How much money could you save in a year by giving up smoking?

how much money could you save by giving up smoking?

There are many reasons to give up smoking (your health being the big one).

Sometimes, though, only cold, hard cash provides enough motivation to make a change.

So it’s worth noting, we reckon, that you really can save quite a bit of money by ditching your regular cigarettes.

If you’re buying just a pack of Silk Cut for £13.40 a week, for example, ditching that habit will save you £698 in a year.

Think about what treats you could buy yourself with that extra cash?

If you’re smoking more than a pack a week, the amount of money you could stash away only increases – along with all the other benefits of quitting the cigs.

You can work out exactly how much you could save by ditching smoking with our handy calculator below.

Then please do use that as motivation to finally quit. It’s well worth it.

(Please note, if the calculator isn’t showing up in this article, try opening the link in a new tab on your phone or laptop)

How much could you save by giving up smoking?

Benefits of quitting smoking:

Beyond saving money, here are a few more benefits you can gain by ditching cigarettes:

  • Improved lung capacity – meaning easier breathing
  • More energy
  • A boosted immune system
  • Exercise becomes easier
  • Lower stress levels
  • Better sex
  • Improved fertility
  • Boosted smell and taste
  • Younger-looking skin
  • Whiter teeth
  • Longer life
  • Reduced risk of lung cancer

If you want more tips and tricks on saving money, as well as chat about cash and alerts on deals and discounts, join our Facebook Group, Money Pot.

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Researchers develop a model that predicts whether COVID-19 restrictions have any effect

Researchers develop a model that predicts whether COVID-19 restrictions have any effect

What happens when municipalities in the Copenhagen area experience a COVID-19 flare-up? Would closing the schools have any effect, or would a better choice be directing the parents to work from home? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities worldwide have several times implemented steps to keep the pandemic in check.

Now, researchers from the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University have come forward with a new agent-based model that can be used as a tool for making even better, informed choices regarding which restrictions to implement.

The background of using agent-based modeling to analyze, predict and control the rapid spreading of COVID-19 is described in the paper Fluid Model-Checking in UPPAAL for COVID-19 published in the distinguished conference proceedings series Lecture Notes in Computer Science.

167 fewer new cases a day

In the new model, the researchers simulate interactions between specific agents or in other words, individuals. Based on data from Statistics Denmark, the Danish Building and Housing Register (BBR), the Central Business Register and the State Serum Institute of Denmark, the researchers have used the agent-based technic to construct a model of Northern Jutland, with more than 500,000 individuals.

The region was placed under lockdown in November due to the fear of spreading the cluster-5 variant of the coronavirus, circulating primarily in farmed minks.

In the model, each individual is assigned a state of health, which is combined with general data on addresses, places of employment, family sizes and commuting patterns to calculate realistic simulations of the mobility patterns of all Northern Jutland inhabitants.

Project head, Professor Kim Guldstrand Larsen, explains that the researchers have simulated the case numbers in the region over the course of 100 days based on two different scenarios: One scenario in which no lockdown was implemented, and the actual scenario where schools and municipal boundaries, etc. were closed:

“The model enables us to simulate real chains of infection. In our assessment, over a period of two months the lockdown resulted in around 10,000 fewer cases in Northern Jutland,” says Kim Guldstrand Larsen.

In the context of the model predicting that the region would have experienced around 70,000 cases in that period if no lockdown had been implemented, this equals a percentual reduction of 14 percent in the total number of cases over the period of two months. This equals 167 fewer new cases a day.

“We can draw up accurate scenarios for how the disease will spread under different conditions. If we turn back time a few months, we would also have been able to predict the probability of the cluster-5 variant spreading across the regional boundary,” says Kim Guldstrand Larsen.

Weather forecast for COVID-19 spread

The model of Northern Jutland is based on open data—in other words, the researchers have no access to sensitive personal data. If they had precise data on, for instance, where people live and where they work, they would be able to predict very accurately whether each person would be infected in the near future.

“The authorities have access to the actual numbers and will be able to use the model for making very accurate simulations of the real-world situation. With the current data, the model should be seen as a tool for a more nuanced predictive contagion tracing—a kind of weather forecast for the spread of COVID-19. We have used Northern Jutland as our point of departure, but the model can be used anywhere with a certain amount of data,” says Kim Guldstrand Larsen.

Computing power required

To develop the model, the researchers have used the software tool UPPAAL, which they themselves have developed over the last 20 years. The tool has been used to analyze several real-world complex systems, including heating and traffic control systems, where the behavior of the overall system is given by the complex interaction of its components. In the new setting, the components of the model are people interacting through contagion.

“Prior to this, we have worked with systems of 2,000 components, so of course, it was quite a leap to the 500,000 components we are working with now. This requires a whole lot of computing power, and as far as I know, we are part of a limited group of researchers currently capable of making this kind of simulation,” says Kim Guldstrand Larsen, pointing to the work of American colleagues who have recently published an equivalent study in Nature.

The Danish authorities have shown great interest in the Danish researchers’ work, and Kim Guldstrand Larsen has high expectations of the model being used by the State Serum Institute of Denmark.

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Encouraging COVID-19 vaccination in a politically polarized country


COVID-19 vaccination rates must reach 80% to achieve herd immunity, but only about 60% of Americans are willing to be vaccinated, according to the Pew Research Center. Stanford physician and economist Kevin Schulman suggests marketing tactics to boost compliance.

More than 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19—about 1 in every 1,000 people in this country. But will people agree to be vaccinated against the virus that causes the disease?

In November, only about 60% of Americans were willing—far short of the 80% believed necessary to stop the disease from spreading, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. On Dec. 31, the Los Angeles Timesreported that about 50% of Riverside County’s frontline workers declined the injection.

In an article published Jan. 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine, Kevin Schulman, MD, MBA, professor of medicine, and Stacy Wood, Ph.D., professor of marketing at Duke University, note the strong correlation that has been observed between a person’s political views and his or her willingness to comply with social distancing, mask wearing and other efforts to keep the virus in check. This correlation, they suggest, calls for different communication strategies in upcoming vaccine launches and coronavirus vaccination campaigns. They also explore principles of marketing that could help health care professionals and policymakers frame their messaging to encourage vaccine participation. Recently, science writer Krista Conger spoke with Schulman about their recommendations.

Why is it important to consider lessons from marketing when framing important public health messages?

Schulman: Encouraging 80% to 90% of people in this country of over 300 million people to be vaccinated with not one but two doses of vaccine is one of the largest communications challenges any of us have seen in our lifetimes. We need people across the political spectrum to pull together and get vaccinated. But we learned early in the pandemic that our communications strategies about prevention weren’t working. In many cases, masks haven’t been used effectively, for example. So how do we learn from that and adopt new strategies now?

As clinicians, we’re comfortable dealing with patients in front of us in the exam room, but populationwide questions, like who should be vaccinated, require us to pivot from one-to-one conversations to one-to-many. That’s where marketing and good messaging come in.

We all want this pandemic to end. We want the economy back and functioning well. We want everyone’s lives to be back to normal. Some piece of this message should resonate with everyone, regardless of who you voted for.

What can health care providers do to encourage vaccination?

Schulman: It’s important to understand human nature. When faced with three choices—like three possible cup sizes at your favorite coffee shop—most people will choose the one that is less extreme. Moderation feels safe. Framing a health care decision in similar terms can make people feel more comfortable. For example, rather than asking whether someone will get the vaccine, ask whether they are going to get it today, next week or wait until summer, emphasizing that summer is a less recommended option. Make getting the vaccination the normal, rather than an extreme, choice.

Another critically important piece is the power of personal stories to demonstrate the safety and importance of vaccination. If someone feels the vaccine is unsafe, tell them about someone in a similar situation who took the vaccine and is doing well. Frame the availability of the vaccination to certain groups as a mark of respect for their service to society, and use visible badges or bracelets to indicate to the public that you’ve been vaccinated because you’re a first responder, or a patient-facing employee, or an essential worker. Celebrate and normalize vaccination.

A former student of mine was the leader of the polio eradication efforts in Nigeria. To build confidence in rural villages, he would first take the vaccine himself in front of everyone. Then the village elders would take it, and then the elders’ children. Only then would the rest of the villagers take it. Our personal stories and examples are really important.

What are other things to keep in mind when speaking with someone who isn’t planning to be vaccinated?

Schulman: Be careful with numbers and statistics. It can be very challenging for many people to truly understand risks, odds ratios and other statistics that physicians are taught throughout medical school. Instead of talking about the rare risk of side effects, for example, convey concepts with analogies. If they want a guarantee that the vaccination will protect them from the disease, describe how the risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine is about the same as dying in a car crash. It’s not zero, but it’s very unlikely.

Another strategy in framing the need for vaccination is to find a common enemy, such as poverty, unemployment or the lockdowns we are now experiencing. Regardless of our political views or our beliefs about the virus, we all want those to end. Don’t talk down to them, or belittle them. Try to find a common ground.

Finally, it’s important to realize, as medical care providers, that we can’t be falsely reassured that everyone out there feels the way we do about the availability of vaccination. There are a lot of people who say they probably won’t or definitely won’t get the vaccine. But we need these people too. How can we reach and reassure these folks as well?

What can medical institutions like Stanford Medicine do to help in this effort?

Schulman: Creating a visible symbol of vaccination, like a wearable badge or a digital stamp for social media or Zoom meetings, can help spread awareness and excitement about the vaccine. It’s also important to gather and spread success stories on websites and across social media promoting the relief and increased freedom experienced by vaccine recipients. It’s clear that misinformation and reports of adverse events spread rapidly over platforms like Twitter and Facebook, so it’s important to actively combat those with positive, personal stories.

Finally, we also need to be aware of the many different communities we serve, and choose analogies and stories that are statistically appropriate and resonate with each audience and their cultural background. Taking note of what is most successful for each group, and sharing that information among our physicians, would provide a valuable resource when speaking to patients about vaccination.

Are efforts to achieve adequate vaccination rates for COVID-19 likely to be an ongoing challenge?

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A pandemic shift in finances: Prioritize, simplify, save

The pandemic has caused many people to reassess their priorities. There is talk of moving out of the city, simplifying life and saving more money.

“I’m not going to spend money like that anymore,” my millennial daughter told me recently, talking about past shopping sprees on handbags, jewelry, and yes, lattes. “Financial security is fun now.”

This from the same person who, until recently, has annually paid to upgrade to the latest version of smartphone ever since she purchased her first Juicy Couture Sidekick back in 2005.

But, as usual, my daughter alerted me to a growing trend.


In an annual survey, consumer research firm The Family Room LLC identifies prevailing trends in more than 150 psychological drivers. Determining changing priorities from year to year helps identify emotional hot spots among different age groups.

The latest results show dramatic shifts in attitudes, the company says, including a 14% increase over the previous year’s survey among parents in “making my life simpler and less complicated.”

Changes are happening in the way people save, too. Among U.S. adults who say they developed new financial habits during the pandemic, 58% said they plan to continue cutting back spending on “wants” in 2021, according to a recent NerdWallet survey. Many (36%) plan to continue building up general savings, and 30% will continue stashing money in emergency savings.

Here are some ideas for simplifying your life and morphing your money habits from carefree to careful.


Leo Babauta, 46, a writer in Southern California, is on a mission to help people “implement Zen habits in daily life.” He believes the pandemic has given us the gift of prioritization.

“When things are falling apart, it helps us realize what’s most important to us,” Babauta says. “This will help us to simplify our lives as we move forward because simplicity really boils down to two steps: Identify what is most important to you, and eliminate everything else.”

On Babauta’s blog at, he chronicles a long list of life changes through the years: quitting smoking, paying off debt, losing weight and taking control of his finances.

He stopped living paycheck to paycheck by addressing the things that turn us to bad financial habits in the first place: fear, anxiety and stress. Babauta says that the COVID outbreak has sparked him to be even more focused on “taking care of myself, meditating, walking and getting rest.”

“If we’re shopping too much, it’s because we’re stressed,” he says. “If we avoid budgeting, it’s because it causes us anxiety. Breaking the cycle is about choosing better habits to deal with that stress, like going for a walk or making a list, and then creating accountability and support to do the new habit every day, instead of the old habit.”


Simplifying life is a theme echoed by Richard Liu, 26, a marketing manager in Sydney, Australia.

“One of the ways I helped simplify my expenses is using a money tracking application. Since so many things are digital, making purchases online has been the norm, so being able to track spending is essential,” Liu says. He keeps tabs on his expenses, investments and net worth.

Like so many other COVID castaways, Liu says he is saving money on transportation due to less commuting—and on food by doing more of his own cooking. He also found ways to prepare for a post-pandemic financial rebound:

1. TRIM NONESSENTIAL RECURRING EXPENSES. These include things like monthly subscriptions and gym memberships. Make a list of them all. It’s possible you’ll find more than a couple you’ve either forgotten about or haven’t used in a while.

2. REFINANCE EXISTING DEBT WHILE INTEREST RATES ARE LOW. A mortgage, student loans or personal loans are all candidates for rate improvements. Perhaps even your car loan.

3. SHOP FOR BETTER DEALS ON EXISTING INSURANCE POLICIES. With people driving fewer miles, some vehicle insurance rates have fallen. Many insurers have even issued rebates to policyholders.

Liu says he’s combining these money-saving ideas with another important moneymaking component: He’s been taking on additional freelance work to help make extra cash.

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Saying ‘I understand’ makes a real difference, study shows

Showing support for a person who is upset over something they’ve experienced can help boost their positive feelings, new research shows.

Just saying “I understand why you feel that way” makes a difference, according to Ohio State University researchers who explored positive and negative emotions in more than 300 students.

Three experiments assessed the effects of both supportive and critical comments (validation and invalidation) on what clinicians call positive and negative affect. Positive affect refers to emotions and expression that foster curiosity, connection and flexible thinking. Negative affect engenders feelings of disgust, fear or sadness.

Students completed questionnaires about positive and negative affect at the start and end of the study. They also reported their overall mood during the experiments.

They were asked to think and write for five minutes about a time when they were intensely angry and then to describe those feelings out loud.

The researcher either validated or invalidated their angry feelings with phrases that included: “Of course you’d be angry about that,” or “Why would that make you so angry?”

When they thought or wrote about being angry, everyone had a drop off in positive affect. Those whose feelings were validated saw their moods restored to normal. Those who were not validated did not recover while talking with researchers and their moods generally got worse.

No significant difference was found in participants’ negative emotions. That speaks to the value of protecting positivity, said senior author Jennifer Cheavens, a professor of psychology.

“We spend so much time thinking about how to remedy negative emotions, but we don’t spend much time thinking about helping people harness and nurture positive emotions,” she said in a university news release. “It’s really important to help people with their depression, anxiety and fear, but it’s also important to help people tap into curiosity, love, flexibility and optimism. People can feel sad and overwhelmed, and also hopeful and curious, in the same general time frame.”

Researchers plan to apply the results in a therapy setting, but the findings are also valuable for relationships, Cheavens said.

“Validation protects people’s affect so they can stay curious in interpersonal interactions and in therapy,” she said. “Adding validation into therapy helps people feel understood, and when we feel understood we can receive feedback on how we also might change. But it’s not a uniquely clinical thing—often the same ways you make therapy better are ways you make parenting, friendships and romantic relationships better.”

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A green living environment encourages middle-aged people to do physical activity

Residential greenness encourages middle-aged people to do physical activity, according to a joint study by the University of Oulu and Oulu Deaconess Institute Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine, Finland. Living in a green environment especially increases light physical activity, particularly among men.

The study also sought to ascertain how much greenness there should be in the living environment to promote physical activity. Based on the results, physical activity increases the more green there is in the environment. Therefore, the results encourage communities to preserve and increase the natural environment as well as the green areas in residential areas.

The study subjects consisted of a total of 5,433 of Northern Finnish people born in 1966 and who were 46 years of age at the time of the study. Most of them lived in North Ostrobothnia. Daily physical activity was measured by wrist-worn Polar Active accelerometers. The greenness of the living environment was measured using geographic information systems (GIS). Residential greenness determined by satellite-imaging was used as a key method.

The study focused on the association between greenness and light physical activity in particular, as recent studies and new physical activity recommendations show that light physical activity also has health and well-being effects. The natural environment is also known to promote health and well-being. Activities in nature reduce blood pressure, improve resistance to disease and invigorate the mind. Furthermore, most people can do it with no effort. Although the natural environment is often found near homes, its effects on our physical activity are hardly known.

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Medical oddity ushers in discovery of unheard-of ‘immunity gene’ mutations—and a better way to screen them

An infant’s odd case of rare encephalitis not typically found in children led researchers to discover never before seen genetic mutations and a more accurate technique to examine the IRAK4 gene responsible for innate immunity.

The IRAK4 gene instructs the production of a protein that plays a key role in the early recognition and response to invading pathogens. Inherited mutations in this gene can cause an immune system disorder that leaves the body susceptible to recurrent infections of pus-forming pyogenic bacteria. Cases of IRAK4 deficiency are quite rare and only about 10 familial instances were identified so far in Japan.

A Hiroshima University-led research team detected two novel IRAK4 mutations, c.29_30delAT (p.Y10Cfs*9) and c.35G>C (p.R12P), in a 10-month-old boy with anti-N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (anti-NMDAR) encephalitis and human herpesvirus 6 (HHV6) reactivation. The p.Y10Cfs*9 and p.R12P variations were inherited from his father and mother, respectively. The research team found the mutations by using whole exome sequencing (WES), a method used to exhaustively examine the DNA for genetic disorders.

Anti-NMDAR encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, happens when the immune system attacks a vital brain receptor, causing psychiatric symptoms, involuntary movement, seizures, autonomic dysfunction, and central hypoventilation. It typically occurs in adult females suffering from ovarian tumor. Only a few cases of anti-NMDAR encephalitis have been so far reported in infants.

The researchers suspect that reactivation of HHV6 may have induced brain damage that triggered the production of anti-NMDAR antibodies.

“It is well known that anti-NMDAR encephalitis is triggered by HSV1 (herpes simplex virus) infection. The post-infectious autoimmune process that follows the HSV-induced brain damage is thought to be the cause of anti-NMDAR encephalitis,” the researchers said in their study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology.

“The coexistence of anti-NMDAR encephalitis and HHV6 reactivation in this patient may reveal an unknown manifestation associated with IRAK4 deficiency,” they said.

More precise method to analyze IRAK4 mutations

Although the researchers have yet to find direct evidence demonstrating a relationship between IRAK4 deficiency and the development of anti-NMDAR encephalitis or HHV6 reactivation, they were able to establish that mutations p.Y10Cfs*9 and p.R12P are damaging.

The researchers developed a novel NF-κB reporter assay that can precisely evaluate whether an IRAK4 mutation is harmful. The reporter assay allows them to investigate the activation of transcription factor NF-κB which regulates the body’s inflammatory responses.

“Using this system, we confirmed that both novel mutations are deleterious. The current case revealed the possibility that genetics can contribute to characterizing infantile cases with anti-NMDAR encephalitis,” study author Satoshi Okada, a professor at HU’s Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, said.

They resolved potential issues of misevaluation in a previously developed NF-κB reporter assay by using CRISPR gene-editing technology to remove the IRAK4 naturally expressed in the HEK293 cell—commonly used in studying gene function as it is much easier to transfect than other cell lines.

“HEK293 cells have endogenous IRAK4 expression. Their endogenous IRAK4 prevents the precise evaluation of the activity of introduced WT or mutant IRAK4,” Okada explained.

To date, there are so far 24 known mutations identified in patients with IRAK4 deficiency.

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Do you need a COVID-19 vaccine if you’ve already had the virus?

First COVID-19 vaccinations begin in US

Reaction from Dr. Marty Makary on ‘America’s Newsroom.’

The long-awaited moment has finally arrived: The first doses of the highly anticipated coronavirus vaccine are officially here, with the very first jab administered on Monday to a critical care nurse in New York.

The rollout of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine comes just days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) OK’d the companies’ request for emergency use, making it the first vaccine against the virus to receive such approval. 

“We do know that people who have had COVID will have immunity for a period of months to years. We just don’t know how long,” said Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer of the health care website WebMD, in an email to Fox News.

The FDA is set to meet next Thursday to review the Moderna vaccine. A third candidate, from Johnson & Johnson, which would require just one dose, is working its way through the pipeline. Behind that is a candidate from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. U.S. health experts are hoping a combination of vaccines will ultimately enable the U.S. to conquer the outbreak.

“This is the beginning of the end,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams of the vaccine rollout during an appearance on “Fox and Friends” on Monday. 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that the vaccine first go to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, with other groups — such as those 65 years of age and older and those with certain preexisting health conditions — likely to be included in the coming rounds. 

But a muddled question remains: should those who have already contracted the novel coronavirus and recovered from it receive the vaccine? In short: It’s not totally clear — yet. But from what we do know, many experts are suggesting yes. 

“We do know that people who have had COVID will have immunity for a period of months to years. We just don't know how long,” said Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer of the health care website WebMD, in an email to Fox News. 


He noted that if the novel virus, SARS-CoV-2, is like other coronaviruses, “it may be a couple of years,” he said of immunity. 

Indeed: a study published in November —  said to be the most comprehensive to date — suggested that immunity against the virus could last for at least six months, or perhaps a matter of years.

“We also think that immunity from the vaccine may be stronger than getting COVID and recovering,” added Whyte. 

“Given limited resources, I expect that people who have had COVID will be ‘last in line’ since they have some protection compared to people who have had none,” he continued. 


In a Dec. 13 post — made just one day before the widespread rollout of the Pfizer vaccine — the CDC said that people who have already contracted and recovered from the deadly virus “may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.” 

The federal health agency cited the “severe health risks” associated with the disease as a reason, as well as the possibility of re-infection. 

“At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long,” the CDC continued.

"We won’t know how long immunity produced by vaccination lasts until we have a vaccine and more data on how well it works,” it added. “Both natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are important aspects of COVID-19 that experts are trying to learn more about, and CDC will keep the public informed as new evidence becomes available.”


Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, spoke to this issue last week during a fireside chat with the Aspen Institue. 

When responding to a question if there could be any adverse side effects from taking the COVID vaccine after having contracted the virus, Messonnier said there was both a “theoretical response” and “practical response.”

“The scientists who know about this disease have worried about this — they don’t believe there is a serious harm [in taking the vaccine if you have already had and recovered from the virus],” she said. 

“Practically, in the clinical trial, I understand that they excluded people who were infected at the moment that they enrolled in the trial, that there were some people in the clinical trial who had COVID in the past and they had antibody levels — and that is certainly something that the scientist who are going to be reviewing this data are going to be looking for,” she continued. 


An estimated 10% of volunteers in the Pfizer and Moderna trials were thought to have been previously infected, though both companies didn’t actively recruit those who were symptomatic or had a known infection, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, previously said.

“Equally important as the question is, ‘What does this mean down the road? How do I know how long the vaccine is going to last and is it going to protect me forever?’ The truth is, we don’t know that — and this is not surprising. There are always things that we don’t know at the moment a vaccine is authorized and licensed. A clinical trial, as big as it is, is different [from] rolling out the vaccine to the entire public. That’s why it’s so important to study the vaccine — so we’re going to be carefully studying this vaccine to see how well it works in the public once implemented and also to be looking at those important questions,” added Messonnier during the fireside chat. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, had a more direct answer when speaking to this topic during a conversation with the Milken Institue last week. 


“The answer is yes,” Fauci said of COVID-19 survivors receiving the vaccine. “Once you get infected with the virus, it isn’t certain how long that protection will be or whether or not you amounted good protection. So it isn’t a contraindication against the vaccine if you’ve already been infected.” 

As of Monday morning, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, tallying more than 16,256,812 illnesses and at least 299,181 deaths.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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For Cancer Patients, Holiday Season Can Be a Stressful Time

SATURDAY, Dec. 12, 2020 — The holiday season can be difficult for people with cancer, especially with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

As they undergo treatment and cope with symptoms and side effects, they may struggle to get any pleasure from the season, according to the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

Emotional and physical fatigue can make it hard for cancer patients to take part in planning, decorating, cooking and socializing.

The institute offers holiday season advice for cancer patients.

First, make self-care a priority and know your limits. Be sure to get enough rest. Eat balanced meals, avoid excesses and get light exercise to ease stress. Do activities you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, crafting or taking a bath.

It’s normal to feel sad about how cancer affects your holiday season. Be patient, compassionate and gentle with yourself, and share your feelings with family, friends or a professional, or consider joining a support group, the cancer experts suggested.

Accept the help of family and friends who want to support you. This can significantly reduce your stress, they said in an institute news release.

If you have a loved one with cancer, follow their lead and be flexible about holiday traditions and expectations. Be aware that your loved one might not be up for usual holiday activities.

It’s also a good idea to offer to assist cancer patients with activities like holiday shopping, cooking or wrapping gifts. The most important thing is to listen to and support your loved one with cancer, the experts added.

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Feeling stressed about your role in life? For women, that could be a health risk

How a woman feels about her roles at home and at work during midlife can affect several factors that influence her heart health, new research shows.

The study, published Dec. 11 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found women who felt more stressed at their jobs or in their roles as caregivers, mothers and spouses had greater odds of having high blood pressure, being overweight and not eating a healthy diet.

Conversely, those who felt their roles were more rewarding were substantially more likely to be physically active and to not smoke. And that can potentially help their heart health, said lead author Andrea Leigh Stewart. The research was part of her doctoral dissertation at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The study analyzed whether the stress and reward of social roles for women between the ages of 42 and 61 would impact their ability to maintain good heart health, as measured by seven risk factors: body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, physical activity, diet and smoking. The measures are part of what the American Heart Association calls Life’s Simple 7.

The study found women who felt their roles were rewarding had 58% greater odds of engaging in at least two hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week and 30% higher odds of not smoking. Federal guidelines recommend adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity – or a combination of both.

The study also found that for every point higher a woman scored on her average stress rating, she had 13% lower odds of maintaining an ideal blood pressure, 10% lower odds of maintaining a BMI under 30, which is the clinical definition of obesity, and 18% lower odds of eating a healthy diet.

But whether the stress and rewards influenced a woman’s heart-healthy behaviors or if those behaviors affected her feelings about her roles remains unclear.

“Since this was an observational study, we can’t tell which direction this relationship is going,” Stewart said. Even for women with healthy habits, researchers don’t know if less stress and higher satisfaction played a role. “Do women with more rewarding social roles feel more motivated to participate in regular physical activity? Or are the social roles themselves more physically active?”

Many women in midlife would benefit from greater social support and resources to cope with stress, she said. “Women shouldn’t have to take on so much of a burden that their physical health is put at risk.”

Midlife can be a critical time for health, especially in women.

“In addition to physical and mental changes, women may be taking care of both children and aging parents, and their relationships with their spouses and jobs may also be changing,” Stewart said. “What happens to a person during these years has direct consequences for their health and well-being as they progress into old age, when they become more likely to experience physical illness or disability.”

Managing the risk factors represented by those seven health metrics helps maintain more than good heart health – it also may improve brain health and potentially prevent or delay the onset of dementia, according to an AHA advisory in 2017.

“Research over the past several years has shown that what is healthy for the heart is healthy for the brain,” said Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist and associate scientist in the department of neurology at the University of Miami. Gardener, who was not involved in the new study, has led prior research showing those who scored higher on the heart-healthy behaviors in Life’s Simple 7 exhibited better cognitive performance than those with fewer heart-healthy behaviors.

“This study provides some indication that the high-reward roles in our lives can buffer some of the negative health effects of stress,” Gardener said. “Rewarding roles are a really important avenue to think about because this is something that’s modifiable. For example, we can seek out more rewarding work opportunities that can counterbalance our stress.”

Doing so is more important now than ever, Gardener said. Changes to women’s roles and responsibilities brought on by quarantines and work-at-home arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic can exacerbate stress, reduce social supports and limit opportunities for physical activity.

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