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  • COVID-19 Updates: WHO Says Delta Variant Now Circulating in 80 Countries
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images More than 3.8 million people have died from COVID-19 globally.More than half of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated.COVID-19 cases remain high in some parts of the world, like India, where few people have been vaccinated. Update on COVID-19 numbers Globally, there have been more than 176.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3.8 million associated deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.The United States has reported more than 33.4 million confirmed cases and more than 600,000 associated deaths. Currently, more than 175 million people in the United States have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. More than 146 million people are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Healthline updates this page on weekdays. For up-to-date information about the virus, go here. 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. 6/2/21 7:00 p.m. PDT — 12 states have already achieved Biden’s goal of 70% adults vaccinated against COVID-19 Twelve states have now reached the Biden administration’s goal to vaccinate 70 percent of adults with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, according to data published yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported CNN. According to CNN, those states are California, Maryland, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. About 168.5 million people — nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 41 percent of the population — roughly 136 million people — are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, CNN reported. New trial will research whether COVID-19 vaccines can be mixed and matched The National Institutes of Health is examining whether COVID-19 vaccines can be mixed and matched for booster shots. The NIH study will see whether fully vaccinated people do better if they receive a booster shot 20 weeks after initial vaccination. Those new booster shots will not need to match the original type of vaccine given to the participant. “We need to prepare for the possibility of needing booster shots to counter waning immunity and to keep pace with an evolving virus,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the NIH. “The results of this trial are intended to inform public health policy decisions on the potential use of mixed vaccine schedules should booster doses be indicated,” he said. 6/1/21 2:55 p.m. PDT — COVID variants to be named after Greek letters, WHO announces The World Health Organization (WHO) will assign simple, easy to say and remember labels for key variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by using letters of the Greek alphabet. The WHO will assign labels for COVID-19 variants designated as Variants of Interest (VOI) or Variants of Concern (VOC) by WHO, and will be posted on the WHO’s website. “The U.K. variant, for instance, is labeled Alpha, the South African Beta, and the Indian as Delta,” reported BBC. The WHO said this was to simplify discussions but also to help remove some stigma from the names. “No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, tweeted. Kerkhove also called for “robust surveillance” of variants and the sharing of scientific data to help stop the pandemic from worsening. Moderna seeks full FDA approval for mRNA vaccine Moderna asked the FDA for full U.S. approval of its COVID-19 vaccine today, reported CNBC, making Moderna the second drugmaker in the United States to pursue a biologics license that will allow them to market its vaccine directly to consumers. According to CNBC, the drugmaker’s mRNA vaccine is currently being distributed under an emergency use authorization (EUA), granted by the FDA in December. It gives conditional approval based on 2 months of safety data and isn’t the same as a biologics license application, or a request for full approval, which requires at least 6 months of data. “We are pleased to announce this important step in the U.S. regulatory process for a Biologics License Application (BLA) of our COVID-19 vaccine,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, in a statement. “We look forward to working with the FDA and will continue to submit data from our Phase 3 study and complete the rolling submission.” 5/28/21 9:55 a.m. PDT — Most Americans favor vaccine verification for travelers About 70 percent of people in the United States favor vaccine verification while traveling by plane or staying in a hotel, a new PwC consulting survey found. More than half of respondents to the survey, released on Friday, said they support policies that prevent people from traveling if they don’t show proof of vaccination. About 14 percent reported they would be upset if asked for proof of vaccination while traveling. President Biden delivers hopeful message on COVID-19 On Friday, President Joe Biden delivered a message of hope and optimism on the declining number of COVID-19 cases and increased vaccination rates ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. The president traveled to Virginia to outline the progress made across the country, and in Virginia specifically, in combating the pandemic since he took office. 5/27/21 2:26 p.m. PDT — New antibody treatment for COVID-19 is authorized by the FDA There’s a new COVID-19 treatment now authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The monoclonal antibody therapy sotrovimab will be able to be administered to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 over age 12. This is the third such treatment given emergency use authorization by the FDA since the start of the pandemic, according to U.S. News and World Report. “With the authorization of this monoclonal antibody treatment, we are providing another option to help keep high-risk patients with COVID-19 out of the hospital,” said Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “It is important to expand the arsenal of monoclonal antibody therapies that are expected to retain activity against the circulating variants of COVID-19 in the United States.”  First winner of Ohio vaccine lottery An Ohio woman won the state’s first $1 million Vax-a-Million vaccination incentive prize, and a Dayton-area teen won the first full-ride college scholarship offered by the program, the state announced Wednesday night. According to Associated Press, winners were selected in a random drawing held Monday and had their information confirmed before a formal announcement was made at the end of the Ohio Lottery’s “Cash Explosion” TV show. The lottery announced Abbigail Bugenske of Silverton, Ohio as the $1 million winner, and Joseph Costello of Englewood, Ohio as the college scholarship winner. “I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine,” Bugenske told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “If winning $1 million isn’t incentive enough, I don’t really know what would be.” 5/26/21 2:22 p.m. PDT — Belgium pauses J&J vaccine for people under 41 after death On May 26, Belgium announced it would suspend vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for people under age 41 following the death of a woman after she was given the vaccine, reported Reuters. “The Inter-ministerial conference has decided to temporarily administer Janssen’s vaccine to the general population from the age of 41 years, pending a more detailed benefit-risk analysis by the EMA (European Medicines Agency),” Belgium’s federal health minister and seven regional counterparts said in a statement, reported Yahoo! News. According to The Telegraph, the woman was a Slovenian diplomat and 39 years old. Belgian media reports she was vaccinated outside Belgium, through her employer. Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announced April 20 that it would resume rolling out its COVID-19 vaccine in Europe with a warning on its label after requesting that countries, including Belgium, pause distribution amid concerns over a possible link to rare blood clots. CDC will not investigate mild cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it will no longer investigate mild cases of COVID-19 in people who are vaccinated. Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 — when a vaccinated person develops the illness — are extremely rare but not unexpected. A total of 10,262 COVID-19 cases were reported among the 101 million people who were fully vaccinated as of April 30. That means about 0.0001 percent of people who were vaccinated developed COVID-19. Among those who developed COVID-19, only 995 people actually were hospitalized and 160 died, although not all died of COVID-19. 5/25/21 12:59 p.m. PDT — Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine is effective in teens In a statement released Tuesday, May 25, officials at Moderna say their COVID-19 vaccine is effective at protecting adolescents. In a phase 2/3 study, 3,732 adolescents ages 12 to under 18 were given either a placebo or two vaccine doses. No cases of COVID-19 were reported in those who were fully vaccinated. “We are encouraged that mRNA-1273 was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in adolescents. It is particularly exciting to see that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. “We will submit these results to the U.S. FDA and regulators globally in early June and request authorization. We remain committed to doing our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic.” Can vaccinated people spread the coronavirus? Study says probably not When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its mask use guidelines on May 13, many Americans were left a little confused. People who are fully vaccinated can now participate in indoor and outdoor activities, regardless of the number of people involved, without wearing a mask or observing physical distancing. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said the new guideline is “based on the evolution of the science” and “serves as an incentive” for the almost two-thirds of Americans who are not yet fully vaccinated to go ahead and get the shot, reported Yahoo. With restrictions lifting nationwide, people are starting to leave their masks at home. This worries some people who fear that someone who’s been vaccinated can transmit the virus. A preprint study (not yet peer-reviewed) finds that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine can produce coronavirus-fighting antibodies in the oral and nasal fluids. Antibodies in the mouth and nose should then block COVID from getting into the body. This would also suggest that vaccinated people probably wouldn’t spread the virus through respiratory droplets. “Our observations are in agreement with the Moderna vaccine clinical study, which determined that among adults aged 18 to 70 years of age, SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies were detected among all participants who received a COVID-19 vaccination series in serum samples by day 15,” the study authors wrote. Vaccinations lag among younger Americans Experts are turning their focus in the fight against COVID-19 to vaccinating young Americans — warning that even though they don’t face a high chance of serious illness, they still risk long-term symptoms if they contract the coronavirus, reported CNN. According to CNN, the United States has hit a new milestone with 50% of U.S. adults fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. But many experts have identified younger Americans as a critical group for vaccine success and key to bringing the pandemic under control. CDC data shows that among those 12 to 15 years old, only 1.5 percent have received at least one dose, while only 1.7 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds have, and 7.6 percent of 18- to 24-years-old have. To reach the threshold of protection needed to limit the virus’ spread, at least 70 to 85 percent of the U.S. population will need to be immunized through vaccines or infection, health experts told CNN. 5/24/21 2:43 p.m. PDT — India records 300,000 COVID-19 deaths amid black fungus outbreak On Monday, India became the third country to record 300,000 COVID-19 deaths amid growing fears about the potentially fatal fungal infection striking some patients who have battled the virus. Only Brazil and the United States have reported more deaths. “Black fungus cases were first seen in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Karnataka has been reporting it only in the last three days and demand for medicines has gone up,” federal minister DV Sadananda Gowda said on Friday, reported the New Indian Express. On Saturday, Gowda said nearly 9,000 cases had been reported in India so far, leading to a shortage of amphotericin B, the drug used to treat the condition, reported the Associated Press (AP). According to AP, the infection, called mucormycosis, has a high mortality rate and was already present in India before the pandemic. While not contagious, its frequency in the past month has left doctors shocked. “It is a new challenge, and things are looking bleak,” Dr. Ambrish Mithal, the chairman and head of the endocrinology and diabetes department at Max Healthcare, told AP. He added that this fungal infection preys on patients with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions, particularly diabetes, and “irrational usage” of steroids. Possibility dogs can sniff out COVID-19 in people, early research suggests A new study published May 23 indicates dogs might be able to help in the fight against COVID-19. According to CNN, scientists and the group Medical Detection Dogs completed an early trial examining if dogs could smell and identify COVID-19 cases. Researchers said the dogs could pick up the scent of COVID-19 after 6 to 8 weeks of training, reported CNN. These early results have been published in a preprint study that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal. “The results are extremely exciting,” James Logan, PhD, a project lead on the study, told CNN. 5/21/21 2:37 p.m. PDT — Death toll from COVID-19 is probably 2 to 3 times higher than reported Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) say that the global death toll is probably around two to three times the number reported, according to Reuters. Currently, more than 3.4 million people have died from COVID-19. But the new report from the WHO would mean around 6 to 9 million people have died from the disease. In many countries, a surge of COVID-19 cases meant that some people died before they were able to be tested for the disease, so their deaths were not officially linked to the pandemic. People in India recover from COVID-19 only to die from ‘black fungus’ According to CNN, doctors in India began raising the alarm in early May about a rise in mucormycosis, a rare and potentially deadly infection. It’s also known as black fungus. “One of the ways mucormycosis travels is by invading the blood vessels,” Dr. Hemant Thacker, consultant physician and cardiometabolic specialist at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, told CNN. “It compromises the circulation to the distal organ, and thus produces what is called as necrosis or death of tissue, which then becomes black. So it is then given the name black fungus.” Many people with a mucormycosis infection also have COVID-19, or have recently recovered from it, whose immune systems were weakened by the virus or who have underlying conditions, particularly diabetes. In the past few weeks, thousands of mucormycosis cases have been reported across India, with hundreds hospitalized and at least 90 dead, CNN reported. Two states in India have declared it an epidemic, and the central government has made it a notifiable disease. 5/20/21 2:09 p.m. PDT — Current COVID-19 vaccines protect against variants, says WHO Europe COVID-19 vaccines currently used in Europe appear able to protect against all currently circulating variants that are causing concern, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director Hans Kluge said on May 20, reported Reuters. He also said health authorities should remain vigilant on the rising number of cases in the region caused by the variant first detected in India, but stressed that vaccination and infection control measures would help prevent further transmission. “All COVID-19 virus variants that have emerged so far do respond to the available, approved vaccines,” Kluge told a media briefing. Since the variant (B.1.617) was first identified in India, it has spread to at least 26 countries out of the 53 in the WHO’s European Region, said Kluge: “From Austria, to Greece, Israel to Kyrgyzstan.” According to Reuters, Kluge said the WHO’s regional office was cautiously optimistic to see COVID-19 cases in the region declining. “We are heading in the right direction, but need to keep a watchful eye,” he said. “In several countries, there are pockets of increasing transmission that could quickly evolve into dangerous resurgences… The pandemic is not over yet.” COVID-19 vaccine data on kids expected by fall, says CDC director Health officials expect to have more data regarding COVID-19 vaccination and younger children by late fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said May 19, reported Fox News. According to Fox, Walensky, while testifying before a Senate subcommittee on the agency’s budget request, said deescalation studies involving children down to age 9 are ongoing and will involve younger children as more data come in. “We’re working toward getting a vaccine that’s available for all people,” Walensky said. She added that the agency hopes to “have more available data in late fall and by the end of the year.” 5/19/21 3:35 p.m. PDT — AstraZeneca vaccine works well as third booster, study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine works well as a third booster dose. It increased antibodies to the coronavirus spike protein among participants in a not-yet-published study, the Financial Times reported. The AstraZeneca vaccine is an adenovirus-based, viral vector vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that a viral vector vaccine uses a harmless version of a different virus, called a “vector,” to deliver information to the body that helps protect it against infection. This technology raised concern among experts that the doses might lose potency if booster shots become necessary to fight coronavirus variants. “However, the mRNA vaccines may have an advantage over the adenovirus-vectored vaccines if annual boosters are needed,” Dr. Julian Tang, a clinical virologist and honorary associate professor in the department of respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said in a statement. “The development of host antibodies to the adenovirus-vector may limit these vaccines’ usefulness if such annual boosters are needed to maintain longer term protection,” he said. 60% of U.S. adults have been vaccinated, CDC director says The United States has reached a “landmark day” in the COVID-19 pandemic as 60 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, reported CNN. She also said that more than 3.5 million people ages 12 to 17 have received their first vaccine dose. White House COVID-19 Response Team senior adviser Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith told CNN that more People of Color are being vaccinated, marking “encouraging national trends.” According to the network, in the past 2 weeks 51 percent of people vaccinated in the United States were People of Color, which is higher than the 40 percent of the general population those groups represent. India records highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in a single day India has set a new global record during the pandemic for the number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day. At least 4,529 deaths were reported in India as of May 19, bringing the country’s total COVID-19 death toll to more than 280,000, according to The Associated Press. India has seen a massive COVID-19 surge in recent weeks after restrictions were eased. Only Brazil and the United States have recorded more deaths from COVID-19. 5/18/21 4:02 p.m. PDT — Tokyo doctors call for Olympic Games to be canceled due to pandemic A top medical organization in Japan has backed calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics, saying hospitals are already overwhelmed as the country fights a surge in COVID-19 cases with less than 3 months from the start of the games, reported Reuters. The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, which represents about 6,000 primary care doctors, said hospitals in Tokyo, the Olympic Games host city, “have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity” amid a spike in infections, according to Reuters. “We strongly request that the authorities convince the IOC (International Olympic Committee) that holding the Olympics is difficult and obtain its decision to cancel the Games,” the association announced in a May 14 open letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which was posted to the organization’s website yesterday, reported Reuters. According to Reuters, the number of cases throughout the island nation dropped to 3,680 on May 17, the lowest level since April 26, but the number of severe infections hit a record high of 1,235 on May 18. Over 600,000 children 12–15 were vaccinated last week COVID-19 vaccinations are picking up for those under age 16 with more than 600,000 children between the ages of 12 and 15 getting vaccinated last week. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cited this new statistic on Twitter today. The COVID-19 vaccination rate has slowed in recent weeks after it hit a high in April. Officials have been hoping that the United States can reach herd immunity in the coming months, which would happen when around 70 to 90 percent of the population is immunized. 5/17/21 2:26 p.m. PDT — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges ‘heavy dose of caution’ as country reopens As the United Kingdom starts to allow reopenings and social gatherings, the prime minister is urging people to be careful. Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned U.K. citizens to use a “heavy dose of caution” as pubs and other gathering places reopen, according to The Guardian. The United Kingdom previously reopened with fanfare only to face another strict lockdown as COVID-19 cases surged. What the new mask guidance means for unvaccinated kids Once 12- to 15-year-olds are fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s safe for them to remove their masks in most settings, just like fully vaccinated adults, according to NPR. However, state and local laws apply, as do school and business policies. Masks will still be required on buses, trains, and planes, and at stations and airports. But there are no COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in children under 12 in the United States, meaning that they need to continue masking. All unvaccinated people age 2 and older “should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household,” states the CDC mask guidelines. Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say unvaccinated children 2 years old and older should continue to wear masks around others when indoors, especially when among at-risk adults, like people who are immunocompromised or over age 65, reported NPR. “We know children over age two can safely wear masks to protect themselves and others from transmitting the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, said in a statement, reported NPR. “We’ve already seen how the masks have helped prevent the spread of respiratory infections within schools, camps and other community settings,” she added. “Particularly when everyone wears them, washes hands, and follows other infection control guidance.” It will likely be at least a few more months until a vaccine is approved for children under 12, and Pfizer says it won’t be ready to ask for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its COVID-19 vaccine in that age group until September. 5/14/21 2:47 p.m. PDT — Coronavirus outbreak hits the Yankees At least eight people affiliated with the New York Yankees have tested positive for the coronavirus even though all eight were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, according to The New York Times. While these kinds of “breakthrough” infections among people who are vaccinated are rare, they are expected to occur in a small number of cases. However, it’s likely that the vaccines still provide protection against severe symptoms. Seven of the eight people who tested positive had no symptoms. The one person who did have symptoms said they ended within days. It’s likely that these cases were caught only because testing is required for major league teams. New CDC mask guidance approached cautiously by some states Federal health officials cleared the way yesterday for fully vaccinated people to drop mask wearing in most situations, with some states lifting mask mandates and others taking a more cautious approach, reported The New York Times. According to the Times, the governors of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia and the mayors of New York City and Washington, D.C., all said they would take the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mask guidance under advisement before adopting it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state had “always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic,” and that he would review the new federal guidelines with the state health department and health experts in neighboring states, reported the Times. In a video posted to social media, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the CDC announcement was “news that we have all been waiting for.” He also encouraged state residents to take advantage of “hundred of thousands” of available vaccine appointments. 5/13/21 1:52 p.m. PDT — CDC issues new mask guidance for indoor locations The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated mask guidance for people who are vaccinated, saying that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor settings. These indoor settings include workplaces, restaurants and stores. But masks are still recommended in crowded indoor settings like public transportation, hospitals, and planes, reported The Associated Press. “We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, according to the AP. Fauci stops short of saying schools should require vaccines for students Dr. Anthony Fauci urges parents to vaccinate their kids against COVID-19 — but stopped short of saying the shots should be required to attend school, reported CBS News. “Whenever you’re talking about requiring something, that’s always a charged issue. So I’m not so sure we should be requiring children at all,” Fauci said today on “CBS This Morning.” “We should be encouraging them,” he said. The CDC cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine yesterday for all 12- to 15-year-olds nationwide. Pfizer says its vaccine was 100 percent effective in its clinical trial for this age group. CDC data finds K–12 schools are not a significant source of coronavirus transmissions within their communities, and many schools across the country have already reopened for in-person classes. But this hasn’t stopped debates over whether schools should require students returning in the fall to be vaccinated. Acknowledging the issue, Fauci still fears the mandate may do more harm than good. “You’ve got to be careful when you make the requirement of something, that usually gets you into a lot of pushback — understandable pushback,” he cautioned, reported CBS. 5/12/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Georgia among first states to offer COVID-19 vaccine to kids under 16 When the state of Georgia made COVID-19 vaccinations available to children as young as 12 yesterday, Atlanta residents Jenny and Jeffrey Brower pushed to schedule an appointment for their twin 13-year-old girls, reported Reuters. According to Reuters, they were the lucky ones. Providers in their state, along with Delaware and Arkansas, were offering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 12 to 15 just a day after U.S. regulators authorized the vaccine for emergency use in this age group. Young people in most states who were contacted by Reuters told the news service that they would have to wait at least until later in the week to receive their doses. A spokeswoman for Georgia’s public health agency told Reuters the state chose to give shots right away to avoid turning young people away and risking them not coming back for the first jab of the two-shot regimen. According to Reuters, more than a dozen states, including Texas, Idaho, Arizona, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Minnesota, said they would wait for the go-ahead from an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before administering the vaccine to children under 16. That advisory committee voted to recommend the vaccine for children 12 to 16 on Wednesday. Washington state hit by 4th wave of infections As COVID-19 outbreaks recede in many parts of the United States, the Pacific Northwest is an outlier, still fighting against a late spring surge that’s filling hospitals in the areas around Seattle and Portland, reported NPR. According to NPR, recent weeks have seen the governors of both states hit the brakes on reopening plans in hopes of countering the swift spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant named B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. “We have seen a clear fourth wave of hospitalizations,” Dr. Michael Anderson, chief medical officer of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, which has hospitals throughout Washington, told NPR. “The rise of the curves for admissions has been scary in that it has taken off so quickly.” Gov. Jay Inslee has enacted a statewide pause on loosening any pandemic restrictions in Washington and instituted more stringent rules on several regions last month, including the state’s second-most populous county just south of Seattle, reported NPR. 5/11/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Triple-mutant variant from India classified as ‘variant of concern’ A World Health Organization (WHO) official said yesterday that the highly contagious triple-mutant coronavirus variant spreading in India is reclassified as a “variant of concern,” indicating it’s now a global health threat, reported CNBC. WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, said the agency will provide more details today in its weekly situation report on the pandemic, but added that the variant, called B.1.617, was found in preliminary studies to spread more easily than the original virus, reported CNBC. There’s also evidence that B.1.617 might evade some protections provided by vaccines; however, the shots are still considered effective. “Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies,” Van Kerkhove said during a press conference, as reported CNBC, “we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done.” 5/10/21 3:26 p.m. PDT — The FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 12–15 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as age 12. Previously, the vaccine was approved only for people who were age 16 or older. “Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from COVID-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, said in statement. “Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations.” Time may soon come to relax mask mandates, Fauci says According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), federal guidance on wearing face masks indoors may change. On Sunday, May 9, ABC News asked Fauci whether it’s time to start relaxing indoor mask requirements. He replied, “I think so, and I think you’re going to probably be seeing that as we go along, and as more people get vaccinated.” Fauci also said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be updating its guidance almost in real-time, as more Americans get vaccinated. Mutation of highly contagious Brazilian COVID-19 variant identified in Florida A new mutation of the highly contagious Brazilian COVID-19 variant has emerged in Florida, health officials said. The new variant, called P2 or P.1.1, has a slightly different sequence than Brazil’s P1 strain, found to be more likely to reinfect those who have already had the virus, reported the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The variant was detected in a 74-year-old man in Broward County and a 51-year-old woman in Duval County, according to the state Department of Health. Scientists are monitoring this variant to find out whether it behaves similarly to the P1 strain and how easily it can be transmitted. 5/7/21 3:32 p.m. PDT — Global COVID-19 death toll may be double official estimates The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nearly 6.9 million deaths across the world, more than double the number officially recorded, estimates a new analysis from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), reported Reuters. According to Reuters, the IHME is an independent health research organization that provides comparable measurement of the world’s health problems and has been cited in the past by the White House. Public health officials watch its reports closely. The IHME says COVID-19 deaths go unreported as many countries only record those that occur in a hospital setting, or in people with confirmed infection. For this reason, the IHME is changing how these figures are calculated. “In other countries, such as Ecuador, Peru, and the Russian Federation, the discrepancy between reported deaths and analyses of death rates compared to expected death rates, sometimes referred to as ‘excess mortality,’ suggests that the total COVID-19 death rate is many multiples larger than official reports,” the IHME said in a statement. In the United States, the IHME analysis estimated COVID-19-related deaths of more than 905,000, reported Reuters, while official figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 5 estimated 575,491 deaths due to COVID-19. Pfizer and BioNTech to seek full FDA approval for COVID-19 vaccine In a new announcement, Pfizer and BioNTech stated they will seek full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, the vaccine is allowed to be administered under emergency use authorization. Getting the full FDA approval will likely take several months. India cases surge again, breaking global record India’s struggle against the pandemic continues, with the country reporting today another record in COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours with more than 414,000 cases, reported The Washington Post. India has so far recorded more than 21.4 million confirmed cases and at least 234,083 deaths. “Countries wrestling with new coronavirus surges are trying to ensure they aren’t hit by an India-style disaster. More world cases have been reported in the past two weeks than in the entire first six months of the pandemic,” said the World Health Organization (WHO) director general, reported The Associated Press. 5/6/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 may spark diabetes, doctors find Health experts are finding that people may have a higher risk of developing diabetes after recovering from COVID-19. When Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly’s research team told him how often diabetes affected survivors of COVID-19, he thought the data must be wrong and asked his colleagues to crunch the numbers again, reported Bloomberg. However, after weeks spent sifting through millions of patient records, they confirmed the figures. By then, Al-Aly’s own investigation into the literature had brought him face to face with an alarming fact. COVID-19 wasn’t just more dangerous for people with diabetes, it also triggered the disease in many who didn’t have it before. “It took a while to convince me,” Al-Aly, who directs the clinical epidemiology center at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System in Missouri, told Bloomberg. “It was hard to believe that COVID could be doing this.” According to Bloomberg, among the pandemic’s ripple effects, worsening of the global diabetes burden could carry a heavy public health toll. Some doctors suspect the SARS-CoV-2 virus might damage the pancreas, a gland that makes insulin needed to convert sugar into energy. Al-Aly and colleagues are the first to measure this effect in the United States based on evidence from the national healthcare databases of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They found COVID-19 survivors were about 39 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes in the 6 months following COVID-19 compared to users of the VA health system that didn’t have COVID-19. Moderna says booster shot is effective against COVID-19 variants Drugmaker Moderna announced on May 5 that the company’s booster shot could be effective against some COVID-19 variants. According to a Moderna press release, human trials showed that those given a third shot after receiving their 2-dose vaccine had an increased immune response to the COVID-19 strains initially identified in South Africa and Brazil. “As we seek to defeat the ongoing pandemic, we remain committed to being proactive as the virus evolves. We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants,” Moderna said in the statement. Moderna’s CEO is confident mRNA technology will be key in controlling the transmission of coronavirus variants. “Our mRNA platform allows for rapid design of vaccine candidates that incorporate key virus mutations, potentially allowing for faster development of future alternative variant-matched vaccines should they be needed,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, in the statement. 5/5/21 3:14 p.m. PDT — Biden administration favors waiving patent for COVID-19 vaccine The Biden administration is now in favor of waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to fight the pandemic. World Trade Organization members discussed the potential of waiving these rights today, according to CNN. Just a small fraction of the world’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with most vaccinations occurring in wealthy countries. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai issued a statement today citing the “global health crisis” as a reason for “extraordinary” measures. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” Tai wrote in the statement. “We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved. ” India accounts for nearly half of all new COVID-19 cases India continues to face a mounting COVID-19 surge. The country now makes up 46 percent of new COVID-19 cases globally, according to Reuters. The country broke another record this month with more than 400,000 cases recorded in a single 24-hour period. India is now second only to the United States in total cases with more than 20 million COVID-19 cases reported. Biden aims to get 70% of adults partially vaccinated by July 4 President Joe Biden announced changes to the country’s vaccination program in an effort to reach 70 percent of adults in the United States by July 4. Now, vaccinations are slowing due to a decrease in demand rather than supply. The vaccination rate has slowed considerably since the high in mid-April. Biden said his administration would now focus on sending vaccines to pharmacies and other smaller outlets rather than the massive vaccination sites that have characterized the rollout. Our goal by July 4th is to have 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot — and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated. It’s another huge goal, and a serious step toward a return to normal.Get vaccinated, keep following CDC guidance. We can do this.— President Biden (@POTUS) May 4, 2021 AstraZeneca, Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines 87% effective after first shot, South Korean data shows One dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine was nearly 87 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among those ages 60 and older, according to real-world data released by South Korea on May 5. According to Reuters, data by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) shows the Pfizer vaccine was 89.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 at least 2 weeks after a first dose was given, and the AstraZeneca shot was 86 percent effective. The analysis was based on over 3.5 million people in South Korea, ages 60 and older, for 2 months from Feb. 26. It included 521,133 people who received a first dose of either a Pfizer or AstraZeneca shot. 5/4/21 1:11 p.m. PDT — India becomes second country to top 20 million cases COVID-19 cases in India have now topped 20 million, according to Johns Hopkins. Only the United States has documented more COVID-19 cases at this point. Deaths are also surging in India, where oxygen canisters have been hard to come by. Experts also say the reported case count in India is likely far below the actual case count. Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told NPR he believes that India may be detecting just 3 to 4 percent of total COVID-19 cases. “So we’re talking about every day, maybe 5 million infections a day in India right now. That’s a huge number,” he told NPR. More than 222,000 people have died in the country, although reports suggest the death toll is far higher. Children account for over 20% of COVID-19 cases The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that while the number of U.S. children getting COVID-19 is lower than the highs set at the start of 2021, children now account for more than one-fifth of new COVID-19 cases in states releasing data by age, reported NPR. According to NPR, experts link this trend to several factors, but chief among them is high vaccination rates among older adults. But other dynamics are also in play, from coronavirus variants to recently lifted restrictions on school activities. “We are seeing more outbreaks than we had related to school and school activities. We’ve seen those all along, and we’re seeing a little bit more of those now proportionately than we had,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the AAP’s Committee on Infectious Diseases, in an interview with NPR. “And I think that’s also due to a combination of factors,” he continued. “Again, the variants, but also more kids in the last couple of months are in in-person school than they had been in prior months.” 5/3/21 2:38 p.m. PDT — Russia records more than 400,000 excess deaths during pandemic According to Reuters calculations that are based on recently published data from Russia’s statistics agency, the nation recorded more than 400,000 excess deaths from April 2020 to March 2021. Reuters notes that excess deaths are typically defined as the difference between the observed numbers of deaths in specific time periods and expected numbers of deaths during the same periods. Rosstat, the Russian statistics agency, said Russia recorded around 250,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to March 2021, reported Reuters. The death rate was around 25 percent higher in March 2021 compared with the same month a year ago. Russia’s official COVID-19 task force said last week that the authorities had recorded more than 4.8 million cases nationwide since the start of the pandemic, reported Reuters. Most populous U.S. county records 0 COVID-19 deaths Los Angeles County reached a major milestone after it recorded zero COVID-19 deaths in a 24-hour period, according to the Los Angeles Times. The most populous U.S. county, it was previously a major hot spot for the coronavirus last winter. Now as vaccinations rise, the county reported no new COVID-19 deaths on May 2. While it’s possible deaths were undercounted, public health officials said that the positive coronavirus infection rate has reached its lowest level since the start of the pandemic. Reaching herd immunity may be unlikely Widely circulating coronavirus variants and persistent vaccine hesitancy will keep herd immunity out of reach, reported The New York Times. But vaccinating the most vulnerable may be enough to restore normalcy. According to the Times, over half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, daily vaccination rates are slipping. The consensus among scientists and public health experts is that the herd immunity threshold won’t be reached — not in the near future, and perhaps not ever. Continued vaccinations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, potential exposure, or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency, experts believe, reported the Times. “The virus is unlikely to go away,” Rustom Antia, PhD, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told the Times. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top adviser on COVID-19, acknowledged this shift in experts’ thinking, reported the Times. “People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” he said. “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense,” he added. “I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people; the infections are going to go down.” 4/29/21 1:58 p.m. PDT — EU COVID-19 certificates must facilitate free movement As EU member states start to issue vaccine certificates, the European Parliament made an announcement in a press release that put guidelines on these certificates. In the press release, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also agreed that a new “EU COVID-19 certificate” should only be in place for 12 months “and not longer.” “The document, which may be in digital or paper format, will attest that a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus or, alternatively, that they have a recent negative test result or have recovered from the infection,” reads the press release. “However, EU COVID-19 certificates will neither serve as travel document nor become a precondition to exercise the right to free movement,” it states. According to MEPs, holders of an EU COVID-19 certificate should not be subject to travel restrictions that include quarantine, self-isolation, or testing. They also stressed that to avoid discrimination against people who have not been vaccinated, and for economic reasons, EU countries should “ensure universal, accessible, timely, and free of charge testing.” Skipping second vaccine dose could prolong pandemic, study finds The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that nearly 38 percent of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, reported Fox News. But officials warn about a portion of the 55 percent who have only received a first dose and are skipping out on the second. According to a new study, 8 percent of people are skipping their second dose and potentially prolonging the pandemic. Researchers also said this could be a more serious problem for marginalized racial and ethnic groups that have historically had higher attrition rates for multidose vaccines. They found that Black and Latinx respondents were much less likely than white respondents to believe COVID-19 vaccines provided strong protection after the second dose, and significantly more likely to be unsure. “These findings suggest that there is a real need — and opportunity — for the medical community to provide fuller guidance and greater contextual explanations to vaccines, about how life can change after vaccination as we gradually return to normalcy,” the study authors wrote. 4/28/21 2:56 p.m. PDT — Deaths top 200,000 in India as COVID-19 continues to surge More than 200,000 people are known to have died from COVID-19 in India. Many more deaths may have gone uncounted, according to reports. More than 360,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 in India in a single 24-hour period, marking another global record for daily cases in a country. Indian COVID-19 vaccine found to neutralize virus variant from India There are some signs of good news as COVID-19 continues to worsen in much of the globe. Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that India’s homegrown COVID-19 vaccine, called COVAXIN, has been found to neutralize the B1.617 variant, which was first identified in the South Asian nation, reported CNN. According to a press release from drugmaker Bharat Biotech, COVAXIN is 100 percent effective against severe COVID-19 disease, with an impact on reduction in hospitalizations. “This (B1.617 variant) is something where we’re still gaining data on a daily basis, but the most recent data was looking at convalescent sera of COVID-19 cases and people who received the vaccine used in India, the COVAXIN,” Fauci said during a virtual press briefing, reported CNN. “It was found to neutralize the 617 variants.” Fauci confirmed vaccination is the way forward for India to resolve its current pandemic surge. “Despite the real difficulty that we’re seeing in India, vaccination could be a very, very important antidote against this,” he said. Child with COVID-19 dies in Hawaii Health officials in Hawaii confirmed the state’s first COVID-19 death attributed to a child in a press release yesterday. The child, a boy with underlying health conditions, had traveled to the state by plane with his two fully vaccinated parents. According to the Hawaii Department of Health, he developed COVID-19 symptoms shortly after arrival and was taken to a hospital, where he later died. The press release revealed no other details about the child or his parents. It’s not clear where he may have contracted the coronavirus. According to a Department of Health spokesperson, both parents tested negative for COVID-19 before boarding the flight from the U.S. mainland to Oahu. “I can tell you that both parents had been vaccinated, fully vaccinated. And both parents had tested negative before traveling from the mainland to Hawaii,” spokesperson Brooks Baehr told Hawaii News Now. “So soon after arrival that it is very likely this child was infected with COVID while on the mainland or perhaps in transit,” he said. As of last week, more than 3.7 million children had contracted the coronavirus nationwide. Of those cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recorded 291 deaths, reported Hawaii News Now. 4/27/21 2:55 p.m. PDT — CDC says fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks outside in most cases The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released updated guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC now says if people are fully vaccinated, they can safely go outdoors without wearing a facial covering in most cases. “Beginning today, gathering with a group of friends, in a park, going for a picnic,” President Biden said, addressing reporters. “As long as you are vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without wearing a mask.” But fully vaccinated people do need to wear a mask if they’re at a crowded outdoor event like a concert, advises the CDC. Child dies of COVID-19 complications in Minnesota Minnesota Department of Health officials say they’re “deeply saddened” to confirm a school-aged child under the age of 10 has died due to complications from COVID-19, reported CBS Minnesota. According to the Department of Health, this isn’t the first such death. “While COVID-related deaths in children are rare, they can occur even in otherwise healthy children. Since the start of the pandemic, three Minnesota children under age 18 have died due to COVID-19,” the health department said in a statement, reported CBS. Minnesota’s governor expressed his concern about the death and a reminder that even with the vaccine, the pandemic is ongoing. “I’m heartbroken to hear COVID has taken the life of a first grader. My thoughts are with the Minnesota family grieving the loss of their beloved child,” Gov. Tim Walz posted on social media. “As vaccines help us turn the page on COVID-19, we can’t forget that this deadly disease is still present in our communities.” CBS reported that according to the school district, 22 students and staff are in quarantine at the elementary school. The school superintendent said they’re following Department of Health guidelines, with no grades changing from in-person learning at this time. Dr. Brooke Moore, pediatric pulmonologist for Children’s Minnesota Hospital, told CBS that most children who get COVID-19 won’t develop symptoms, and if they do, they will experience mild to moderate illness, but around 10 percent of cases are severe. 4/26/21 2:54 p.m. PDT — Indian hospitals overwhelmed by pandemic, U.S. promises aid New coronavirus cases hit a record peak for a 5th day in India, with infections rising by 352,991 in the last 24 hours, and crowded hospitals running out of oxygen supplies and beds, reported Reuters. According to Reuters, countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, and United States pledge to send urgent medical aid to India to help battle the crisis overwhelming its hospitals. “Currently the hospital is in beg-and-borrow mode and it is an extreme crisis situation,” a spokesman for the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the capital, New Delhi, told Reuters. Reuters also reported that the southern Indian state of Karnataka has ordered a 14-day lockdown starting tomorrow, April 27, joining the western industrial state of Maharashtra, where lockdowns will run until May 1. Some states were set to lift these measures this week. Israel examines cases of heart inflammation Israel officials say they’re examining reported cases of heart inflammation in people who had the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This is an investigation, so there’s not an established link between the two. According to Reuters, Pfizer said it had not seen an increased number of these cases than what would be expected in the general population. 4/23/21 1:44 p.m. PDT — Vaccinations slow with over 50% of adults getting first dose The rate of daily COVID-19 vaccinations given in the United States fell below 3 million for the first time in weeks on Thursday, according to data from the CDC. According to CNBC, one reason for this slight dip might be the current pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the FDA advised to suspend this month “out of an abundance of caution” after six women developed a rare blood clotting disorder. The United States is currently reporting almost 62,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, based on a 7-day average of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, reported CNBC. This level is above the most recent low point of 53,600 per day in late March, but has trended downward over the past week. Panel to assess Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday A U.S. federal advisory panel will meet April 23 to possibly decide further action on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as more reports emerge of rare but severe blood clots in women given the shot. The CDC is looking to its advisers to help determine the true magnitude of this risk — and how to balance it against the need to protect millions still developing COVID-19 every day. “I appreciate the importance of acting swiftly,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told AP. She also said she hopes for “a recommendation that takes into account the risk versus reward” of using Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. 4/22/21 2:28 p.m. PDT — U.S. to reach “tipping point” with vaccine supply outpacing demand A recently published report warns the United States will likely reach a “tipping point” in the next 2 to 4 weeks when vaccine supply could outstrip demand. The rapidly climbing number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 is good news, reported CNN. But tens of millions of Americans haven’t started their vaccinations yet. National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Dr. Francis Collins told CNN that a lot of people are still not sure they want to take part in “this amazing opportunity to put this virus behind us.” “We have to really figure out how to get the messages out there,” he continued. “So that those who are still undecided get the information they need to see why this is really something they would want to do.” Parts of the country have already begun to see that pattern, with younger Americans less likely than older residents to claim they’ve been or will get vaccinated, according to recent poll data from Quinnipiac University. About 40 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, with roughly 26 percent fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Efforts at all governmental levels are ongoing to increase those numbers. “I think our effort shifts, and it shifts to younger people who just don’t think about COVID quite as much,” Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response, told CNN. Pregnant people vaccinated with mRNA vaccines not at high risk for side effects A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that pregnant people who received an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy did not appear to have worse outcomes than those who weren’t vaccinated. This study included 35,691 participants between ages 16 to 54. Researchers analyzed data from the “v-safe after vaccination health checker” surveillance system, the v-safe pregnancy registry, and the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). They found that mRNA vaccination protects pregnant people against COVID-19 and its complications during pregnancy, and emphasize that emerging evidence shows SARS-CoV-2 antibodies could be transferred to the fetus after vaccination in the third trimester. “Which suggests that maternal vaccination might provide some level of protection to the neonate,” the study authors wrote. 4/21/21 3:20 p.m. PDT — Biden administration reaches goal of 200 million vaccinations President Joe Biden said today that the United States would reach more than 200 million COVID-19 shots administered since the start of his administration. Biden had doubled his original promise of 100 million shots in his first 100 days as vaccinations picked up. Today, he said the administration had met its expanded goal a week before his 100 days were up. Pfizer identifies fake COVID-19 vaccines abroad Pfizer said the first confirmed instances of counterfeit versions of its COVID-19 vaccine have been identified in Mexico and Poland, reported The Wall Street Journal. It’s the latest attempt by criminals exploiting the worldwide vaccination campaign. According to the Journal, vials seized by authorities in separate investigations were tested by Pfizer and confirmed to contain bogus vaccine. Additionally, the vials recovered in Mexico also had fraudulent labeling. A substance inside vials found in Poland was likely an anti-wrinkle treatment, Pfizer said. “Everybody on the planet needs it. Many are desperate for it,” Lev Kubiak, Pfizer’s world head of security, told the Journal. “We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the interim, there is a perfect opportunity for criminals.” Kubiak also said he expects counterfeiting to worsen as the rollout continues. “Right now, consumers are easily fooled,” he said. “They are desperate for the vaccine.” So far, no counterfeit vaccines have been discovered in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security, reported the Journal. However, the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines and high demand could prompt people to seek doses outside official channels, particularly in countries like Mexico and Brazil. COVID-19 cases are high in these countries, and there’s a history of counterfeiting prescription drugs, industry and security experts told the Journal. 4/20/21 12:53 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 cases up 25% in U.S. According to CNN, in the past 7 days the United States reported more than 67,000 new COVID-19 cases daily on average, according to Johns Hopkins University data. This is an almost 25 percent increase from last month’s 7-day average. Experts say COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States are being distributed at an impressive rate, with all Americans 16 and older able to get the shot. But a leading health official said the country remains in a “complicated stage,” reported CNN. “More people in the United States are being vaccinated every single day at an accelerated pace,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 briefing yesterday, reported CNN. “On the other hand,” she added, “cases and hospitalizations are increasing in some areas of the country, and cases among younger people who have not yet been vaccinated are also increasing.” Experts told CNN that there are several reasons behind the rise in cases, including coronavirus variants, like B.1.1.7, which has helped fuel the current surge in Michigan. “Pandemic fatigue” and more people moving around likely also contributed to the rise. Rapid, at-home COVID-19 test available this week Rapid COVID-19 tests will be available to consumers this week without a prescription. They will be sold by CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, and Walmart, reported USA Today. Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW coronavirus self-test kits will be shipped to the three national chain retailers and also available online. The two-test kit, which received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization for serial screening, will cost $23.99, the company said, reported USA Today. Another rapid test made by Australia-based Ellume will be available at CVS stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for $38.99, but it can also be purchased online or at most CVS stores in other states by the end of May. According to USA Today, both tests show results in about 15 minutes without requiring lab analysis. 4/19/21 11:38 a.m. PDT — Fauci expects J&J vaccine pause to end Friday Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a series of interviews yesterday that the nationwide “pause” in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will likely end by Friday, April 23. “By Friday, we should have an answer as to where we’re going with it,” Fauci said. “I would think that we’re not going to go beyond Friday in the extension of this pause.” Fauci’s prediction that the one-shot vaccination would resume comes as the United States reached the milestone of having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the arms of roughly half the adult population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All adults in all 50 states now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine All adults in the United States are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, something public health experts say is a major step toward ending the current pandemic, reported The Hill. According to The Hill, people 16 and older in every state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are eligible to receive one of the available COVID-19 vaccines as of today. “It’s truly historic that we have already reached this milestone,” Dr. Nandita Mani, the associate medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Washington Medical Center, told The New York Times.  4/16/21 12:12 p.m. PDT — CDC releases COVID-19 ‘breakthrough case’ numbers The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 5,800 people out of 77 million vaccinated people developed COVID-19, reported CNN. That’s 0.008 percent of the fully vaccinated people who were included in the study. The agency plans to update these figures every Monday. CDC officials said these “breakthrough cases” are expected because the vaccines are not 100 percent effective. White House to track variant spread The Biden administration announced today that it’s setting up a $1.7 billion network to track the spread of coronavirus variants. The plan includes increased funding for the CDC and U.S. states to help track these new variants. It will also create partnerships with six universities to conduct research and develop technologies to combat COVID-19. 4/15/21 12:30 p.m. PDT — Pfizer CEO says we may need annual vaccinations for COVID-19 The chief executive officer of Pfizer said Thursday that people may need to get a third COVID-19 vaccination within 12 months of being full vaccinated. Albert Bourla added that annual inoculations may be needed to prevent future spread of the disease. Researchers still haven’t determined how long protection against the disease lasts after someone is vaccinated. Blood clots rare in Moderna, Pfzier vaccines A new study reports that the number of blood clot cases is about the same for the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and AstraZeneca vaccines. The study has not yet been peer reviewed. The researchers said about 4 in 1 million people who get the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will develop blood clots. The rate is about 5 in 1 million for the AstraZeneca shot. They note that about 39 in 1 million people who develop COVID-19 get blood clots. India reports 1-day record in COVID-19 cases India reported a record 200,000 new cases of COVID-19 today, becoming only the second country after the United States to reach this sobering single-day toll, reported The Washington Post. These new cases have pushed India’s total cases to more than 14 million and turned the nation into the pandemic’s global epicenter with little indication the outbreak will slow. In an effort to contain the COVID-19 surge, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced curfew-like restrictions on the movement of people in the state from April 14 to May 1, reported The Indian Express. Under these orders, no person is allowed to be in a public place without a valid reason. All establishments, public spaces, activities, and services will remain closed, except for essential services that can remain open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on working days. 4/14/21 11:35 a.m. PDT — Moderna and Novavax added to U.K. ‘mix and match’ vaccine trial A U.K. “mix and match” clinical trial has been expanded to include the Moderna and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines. The initial trial began in February using AstraZeneca and then Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in the two doses administered to participants. The expanded trial will add Moderna and Novavax along with Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca. The purpose of the trial is to determine the effectiveness of mixing vaccines and whether there are any side effects. More than 1,000 people are now participating in the trials. Regular exercise may reduce risk of COVID-19 A new study conducted by Kaiser Permanente reports that being consistently active is strongly associated with a reduced risk of experiencing severe COVID-19. The research, published yesterday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at more than 40,000 adults who contracted the coronavirus. Researchers found that people who got at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity — exercise guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services — showed significantly lower rates of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death due to COVID-19. “It is well known that immune function improves with regular [physical activity] and those who are regularly active have a lower incidence, intensity of symptoms and mortality from various viral infections,” the study authors wrote. Researchers pointed out that regular exercise also reduces the risk of systemic inflammation, a main contributor to the lung damage caused by COVID-19. They also found that exercise benefits cardiovascular health, can increase lung capacity and muscle strength, and even improve mental health. Leaving middle seats open on airplanes may reduce COVID-19 risk Researchers report that keeping middle seats vacant on larger airplanes can reduce the spread of COVID-19. A study published today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that open middle seats can reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus by 23 to 57 percent. The researchers say vacant middle seats increase the distance between passengers and provide more protection against airborne particles from the coronavirus. 4/13/21 11:36 a.m. PDT — FDA and CDC recommend pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine over rare side effect The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to an extremely rare but serious side effect, reported The New York Times. The FDA and CDC reported six cases of a stroke-like illness in women who have taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. These cases are extremely rare with more than 6 million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations already given in the United States. Today in a press briefing, health officials stressed that they want to prepare healthcare professionals to recognize the signs of rare but serious side effects, and that they’re still investigating whether the vaccine caused these side effects. The six cases all involved women under age 50. One case was fatal, while another led to a person being in critical condition. This side effect has not been seen in people who have received the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Record high COVID-19 hospitalizations for children in Michigan Children aren’t immune to COVID-19, reported the Detroit Free Press. They can get sick, just like adults do. They can be hospitalized, the same as adults, and on rare occasion, they can even die. According to the Detroit Free Press, this is the message doctors at several of Michigan’s children’s hospitals want people to hear as that state confronts another massive surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. There were 3,953 reported cases yesterday, April 12, surpassing the state’s November/December spike. “The state is at a record high for hospitalizations for pediatrics during the entire pandemic and our hospital reflects that,” Dr. Rudolph Valentini, a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and group chief medical officer for the Detroit Medical Center, told the Detroit Free Press. According to state data, 49 children were hospitalized April 12 with either confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. CDC data shows Michigan’s case rate is 515.8 cases per 100,000 people over the last week, the worst in the United States and four times higher than that in neighboring Ohio. COVID-19 pandemic growing ‘exponentially,’ says WHO The World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday, April 12, that the trajectory of the pandemic is now “growing exponentially,” with more than 4.4 million new COVID-19 cases reported over the last week, reported CNBC. “This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic where we have proven control measure,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the agency’s technical lead for COVID-19, reported CNBC. “It is the time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check of what we need to be doing,” she said. “Vaccines and vaccinations are coming online, but they aren’t here yet in every part of the world.” According to the network, Van Kerkhove also said that cases climbed by 9 percent worldwide last week for the seventh consecutive weekly increase, with deaths jumping 5 percent. Van Kerkhove is also asking governments to support their citizens in implementing pandemic safety measures, reported CNBC. 4/12/21 2:25 p.m. PDT — Pfizer vaccine less effective against variant first detected in South Africa, study finds According to a new but not yet peer-reviewed study conducted in Israel, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine might not offer sufficient protection against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa. Researchers examined whether people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and got an infection were likely to contract one of two coronavirus variants compared with people who were not vaccinated. According to the study findings, vaccinated people who contracted an infection at least a week after the second vaccine dose disproportionately contracted the variant first detected in South Africa, B.1.351. “These results overall suggest that vaccine breakthrough infection is more frequent with both VOCs (viruses of concern), yet a combination of mass-vaccination with two doses coupled with non-pharmaceutical interventions control and contain their spread,” the study authors wrote. Record-high vaccinations, but unvaccinated young adults at risk A record-high 4.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered in 1 day, according to data published April 10 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported CNN. “Amazing Saturday! +4.63M doses administered over total yesterday, a new record,” Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, the White House COVID-19 data director, tweeted. “More than 500K higher than old record last Saturday. Incredible number of doses administered.” But CNN also reported that more than 75 percent of the U.S. population isn’t yet fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warns that for the third straight week, new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing. “Cases and emergency room visits are up,” said Walensky, as reported by CNN. “We are seeing these increases in younger adults, most of whom have not yet been vaccinated.” She added that, nationwide, more Americans ages 18 to 64 have gone to emergency departments for COVID-19 complications, and these trends are magnified in the Upper Midwest. “CDC is working closely with public health officials in this region to understand what is driving these cases and how we can intervene,” Walensky said. Timothy A. Clary – Pool/Getty Images COVID-19 surge seen in Michigan Despite increasing vaccinations, COVID-19 cases are surging in Michigan. On average the state is seeing more than 7,000 new cases daily, far higher than the average of around 1,500 cases seen in February, according to The New York Times. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she will extend workplace COVID-19 restrictions for at least 6 months due to the increase in cases. Whitmer said she will ask the federal government for more vaccines as the virus is spreading rapidly, but she has not said she will enforce new shutdowns in the state. 4/9/21 12:47 p.m. PDT — Variant first found in Brazil on the rise in U.S., CDC report says With new U.S. COVID-19 cases trending upward, and nearly 80,000 new infections reported yesterday, health officials warn about the spread of multiple, more transmissible coronavirus variants, some of which have caused outbreaks in states such as Michigan and California, reported The Washington Post. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom, B.1.1.7, accounts for nearly 20,000 cases in all 50 states, becoming the new dominant variant. “CDC is closely monitoring these variants of concern (VOC). These variants have mutations in the virus genome that alter the characteristics and cause the virus to act differently in ways that are significant to public health,” according to the CDC website. According to The Washington Post, the variant P.1, which was first detected in Brazil, has taken the No. 2 spot. At least 434 people in the United States have contracted this coronavirus variant. The largest number of cases are in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Florida. Pfizer to seek EUA for COVID-19 vaccine for children Currently, no COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for children under age 16. But that could soon change as Pfizer and BioNTech have asked the Food and Drug Administration to expand their emergency use authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine to include children as young as 12. New data released by the companies has reportedly shown that the vaccines appear to be effective and safe in younger children. Scientists work toward development of COVID-19 pill We now have vaccines that prevent most cases of COVID-19, and we even have drugs that help with the most severe symptoms of the disease, reported STAT. Experts are now focusing on a creating a COVID-19 treatment that doesn’t need to be given via an injection or infusion. According to STAT, experts are hoping to create a pill calibrated to target the coronavirus that’s both economical and has tolerable side effects. It could potentially also work as well as antibody treatments that require an hourlong intravenous infusion. “We’re looking for something I could give everyone in an urgent care setting who comes in with exposure or a positive test,” Dr. Nathaniel Erdmann, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told STAT. “An easy, oral, safe drug.” STAT reported that drugmaker Merck is expected to present pivotal data on an oral treatment similar to remdesivir. And there’s a treatment from Atea Pharmaceuticals, first developed for the hepatitis C virus, that could also have pivotal results in the coming months. However, the most promising is an antiviral from Pfizer engineered specifically for the coronavirus. It entered its first clinical trial last month. 4/8/21 1:56 p.m. PDT — Over 1 in 4 adults have been vaccinated against COVID-19 Over 25 percent of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported NBC News. The milestone comes as states are increasingly opening eligibility for COVID-19 vaccination. However, even as vaccinations are picking up, new coronavirus variants are spreading rapidly in the United States, and COVID-19 cases are again ticking upward. Online scammers push phony vaccine cards Scammers are offering false and stolen vaccine cards for sale as businesses and states consider using proof of COVID-19 vaccination to relieve pandemic restrictions, reported The New York Times. The pandemic has seen many instances of people taking advantage of the crisis, like people hoarding hand sanitizer or cheating recipients out of their stimulus checks. Online scammers have now latched on to the newest way to prey on the public: proof that you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. These critically important vaccine cards began showing up for sale on popular websites like Facebook, eBay, and Twitter beginning in late January, reported The New York Times. All were forged or falsified copies of the CDC vaccine cards. “We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, potentially thousands were sold,” Saoud Khalifah, founder of Fakespot, a service that offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online, told The New York Times. Profiteers have pressed ahead as airlines and other companies have recently said they may require proof of COVID-19 immunization so that people can safely travel or attend events, reported the Times. “We’re seeing a huge market for these false cards online,” Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, told the Times. “This is a dangerous practice that undermines public health.” U.K., Europe change guidance on AstraZeneca vaccine The U.K. government and health experts in the country rushed to defend the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford following concerns over a possible link to blood clots, reported CNBC. They now recommend that anyone younger than 30 should receive an alternative vaccine. “No effective medicine or vaccine is without risk. We continually monitor safety during widespread use of any vaccine,” Dr. June Raine, chief executive of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said in a statement. “This is to ensure vaccines are performing as expected, to identify any new side effects that may arise, and to ensure the benefits continue to outweigh the risks,” she said. A new model finds U.K. may reach herd immunity this month According to a new report, the United Kingdom may reach herd immunity this month. The Telegraph reported that the United Kingdom could theoretically reach herd immunity by Monday based on modeling done by University College London. That threshold may be reached due to both increased vaccinations and the fact that people who previously had COVID-19 will likely have some immunity against reinfection. The modeling finds that 73.4 percent of people in the United Kingdom will have some protection against the disease by April 12, meaning the nation may start to reach herd immunity. However, this remains theoretical. It’s unclear whether cases will continue to drop after April 12. 4/7/21 3:37 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 ‘brain disease’ affects up to one-third of people, study says Mental health or neurological symptoms are diagnosed in up to 34 percent of people who have had COVID-19, according to research published yesterday in The Lancet Psychiatry. Researchers analyzed the health records of more than 236,000 people, mostly Americans, who recovered from COVID-19. Researchers compared them with people who had other respiratory tract infections in the same time period. According to the researchers, these COVID-19 survivors typically received a psychiatric or neurological diagnosis within 6 months of their original coronavirus infection. The most common condition was anxiety, followed by mood disorders. Psychiatric or neurological symptoms were more severe in people who were hospitalized for COVID-19, but they were also common in people treated for COVID-19 in outpatient settings. Researchers also found that people who had recovered from COVID-19 had a significantly increased risk of brain hemorrhage, stroke, and dementia. “Our study provides evidence for substantial neurological and psychiatric morbidity in the 6 months after COVID-19 infection,” the study authors wrote. “Risks were greatest in, but not limited to, patients who had severe COVID-19.” Nearly half of new COVID-19 cases come from these 5 states Almost 50 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States are concentrated in just five states. It includes New York, which had the highest number of new infections across the nation last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, reported the New York Post. According to the outlet, New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey accounted for 44 percent of all new cases between March 29 and April 4, with about 197,500 cases out of around 452,000 seen nationwide. Just behind New York was Michigan, which has been experiencing a new surge and recorded 47,036 new cases over the last week, or an average of about 6,719 each day. That’s almost double what it was 2 weeks ago, reported the New York Post. 4/6/21 3:23 p.m. PDT — Biden says all U.S. adults will be eligible for vaccine on April 19 President Joe Biden said today that the administration will now allow anyone over 16 to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 19. Originally Biden had aimed for widespread eligibility to open on May 1. Vaccines are not yet approved for children under age 16, although studies are still ongoing. The news comes as many states have already started to allow anyone over 16 to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. While eligibility will be more widespread, it may be difficult to get a vaccination appointment as there won’t be enough doses for all adults until later in the spring and summer. Dangerous coronavirus variant has spread to all states  A highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom has now been reported in every U.S. state. Experts are concerned that coronavirus variants could send U.S. cases surging, reported CNN. According to the network, more than 15,000 cases of the potentially more deadly variant have been reported in the United States in the midst of efforts to get all Americans vaccinated. Experts are asking the public to follow pandemic precautions for a little while longer. “America appears to be done with the pandemic,” Michael Osterholm, PhD, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN. “The virus is not done with us.” The good news, Osterholm told CNN, is that existing vaccines are very effective against the variants. But the United States may not be able to administer vaccines fast enough to avoid the next surge. “We are not going to have enough vaccines, the way we are going, into the arms of enough Americans over the course of the next 6 to 10 weeks with this surge that we are going to stop it,” Osterholm told CNN. “It’s just simply not going to happen.” Biden administration steps up worldwide effort against pandemic The Biden administration said April 5 that it’s stepping up efforts to combat COVID-19 worldwide. The administration has appointed a veteran diplomat to run its global COVID-19 response, and pledges to support more equitable production and distribution of vaccines, reported The Washington Post. “This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement while announcing the appointment of Gayle Smith, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as global COVID-19 response coordinator. “We have a duty to other countries to get the virus under control here in the United States,” he added. “But soon, the United States will need to step up our work and rise to the occasion worldwide.” 4/5/21 2:51 p.m. PDT — New variant in California A new variant of the coronavirus has been found in the San Francisco Bay Area, reported Fox News. According to the network, a spokesperson for Stanford Health Care said the Stanford Clinical Virology Lab has identified and confirmed one case of the emerging variant through genomic sequencing. At least seven presumed cases of the variant, first identified in India, were also found. This variant has been called a “double mutant” because it carries two mutations in the virus that helps it latch itself onto cells, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. It might be responsible for a new surge in cases in India. “This Indian variant contains two mutations in the same virus for the first time, previously seen on separate variants,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Chronicle. “Since we know that the domain affected is the part that the virus uses to enter the body, and that the California variant is already potentially more resistant to some vaccine antibodies, it seems to reason that there is a chance that the Indian variant may do that too,” he said. Game-changing COVID-19 vaccine enters clinical trials A new COVID-19 vaccine is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam that could change how we fight the pandemic, reported The New York Times. The vaccine is called NDV-HXP-S. It’s the first vaccine to use a new molecular design widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. A key advantage is that the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs like other flu vaccines made in factories around the world. According to The New York Times, if the new vaccine proves safe and effective, drugmakers could potentially produce well over a billion doses of it a year. “That’s staggering — it would be a game-changer,” Andrea Taylor, assistant director of programs at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, told the Times. The Times emphasized that clinical trials must first establish that this innovative vaccine actually works. The first phase of clinical trials will conclude in July, and the final phase will take several months more. “It’s a home run for protection,” Dr. Bruce Innes of the PATH Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, which has coordinated the development of NVD-HXP-S, told the Times. “I think it’s a world-class vaccine.” 4/2/21 3:02 p.m. PDT — Get COVID-19 vaccine before going back to normal, experts plead Fears are growing that the nation could be facing a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases. Health experts are pleading with Americans to maintain pandemic precautions until they’re fully vaccinated, reported CNN. “Please wait until you’re fully vaccinated before you’re traveling, before you’re engaging in high-risk activities,” said CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, the network reported. “No doubt when you become vaccinated, the activities that were once higher risk are now going to be lower risk and so just wait until then.” Wen added that she’s worried the United States is on the “precipice” of a fourth surge, with data showing infections are now skewing toward younger generations. This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told “NBC Nightly News” that while he’s feeling some pandemic fatigue himself, it’s important the United States maintain precautions while Americans are vaccinated, reported CNN. “We need to hold out just a bit longer and give vaccines a chance to really get the upper hand in this,” Fauci said. “I’ll guarantee as we get into the late spring and the early summer, you’re going to see a return to gradual degree of normality that everyone is hoping for, but we don’t want to do it prematurely.” The CDC changed travel guidance for people who are vaccinated today. They advise people who are fully vaccinated can travel without getting a COVID-19 test and do not need to self-quarantine after arriving in a new destination. FDA authorizes changes to Moderna COVID-19 vaccine The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized two changes to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that could provide extra doses from each vial, reported The Associated Press (AP). According to the AP, the FDA approved new vials that increase the number of available doses from 10 to a maximum of 15. Regulators also said healthcare professionals can safely extract up to 11 doses from the original 10-dose vials, and these changes will be added to instructions for healthcare workers, reported the AP. 1 in 7 people in U.K. may have signs of long-haul COVID-19 A new report finds that as many as 1 in 7 people living in the United Kingdom have symptoms associated with “long-haul COVID-19.” The report from the U.K. Office for National Statistics found that as many as 13.7 percent of people in the United Kingdom had signs of long-haul COVID-19, including fatigue, muscle pain, and difficulty breathing. 4/1/21 1:38 p.m. PDT — 15 million J&J vaccines thrown out after dosage mix-up A dosage mix-up at a Baltimore, Maryland, production facility ruined about 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. The mix-up prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to delay shipments of the vaccine, according to Fox Business. Reportedly, employees at Emergent BioSolutions, a production facility in Baltimore, mixed up two vaccine dosages. U.S. officials said the vaccine spoilage wouldn’t affect plans to provide sufficient vaccines to immunize every adult by May, Fox Business reported. The drugmaker said it expects to deliver its vaccine at a rate of over 1 billion doses by the end of the year. Emergent BioSolutions has a string of citations from U.S. health officials for quality control problems, reported The Associated Press (AP). According to records obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act, the FDA has repeatedly cited Emergent for problems that include poorly trained employees, cracked vials, and problems managing mold and other contamination around one of its facilities. “Human errors do happen,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview on “CBS This Morning,” reported the AP. “You have checks and balances… That’s the reason why the good news is that it did get picked up,” he said. “As I mentioned, that’s the reason nothing from that plant has gone into anyone that we’ve administered to.” Can vaccinated people still transmit the coronavirus? It’s possible. Experts told the AP that the risk is low, but they’re still studying how well the shots slow transmission. “A vaccinated person controls the virus better, so the chances of transmitting will be greatly reduced,” Dr. Robert Gallo a virus expert at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the AP. According to the AP, evidence from studies suggest if people do contract an infection despite vaccination, they’ll harbor less of the coronavirus in their nose than someone who has not been vaccinated, making transmission more difficult. COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in 2020 COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the United States last year after heart disease and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 led to about 375,000 deaths during the year, and the age-adjusted death rate rose about 16 percent. In total, more than 552,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic last year. 3/31/21 2:28 p.m. PDT — Pfizer vaccine safe and effective for adolescents, drugmaker says Clinical trial results of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine find it’s 100 percent effective and well tolerated in children 12 to 15 years old, the drugmaker said today, reported CNN. Pfizer plans to submit this data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as soon as possible for expanded emergency use authorization of the vaccine. The phase 3 trial included 2,260 participants 12 to 15 years old in the United States. The vaccine elicited a strong antibody response 1 month after the second dose, according to Pfizer. This data has yet to be peer reviewed. Pfizer also said the side effects observed in this age group were similar to those among 16- to 25-year-olds, which include pain at the injection site, fatigue, and fever. Participants will be monitored for protection and safety for 2 years after their second dose. “We share the urgency to expand the authorization of our vaccine to use in younger populations and are encouraged by the clinical trial data from adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNN. “We plan to submit these data to FDA as a proposed amendment to our emergency use authorization in the coming weeks and to other regulators around the world, with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year,” he said. 3 reasons why COVID-19 cases are on the rise Despite the U.S. vaccine rollout improving significantly, the daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is again on the rise after falling significantly from January highs, reported Yahoo! Finance. According to Yahoo! Finance, the latest 7-day average of confirmed U.S. cases was 60,425 on March 27, and is continuing to average roughly 50,000 new cases daily. Dr. Calvin Sun, a New York City-based emergency medicine physician, told Yahoo! Finance that there are three main factors driving the recent surge: a mutating virus, the rolling back of safety measures, and a recent increase in travel. A new study — which is awaiting peer review — finds that while less than 1 percent of adults report coronavirus reinfections, those who are could experience more severe symptoms if they contracted one of the several virus variants.  3/30/21 2:29 p.m. PDT — Most states seeing rise in COVID-19 cases After major declines this spring, the number of COVID-19 cases has risen in recent weeks. Cases of COVID-19 rose about 9 percent last week, according to Reuters. At least 33 states have reported more COVID-19 cases in the last week compared to the previous week. Experts are worried a fourth wave is about to hit the United States, even as vaccinations continue. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images Hold on to that COVID vaccine card Millions of adults who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 have little proof beyond the paper card they get when getting their first dose, reported the Wall Street Journal. According to the WSJ, the United States currently has no central database to document vaccinations, and states only keep an incomplete patchwork of records. Also, there’s no standard proof of COVID-19 vaccination like the yellow fever cards required for entry to many countries where that disease is prevalent. As certain countries and businesses prepare to mandate digital proof of vaccination as a requirement for entry and travel, your paper card may be the only way to conduct business or access those countries. “I’m glad we prioritized getting shots in arms,” Dr. Ami Parekh, chief medical officer at digital healthcare company Grand Rounds Inc., told the Journal. “But putting in rules about being vaccinated without giving people a way to properly track it is a little bit backwards.” CDC chief scared where country is headed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising in the United States again, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday. This may be the start of a surge experts have warned about for weeks. “I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom… We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” said Walensky, according to CNN. “But right now, I’m scared.”

  • Here’s Exactly Where We Are with Vaccines and Treatments for COVID-19
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 late July, 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. 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. 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.

  • Vitamin D and Breast Cancer Survival: What You Should Know
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Experts say vitamin D supplementation should be used only by certain groups that need it. Zeng Baoyan/EyeEm/Getty Images Researchers say higher vitamin D levels may help improve a person’s odds of surviving breast cancer.Experts say most people in the United States don’t have sufficient vitamin D levels because only a few foods contain the mineral naturally.They add that vitamin D supplementation is necessary for only certain groups of people, including post-menopausal people. Having enough vitamin D at the time of diagnosis is associated with better breast cancer outcomes. That’s according to a new study highlighted at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2021 virtual annual meeting.  Researchers measured vitamin D levels at the time of breast cancer diagnosis and then survival outcomes 10 years later in almost 4,000 people.  The researchers said they found vitamin D supplement intake, body mass index, and race/ethnicity were the most influential factors on vitamin D levels found in the blood.  Song Yao, PhD, the study’s lead author and a molecular cancer epidemiologist at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, said in a press release that the findings provide the strongest evidence to date for maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels in breast cancer patients. He said this is particularly true for Black women, who have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer than white women.  The researchers’ findings are consistent with earlier analysis on a smaller population, and experts say it’s significant to see the same trends in this much larger, longer-term data set. Yao said this suggests an ongoing benefit for people who maintain sufficient levels through and beyond breast cancer treatment. Experts weigh in Marji McCullough, ScD, RD, a senior scientific director of epidemiology research for The American Cancer Society, told Healthline that most vitamin D research has focused on colorectal and breast cancers. “Studies have shown that higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer,” she said. “This study contributes to the evidence for a role of vitamin D in breast cancer survival.” Higher blood levels of vitamin D means any level that meets or exceeds the “sufficient” clinical cut-off (≥30 ng/ml).  Vitamin D deficiency is less than 20 ng/ml, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Does this mean vitamin D can fight breast cancer? Not exactly. Dr. Nicole Williams, a medical oncologist specializing in managing the treatment of patients with breast cancer at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, says the benefits of vitamin D for cancer prevention are mixed. More research is needed before coming to any conclusions about the vitamin’s role in cancer outcome, she added. “One of these studies was the VITAL (Vitamin D and Omega-3) Trial, which was the largest randomized clinical trial testing vitamin D for cancer prevention, and it was found that the supplement did not reduce the risk of developing cancer,” said Williams. Vitamin D supplementation Experts say most people in the United States consume less than the recommended amounts of vitamin D. This may be because ways to get vitamin D naturally are limited. You can consume vitamin D from only a few foods or get it from sun exposure. The National Institutes of Health lists these vitamin D-rich food options: Cod liver oilTrout SalmonMushroomsFortified milks and juicesFortified cereals If you’re not sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, talk with your healthcare professionals. “Generally, if you are healthy and aren’t getting treatment for any medical problems, you don’t have to worry about starting supplements,” said Williams. But those in higher risk groups may want to get their levels tested. Williams lists the following groups who may need supplementation: post-menopausal womenmen and women on long-term steroidsolder adults (home-bound or in nursing homes/assisted living)expectant and breastfeeding peoplepeople with chronic kidney diseasepeople with parathyroid diseasepeople with obesity So what does dark skin have to do with vitamin D?  “The higher melanin concentration in dark skin reduces the formation of vitamin D from sun exposure,” explains McCullough. “It has been estimated that Black individuals need 5 to 10 times the amount of sun exposure to reach the same blood vitamin D levels as lighter-skinned individuals,” she says. Williams added that there are likely multiple factors that explain the racial gap between vitamin D levels. Multiple factors include adiposity, skin pigmentation, vitamin D binding protein polymorphisms, and genetics. “No one factor alone can fully explain the vitamin D paradox in Black Americans,” said Williams. The key takeaway If you’re concerned about a family history of breast cancer or looking to stay as healthy as possible, talk with your doctor or dietitian about your vitamin D levels.  It’s important to do this before adding any new supplements to your wellness routine. For example, McCullough highlights the need to review any supplements you take as these may already contain vitamin D. 

  • Seattle and San Francisco Reach COVID-19 Herd Immunity: How They Did It
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Nearly 70 percent of eligible San Francisco residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images San Francisco and Seattle have become the first U.S. cities to achieve herd immunity vaccination levels against COVID-19.Officials say the cities reached this milestone by establishing mass vaccination sites, going into targeted neighborhoods with the vaccines, and educating the public about the importance of getting inoculated.Experts say herd immunity across the United States will be difficult to reach due to low vaccination rates in some states. Seattle’s mayor has proclaimed that her city is the first metropolis in the United States to reach vaccine-induced herd immunity against COVID-19. Mayor Jenny Durkan made the announcement a week ago. She said 70 percent of Seattle residents 12 years old and older are fully vaccinated, and 78 percent have had at least one shot. Two days later, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that her city had also reached a major milestone. She said that 80 percent of eligible San Franciscans had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 70 percent were fully vaccinated. How did they do that? In San Francisco, experts credit the city’s efforts to take the vaccine directly to the people who need it most. “It’s the hub and spoke model,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, MPH, an infectious disease physician at the University of California-San Francisco. “The hub is the mass vaccination sites. Everyone who wants a vaccine goes there,” she told Healthline. “The spoke is going out into communities.” Gandhi said teams targeted neighborhoods, this week taking the Johnson and Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine into vulnerable communities.  “We have community pharmacies, community messaging. It’s that kind of hard work, bringing it to people locally,” she said. In Seattle, one expert says the city benefits from a multitude of research and medical facilities. There’s also a low level of vaccine hesitancy among the public. “I think it’s a combination of an affluent, more educated, and aware population,” said Ali Mokdad, PhD, a professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) at the University of Washington in Seattle. “And most importantly, they had trust in the government and health officials,” Mokdad told Healthline. “It’s not true, unfortunately, for the rest of the state, so we have some work to do. “People move around. The airport is in Seattle, major universities are in Seattle, so people come and go frequently,” he noted. “If they’re not vaccinated, they could be carrying the virus and spreading the virus. “We are in this together, interconnected… and unless we are all safe, none of us is safe,” Mokdad added. Hesitancy still a problem According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 146 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated. That’s about 44 percent of the total population, far from the 70 percent some scientists say we would need to meet the herd immunity threshold. When you look at individual states, the latest stats show Mississippi at the lower end, hovering around 28 percent. In Georgia, officials have told federal authorities to send 3 million vaccine doses allotted for their states to other places because demand is so low. Mokdad says that’s a big problem as states are opening back up. California, the first state to shut down, reopened on June 15, with few restrictions left in place. The unvaccinated are asked to wear a mask still, but it’s all on the honor system. “It’s summer, cases are coming down everywhere. Everything looks good around you. People are out and about. No more mask mandates. And there’s no incentive to get the vaccine,” Mokdad explained. Not out of the woods yet In a March 3 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray, the director of the IHME, wrote that it’s not likely the United States will reach herd immunity, in part because at least a quarter of the population will decline to get vaccinated. He says that once winter approaches with the new variants of the coronavirus spreading, we could see a return of surge in new cases among unvaccinated people, although not as large as last year. “The public and health systems need to plan for the possibility that COVID-19 will persist and become a recurrent seasonal disease,” Murray wrote. Next steps Gandhi says San Francisco’s high immunity threshold likely means it would not be as vulnerable to case surges passed on by visitors from out of town. She expects the city could follow Israel’s path. “The issue is you have to open up and test the system, which we are doing,” she said, “and make sure hospitalizations don’t go up. “What we saw in Israel, where they did open up, they mixed and mingled the vaccinated and unvaccinated, and their cases didn’t go up,” she explained.  Gandhi and Mokdad agree states should keep up the giveaways, money, and prizes to encourage more people to get vaccinated. “Incentives always help. It helps people who are on the fence get the vaccine,” Gandhi said.  “We need to keep an eye on what’s working here and keep pushing it,” Mokdad said. “Whatever it takes to get the public vaccinated, we need to do it.” .

  • Ultra-Processed Foods Can Cause Children to Grow Up With Weight Issues in Adulthood
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Experts say ultra-processed foods are many times higher in sugar and salt. Davide Luciano/Offset Images Researchers say young children who have diets with ultra-processed foods can experience weight issues into early adulthood.That weight gain can produce a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.Experts say a diet of ultra-processed foods can cause damage at the cellular level and lead to unhealthy eating habits.They note that ultra-processed foods are generally cheaper and easier to serve than more nutritious meals. Children as young as 7 years old who eat large amounts of ultra-processed food experience steady weight gain into adulthood, leading many to be categorized as having obesity. An analysis published this week in JAMA Pediatrics looked at more than 9,000 children in Britain whose daily diets were about 70 percent ultra-processed, described as high-calorie foods with various artificial ingredients.   High-processed foods are made primarily from substances extracted from food, including fats, starches, and sugars. Typically, those products include fast food, soft drinks, frozen meals, candy, and salty snacks. Until 24 years old, the subjects in the “high consumption” category saw an average extra weight gain of about a half-pound and more than a half-inch waist circumference per year over the 10-year study period. Those consuming high amounts of ultra-processed foods face a greater chance of not only obesity but related issues, including diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. “The increasing availability and variety of ultra-processed foods have reshaped global food systems by displacing dietary patterns previously based on fresh and minimally processed foods,” the researchers from the Imperial College of London said in a statement. “Of particular concern is the growing consumption of these foods among children and adolescents, who are leading consumers,” they added. ‘Worst offenders to health’ Michelle Tierney, a registered dietician and certified personal trainer specializing in weight management, told Healthline that the study is “rather unsurprising,” but it’s still an important message to reinforce. “Ultra-processed foods are one of the worst offenders to health,” Tierney said. “They negatively affect metabolism at a cellular level, damaging the functions and abilities of cells. It’s like a vicious cycle because processed foods cause things like atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, and weak mitochondria, which in turn cause fatigue, foggy brains, mood disorders, decreased productivity, and more.” Developing such eating habits early in life sets the stage for later problems, Tierney said. Young cells are resilient, which changes as a person ages. “The body is certainly keeping score, and eventually, the build up of these processed foods and their toxic effects accumulate and wreak havoc,” Tierney said. “The human body is quite adaptable, but it can go either way. In this case, it adapts to poor nutrition by inducing disease such as fat storage (obesity), decreased insulin secretion (diabetes), and build up of plaque in the arteries (cardiovascular disease), among others.” Easy and cheap Experts say ultra-processed foods are generally cheaper and easier to access, which means children of lower-income families are affected disproportionately. “Minimally processed foods are often more expensive and harder to obtain, especially in ‘food deserts’ (urban areas where nutritious food is harder to find),” Julie Miller Jones, a professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, told Healthline. “So many groups with limited funds or time, due to working two jobs, child or family care responsibilities, cannot either easily obtain or afford the fresh fruits or vegetables or have little time to bake bread at home.” Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t done much to advance the cause of fresh, nutritious food. “(People) are now much closer to their refrigerators and pantries,” Ganjian said. “As a result, they have far too easy of access to food. Many children have gained weight during the pandemic, and the obesity rates have increased. “Since people are working from home and having to take care of their kids all at the same time, there is less time for obtaining and cooking nutrient-rich foods,” he said. “As a result, people are eating more processed foods.” Jones said food isn’t bad simply because it’s considered “processed.” It’s the kind of food that counts. “Consumers need help choosing processed foods that fit into their dietary patterns,” she said. “Studies showed that children – and adults – who chose the right mix of foods from all levels of processing had the best diets. The real problem is that only 3 to 8 percent of the population follow all the dietary guidance. We eat too few fruits and vegetables and too many servings for non-recommended foods.”

  • Loss of Smell and Weakness Most Common Neurologic Symptoms of Long-Haul COVID-19
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    In a new study researchers found found that symptoms such as loss of smell, weakness, fatigue, headaches, and anxiety persisted in many people even after they recovered from COVID-19. Phynart Studio/Getty Images While many of the immediate complications of COVID-19 are now well understood, physicians are still trying to understand and manage its long-term effects.In a new study, researchers discovered symptoms such as loss of smell, weakness, fatigue, headaches, and anxiety persisted in people who had recovered from acute COVID-19.New medical centers are starting to develop neurologic clinics specific to the manifestations of COVID-19. As COVID-19 case numbers start to decrease throughout the United States, physicians throughout the country are starting to see an increase in neurologic and psychiatric symptoms among people who have recovered from the disease, a new study suggests. Even with mild symptoms, the study — published this month in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry and led by a team at University College London — found that symptoms such as loss of smell, weakness, fatigue, headaches, and anxiety persisted in people even after recovering from COVID-19. The research team identified 215 studies that involved more than 105,000 people from over 30 countries who had had COVID-19. The studies were then analyzed, and the participants’ neurologic and psychiatric symptoms were assessed.  Symptoms with the highest rate were loss of smell (43 percent), weakness (40 percent), fatigue (38 percent), and either loss of or abnormal taste (37 percent). “We had expected that neurological and psychiatric symptoms would be more common in severe COVID-19 cases, but instead we found that some symptoms appeared to be more common in mild cases,” lead author Dr. Jonathan Rogers, Wellcome Trust Clinical Fellow in the division of psychiatry at University College London, said in a statement. “It appears that COVID-19 affecting mental health and the brain is the norm, rather than the exception,” he said. According to Dr. Sara Martin, assistant professor of medicine and medical director of outpatient palliative care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “the most common neurologic symptoms vary widely among patients, from mild brain fog to difficulty concentrating on normal work tasks and, in some patients, severe cognitive impairment. We are also seeing patients with persistent headache as well as symptoms of numbness/tingling in extremities.” Even mild cases can result in long-term neurologic symptoms Many of these neurologic findings were reported in people with the most severe complications of COVID-19. However, 55 percent of those with mild illness reported fatigue, 52 percent had loss of smell, 47 percent reported muscle pain, and 45 percent reported loss of taste. Dr. Thomas Gut, associate chair of medicine at Northwell Health’s Staten Island University Hospital, has seen many patients with COVID-19-related neurological symptoms, and relates the long-term effects on the severity of the initial infection. “Patients that I see most frequently had milder disease and are more likely to experience headaches, loss of sense of smell or taste, or muscle aches. Fatigue and sleep problems are also a very common complaint across the board, independent of severity,” Gut told Healthline. Currently, health experts are unsure how COVID-19 directly affects the brain. However, as more people are recovering from the disease, more long-term complications are becoming apparent. There are several theories as to why this occurs. Some experts theorize that the coronavirus can cross a protective structure in the body called the blood-brain barrier. In doing so, it can affect the fluid that bathes the spinal cord and brain, resulting in a multitude of neurologic manifestations. Another possibility is the virus provokes an overall immune response from the whole body. This leads to an inflammatory-related response to many tissues and organs, including the brain. New treatments Throughout the United States, medical centers are starting to develop neurologic clinics specific to the manifestations of COVID-19. There’s a growing number of post-COVID-19 clinics in the United States as many health systems are seeing increasing cases of long-haul COVID-19, or people with lingering symptoms after recovering from the disease. “Due to being hit particularly hard in the early waves, at Northwell we have one of the oldest and largest post-COVID recovery programs. These programs are designed using the most current evidence and treatments that can help people get back to regular life,” Gut said. Other hospital systems are offering comprehensive care for many of these patients. At Vanderbilt Medical Center, Martin said the “clinic offers support and access to multiple specialists to manage the many symptoms that can be part of long COVID.” Understanding both the physical and mental toll COVID-19 has taken, these facilities also offer “dedicated physical therapy and cognitive therapy as well as support groups for patients that are diagnosed with long COVID,” Martin told Healthline​. This physician-led team assesses and treats people with long-haul COVID-19 who have neurologic complications.  A clinic such as this allows for a neurologist to conduct screening tests for psychiatric and neurologic conditions and disorders. They’re then able to take this information and create working health plans to help reduce the long-term burden that some people may experience from COVID-19. There are no direct medications or remedies to treat all COVID-19-related neurologic complications, but many complications do improve with time. And with more time and research, physicians will better understand not just the immediate complications of COVID-19, but its long-term effects as well. Rajiv Bahl, MD, MBA, MS, is an emergency medicine physician and health writer. You can find him at www.RajivBahlMD.com.

  • Why We Won't See a Memorial Day-Related COVID-19 Bump
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images During the pandemic, every major holiday in the United States was followed by a bump or surge in COVID-19 cases. But now more than half the country has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This means that another surge is unlikely to happen. Even if cases aren’t likely to overwhelm hospitals, experts point out that unvaccinated people are still at risk of COVID-19, especially since new transmissible variants are spreading. Throughout 2020, major holidays in the United States were quickly followed by surges in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and eventually deaths.  In the days following Memorial Day in 2020, for example, at least 14 states hit a new record in daily new COVID-19 cases.   This year, things look different. Approximately 52 percent of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. On top of that, millions of Americans — more than 33 million— have contracted the coronavirus and likely have some degree of natural immunity.  The current level of immunity in the population — from both vaccination and previous infection — seems to have been enough to stave off a surge following Memorial Day gatherings this year. This does not mean the pandemic is over or that COVID-19 is not a risk, especially to people who are not vaccinated. We will continue to see new COVID-19 cases. But by vaccinating the most vulnerable people first, we essentially took away the likelihood that COVID-19 will overwhelm our hospitals like it did in 2020.  How immunity is protecting us from post-holiday surges New data shows that positive COVID-19 tests have fallen to the lowest recorded rate, and that hospitalizations and deaths have continued to steeply decline despite holiday gatherings. Data has consistently found that COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness.  Preliminary evidence also suggests that natural immunity, or immunity conferred from prior infection, also appears to be long lasting.  Together, the immunity from vaccines and prior infection have staved off spikes after Memorial Day weekend.  “Both of those factors — natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity — work together to make it harder for the virus to find new people to infect. The higher those numbers are, in combination, the more obstacles the virus is going to find when it tries to spread from person to person,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and an infectious disease expert. As more people become immune, there will be even less opportunity for COVID-19 to spread and reach unvaccinated people. Will there be spikes in unvaccinated communities? Unvaccinated people are still susceptible to contracting the coronavirus and developing COVID-19. Reports from hospitals show that virtually all people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 are not vaccinated.  Unvaccinated people may benefit if enough people get immunized that the United States is able to reach herd immunity. But we’re not there yet. It’s crucial to get the shot, especially since some coronavirus variants circulating contain mutations that appear to make the virus more transmissible among unvaccinated people.  “We still may see cases increase in places where there is low vaccination and low natural immunity,” Adalja said.  For example, there are some counties in Mississippi where only 14 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.  It’s unknown what the percentage of natural immunity is, but there may be more cases if there isn’t much natural immunity. If a large portion of Mississippi’s population previously had COVID-19, as the state’s governor recently stated, then there’s hope this may help slow or prevent a new surge. However, relying on natural immunity can be dicey since reinfection is possible. Additionally, COVID-19 was never so widespread that a majority of a population developed the disease. Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of California, San Francisco, pointed out that Los Angeles County has a relatively high vaccination rate with 66 percent of the population getting at least one dose. A study from the state health department from early March found that 45 percent of residents had antibodies either from exposure to the virus or through vaccination. In early March, COVID-19 vaccines were not widely available to the people under the age of 65, so it’s likely that a significant portion of the antibodies were from exposure to the virus. When you look at the high vaccination rate in Los Angeles County and then “add in the fact that 45 percent of county residents have been exposed prior to the rollout of the vaccine in the general population, you have natural immunity plus vaccine immunity in that county — and no, they did not and are not going to surge after Memorial Day,” Gandhi said.  We don’t have the seroprevalence studies, or percentage of people who have coronavirus antibodies, to determine what natural immunity may be like across the United States, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how susceptible any state or county is.  While, there is no way for us to calculate that as of now, but it is likely that states that had large surges — such as Texas — have more natural immunity, said Gandhi.  Look at hospitalizations and deaths, not cases Adalja focuses more on hospitalizations and deaths rather than cases.  “Cases are less important. The goal of the vaccines… was to remove the ability of the virus to cause severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Adalja said.  After Memorial Day weekend in 2020, new cases were followed by a spike in hospitalizations, which pushed some hospitals to the brink.  That’s no longer an issue this year in the United States. The group at highest risk of COVID-19 is people over the age of 65. That population has the highest rate of vaccination, with nearly 87 percent at least partially vaccinated. As a result, we’re less likely to see hospitals reach their capacity after holiday weekends in 2021.  Experts say we will still see some new cases because the virus is still circulating, but natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity have essentially prevented COVID-19 from being able to threaten hospitals again.  But cases, even if there are slight increases in certain areas, are “not going to necessarily translate to what happened in the past because of the way the vaccine has been rolled out to those high-risk populations,” Adalja said.  The bottom line Throughout 2020, major holidays in the United States, such as Memorial Day weekend, were quickly followed by surges in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and eventually deaths. We didn’t see a surge following Memorial Day weekend this year thanks to the high level of vaccine-induced immunity and natural immunity across the U.S. population. Though we will continue to see cases, health experts say that by vaccinating people at risk of hospitalization and death, we have removed COVID-19’s ability to push our hospitals to full capacity. 

  • Here’s Where COVID-19 Cases Are Rising and Falling
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    About 1 million people a day are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States. EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images New COVID-19 cases fell to under 13,000 per day over the past week in the United States.Experts are buoyed by those numbers but warn case numbers have leveled off and could rise during the summer.The daily vaccination rate in the United States has stabilized over the past 2 weeks at slightly more than 1 million. Experts say elected and community leaders need to continue to push the benefits of vaccination. Editor’s note: This story is updated regularly as new statistics are released. The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has leveled off with 20 states reporting increases from the previous week. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average number of new U.S. cases dipped to under 13,000 a day. Overall, the number of new cases in the United States was listed at 102,389 this past week, almost 3 percent higher than the previous week. The number of COVID-19 deaths declined to 2,432 this past week, about 300 fewer than the previous week’s total. Hospitalizations remain slightly above 14,000. Overall, the United States has reported more than 33 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. COVID-19-related deaths in the United States have now surpassed 600,000. Experts are expressing some concern over the leveling off of case numbers and hospitalizations, especially as states relax pandemic restrictions and more people travel. “The drop in cases has stopped and the new case rate now is on a plateau. I am concerned that both summer gatherings — often indoors — as well as the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant will lead to a summer increase in cases,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Healthline last week. “I think we may continue to see increases in cases due to more travel and the lifting of restrictions. However, I am hopeful that increases will level off toward the end of summer and into early fall,” added Dr. Jamila Taylor, director of healthcare reform and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Both experts are worried about the delta variant, which is now dominating in the United Kingdom and is quickly becoming more common in the United States. “These variants are precisely why we need to continue concerted efforts to ensure access to and uptake of the vaccines,” Taylor told Healthline. “Early studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccines have strong protection against the variants. There are certainly consequences if the delta variant becomes dominant. We could see an increase in cases in the fall, as well as an increase in serious illness and death, but we can still beat this if people continue to get vaccinated. I’m very worried about the parts of the country that have low vaccination rates,” she said. “The delta variant is a real concern. It is highly contagious and it is picking up steam in the U.S.,” added Schaffner.  “It also tends to produce more severe disease, so we could anticipate an increase in hospitalizations. Fortunately, our current vaccines will provide protection against the delta variant, but the vaccines cannot prevent infection if they are left in the refrigerator. There still are many, too many unvaccinated persons,” he said. Schaffner also has some concerns about the long-term future with COVID-19. “It will become endemic. That is, it will be part of our microbial environment, similar to influenza. We also must continue to monitor for new variant COVID strains. If they show up and start to spread, new vaccines will be created and booster shots will be needed,” he said. State numbers For the week that ended Sunday, 20 states reported increases in COVID-19 cases, compared with three states the previous week. Missouri had the highest increase with a 101 percent jump to 4,517 new cases. The CDC reported that Florida had the most new cases in the past 7 days with 10,676. That’s about 3,000 less than the previous week. Texas was second with 8,421 new cases this past week, about 200 fewer than the previous week. Colorado was third with 4,137 cases. California was next with 3,967 new cases and Washington was fifth with 3,833. The CDC reports that on a per capita basis, Wyoming leads with almost 80 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days. Colorado is second with 71 cases per 100,000 residents, followed by Missouri with 62 cases per 100,000 residents. Next is Utah with 59 cases per 100,000 residents and Arkansas with 52 cases. There were 21 states that reported an increase this past week in COVID-19 deaths, compared with 11 states the previous week. Florida recorded the most COVID-19 deaths over the past 7 days with 232. Texas was second with 217 reported deaths. That was followed by Georgia with 172, Pennsylvania with 130, and Illinois with 118 deaths. Where we are with vaccines The CDC reports there have been more than 311 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered across the country. More than 174 million people have received at least one dose. More than 145 million people are fully vaccinated. That means 44 percent of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose. California has administered the most doses at more than 40 million. That’s followed by Texas with more than 24 million. New York has administered more than 20 million doses, while Florida has done just short of 20 million. Pennsylvania is fifth with 13 million. None of those states, however, is in the top five in percentage of the population that’s fully vaccinated. States with the highest percentage of vaccination (total population)1. Vermont: 62 percent2. Maine: 58 percent3. Massachusetts: 58 percent4. Connecticut: 57 percent5. Rhode Island: 55 percentSource: Reuters The number of people in the United States getting either a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen from 1.9 million a month ago to 1.1 million this past week. However, there’s been a slight uptick in daily doses the past few days. Schaffner said another push is needed to convince people who aren’t yet vaccinated to get the inoculation. “It will take a multifaceted approach to make hesitant persons sufficiently comfortable to become vaccinated. Perhaps the most effective is seeing more of their friends and neighbors vaccinated safely and celebrating their vaccinations,” he said. “The COVID vaccines soon will be fully licensed, and that may allay some concerns. Incentives such as state lotteries will lure some to accept vaccine as will the requirements of colleges and some employers. The strong urging of local leaders, such as religious leaders, continues to be important,” Schaffner said. Nonetheless, Taylor said the country is slowly accomplishing its vaccination goals. “I think we are getting there,” Taylor said. “Some parents are still hesitant and want to be sure the vaccine is safe for their children. As a mom, I get it. However, I do think that in order for us to continue down the path that we are on, making progress in controlling the spread, we need to get as many 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated as possible.” “Speaking to our children about potential side effects, taking safety precautions, and the importance of good hygiene is also key,” she said. “All of this is critical as schools across the country will be returning to in-person learning in the fall.”

  • No One Suspected This Former Soccer Pro Would Have a Heart Attack at 36
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Lindsey Huie (pictured above with her family) was a former soccer pro and mother of five who was living a healthy and active life. So, when she began to have sudden chest pains, the last thing she expected was a heart attack. Photo courtesy of American Heart Association Go Red for Women Former soccer pro Lindsey Huie had a heart attack caused by SCAD, and is spreading awareness about the condition with the American Heart Association.SCAD is a tear in an artery wall of your heart, which can slow or block blood flow.Understanding the signs and symptoms of SCAD and receiving treatment right away are critical for treating the condition. As the coach for multiple youth soccer teams, former soccer pro Lindsey Huie was finishing up one of her daughter’s practices and moving equipment to another field for the next practice. On her way, she had to climb a steep hill. By the time Huie got to the top of the hill, she was struggling to breathe. “I [felt] like a piece of paper tore in half in the middle of my chest, and I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s weird. What was that?’ And I just start sweating profusely, and now I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest, and I’m in so much pain it feels like fire up and inside my chest,” Huie told Healthline. The discomfort forced her to sit in the middle of the soccer field, which alarmed nearby parents, who suggested they call an ambulance. Afraid to make a scene and scare her children, Huie pleaded to go to urgent care instead of a hospital. There she received an EKG. “I’m thinking all this time… we’re going to feel so ridiculous when the doctor comes back and says I’m suffering from anxiety or I have heartburn, like we’re all going to be looking like fools,” said Huie. Suspecting that something serious occurred in her heart, the doctor informed her that she needed to go to the emergency room. While there, tests determined that Huie had a heart attack caused by spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a tear in an artery wall of the heart, which can slow or block blood flow. While researchers aren’t sure what causes SCAD, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that people who develop the condition are often healthy women with few or no risk factors. “Some studies have pointed to a hormonal link, showing a greater incidence among postpartum women and women who are experiencing or close to a menstrual cycle,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, preventive cardiologist and expert for the AHA, told Healthline. Dr. Asim Zaidi, interventional cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, said the occurrence and recurrence rates, causes, outlook, and optimal management of SCAD are uncertain, due to limited evidence available to guide medical professionals caring for people with SCAD. “Even fewer accessible and reliable sources of information are available to patients and families,” he told Healthline. Spreading awareness about SCAD Steinbaum said spreading awareness about SCAD is important so that women learn to seek out medical attention as soon as possible if they experience symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and dizziness. Although Huie experienced some symptoms, she was shocked by her diagnosis because she was 36 years old, in excellent condition, eating healthy, and living a homeopathic lifestyle, turning to natural remedies rather than medications. “I had no idea that it was going to be a heart issue,” Huie said. However, in hindsight, she said the stress of juggling an intense workload while caring for her five children wasn’t good for her health. She also believes going full force back into semi-pro soccer, more than a decade after retirement, put a lot of strain on her body. “I was playing with kids who are in college… Probably not the best thing to do and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it,” she said. Additionally, her mom, dad, and two grandparents had heart disease, although SCAD is different from what they experienced. “[Although SCAD] can cause a life threatening heart attack, SCAD patients don’t typically have other heart disease risk factors. Because it often happens in younger women who don’t necessarily have risk factors, there are no clear lifestyle interventions that will reduce the risk,” said Steinbaum. Early diagnosis and treatment are the most critical issues when it comes to SCAD. “SCAD can cause sudden death if it isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly. Seek emergency attention if you experience heart attack symptoms, even if you think you aren’t at risk of a heart attack,” said Zaidi. Huie (pictured above) hopes sharing her story will help empower people like herself in the LGBTQ community to care for their health. Photo courtesy of American Heart Association Go Red for Women Representing women and the LGBTQ community After spending 2 days in the hospital, and taking 2 weeks to recover, Huie began researching heart disease. Learning that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year, inspired her to share knowledge with other women. She joined forces with the American Heart Association (AHA) Go Red for Women initiative. “[One] of the main things I’ve learned from being part of the Go Red for Women movement is to know your numbers — total cholesterol, your HDL, the good cholesterol, your blood pressure, your blood sugar, and body mass index,” said Huie. Steinbaum said Go Red for Women inspires women to make positive changes in their lives for better heart health. “We know that 3 out of 4 women who are aware of Go Red make some form of lifestyle change to positively affect their health. Awareness and education are about empowering people to take charge of their hearts, not only by implementing lifestyle changes, but also by becoming empowered with the information they need to advocate for themselves,” said Steinbaum. The more that women understand their risk of heart disease, the symptoms, how to manage it through lifestyle choices, and how and when to get help if they have symptoms, the more potential there is to reduce the staggering statistics regarding women and heart disease, she added. Zaidi said that women sometimes experience heart disease differently than men. “Women are less likely than men to experience chest pain, and they are more likely to experience back or stomach pain, chest pressure or tightness, dizziness, fatigue, indigestion, nausea, or shortness of breath,” he said. As part of Go Red for Women, Huie hopes to also empower people in the LGBTQ community to care for their health. According to Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study, about 13 percent of LGBTQ adults report being denied healthcare or given poor care because of their sexual orientation or gender identities. Among transgender participants, that number jumped to 40 percent. “Most research does not collect gender identity, sex assigned at birth, and current sexual orientation. This prevents researchers from accurately studying health and disease in LGBTQ people,” said Huie. Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people. She writes with empathy and accuracy and has a knack for connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.

  • The COVID-19 Pandemic May Be Easing: Why Now Is a Good Time to See Your Doctor
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Experts say scheduling a medical checkup is an important step in a post-pandemic world. Supersizer/Getty Images Health officials report that deaths related to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure have all increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.Experts say a major reason may be that people delayed their regular medical checkups.They say now is a good time to schedule physical exams and diagnostic tests.They add that focusing on eating habits and daily exercise routines is also a good idea. As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are fading in the United States, people are returning to restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting events. Experts note there is another place in particular people may not have visited in more than a year where they should return as soon as possible. The doctor’s office. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that in the past year, deaths from both diabetes and heart disease have increased noticeably. Specifically, heart disease-linked deaths rose by 32,000 over the previous year, a 3-percent jump, and only the second time in 20 years the rate has gone up. Diabetes-related deaths increased by 13,000, or 14 percent. Deaths related to high blood pressure also ticked up 12 percent. “I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Salim Virani, FACC, FAHA, FASPC, chair of the writing committee for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association 2021 Statistical Update and an associate professor in cardiology and cardiovascular research sections at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “Almost 40 percent of U.S. adults deferred care (in that time),” he told Healthline, adding that 12 percent of people who needed emergency care deferred as well. In other words, Virani said, “Patients who actually need more care were deferring that care.” Now, experts agree, is a good time to schedule a medical checkup to see where you are after a year of staying at home. Nix the blame game The first step in tackling this issue, according to Dr. Ping H. Wang, a professor and chair of the Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism at City of Hope in California, is realizing this: There actually is no blame. “I don’t think this is anybody’s fault,” Wang told Healthline. “This is the biggest pandemic in [modern] human history. We all did the best we could.” That’s why, he said, it’s not fair to blame people who deferred care or blame the medical community for advising people to stay home and be safe. Even for those with comorbidities that usually require frequent medical visits, the message during lockdown seemed clear: Don’t venture out if you don’t have to. That, Wang said, could have dissuaded many. So, too, could the setup in clinics and hospitals at the time. Most people could not bring another person in with them, something that created a challenge for older as well as less independent individuals. “People just didn’t feel comfortable,” he said. Virani pointed out that early in the pandemic, emergency room visits dropped by more than 25 percent, something that foreshadowed these numbers. “It’s not like during a pandemic there is less heart disease,” he said. The habits that formed Virani also saw other signs. Fitbit reported that in the first months of lockdown, even usually physically active people saw their activity levels decrease.  At the same time, he said, eating habits took a hit. In his research, Virani found that almost 40 percent of people reported a weight gain during the pandemic. At the same time, he said, issues relating to mental health — something that can impact both heart health and diabetes — increased dramatically. There were also issues related to limited access to medical staff and the financial impact of the pandemic. What to do now With COVID-19 restrictions easing in most of the United States, experts say this is a good time to get back on track with your health. The place to start, Virani said, is seeing your primary care physician. “They are the person you should have a long-term relationship with,” he said. Reaching out now to set an appointment — even if you have to wait for it — is the right move, he said. He added that we have yet to learn just how long-term the elevated death rates from the pandemic will last. “We have every reason to suspect that, unfortunately, [in] the next few years to come, we will continue to see this,” he said. Going forward, Virani suggests focusing on a healthy daily diet, a regular exercise routine, and getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as other illnesses. Among other things, he said, there’s some evidence that vaccines can help with inflammation, a component of heart disease and other ailments. Future changes What can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic should we face something like this again? Wang said the medical community probably needs to adapt its messaging and availability going forward. “How can we make resources available and accessible to those who need them (in another lockdown?),” Wang asked. “I don’t have an easy answer here,” he said. “But our community needs to address it.”

  • How Headphones, Earbuds Can Slowly Harm Your Hearing Over Time
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    It’s not just about the volume. The length of time you spend each day listening to devices through your headphones or earbuds can also contribute to hearing loss later in life. Kilito Chan/Getty Images Headphones and earbuds can impact hearing loss in children and young adults as they age.Children, teenagers, and young adults listen to many hours of music per day at volumes exceeding the globally recommended public health limit.There are ways to set healthy noise limits and protect your hearing. Cranking up your earbuds as you listen to music or a podcast might be your favorite form of self-care. However, it might not be the best for your hearing. According to recent analysis, high levels of noise can affect hearing loss in the future. Children, teens, and young adults may be particularly at risk if they often listen to many hours of music per day at volumes exceeding the public health limit of 70 decibels of average leisure noise exposure per day that’s recommended by The National Institutes of Health (NIH). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 50 percent of people ages 12 to 35 are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds, such as music heard through personal audio devices. “I think on a broader level, the medical and audiology communities, as well as the general public, don’t understand that significant hearing loss is not part of normal healthy aging, but largely represents noise-induced hearing loss,” Dr. Daniel Fink, board chair of the Quiet Coalition, told Healthline. He compares this misunderstanding to the misconception that deep wrinkles and skin pigmentation are part of normal aging, whereas they largely represent solar or UV damage. “Similarly, without exposure to loud noise, we should be able to hear well into old age, something generally not true in industrialized societies,” said Fink. Health implications of hearing loss Fink and audiologist Jan Mayes reviewed and integrated information from multiple articles in multiple disciplines to form conclusions about personal audio system usage. A key takeaway was that people who use personal audio systems (also called personal listening devices or music players) linked to headphones or earbuds — so the content can be heard without disturbing others — are damaging their hearing. “Especially for young people… personal audio system use is the major source of leisure noise exposure,” said Fink. “[When] they reach mid-life, probably in their early to mid-40s, they will be as hard of hearing as their grandparents are now in their 70s and 80s.” In addition to losing some ability to communicate, hearing loss has been connected to cognitive decline. According to a 2011 study, compared to people without hearing loss, those who had hearing loss were at risk for developing dementia in the following ways: people with mild hearing loss had nearly twice the risk of developing dementiathose with moderate loss had three times the riskpeople with severe loss had five times the risk Mary L. Carson, Au.D, licensed clinical audiologist, said research also shows that individuals with untreated hearing loss, over time, are at a higher risk for dementia. She added that there are some promising studies that show that treating hearing loss with hearing aids reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. “However, as the old adage goes ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Starting better hearing health habits now may be an investment in your long-term health, not only by preventing hearing loss, but also reducing your risk of cognitive decline and dementia as you age,” she said. How to set healthy noise limits Hearing loss from noise exposure can accumulate after one very loud exposure, or more often, slowly over time with bad hearing health habits, said Carson. “We live in a noisy world, and many people are exposing themselves repeatedly to unsafe noise levels which may affect their long-term health… In my practice, we recently saw a young adult with a perforated eardrum from listening to music with earbuds too loudly,” she said. Here are ways to keep your ears safe and sound: Keep sound to 70 dBA The NIH explains that sound is measured in units called decibels, stating that, “Sounds at or below 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA), even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.” “A very good rough indicator is that if a person has to strain to speak or to be heard over the ambient noise, that’s more than about 75 decibels,” said Fink. For devices, it’s hard to know what the decibel output is, so he suggests using your device at the 50 percent setting, as well as cutting back on your listening time. Carson points out that safety options exist for earbud use, but even these options require parental or consumer monitoring. For example, she said on iPhones, use the ‘Hearing’ application in the Control Center to check your headphone audio level. “In this app you can see your average listening level, and monitor to ensure you are staying under the 70 dBA recommended average,” said Carson. Volume-limited headphones for kids are another option, though Carson said they typically have volume limits set at around 85 dBA and still require parental monitoring of use time and volume setting. Fink agreed, noting that that headphones for kids using the 85 dBA volume limit are safer than headphones without a volume limit, however, they’re not safe for hearing. “[Hearing] loss is especially bad for children and teens because they need to be able to hear to be able to learn, socialize, and hearing loss impacts social development and educational success and lifetime earnings,” he said. Use a sound level meter app There are many free or inexpensive sound level meter apps, which help to determine how noisy your environment is. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers a free one. “A smartphone sound meter app will help one learn what’s loud and what’s not,” said Fink. Wear hearing protection Many types of hearing protection exist that are designed to protect you from the noise you’re around. For example, Carson said musician-filtered hearing protection can help maintain the quality of music while still providing safe protection. “Hearing protection comes in many forms — earmuffs, foam plugs, reusable non-custom plugs, and custom fit hearing protection. Talk to your hearing health professional to get help finding the protection that’s best for your intended use,” she said. Know the warning signs of hearing loss The most common first signs of hearing loss include difficulty hearing in noisy environments and feeling like you’re hearing people, but just can’t understand what’s being said, explained Carson. She said tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also often an early sign of damage to the auditory system and a warning sign for hearing loss. Get your hearing checked regularly If you’re over age 50 or exposed to noise at unsafe levels, Carson recommends getting your hearing checked annually. “If you are noticing any changes in your hearing, or new or worsening ringing in the ears, you should get your hearing checked right away,” she said. Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people. She writes with empathy and accuracy and has a knack for connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.

  • Ibuprofen May Be Superior to Codeine to Manage Postsurgery Pain
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Researchers say ibuprofen was more effective than codeine at managing pain after surgery. Arno Masse/Getty Images Researchers say it appears ibuprofen is more effective than codeine for managing pain after surgery.They add that ibuprofen also appears to have fewer side effects than codeine, which is an opioid.Experts say ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do not pose the potential for dependence as codeine may. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen offer better pain management and fewer side effects than codeine following surgery. That’s according to research published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Researchers said they found that people who took NSAIDs had lower pain levels at 6 and 12 hours after surgery compared with their counterparts who took codeine. “In all surgery types, subgroups and outcome time points, NSAIDs were equal or superior to codeine for postoperative pain,” the study authors wrote. “We found that patients randomized to NSAIDs following outpatient surgical procedures reported better pain scores, better global assessment scores, fewer adverse effects, and no difference in bleeding events, compared with those receiving codeine,” they added. What the study revealed The researchers reviewed 40 randomized control trials (RCTs) of more than 5,100 adults to compare the safety of medications containing codeine and NSAIDs as well as their efficacy in reducing pain. “We found high-quality evidence that outpatient postoperative adults taking NSAIDs reported less pain at 6 and 12 hours than those taking codeine in a meta-analysis of RCTs,” the researchers wrote. Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the Division of Stanford Pain Medicine at Stanford University in California, said the results of the study aren’t surprising. “I’m not particularly surprised, but it’s nice to see some data coming out corroborating it,” he told Healthline. “Postoperative pain is really nothing more than a controlled injury, and part of the injury is inducing an inflammatory response. NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory. They’re going to reduce swelling and pain. They’re going to be a good analgesic. I can readily see where NSAIDs can be an effective analgesic for many types of surgeries.” How pain medications work Codeine belongs to a group of medications called opioids. Opioids work by altering how the nervous system and brain respond to pain. “It’s a weak opioid. We don’t use it much in the United States for postoperative pain at all,” Mackey explained.   NSAIDs work by blocking an enzyme in the body that makes prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals in the body that can play a role in inflammation and pain. Reducing the prostaglandins created in the body can help reduce inflammation and pain. “What we frequently do in pain management, in postoperative pain management, is that we’ll combine these types of medications. So, we’ll use a little bit of an NSAID and a little bit of an opioid,” Mackey said. Comparing side effects Both NSAIDs and codeine have potential side effects. In the Canadian study, the researchers found that those who took NSAIDs following surgery had fewer adverse effects than those who took codeine. “The benefits of codeine are that it’s a pain reliever, though a rather weak pain reliever. The downside of it being an opioid is that it has all the potential side effects of being an opioid. Opioids cause constipation. They can cause itching, nausea, and vomiting. In susceptible people, they can cause a decrease in your breathing,” Mackey said. “Then there’s always the [misuse] potential of being on an opioid. Exposure to an opioid does put one at risk for future misuse or [misuse]. It’s rare, but it can occur,” he added. NSAIDs also carry risks, but Mackey said they are typically safe. “The obvious upside is there is zero abuse or addiction potential. You simply cannot become addicted to an NSAID. They are generally safe, but they do have some potential downsides. Those downsides include increased risk of bleeding because they also inhibit your platelets from sticking together, so the clotting function after surgery can be impaired by an NSAID,” he said. NSAIDs may also cause stomach irritation and long-term use can also cause kidney damage, increased blood pressure, and an increase of cardiovascular events. Although the Canadian study concluded that NSAIDs offer better pain management and fewer side effects postoperatively than codeine, Mackey said the results do not imply the same could be said for other opioids. “You’re comparing [NSAIDs to] one opioid here only. You can’t make a gross generalization to morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl… any of those,” he noted.  

  • After COVID-19, Kids Can Develop MIS-C: Here Are the Signs
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Young people who contract the coronavirus can also develop multisystem inflammation syndrome in children (MIS-C). Marko Geber/Getty Images Among children who get COVID-19, a small proportion develop multisystem inflammation syndrome (MIS-C).This serious complication can appear weeks after the initial infection.MIS-C causes widespread inflammation that can affect multiple tissues and organs. While COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than in adults, some kids do become seriously ill with the disease or related complications. Among young people who contract the coronavirus, a small proportion develop multisystem inflammation syndrome in children (MIS-C). This serious complication can appear weeks after the initial infection. “MIS-C is a postinfectious inflammatory condition, where your body’s immune system kind of goes into overdrive,” said Dr. Christina Johns, MEd, FAAP, a pediatric emergency physician and the senior medical adviser for PM Pediatrics in Lake Success, New York. “The ripple effect of that means that there can be lots of inflammatory processes going on in many different organs,” she said. In a study published last week in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at 248 cases of people under age 21 who contracted the coronavirus and later developed MIS-C. By looking at the number of cases in the population they figured out there were 316 cases of MIS-C per 1,000,000 cases of COVID. “While it is rare complication — and the numbers from this new study certainly support that — it is not one without consequence. It is not a small deal to get MIS-C,” Johns said. Black, Latino, and Asian children have increased risk The new study was conducted by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The researchers analyzed MIS-C surveillance data from seven jurisdictions: Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York (excluding New York City), and Pennsylvania. They found that among people under age 20 in those jurisdictions, 248 cases of MIS-C were reported from April to June 2020. Among children who developed COVID-19, Black, Latino or Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander children were more likely than white children to develop MIS-C. “We previously knew that MIS-C cases seem to be higher in Black Americans or Latino Americans, but we also knew that those groups have a higher risk of COVID,” said Dr. Lorry Rubin, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York. “Now this study shows that certain racial groups are at higher risk, independent of their risk for getting COVID,” he said. Recognizing the signs and symptoms MIS-C causes widespread inflammation that can affect multiple tissues and organs. “It triggers inflammation that affects a lot of the systems in the body: the heart, the gastrointestinal tract, the skin, the eye, and so forth,” Rubin said. One of the most common symptoms is a fever that lasts for at least 3 to 4 days. Other potential symptoms include: skin rashbloodshot eyesred or swollen lipsabdominal paindiarrheavomiting The specific symptoms can vary from one child to another. Several cases of the syndrome have also been reported in adults (MIS-A). Getting treatment If you think your child might have MIS-C, the CDC advises you to contact their doctor, nurse, or clinic right away. “What really concerns me about MIS-C is just how quickly children can go from seemingly completely OK, to not feeling well, to being highly critically ill,” Johns told Healthline. “If parents have some significant concerns that something just isn’t quite right, trust that instinct,” she said. Healthcare professionals treat MIS-C with supportive care, such as: intravenous fluidsmedications to reduce inflammationtreatments to improve heart function and breathing “Inflammation involving the heart is perhaps the most serious feature, and many children come to medical attention with the severe impairment of heart function known as cardiogenic shock,” said Michael Grosso, MD, medical director and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Long Island, New York. “In such cases, children will require admission to a pediatric intensive care unit and life support,” he continued. Prevention is key MIS-C is only one of several complications that children and adolescents can potentially develop from COVID-19. “I want to sort of debunk the argument that if you’re in a pediatric age group, COVID’s no big deal,” Rubin said. “It is still a source of a lot of infection, morbidity, and even death in the pediatric age group.” The only known way to prevent MIS-C and other COVID-19-related complications is to avoid contracting the coronavirus. “That is best done by doing all the things we did throughout the pandemic: social distancing, hand hygiene, and masks,” Grosso said. “Most important is getting immunized, at least for pediatric patients greater than 12 years of age,” he said.  The CDC currently recommends that everyone ages 12 and up get vaccinated against COVID-19. Scientists are still studying COVID-19 vaccines in younger children. As more findings from those studies come out, Grosso expects that a vaccine will be granted emergency use authorization for younger kids “in the near future.”

  • The COVID-19 Delta Variant: Here's Everything You Need to Know
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Experts say COVID-19 vaccines so far have been effective against the Delta variant. Halfpoint Images/Getty Images Experts say the COVID-19 Delta variant poses a threat in the United States because it is more contagious than other strains and produces more serious symptoms.They add that although the current vaccines are effective against the variant, the strain will have more chances to mutate as unvaccinated people contract the virus.The most common symptoms for the Delta variant are fever, headache, sore throat, and runny nose. Many states have relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, allowing people in the United States to return to a semblance of life before the pandemic. Still, a decrease in vaccination levels coinciding with the explosive spread of a new coronavirus variant has some health experts concerned about the country’s pandemic endgame. The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first detected in India but has since surfaced in more than 70 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, the variant accounts for more than 6 percent of sequenced virus samples, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is a jump from about 1 percent a month ago. This variant not only spreads more easily than earlier strains but may also cause more severe disease. This is particularly worrisome for unvaccinated people and those who have a weaker immune response to the virus. What symptoms does the Delta variant cause? Doctors in China find that as the Delta variant spreads throughout the country, people have different and more severe symptoms than reported earlier in the pandemic, reports The New York Times. Fevers are common. The level of virus in the body rises higher than previously seen during the pandemic. And more people are becoming severely ill within 3 or 4 days. In the United Kingdom, where the Delta variant makes up 91 percent of new cases, one study found that the most reported symptoms were headache, sore throat, and runny nose. For younger people, this might feel like just a bad cold. But they could still spread the virus to others who are more at risk of severe illness, including those not yet fully vaccinated. Even people with an asymptomatic infection can pass on the virus to others. As scientists collect more data, a clearer picture of the symptoms Delta causes will emerge. People should be on alert for other symptoms of coronavirus infection, such as cough, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, or loss of sense of taste or smell. How contagious is the Delta variant? The United States and the United Kingdom have fully vaccinated about 43 percent of their populations. But as the Delta variant has become more common in the United Kingdom in recent weeks, the country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. A similar spike in cases was seen in India as the Delta variant spread widely. Experts say this is due to this variant being more transmissible. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this past weekend that the Delta variant is around 40 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was previously dominant in the country, reports BBC News. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a White House COVID-19 briefing this past week that studies support this idea. “Clearly now [the Delta variant’s] transmissibility appears to be greater than the wild type,” said Fauci, referring to the original strain of the virus that emerged at the start of the pandemic. How severe is disease caused by the Delta variant? Early evidence suggests the Delta variant may increase the risk of hospitalization compared to the Alpha variant, Public Health England (PHE) reported June 10. One analysis by PHE of more than 38,000 COVID-19 cases in England found that people with the Delta variant were 2.61 times more likely to be hospitalized than those with the Alpha variant. Fauci echoed the PHE’s concerns about the Delta variant, saying, “It may be associated with an increased disease severity, such as hospitalization risk, compared to Alpha.” PHE also found that in some areas where the Delta variant was increasing, hospital visits and admissions were “predominantly in unvaccinated individuals.” This suggests that even with this variant, full vaccination offers protection against more severe disease and hospitalization. For a two-dose vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna-NIAID, full vaccination is at least 14 days after the second dose. For a single-shot vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson, full vaccination is at least 14 days after the dose. Do COVID-19 vaccines work against the Delta variant? There is other evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines work against the Delta variant. A study published June 10 in the journal Nature found that 20 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine had enough antibodies in their blood to neutralize several variants, including Delta. This suggests that the vaccine would provide adequate protection against the Delta variant, the authors wrote, although they say real-world studies are needed to know for certain. Other research emphasizes the importance of full vaccination, especially when the Delta variant is spreading widely in the community. Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) UCLH Biomedical Research Centre reported in The Lancet that people were less likely to develop after a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine an adequate immune response to the Delta variant, compared with the original strain. Real-world data supports the need to get as many people their second dose as soon as possible. A pre-print study released by PHE on May 22 found that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88 percent effective against symptomatic infection with the Delta variant than 93 percent for the Alpha variant. However, one dose was only 33 percent effective against symptomatic infection with the Delta variant versus 50 percent for the Alpha variant. “A single dose of the mRNA vaccines clearly conveys insufficient protection against the Delta variant,” said Dr. Stanley H. Weiss, professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health. “But current data suggests that you have pretty good protection against the Delta strain after complete vaccination.” Most at risk from the Delta variant are people who are not fully vaccinated and those who don’t have a robust immune response to vaccination, such as older adults and the immunocompromised. Weiss says these people, even when fully vaccinated, may want to continue taking precautions when in public settings, where others may have the virus. “Because someone over 80 or who is immunosuppressed is at particularly high risk for progression to significant disease or death, we should be very careful with those groups,” Weiss told Healthline. What does this mean for the United States? Some experts see the United Kingdom as a cautionary tale for the United States.  “This is a situation, the way it was in England, where they had a B.1.1.7 dominant and then the [B.1.] 617 took over. We cannot let that happen in the United States,” said Fauci. With the rapid rise of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to postpone the end of COVID-19 restrictions by several weeks. This is “such a powerful argument … to get vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Particularly if you’ve had your first dose, make sure you get that second dose. And for those who have not been vaccinated yet, please get vaccinated.” Much of the focus right now is on the existing variants. But the more that the novel coronavirus is allowed to spread, the more chances it has to mutate. “We can expect that there will be other variants that will arise, spread, and become of concern,” said Weiss. He says that’s why all countries need to have equal access to the vaccines and increase vaccine uptake in those parts of the United States with low vaccination rates. “Those parts of the world where the virus is spreading could become hotbeds for creating new variants that could pose a risk for the rest of the world,” said Weiss.

  • What Long-Haul COVID-19 Is Like for Children and Teenagers
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    experts are learning how seemingly mild cases of COVID-19 have turned into debilitating cases of long-haul COVID-19. Svetlana Gustova/Getty Images Recent studies have found that as many as 1 in 4 people who had COVID-19 end up with long-haul COVID-19. But research is still ongoing.Experts are also learning how long-haul COVID-19 affects children and teenagers. Long-haul COVID-19 symptoms may appear weeks after the initial infection, even if the initial infection is mild or asymptomatic. The symptoms may also change over time. While COVID-19 cases are declining in the United States, experts are still learning what the effect of a year-long global pandemic has been on our long-term physical and mental health. In particular, attention has turned to people with long-haul COVID-19, a syndrome that has appeared in people who have lingering symptoms after an acute case of COVID-19. While most people with severe COVID-19 were adults, experts are learning how seemingly mild cases of COVID-19 have turned into debilitating cases of long-haul COVID-19. Recent studies have found that as many as 1 in 4 people who had COVID-19 end up with long-haul COVID-19. But research is still ongoing. What is ‘long COVID’? Long-haul COVID-19, often referred to as “long COVID,” can involve a wide variety of symptoms, some of which include: fatiguetrouble concentratingshortness of breathmuscle achesdepressionanxiety Symptoms may appear weeks after the initial infection, even if the initial infection is mild or asymptomatic. The symptoms may also change over time. Although much of the attention around long-haul COVID-19 has focused on adults, early research shows that it can also affect children and teenagers. In these cases, many children have seemingly mild cases that then lead to long-haul COVID-19, which can be debilitating. Researchers are still working to uncover the cause of long-haul COVID-19 and identify the most effective treatment approaches. One family’s story For one family, the effects of the pandemic won’t be over anytime soon, even as cases in the United States decline. Molly Burch was 16 years old in March 2020, when she first developed symptoms of COVID-19. “She started with a little cough on March 8, and then by March 9, that cough was getting worse and she had a fever,” Molly’s mother, Ann Wallace, told Healthline. Over the next 3 weeks, Molly’s symptoms got worse before they got better. After her initial infection had passed, some of her symptoms lingered on, and months later, new symptoms appeared. “I thought she was better, but in August, her symptoms came back with new shortness of breath,” said Wallace. “I remember because it was her birthday; she was having trouble breathing, and it was incredibly alarming.” Molly’s acute illness may have subsided, but the teenager never fully bounced back.  Walking up the stairs now leaves Molly out of breath. A day at school leaves her exhausted. Her symptoms are consistent with long-haul COVID-19, in which symptoms last for weeks or months after someone first contracts the virus that causes COVID-19. “I feel like in the past week, she’s better than she was the week before,” said Wallace. “But you never know with long COVID. You can think you’re in the clear and then be slammed.” Trying to get tested One of the challenges in diagnosing long-haul COVID-19 is that many people who have contracted the virus never got tested for it. Or they might have been tested only after the virus had cleared from their system. Testing capacity was very limited when Molly became sick in March 2020. Her doctor presumed she had COVID-19 based on her symptoms, but she didn’t meet the narrow testing criteria that were in place then in her home state of New Jersey. “Molly had not been out of the country. She did not have contact with a known case of COVID. And she had a fever and a cough, but no shortness of breath,” recalled Wallace. More than a week after Molly got sick, Wallace also developed symptoms of COVID-19. Both of them were finally tested on March 22: Wallace’s results were positive, but Molly’s were negative. That doesn’t mean that Molly didn’t have COVID-19. By the time she got tested, she was weeks into her illness — at a point where the virus is often no longer detectable. “The place where we got tested said, ‘Molly is presumed positive,’” said Wallace. “The doctor had initially said, ‘We think it’s COVID,’ and my positive test gave further credence to that.” The search for treatment Like COVID-19 itself, long-haul COVID-19  is a new condition with many unknowns. Healthcare professionals have had to learn on the go, which has posed challenges to them and the people they treat, including Molly and Wallace. “It’s not that people haven’t offered help. It’s that in the beginning, there was really no help to offer,” Wallace said. “And it’s still maddening, the difficulty getting care for people with long COVID,” she said. Over the past year, more specialized clinics have opened up across the country to provide rehabilitation support to people recovering from COVID-19. Norton Children’s Pediatric COVID-19 Follow-Up Clinic in Louisville, Kentucky, focuses on treating children and teenagers in particular. “We started noticing children who have had lingering symptoms from COVID, and there wasn’t a lot of data on it or resources to help some of these kids,” said Dr. Daniel B. Blatt, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the clinic. “So we decided to create our own clinic to not only treat these children but also investigate the nuances of the syndrome.” Diagnosing and managing ‘long COVID’ Before Blatt gives a child a diagnosis of long-haul COVID-19, he checks for other potential causes of their symptoms. Long-haul COVID-19 causes general symptoms, which means they are similar to those of other conditions. For example, fatigue and shortness of breath may be caused by a variety of infections. “One thing that we’re really good at as infectious disease doctors is teasing out whether it is long COVID or a different infection that can look like long COVID,” said Blatt. “Then we’ll either have the patient come back and follow up in our clinic or we’ll refer them out to different sub-specialists depending on what their symptoms are,” he continued. For example, Blatt might refer a child to a pulmonologist or cardiologist if they’re having shortness of breath. He might refer them to a psychologist or psychiatrist if they’re experiencing anxiety or depression. Molly’s doctor has recently ordered chest X-rays and referred her to a cardiologist. Offering emotional support To help children and families cope with long-haul COVID-19, Blatt said that one of the most important things that a healthcare professional can provide is emotional support and reassurance. “Almost everyone we’ve had so far with long COVID gets better with time,” said Blatt. “It’s scary and frustrating to have lingering symptoms, but the reassurance that they will get better helps with a lot of the anxiety.” Emotional support is also a key aspect of the care that Noah Greenspan, DPT, CCS, EMT-B, provides to patients at the COVID-19 Rehabilitation and Recovery Center at H&D Physical Therapy in Manhattan, New York. Greenspan is a cardiopulmonary and complex medical physical therapist and founder of the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation. “COVID-19 is a global pandemic,” Greenspan told Healthline. “The situation is constantly evolving. The information is only as good as the last news cycle, and recommendations change constantly.” “That in itself is anxiety-provoking,” he continued. “Plus, the isolation, the inability to get a test, dealing with this critical illness. It is a really challenging time.” Greenspan has been treating Wallace’s own persistent symptoms following COVID-19, while also offering her support in managing her daughter’s health needs. “One thing that Noah has offered is this awareness of how families are impacted, how I’m impacted by my daughter’s health, and how helping her get better is also helping me,” Wallace said. Stepping up as a community Children with long-haul COVID-19 need support from other community members as well, including school personnel. “I think we need school leaders to be mindful of kids who’ve had COVID, so they’re not pushed too hard,” Wallace said. Molly’s school has recently adopted a hybrid learning approach, which means she has in-person classes 2 days a week and online classes the rest of the time. The academic demands have been hard for her to manage. “Several weeks in a row, she went in to school on Wednesday and then could not get out of bed on Thursday,” said Wallace. “You know, the effort of going to school just knocked her out.” Even when Molly attends classes online from home, it requires energy that she only has in short supply. “We need accommodations, even when kids are learning from home,” said Wallace. Taking steps to prevent ‘long COVID’ Wallace would like to see people take the risks of COVID-19 in children more seriously, including the risk for long-haul COVID-19. The condition can have wide-ranging effects on a child’s health and well-being. “In a kid’s life, being sick for a year is a huge deal,” said Wallace. “Think of all the developmental milestones and social milestones that kids go through in the course of a year.” Blatt told Healthline that the only way to avoid getting long-haul COVID-19 is to do what you can to avoid getting COVID-19 in the first place. “And the best way to not get COVID is to get vaccinated,” he said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends COVID-19 vaccination for adults and children 12 and older. Researchers are continuing to study the safety and efficacy of the vaccines in younger kids, who are not currently eligible to get vaccinated. The more adults and older children get vaccinated, the more protection that may provide to younger children. Higher rates of vaccination in a community help stop the spread of infection. Wearing face masks also lowers the risk of transmission.

  • How Children Can Play Safely This Summer as COVID-19 Pandemic Eases
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Experts say outdoor activities and shorter playdates can help children ease back into summertime action. Sally Anscombe/Getty Images Experts say parents should ease their children into more common play schedules this summer as the COVID-19 pandemic fades in the United States.They suggest shorter playdates at first as well as more outdoor activities.They note that some children may feel some social anxiety as they step back into the world after more than a year of isolation. After more than a year of limitations, parents are again opening front doors and backyard gates for kids to get back to being kids again. Summer’s here, and the time feels right. Not so fast. While states are lifting COVID-19 restrictions, there’s still plenty of reason to be careful. The novel coronavirus and its offshoots aren’t gone by any stretch. And not everyone has been vaccinated, especially younger children.   Parents want to give summer back to their kids, but experts say the key is doing so in a way that keeps everyone healthy for fall, winter, and summers beyond. “After an unusual and difficult year, families may be eager to jump into summer fun,” Dr. Sara Huberman Carbone, a pediatrician at One Medical in Southern California, told Healthline. “I would encourage families to let their kids ease back into normal summer activities, including camps, sports, and family vacations. As children under age 12 years are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, there are a few things to keep in mind when making summer plans. “Outdoor activities will be lower risk than indoor activities, (with) the added benefit of encouraging children to be physically active, which is especially important after a year or more of distance learning and increased screen time,” Carbone said. Dr. Christina Johns, a pediatrician and senior medical adviser at nationwide urgent care chain PM Pediatrics, told Healthline that parents might need to be more involved in activities, even on playdates. “I would encourage having a structured activity to minimize any potential initial uncomfortable moments,” Johns said. “For the first few playdates coming out of the pandemic, I would also suggest that parents keep playdates short. Shorter, structured playdates can set up a positive experience that will encourage both parties to do it again.” Social anxiety After a year or more of isolation, children may feel social anxiety, and that is natural, Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Center in New York, told Healthline. “There may be times when children will need to adjust to new behaviors, just as they did with certain behaviors during the pandemic,” Siddiqui said. “We should give them time to adjust to the new settings and make them comfortable. Start out with smaller groups of one or two children in an area comfortable for the child. Allow time for children to get to know each other again.” Johns pointed out that the pandemic has taken up a bigger percentage of some lives more than others. “There may be toddlers who have had very limited social interactions for the last 16 months or so, which could be half of their life depending on their age,” Johns said. “These children are learning to deal with more than one person at a time for the first time ever, and that could be very stressful. As such, parents should observe and listen closely to their children and work on identifying the cues that may indicate that they are anxious or nervous.” Parents should also be mindful when traveling this summer, Carbone said. “Consider lower-risk options for kids who have not yet been vaccinated,” she said. “Car travel generally has reduced risk than crowded airports. If you do opt to fly, direct flights have less exposure than flights with layovers. In terms of lodging, camping, or renting a vacation home is lower risk than a busy resort. And when visiting family and friends, outdoor gatherings will be safest.” Overall health Another factor affecting children this summer is changing eating habits, Dr. Danelle Fisher, the chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline. “Some kids have suffered food insecurity, and this is tragic,” Fisher said. “Schools are often places where impoverished children may have their only meals of the day. Other kids have increased their snacking while they have been home during distance learning, and weight gain for some kids this year is real.” Siddiqui said the lack of outdoor activity and an increase in sugary snacks, stress, and poor sleeping habits have contributed to kids not being as healthy as they should. “Children need encouragement and modeled behavior to continue to eat healthy foods,” Siddiqui said. “A diet with fruits, vegetables, lean protein and plenty of water is important. I always advise to practice moderation, not to try and eliminate certain foods, but to exercise portion control.”

  • New Study Determines People Who’ve Had COVID-19 Don’t Need to Get Vaccinated
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Researchers say that people who’ve had COVID-19 appear to have similar immunity to the coronavirus as those who’ve been fully vaccinated. Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic say that people who’ve already had COVID-19 may not necessarily benefit from vaccination.They said that people with prior infection had similar protection to those who were fully vaccinated.Researchers are still uncovering how natural immunity compares to immunity from vaccination.Some health experts are recommending that people who’ve had COVID-19 still get a single dose of vaccine.  A new study from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio has found that people who’ve already had COVID-19 may not necessarily benefit from vaccination. The research indicates that out of a large pool of healthcare workers, there were nearly 0 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection among those who had: previously contracted the virus and were unvaccinatedpreviously contracted the virus and were vaccinatednever contracted the virus and were vaccinated There was, however, a steady increase in cases among unvaccinated people who hadn’t previously contracted SARS-CoV-2.  According to the researchers, the findings suggest that natural infection provides immunity similar to vaccination. Therefore, people who haven’t had COVID-19 can be prioritized for vaccination. Experts say that more research is needed to determine how long immunity lasts after a case of COVID-19. Until we have that data, some infectious disease specialists are recommending that people who’ve had COVID-19 still get one dose. Infection may mean protection There were 52,238 individuals included in the study. Of the 2,579 people who’d previously had COVID-19, 1,359 were unvaccinated.  The remaining 49,659 individuals hadn’t previously had COVID-19, and 22,777 of them were vaccinated. The individuals were tracked from December 2020 to May 2021, during which time none of the 2,579 people who’d already had COVID-19 (including the 1,359 who remained unvaccinated) contracted the virus. According to the findings, vaccination significantly lowers the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection among people who haven’t already had COVID-19 — but not necessarily among people who have already had it. Those individuals appeared to have similar immunity to those who were fully vaccinated. Given the limited availability of the vaccines in certain countries, the findings add to the growing belief that the vaccines should be prioritized for those who haven’t previously had COVID-19.  “I’d likely keep those doses for the un-immune, those who haven’t had prior infection, and then go back and decide if we need to immunize [previously ill people],” Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of California San Francisco, told Healthline. What we know about immunity Preliminary data suggest that immunity from natural infection is long-lived, lasting up to 8 months and likely longer.  Evidence also consistently points to low rates of reinfection among people who previously had COVID-19. And a study from Israel concluded that reinfection was as low in previously ill people as it was it those who’d been fully vaccinated. “[The Cleveland Clinic study] reinforces what we are seeing clinically, which is the reinfection rate in previously infected people is extremely low and generally follows a less severe clinical course than initial COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Spencer Kroll, a board certified internal medicine specialist in Marlboro, New Jersey, told Healthline. Our immune system is robust and involves different components that work together to prevent disease.  There are antibodies, which our immune systems produce upon exposure to a pathogen. Antibody levels may wane over time but are still operative even at lower levels, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security in Maryland and an infectious disease expert. There’s also the cell-mediated immune response, which involves protective B cells and T cells that appear to increase over time and remain elevated long after infection.  It’s worth noting that people mount variable immune responses to infection, according to Kroll. “Some people with documented infection do not generate antibodies,” Kroll said. Who should get vaccinated? Adalja said that natural immunity should influence vaccination policy.  “Natural immunity is not trivial and does contribute to population level immunity along with vaccinations,” Adalja told Healthline. Scientists are still exploring whether there are benefits to vaccinating people who’ve already had the infection. They’re also examining how natural immunity compares to immunity from vaccination. Gandhi said that she’s often asked whether previously ill people should get vaccinated. She said that the truth is, there isn’t enough data, and we don’t yet know how long natural immunity lasts. Her solution: Just get the first dose. Even if it’s unnecessary, that single dose can act as an immune booster. “I’m recommending one dose after natural infection, not because of any evidence I can find,” explained Gandhi, “but because of emotion.”  One study found that previously sick individuals who took one dose of the vaccine had a stronger antibody response compared to people who hadn’t had the infection but had received both doses of the vaccine. Another report concluded that one dose in previously sick people produced an immune response similar to people who didn’t have prior infection but received both doses.  Adalja is also for the one-dose strategy. “A single dose of a two-dose vaccine regimen may be all that is necessary for someone with a prior infection,” he said.  According to Adalja, it can be difficult to determine whether somebody has natural immunity since antibody levels decline over time, and T cells are cumbersome to measure.  The good news is that there have been no reports of dangers or risks to people who’ve had COVID-19 and still gotten vaccinated. They may have more of the usual side effects — pain at the injection site and fatigue — but there’s nothing dangerous in getting vaccinated after natural infection, according to Gandhi.  Ultimately, we need more research to understand the length and durability of immunity after infection.  “We also see differential effects of the infection on women, children, and elderly people, and thus we must also delineate the length and strength of immunity, as it may differ in these different groups,” Kroll said. 

  • Why Black Women Are More Likely to Die from Breast Cancer
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Experts say socioeconomic factors and a quicker rate of metastasis are factors in the higher death rate from breast cancer for Black women. FG Trade/Getty Images Researchers are studying why Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.In the past, experts have noted that breast cancer tends to be diagnosed later in Black women due to less access to healthcare services.Researchers, however, noted that breast cancer also seems to metastasize more quickly in Black women.Other experts say socioeconomic factors also need to be taken into consideration. “Sometimes they have been so busy taking care of everybody else, they don’t take care of themselves. Then, when they get to a doctor, not only do they learn they have breast cancer, but there’s a spot on their skin or spine or brain. It’s devastating.” That’s how breast cancer survivor Kommah McDowell describes the women she tries to help navigate through a difficult diagnosis. It was 16 years ago when McDowell was told she had breast cancer that had already spread to her lymph nodes. She was informed she had a 5 percent chance of survival. McDowell got a second opinion and started aggressive treatment at City of Hope in Southern California. Now she’s a dedicated patient advocate. She told Healthline that many of the women she tries to help are Black and from low-income households in communities without much access to healthcare. There’s a new study that looks at why breast cancer is often far more deadly for Black women than white women. Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City started with what’s already known about racial disparities in breast cancer. More white women get breast cancer, but Black women are 40 percent more likely to die from it. Scientists often attribute those stats to Black women getting a diagnosis at a later stage in the disease. But the team of Mount Sinai researchers said that may not be the only explanation. Their study was released at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology on June 4. The researchers found that Black women have a much higher risk of having their cancer spread, or metastasize. Metastasis is a major cause of death in breast cancer. The Black women in the Mount Sinai study were nearly six times more likely to develop distant tumors than white women. By the numbers The researchers studied 441 women with a diagnosis of breast cancer at Mount Sinai. They reported that of the small number of participants who developed metastases, nearly 7 percent were Black women compared with just over 1 percent of white women. “I think our biggest surprise was that the disparity was so large,” said Dr. Julia Blanter, an internal medicine resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We found that this disparity existed despite accounting for late stage diagnosis,” Blanter told Healthline. “This disparity has been looked at over many decades at this point, and it seems that despite our best efforts it still exists. That means there are other ways, other things to look at to tackle it,” she added. Still lots of questions Dr. Joanne Mortimer, vice chair and a professor at the City of Hope’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, told Healthline a lot more information is needed. “They adjusted for age, race, and stage, but they didn’t adjust for socioeconomic factors… their access to care, insurance, their ability to make appointments all play into the outcomes as well,” Mortimer said. “This is really important because poverty is a major cause of doing badly with any cancer. And if it’s disproportionate in Black women, which we don’t know from their data, that would contribute as well,” she added. “Then there’s biologic factors that they did not include in this. They did not include the type of breast cancer,” she said. “African American women in this country have a disproportionate amount of triple-negative breast cancer that has a much worse outcome.” “So, I think the lack of the type of breast cancer and the lack of socioeconomic data really hamper drawing a lot of conclusions from this paper,” she added. Blanter said she and her colleagues believe their study should prompt more research. “We think our study opens the door for a lot of future projects, the most important of which is finding the source of the continued existing disparity,” she said.

  • No, Businesses Aren’t Violating Your Rights When They Ask If You’re Vaccinated
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Despite arguments that inaccurately cite federal laws, in a majority of states private businesses can legally ask you to show proof of vaccination before you enter. Getty Images The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is often inaccurately cited by those arguing that places of business can’t require customers to show proof of vaccination.Federal law doesn’t restrict private businesses from asking for proof of vaccination, although some states may pass their own laws on the issue.HIPAA, generally, applies to healthcare plans and healthcare providers, not grocery or other stores.Asking someone to show proof of vaccination constitutes neither “protected health information” under HIPAA nor disability-related information under the Americans with Disabilities Act. HIPAA might be one of the most widely and inaccurately cited acronyms of the 2020s so far.  “The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  That doesn’t mean your local privately-owned business can’t ask for proof that you’ve had the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, despite what some people may interpret the law to mean.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has dedicated part of its website to HIPAA and COVID-19, taking an authoritative stance on the law often cited inaccurately by many people. From face masks to vaccines, private businesses continue to seek guidance from federal, state, and local governments about what to tell people they need to do to keep their employees and customers safe as a very real virus continues to spread around the globe.  But in terms of what violates HIPAA, most people who cite the law are arguing with the wrong people.  How HIPAA works Joyce Smithey, founder and partner at the employment and labor law firm Smithey Law Group, said HIPAA, generally, applies to healthcare plans and healthcare providers — not grocery or other stores.  “If a private business is outside of a healthcare setting, HIPAA will not prevent it from asking for proof of vaccination status,” Smithey told Healthline. “Federal law doesn’t restrict private businesses from asking for proof of vaccination, although some states may pass their own laws on the issue.”  In Florida, state lawmakers passed legislation that banned businesses from asking for proof if a person has been vaccinated. But Norwegian Cruise Lines is in talks with the governor’s office to change that, because it wants to set sail from two Florida ports while requiring guests to have proof they’re fully vaccinated, according to the Associated Press. And those ready with Facebook live broadcasts trying to storm a cruise ship will need to find a new legal battle cry, because public health departments across the country are enacting policies that they know could and will trigger lawsuits from people who will allege their freedoms are being infringed.  Elizabeth Litten, a partner at the law firm Fox Rothschild in charge of privacy and HIPAA, said HIPAA is not a general data privacy law.. “It does not generally apply to private businesses because most private businesses are not covered entities and do not create, receive, maintain, or transmit protected health information,” Litten said. Can business owners bar you from their premises if you don’t comply with their minimum standards? Yes, because they absolutely have the right. Businesses commonly impose rules and restrictions on patrons “No shirt, no shoes, no service” is commonly displayed at convenience stores and gas stations. “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” is a common one at bars and restaurants. Additionally, dance clubs and country clubs legally and regularly impose dress codes on their would-be patrons.  While the motivations and applications of these slogans are sometimes dubious, ones enacted on recommendation of the county health department — which also regulates bars, restaurants, and many other places that serve food or alcohol — aren’t immediately a violation of what people have determined their “rights.” If you demand to be able to go into a private business not covering a part of your body they’ve deemed offensive — in this case your nose and mouth during a respiratory pandemic — then you’re in violation of their basic dress code.  Harry Nelson, founder and managing partner of healthcare law firm Nelson Hardiman and author of “From ObamaCare To TrumpCare: Why You Should Care,” said the federal government has opined that asking someone to show proof of vaccination constitutes neither “protected health information” under HIPAA nor disability-related information under the Americans with Disabilities Act. “At the same time, the federal government has made it clear that it is not going to establish a national database or vaccine passport. So private businesses are on their own and subject to state law,” Nelson said.  Meanwhile, a few states, including Texas, Montana, and Florida, have put statewide bans on vaccine passports and issued executive orders that limit private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination status.  Almost 20 states have limited state government from requiring proof of vaccination status. Instead, they’re letting private businesses make their own decisions, while other states have placed no limits on state government or private business inquiries about vaccination status, Nelson said.  On the other hand, those adamantly opposing getting the COVID-19 vaccine for nonmedical reasons are waning in their ranks as growing scientific evidence shows that negative side effects from the vaccines are rare.  “We are seeing an ongoing erosion of vaccine resistance from reluctant or ambivalent people, and we expect the anti-COVID-19-vax community to continue to shrink as a consequence of pressure from employers, peer pressure, [and] incentives for vaccinated people to travel more freely and abandon masks,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day, there will continue to be an anti-vax contingent who hold onto conspiracy theories and ignore the science, but the evidence suggests they will be a shrinking pool of people,” he said.

  • Really, the COVID-19 Vaccine Is Free
    on June 16, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    The COVID-19 vaccine is free because of the HRSA Uninsured Program. Scott Olson/Getty Images According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), “COVID-19 vaccines are 100% free for every individual living in the United States — even if you do not have insurance.”But many Americans are skeptical. This is not a surprise considering how expensive medical care is, especially for uninsured people. The vaccine is free because of the HRSA Uninsured Program. More than a year into the pandemic, Americans still have questions about life getting back to normal, whether to leave the mask at home and eating indoors at restaurants again. But one thing Americans should not be unclear about is whether the vaccine is free. The answer is yes. Yes, the vaccine is free. So why do some people still have questions? It’s not a surprise that people are skeptical since nearly nothing in the U.S. healthcare system is free — especially if you are one of the 27.5 million people who do not have health insurance. When the government promises that the COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone yet still asks people to bring their insurance information to the appointment, many people in the United States hesitate, while others refuse to show up. So let’s clear things up right now. Is the COVID-19 vaccine free? Short answer: Yes. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), “COVID-19 vaccines are 100% free for every individual living in the United States — even if you do not have insurance.” Why does my doctor ask for my insurance information if the vaccine is free? The vaccine is free because of the HRSA Uninsured Program. It’s part of legislation that includes the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations ACT (CRRSA). Through this legislation, the HHS provides claims reimbursement to healthcare professionals to test and treat uninsured individuals. “The vaccine is free for all. However, it is able to be free as a special arrangement between the insurance, the manufacturers, and the federal government,” said Dr. Jordan Tishler, an emergency physician and medical cannabis expert in Massachusetts. “There are various reasons why insurance questions are asked when receiving the COVID vaccine. Some amount of the vaccine cost may be recovered from insurance. This all happens behind the scenes without the patient involved.” What do I do if I’m still not sure? You will not have to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of whether you have health insurance. But before your appointment, you can call the doctor’s office and tell them you either do not have insurance or want to confirm that the vaccine will be free. The HHS suggests that you confirm that the healthcare professional you will be seeing is participating in the HRSA Uninsured Program — and they will be. “I think Americans at present are confused about many things to do with COVID and are generally distrusting of our government. I suspect that in certain circles, these concerns have been amplified by misinformation aimed at undermining the credibility of the medical establishment, as well as the government,” said Tishler. What do I do if I still receive a bill? Contact your healthcare professional, says the HHS. The government reimburses healthcare professionals who are part of the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program for vaccines and other COVID-related services, such as testing. This means that they cannot send you a balance bill, so you should not receive a bill.  “Regardless of your insurance status, providers cannot charge you for the COVID-19 vaccine or administration of the COVID-19 vaccine,” writes the HHS. “If you experience or witness any potential violations of this requirement, you can report the matter to the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS or the website TIPS.HHS.GOV.” “Everyone — with very minor medical exemptions — should be vaccinated,” Tishler added. “The data are conclusive.”

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