processing and preparation. “Nitrosamines are impurities that are common in water and in foods, including cured and grilled meats, dairy products, and vegetables,” Julie Suko, PharmD, a vice president at drug database provider First Databank, told Healthline. “Everyone is exposed to some level of nitrosamines.” Alhough Chantix hit the market in 2006, nitrosamines only became an issue earlier this year when Pfizer paused distribution of Chantix in June. Further testing led the company to start recalling certain lots of the drug. The recall expanded in August. “The FDA has stated that better testing methods and a knowledge of what to look for in the chemical structures of drug products and manufacturing processes has enabled them to identify the increased risks of forming low levels of nitrosamines,” Suko said. “Improved technology has enabled the detection of trace amounts of impurities in drug products and may be the reason why more products have been found to have low levels of nitrosamines. The FDA has stated that as investigations and testing continue, low levels of nitrosamines may be found in additional drugs,” said Suko. Suko noted the FDA has told manufacturers to keep up with current technology. “Manufacturers are also responsible for developing and using suitable methods to detect and limit unacceptable impurities, including any new impurities that may occur when manufacturing processes are changed,” she said. Some alternatives Dr. Puja Uppal is the founder and chief medical officer of the health information website Think Healthy Doctor. She told Healthline that even though Chantix is sometimes prescribed for as long as 9 months, it’s still not usually long enough to seriously increase a person’s chance of getting cancer. There are other options for people who want to avoid the drug. “People still have many smoking cessation options besides Pfizer’s Chantix,” Uppal said. “So, I wouldn’t say this whole voluntary recall should dissuade anyone from smoking cessation. People should still be encouraged to quit smoking and their journey should still be applauded.” Uppal said Chantix users can get the generic form of the drug, which the FDA approved in August. “Also, the FDA is allowing Chantix from Canada to be sold in the U.S. for the time being,” she said. “Apart from Chantix manufactured in Canada and the generic form of Chantix, people can consider Zyban or its generic version, which are both FDA approved to help people quit smoking. Then there’s the whole family of nicotine-containing products such as gum, patches, and lozenges,” Uppal said. Suko said people taking smoking cessation drugs who are concerned about nitrosamine should talk with their doctor. “Patients taking prescription medications with potential nitrosamine impurities should not stop taking their medications,” Suko said. “Patients taking over-the-counter medications with potential nitrosamine impurities may consider using other OTC products approved for their condition.”

  • What Parents Should Know About Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Kids Under 12
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine appears to be safe and effective for children between the ages of 5 and 11, according to data released by the company.Children under 12 are not currently able to get any COVID-19 vaccine.For younger children, the drugmaker tested a dose that’s only a third of the amount that’s in the shots given now.Side effects appeared to be more mild for children. Pfizer announced Monday that clinical trials of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 showed promising results. According to a press release from the drugmaker, results showed that the vaccine is safe for children and establishes a strong antibody response against the virus. “Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. — underscoring the public health need for vaccination,” Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, said in the statement on Sep. 20. “These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency,” Bourla said. According to Pfizer, for younger children, the drugmaker tested a dose that was only a third of the amount that’s in the shots given now. Yet after a second dose, children ages 5 to 11 developed protective antibody levels as strong as what’s seen in teenagers and young adults receiving the regular-strength shots. Much smaller dose, similar level of protection For the clinical trial, over 2,200 children between 5 and 11 years old were given a two-dose regimen of 10 micrograms (μg) administered 21 days apart. According to Pfizer, side effects were “generally comparable” to those experienced by people between ages 16 and 25 who received the vaccine. “Side effects were milder in this age group than with adults and older children. Low grade fever [and] injection site pain were the most common side effects,” Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, director of Global Health for Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline. However, despite the encouraging results, we’ll have to wait before we see an official rollout of vaccines for children ages 5 to 11. After analysis of the trial data is completed, Pfizer said they will submit the results “in the near term” to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review and possible emergency use authorization (EUA). Unvaccinated children can transmit the virus to others According to Cioe-Peña, vaccinating this age group is essential not only to control disease spread, but to help stop the cycle of shut downs that new cases bring — and help us get back to normal. “Kids being in schools is important for their academic and social development, and for the economy,” he said. Cioe-Peña emphasized not only is this age group, in particular, at risk because remote schooling is not as effective for them, but parents also need the ability to work.  “With an unvaccinated population, the threat to schools closing with COVID cases will paralyze the economy and prevent us from moving past this pandemic,” he said. Delta variant causing more sick kids The Delta variant has caused a significant uptick in new cases, especially among children, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Cioe-Peña confirmed that the pediatric age group is especially affected. “Yes, the Delta variant is very infectious in kids,” he said. “Much more so than when compared to Alpha.” “It’s resulting in more widespread infections and more sick kids,” he continued. “Not because it’s more serious symptoms, but because the same small percentage of children that get very sick is a much bigger number with so many infections in the pediatric age group.” How antibodies are used to test effectiveness Instead of testing whether the vaccine prevented COVID-19 illness for this age group, as was done for adults, Pfizer looked at antibody levels generated by the vaccine. The FDA approved this approach to speed the study of the vaccine for children who are beginning their new school year in most of the United States. Cioe-Peña said parents shouldn’t hesitate to have their children vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible. “Know that this vaccine has been extensively tested, that children do better with vaccination than adults,” he said. “I have two children, 4 and 6 years old, who will both get vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible because I know that that decision is in their best interest.” The bottom line Pfizer recently announced encouraging results from a clinical trial of children ages 5 to 11. The drugmaker gave children a dose one-third of the adult one to find they developed a robust antibody response. Experts say the side effects are milder for younger children than seen in adults, and that vaccinating children is in their best interest. They also say that having elementary school-aged children vaccinated against COVID-19 will relieve the threat of schools closing due to new cases, and allow parents to get back to work — and help all of us to move past the pandemic.

  • What Is Going on with COVID-19 Boosters?
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Joe Raedle/Getty Images Some people in the United States could start receiving booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines as early as this week.The first booster doses will likely be of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine, after a key FDA advisory committee reviewed data on Sept. 17 of its benefits.The Biden administration had said earlier this year that booster doses could be rolled out as early as Sept. 20. COVID-19 booster doses could be available soon for some people in the United States at high risk of severe illness and those who work in jobs that make them more likely to contract the coronavirus. The first booster doses will likely be of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine, after a key FDA advisory committee reviewed data on Sept. 17 of its benefits. Several additional regulatory steps remain, but these could be cleared as early as this week. Over the summer, the Biden administration had said booster doses could be rolled out as early as Sept. 20. What’s the status of Pfizer-BioNTech booster doses? A vaccine advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted last week to recommend Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for people 65 years old and older, and those 16 and older at high risk of severe COVID-19 or a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus on the job. The FDA is not required to follow the panel’s advice but often does. The agency is expected to make a decision this week, according to reports. The approval would be granted as an emergency use authorization (EUA) rather than a full approval. This would allow the agency to modify the approval as more data on the benefits of boosters comes in. A vaccine advisory group for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is scheduled to meet on Sept. 22 and 23 to review data on Pfizer-BioNTech booster doses before the agency issues its recommendations. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is also expected to clarify which people are eligible for boosters. People considered at higher risk of severe illness may include those with chronic lung disease, diabetes, heart conditions, kidney disease, or obesity among other conditions. Certain people with weakened immune systems who received two doses of an mRNA vaccine are already eligible for an additional dose. This is not considered a booster, but a way to help them generate a more robust immune response. Jobs that would qualify people for boosters because they have a higher risk of coronavirus exposure could include healthcare workers, emergency responders, and teachers. What about boosters for other vaccines? Booster doses for the other two COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States will follow the same regulatory review, although the timeline for these is unclear. Data needed by the FDA for its review of booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will not be available for several weeks, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sept. 19. Moderna announced at the beginning of September that it had submitted initial data to the FDA for its booster application. Johnson & Johnson has also submitted some booster data to the FDA, the company announced this week. The J&J vaccine received emergency approval in February as a single-dose vaccine. A booster dose would be a second dose of this vaccine. Data released Sept. 21 found that a J&J booster improved vaccine effectiveness to 94 percent, according to the company. Do we need COVID-19 boosters? Even as the country prepares to roll out booster doses to some people in the United States, scientists continue to debate the need for these additional doses. Some experts point to the decline in antibody levels and increase in breakthrough infections during the months after vaccination as signs of waning immunity. Real-world data from Israel and the United Kingdom has found a similar decrease in vaccine effectiveness against infection. However, antibodies are only one aspect of protection against the coronavirus. Some research has found that the body’s cellular immune response — B cells and T cells — remains robust even 6 months after COVID-19 vaccination. This suggests that the vaccines will continue to protect against severe illness. “Even though antibody levels wane over time — that part is clear — it does not necessarily mean that you’re going to end up being extremely sick,” said Ralph Pantophlet, PhD, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, who studies antibody responses to HIV and other viruses. UK data found that vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization and death remained strong 20 weeks after vaccination. However, Israel data shows an increase in severe illness among older adults who were vaccinated earlier in the year, compared to those who received their second dose more recently. Scientists will continue to monitor fully vaccinated people to see if there is a rise in severe COVID-19 or death among certain groups. What is goal of vaccine boosters? Part of the debate over boosters centers on what level of risk countries are willing to accept. “Some people feel that protection against severe infection and death should be the measure [of vaccine effectiveness],” said Pantophlet. “So if we can protect against those, then we don’t need to worry about boosters right now and increasing antibody levels.” Israel has come down on the side of protecting against not only severe illness but also against coronavirus infection. The country has offered boosters to people as young as 12 years old. The United States has opted to target only those most at risk of severe illness or work-related infection. The authors of a recent opinion piece in The Lancet echo this approach. They write that boosting could be appropriate for some individuals, such as the immunocompromised or those who received a vaccine with low efficacy. But they point to the need for more and better data on boosters. “Widespread boosting should be undertaken only if there is clear evidence that it is appropriate,” they wrote. Boosting may also not have as much of an effect on the population as making sure that everyone has access to initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. “Current vaccine supplies could save more lives if used in previously unvaccinated populations than if used as boosters in vaccinated populations,” the authors of the Lancet article wrote.

  • Could Statins Be an Effective Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis?
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Researchers say statins can reduce the need for a total colectomy in people with ulcerative colitis. Fly View Productions/Getty Images Researchers report that in a new study, statins used to lower cholesterol were found to be a potential treatment for ulcerative colitis.They said people with the inflammatory bowel disease who were taking statins had a 50 percent reduced rate of colectomy surgeries.However, other experts said more research is needed before statins are declared an effective treatment for ulcerative colitis. Cholesterol-lowering statins may be an effective treatment for ulcerative colitis. In a recent study, researchers from Stanford University in California found the commonly prescribed medications lowered hospitalization rates and the need for a total colectomy in people with the inflammatory bowel disease. “About 30 percent of ulcerative colitis patients eventually have to undergo a colectomy as a last resort. It’s a drastic measure. You’re removing part of your body,” Purvesh Khatri, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine and biomedical data science at Stanford University, said in a press release. “So we thought, ‘Can we use available data to see whether drugs that are already approved by the FDA can be repurposed to better treat these patients?’” he added. Khatri and colleagues analyzed data from hundreds of people with ulcerative colitis. The data included prescription information. They then analyzed genomic data to determine how certain drugs influenced gene activity that’s associated with ulcerative colitis. They identified three drugs that seemed effective at reversing the gene signature that contributes to the inflammatory disease. Two of them were chemotherapy drugs, which Khatri said doctors wouldn’t prescribe due to significant side effects. The third drug was a statin. Researchers examined electronic health records to determine whether study participants with ulcerative colitis were on a statin, and if they were, whether they had needed a colectomy. They found that those with ulcerative colitis who were taking a statin had a 50 percent lower rate of colectomy than their peers who weren’t taking a statin. They were also less likely to be hospitalized due to their disease. “At this point, one could argue that this data shows a strong enough connection to start prescribing statins for ulcerative colitis,” Khatri said in the statement. “I think we’re almost there. We need to validate the effects a bit more stringently before moving it into the clinic.” Some caution from experts Experts not associated with the Stanford study agree that more research is needed before statins are used as a treatment for ulcerative colitis. “Statins are known to have some immunomodulatory properties. There are some animal studies and epidemiologic data to suggest that statins may have a beneficial effect on intestinal inflammation. However, the current level of evidence is low or very low,” Dr. Berkeley N. Limketkai, director of clinical research at the UCLA Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, told Healthline. “Studies in humans have also so far generated inconsistent results. That is not to say that statins will not have a role in the treatment algorithm of [inflammatory bowel disease] in the future,” he said. “Instead, more research is needed to evaluate whether the effect is clinically significant and safe and, if so, how one positions it in clinical practice,” he added. Limketkai said it’s important to remember there are a number of factors that could influence the outcome of the Stanford study.   “For all we know, there might be something unique or particular about the patients who were already on statins that skewed the results toward a perceived favorable effect,” he said. “For instance, those on statins may be individuals who seek a healthier lifestyle, eat better, have better follow-up with their primary care providers, are more compliant with their medications. We know that these factors also influence [ulcerative colitis] outcomes,” he explained. Dr. Ashkan Farhadi, MS, FACP, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California, said the fact statins may be associated with lower rates of colectomy doesn’t mean it’s an effective treatment. “Statins could be associated with less colectomy without implicating that you are treating. They found some association. I wouldn’t go that far to call it treatment. But they definitely found some trends,” he told Healthline. Treating inflammatory bowel diseases Currently, there are a number of medications available to treat inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis. However, Farhadi said none of them are particularly effective. “When there are a lot of treatments for an illness, it means none of them are good, none of them are very effective. If one of them was really good, there is no need to have a lot,” he said. Limketkai said more research is needed to determine whether statins could really be used in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. “While the study found intriguing results, much more research is needed to assess whether statins have value for treatment of [ulcerative colitis] in clinical practice. Without rigorous clinical investigation to demonstrate actual and practical efficacy (and safety), the relationship is very interesting and important, but not yet actionable in clinical practice,” he said. “If statins truly had such a powerful benefit, we would have observed these effects in the care of our patients and in the research literature far sooner,” Limketkai added. “Statins are among the top three most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States (and probably the world),” he said, “yet we have seen the epidemiology of [ulcerative colitis] worsen over time.”  

  • Here’s What We Know About the Risk of Kids Getting ‘Long COVID’
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Hispanolistic/Getty Images New research finds that children have a much lower risk of experiencing the symptoms of “long COVID.”When children do have lingering symptoms related to COVID-19, they often resolve within 3 months.The best way to protect yourself against long COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, physically distance, and wear a mask. A new analysis finds that long-term COVID-19 remains relatively rare among children. Researchers based in Australia analyzed 14 international studies involving 19,426 children and adolescents who reported “long COVID” symptoms after infection with the coronavirus. Their findings suggest that the condition is much less common than previously thought. According to a recently published scientific review by researchers at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), most global studies into long COVID in children had “significant limitations” and frequently overstated the risk. While relatively rare, long-term COVID-19 can affect children, according to the researchers. In these cases, they found that the most common symptoms reported were headache, fatigue, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties, and abdominal pain. Understanding long COVID risk in children This analysis is significant because it looked at studies that had a control group of children who didn’t have COVID-19. Many long COVID studies had no control group of healthy children, according to the researchers. In studies that included control groups, the percentage of people reporting long-term COVID-19 symptoms was similar among those with and without the infection. “Of the five studies which included children and adolescents without SARS-CoV-2 infection as controls, two did not find persistent symptoms to be more prevalent in children and adolescents with evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the study authors wrote. They pointed out that this highlights the difficulty in distinguishing long-term COVID-19 symptoms from pandemic-associated symptoms. A separate research brief from MCRI concluded that “most” children and adolescents with COVID-19 are only mildly affected by the illness, some showing no symptoms at all. When children do experience symptoms, they typically include fever, cough, a sore throat, blocked or runny nose, sneezing, muscle aches, and fatigue — more severe symptoms being uncommon. “Severe COVID-19 disease in children and adolescents is very uncommon, and only very rarely causes death,” the authors wrote. Pre-existing health conditions increase risk for severe childhood COVID-19 Some children were at increased risk compared to children in general. The research brief also found children and adolescents with pre-existing health conditions that include obesity, cardiovascular disease, and immune disorders have up to a 25-fold greater risk of severe COVID-19. This falls in line with other research. According to a systematic review published in February 2021, severe COVID-19 occurred in 5.1 percent of children and adolescents with pre-existing conditions — compared to only 0.2 percent in those without any. Actual risk of developing long COVID The risk of developing long-term COVID-19 is real, and experts are still trying to understand why some people have long-lasting symptoms and others don’t. The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and to practice physical distancing and mask-wearing in places where viral spread is high. However, experts say that people shouldn’t be overly worried about developing long COVID symptoms. Many people with COVID-19 will end up feeling better within a few weeks. “Most people with mild or moderate symptoms associated with a COVID-19 infection will feel better and return to their baseline in 1 to 3 weeks,” says Dr. Teresa Murray Amato, director of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, New York. Some people with severe infection that experience long COVID symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pains may be at higher risk for symptoms that can last up to 3 months or more. Experts say we still don’t know enough when it comes to long COVID in healthy children. “We are not sure if kids or adolescents are at higher risk for long COVID,” said Amato. “Studies are currently collecting and analyzing data to determine what, if anything puts people, including younger patients, at a risk for long COVID.” Impact of long COVID in children “Because long-COVID is rare in children, it’s too soon to estimate the impact it will have on [them],” said Dr. Thomas Gut, associate chair of medicine and director of the Post-COVID Recovery Center at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. Gut explained that, unlike the 30 to 50 percent of adults who have long COVID after infection, children tend to have much milder cases of COVID-19, and the symptoms resolve quickly. He also said that Delta variant, while highly infectious, hasn’t caused more severe cases in children. “Delta has a larger effect on children than previous strains due to how much more contagious the newer strains become,” he said “Luckily, the severity of disease does not vary much between strains.” Key benefit of vaccination The study authors said there’s an urgent need for more research in order to help lawmakers decide on policies regarding childhood vaccination against the virus. “The low risk posed by acute disease means that one of the key benefits of COVID vaccination of children and adolescents might be to protect them from long COVID,” said Nigel Curtis, PhD, professor of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Melbourne and head of infectious diseases at the Royal Children’s Hospital, in a statement. “An accurate determination of the risk of long COVID in this age group is therefore crucial in the debate about the risks and benefits of vaccination,” he continued. Experts say that vaccinations are key to stopping the virus and protecting children from both COVID-19 and long COVID. This week, Pfizer-BioNTech released data that found vaccines were helpful at protecting children from developing COVID-19. They’ll ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an Emergency Use Authorization to administer their vaccine to children 5 to 12 this fall. “Despite having much milder cases or sometimes even having no symptoms, children can still pass COVID on to others,” Gut warned, and emphasized that vaccination is one of the few ways we can reduce this risk. The bottom line New research finds that children have a much lower risk of experiencing the symptoms of long-term COVID-19. But when they do, the symptoms typically resolve within 3 months. Experts say that although we still don’t have enough information about long COVID in children, children can still pass the virus on to others. They also say while vaccination is the best way to prevent disease spread, we still don’t have an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine available for children under 12 years old.

  • These Groups Are at Higher Risk of Developing Long COVID-19
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Jon Cherry/Getty Images Long COVID-19 is thought to occur in 5 percent of nonhospitalized people diagnosed with COVID-19.It may occur in up to 80 percent of hospitalized coronavirus patients.A new study finds that the people most likely to develop long COVID-19 include women, people 40 and older, Black individuals, and people with preexisting health conditions. A new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that people most at risk of long COVID-19 include people over 40, women, Black people, and individuals with underlying health conditions. Long COVID, also referred to as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, is thought to occur in 5 percent of nonhospitalized people diagnosed with COVID-19 and up to 80 percent of hospitalized coronavirus patients. Researchers suspect various structural and socioeconomic barriers in the U.S. healthcare system may contribute to certain groups’ higher rates of long COVID. By learning more about who is impacted the most by long COVID, researchers hope better prevention and treatment strategies can be developed for the at-risk populations. “Identifying disparities in post-acute COVID-19 sequelae can help guide the allocation of public health resources and improve health equity while groups recover from the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study states. Here’s who is most at risk for long COVID The study, led by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, evaluated 366 people 18 years old and older who tested positive for COVID-19 between  April 1 and Dec. 10, 2020. The patients were then interviewed at least 2 months after testing positive. One-third of the patients reported at least 1 symptom 2 months after their positive diagnostic test. The most common symptoms included fatigue, difficulty breathing, and parosmia (loss of smell). The likelihood of symptoms was greater among women, people 40 and older, Black individuals, and people with preexisting health conditions. Researchers say that as more people recover from COVID-19, more research is needed to understand and treat long COVID. “Identification of groups disproportionately affected by post-acute COVID-19 sequelae can help develop efforts to prioritize preventions and treatment strategies, including vaccination of groups at higher risk for these long-term sequelae, and access to testing and care for post-acute sequelae,” the study stated. What causes long COVID? Researchers suspect various factors, though it’s unclear why some groups have a greater chance of developing long COVID. The factors include inequities that increase peoples’ chances of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, inequities in testing and care, and differences in the presence of underlying health conditions among certain racial groups. Dr. Albert Shaw, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist and professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, says that though the understanding of long COVID is still in the early stages, there are many possibilities why people develop the syndrome. “There could be persistent SARS-CoV-2 virus (the cause of COVID-19), or perhaps not complete virus but parts of it, somewhere in the body despite recovery from acute infection (and even negative COVID-19 testing) — and this virus causes the immune system to continue to be activated,” Shaw said. Another theory is that when fighting the coronavirus, the immune system also generates “autoantibodies” that fight normal proteins in the body. Because symptoms are so diverse — including shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, and memory and concentration problems — there are possibly other explanations behind who develops long COVID and why, Shaw says. One of the biggest takeaways from the study is that long COVID isn’t rare. In this study alone, one-third of the patients reported at least 1 symptom 2 months after testing positive. “Because a significant proportion of people (one-third of the people surveyed in this study) can develop persistent symptoms of long COVID, this provides even more reason for everyone to take precautions against developing COVID-19, such as vaccination and mask-wearing indoors,” Shaw said. The bottom line: A new analysis from the CDC finds that people over 40, females, Black people, and individuals with underlying health conditions are most at risk of long COVID. It’s still unclear what causes some people to develop long-haul symptoms, but researchers are investigating the condition. By uncovering who is most impacted by long COVID, scientists hope to develop better prevention and treatment strategies.

  • Here Is What Heart Health Experts Think About the Apple Watch Series 7
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    The new Apple Watch Series 7 and watchOS 8 will include a slate of new and improved health and wellness features. Images provided by Apple The Apple Watch Series 7, which is set for release later this fall, and the new watchOS 8 include a number of new and enhanced health and wellness features.The new smartwatch will continue to include an ECG for monitoring heart health as well as a blood oxygen monitor.While the existing ECG did receive Food and Drug Administration clearance, the blood oxygen monitor did not.Health experts say while the data collected from wearable devices is helpful for both patients and doctors, they are not a replacement for medical-grade devices. When Apple releases its Watch Series 7 later this fall, expect to see some new health features as well as the continued ability to measure your blood oxygen level and check your heart with an electrocardiogram (ECG) anytime you desire. Apple’s new watchOS 8, which was released earlier today, also boasts features including mindfulness and sleep tracking. Although Apple did not respond to our request for comment, the tech giant’s website describes this latest iteration of its smartwatch as the “ultimate device for a healthy life,” stating that it can be used to provide your doctor with important information about your heart health. But how true is this claim? Healthline spoke with Dr. Edo Paz, vice president of medical at K Health and a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, and Dr. Aeshita Dwivedi, assistant professor at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra and cardiologist at Northwell Health, to get the expert’s perspective on how good the Apple Watch Series 7’s health features really are. ECG app According to Apple’s marketing materials, the ECG app is capable of generating an ECG that’s similar to a single-lead ECG used by medical professionals. This test is used to record the timing and strength of the electrical signals made when the heart beats. Doctors can use an ECG to learn about your heart rhythm and check for irregularities. The Apple Watch uses electrodes built into the Digital Crown and the back crystal to read these electrical signals. The app can then interpret these signals to show whether there are signs of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm, or whether your heart is beating in a normal pattern (sinus rhythm). Blood oxygen sensor and app Apple calls its blood oxygen sensor and app “revolutionary.” According to marketing materials, the sensor uses four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDS, along with four photodiodes on the back crystal of the watch, to measure light reflected back from blood. The watch then uses a custom algorithm within the app to measure blood oxygen levels between 70 and 100 percent. Knowing your blood oxygen level tells you how well your lungs are doing at taking in oxygen. Apple is marketing this as a wellness feature rather than for medical monitoring. How good are the ECG and blood oxygen sensors? According to both Paz and Dwivedi, when Apple introduced the ECG in its Apple Watch 6, it received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. The blood oxygen sensor did not. So, why the difference? It really comes down to the intended purpose of the device. Since Apple was marketing the ECG as a tool for monitoring health conditions, the company had to prove it worked for its intended purpose. If it’s being marketed as a “wellness” feature — like the blood oxygen sensor — it’s not necessary to obtain FDA clearance. “Many wearable devices are available on the market to track health information like heart rate, heart rhythm, and blood oxygen monitors. While these devices may provide supplemental information, the accuracy of these devices remains unpredictable,” Dwivedi said. “Most of the devices are not approved by the FDA. This means that the companies are not obliged to study reliability or the validity of their devices and how it compares to medical-grade devices,” she said. “While these devices can help provide patients with a general trend regarding their health, the data should not be used to provide medical care or trigger medical interventions,” Dwivedi said. Paz said he routinely reviews data that patients collect at home from devices like the Apple Watch. “For instance, if a patient has palpitations (a sensation of fast or irregular heartbeats), they could do a spot recording on the Apple Watch ECG sensor,” he explained. “Apple’s watch… got FDA [clearance] for ECG monitoring and detection of atrial fibrillation. The company has studied this feature in clinical trials and published data demonstrating a reasonable accuracy of the device for detecting atrial fibrillation,” Dwivedi added. However, both experts agree that definitive diagnosis of an abnormal heart rhythm would require the use of a medical-grade ECG device. Paz noted there’s no accuracy data for the blood oxygen sensor that he’s aware of. However, he said the wrist technique is generally less accurate than the typical technique of measuring blood oxygen using a fingertip sensor. But Paz said he still thinks there are opportunities for certain people to leverage the blood oxygen data, as long as they do so under the care of their physician. watchOS 8 health apps In addition to the watch’s built-in technology for health monitoring, certain health features within the operating system itself are being updated with the upcoming release of watchOS 8. Mindfulness The popular Breathe app has been updated with new visualizations and tips, and is renamed “Mindfulness.” Its goal, according to Apple, is to help you “focus, center, and connect as you breathe.” The refreshed app also introduces a new type of session called “Reflect.” Reflect sessions are brief interludes, as short as a minute, that are designed to be completed anytime, anywhere. Each session offers the user a single, positive thought to focus on. For example: “Reflect on one thing you’re grateful for and think about why you appreciate it so much.” Sleep The Apple Watch can also help you track and improve the quality of your sleep. In addition to allowing you to set a pre-bedtime routine, it’s also able to track such metrics as time asleep, heart rate, blood oxygen, and sleeping respiratory rate (how many breaths you take per minute). To track these variables, it makes use of several features of the watch, including the various sensors as well as the built-in accelerometer. All this information, along with trends over time, can be viewed within the Health app on your iPhone. Workout The Apple Watch now offers automatic detection when you’re riding a bike, prompting you to start a workout. It’s additionally capable of detecting when you take a break and when you resume your workout. Apple has also added Pilates and tai chi to its roster of workouts. Purchasing a watch will also give you a 3-month free subscription to Apple’s Fitness+, a service that’s entirely based around the Apple Watch. With the arrival of watchOS 8, Fitness+ now offers picture-in-picture support and new filtering options. In addition, users can stop and resume an in-progress workout on any device. It will also soon be featuring popular fitness experts and musical artists in its workouts. To keep you safe, the Apple Watch will soon be offering fall detection for workouts. If the watch detects a hard fall during your workout, it will automatically generate a call for help.

  • Nonprofit GameChanger Going All Out to Help Kids with Cancer, Other Serious Illnesses
    on September 25, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Bella, a young patient who was isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, cuddles with the GameChanger mascot “Hope the Monkey.”Photo courtesy of GameChanger. GameChanger helps children who are isolated while being treated for cancer and other serious illnesses.The nonprofit network provides movies, games, videos, STEM education, and other programs to these children.Other technology companies such as Reddit and Twitch have assisted GameChanger. It’s been said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. In the early 2000s, Jim Carol’s plan was to become a global pioneer in streaming video technology for smartphones. He succeeded. Carol’s company, PacketVideo, was the first to enable delivery of rich multimedia software on mobile phones and it now runs on more than 1 billion cellphones. This brought him wealth and prestige. But when his 11-year-old son, Taylor, was diagnosed with a rare type of leukemia in 2006 and forced into hospital isolation, Carol vowed to use technology to help his son and other children with cancer and other serious illnesses who are hospitalized. The result is the GameChanger, a nonprofit, cloud-based network that delivers curated, age-specific movies, games, videos, livestreaming, STEM education, financial aid, scholarships, and other services to ease the pain and isolation of children in treatment. With the help of Carol’s fellow tech executives from such companies as Amazon Web Services, Google, YouTube, Microsoft Xbox, Reddit, and Twitch, GameChanger has emerged as a global leader in distraction therapy and pain mitigation for seriously ill children. So far, GameChanger has helped more than 25,000 children and 6,500 caregivers worldwide. Traveling the world Before hatching this venture, Carol visited 250 hospitals worldwide, interviewing employees to learn about what children isolated in hospitals needed most. “We visited pediatric hospitals, bringing gifts and talking over lunch. From Australia to Europe, UK, Canada, and the USA,” Carol told Healthline. “In these travels, many universal truths emerged. Like the love of a parent, courage, and how kids whose parents didn’t have money didn’t have access to tech and great content.” He also learned that most hospitals were not equipped to give children the content they loved in the way they consume it. “We decided to change that,” Carol said. He noted that the emergence of COVID-19 among children has elevated the risk and isolation for young, immunocompromised patients even further. “This makes our work that much more important,” he said. Tech friends get on board The technology leaders who’ve assisted on this mission were dubbed “Tech Avengers” by a national television network executive in a private meeting with Carol. The name stuck. Steve Huffman, CEO and co-founder of Reddit, the social news and discussion website that ranks in the top 20 websites in the world, recently joined the GameChanger board. “What inspired me to join the other tech leaders on the board is the commitment GameChanger has for using tech and innovation to make life better for underserved populations, sick kids, and caregivers — their passion for leveraging innovation and tech for good,” Huffman told Healthline. Reddit’s employees have worked on strategy and provided free ads for GameChanger. The staff members also have provided mentoring and coaching on best ways to use social media and keeping kids connected. Tristan, a 5-year-old boy being treated for cancer, enjoys a GameChanger musical program with his mother, Jenna.Photo courtesy of GameChanger. Another member of Carol’s board is Dave Levy, vice president of federal government, nonprofit, and healthcare at Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has provided almost $2 million in funding. AWS has also made available engineering support, AWS credits, planning consultants, and early release of products such as AWS IVS, a livestreaming solution for creating interactive video experiences. “Hospitalization can be an isolating and stressful experience, especially now as COVID-19 has led to stricter hospital visitation and distancing procedures,” Levy told Healthline. “AWS is proud to be a part of GameChanger’s efforts to use tech and innovation to ease the pain of kids dealing with life threatening illnesses,” he said. “Together, we’re committed to leveraging the cloud to bring the power of play to even more hospitalized children across the country.” Other GameChanger board members include Emmett Shear, founder and CEO of Twitch, the world’s leading video platform and community for gamers. Twitch has helped GameChanger with engineering support, as well as donating private unlisted servers and showcasing GameChanger at the Twitch Con Keynote. The company has donated $1 million and is providing free ads. Also on the board is Tim Stuart, the chief financial officer of Microsoft Xbox, which has donated more than 5 tons of games, consoles, gear, and marketing materials. In addition, the company has hosted fundraisers and employee giving programs. It has donated 10,000 game passes for hospitalized kids. GameChanger’s newest board member is Malik Ducard, vice president of content partnerships at YouTube. He joined the board in August and the company has just begun working with Carol to provide content from YouTube Premium. Google, too, has worked with GameChanger to deliver augmented reality to hospitals. The GameChanger platform is now live at such locations as Children’s Hospital of Orange County, California; Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah; Highline Medical Center in Burien, Washington; and the Children’s Inn at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. At Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the technology department was able to add a one-click icon for GameChanger to the MyChart patient portal, giving children and their families instant access to the network. Helping change the game Taylor Carol, center, helps introduce GameChanger programs to a young patient named Isaiah and his father, Steve. Photo courtesy of GameChanger. Meanwhile, Taylor Carol, who fought his cancer for 5 years, is now 26, a Harvard graduate, and cured of his cancer. He said working with his father to improve the quality of life for hospitalized children has gained momentum beyond anything he and his dad envisioned. “When I got cancer, and then a bone marrow transplant, I was scared and very lonely,” Taylor told Healthline. “I was so lucky my family had the resources to provide me tech, gaming, and tutors. It broke my heart to witness other kids suffer and fall behind in school. That’s when my dad and I vowed to change the game,” he said.

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