Should 12-year-olds get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Kids as young as 12 can now receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, yet some parents are hesitant to get their children vaccinated. Parents might worry about giving a 12-year-old a vaccine that has not yet been approved for even younger kids. So we asked doctors who specialize in infectious diseases in children a question many parents have been wondering about: Should 12-year-olds get the COVID-19 vaccine? 

The answer from experts is a resounding yes. “I absolutely think they should get the vaccine, just like I think anyone who’s vaccine-eligible, which goes down to 12 now, should get vaccinated,” said Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. “Because it is, one, the best way they can protect themselves against this infection, and, two, it’s the best way to help protect the community from the spread of the virus.” 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people ages 12 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Indeed, the CDC recently urged parents to encourage their teens to get vaccinated, after an increase in hospitalizations was reported in this age group in March and April.

“At some point, parents will have to decide whether they want to get their kids a vaccine or whether they want them to get COVID,” Milstone said. “I know some people are nervous and they’re anxious. And hopefully, as more and more children are safely vaccinated, it will reassure them that this is a safer approach than risking your child having a complication from the infection itself.” 

On May 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in kids ages 12 to 15, Live Science previously reported. The FDA had already granted an EUA for use of the same vaccine in people ages 16 and older on Dec. 11, 2020. 

The vaccine is 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in 12- to 15-year-olds, according to a Phase 3 clinical trial with 2,260 participants, the results of which were published May 27 in The New England Journal of Medicine. Approximately half of the participants received the vaccine, and half received a placebo. There were no cases of confirmed COVID-19 in the participants who received the vaccine and 18 cases in those who received the placebo. 

The vaccine also has a “favorable safety and side-effect profile,” the authors wrote in their study. None of the vaccine recipients in the trial had any serious vaccine-related adverse events. Further, in a statement about the EUA, the FDA said it had determined that the benefit of the vaccine to children 12 and older outweighed the “known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in this population.”

Benefits of vaccination

Severe COVID-19 is uncommon in children, but that’s not to say COVID-19 hasn’t affected kids. By the end of April, there had been more than 3.7 million cases of COVID-19 in children in the United States, 15,456 child hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and 303 child deaths from COVID-19, according to a report by the AAP and the Children’s Hospital Association. Many of those hospitalizations involved intensive care, added Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases and chief of Stanford University School of Medicine’s division of pediatric infectious diseases.

“We really do think that to protect children themselves, it’s really important to get vaccinated and also to protect people in the community where children live from getting infections transmitted by children. So for both the children’s good and the good of the community, it is important,” said Maldonado, who is also one of the investigators on the trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in kids under 12. 

Another reason to get vaccinated is for protection against the long-term consequences of COVID-19, which remain to be determined, Milstone said. An example of a long-term consequence that has already been observed is multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which can develop in kids a month or two after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, he said. MIS-C is characterized by the inflammation of multiple organs, Live Science previously reported

“We don’t know whether there could be other late effects from this virus that just emerged a year and a half ago,” Milstone said. “So for right now, I think the surest way to protect ourselves is to get vaccinated.”

Furthermore, vaccination offers kids the chance to go about many of their activities without wearing masks. “The social benefits are important,” Maldonado said, adding that the new mask guidelines from the CDC indicate that vaccinated people can go without masks in most situations. “And it really would be helpful for children to have that opportunity,” Maldonado said.

‘Millions of kids’

Within a week following FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15, 600,000 kids within that age group had received their first doses, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told members of the media May 18, Reuters reported. As of that date, 4 million people 17 and under had been vaccinated, Walensky said. 

“Hopefully, the fact that millions of kids have gotten these vaccines safely in the United States will reassure people that this is a safe thing to do for their child,” Milstone said.

In a survey reported in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s May Vaccine Monitor, 41% of parents of kids ages 12 to 17 said that their children have either gotten at least one dose or that they will get vaccinated right away. 

Yet not all parents are eager for their kids to get vaccinated. In the same survey, 14% of parents said they would get their child vaccinated only if their school required it, and another 20% said they would “definitely not” get their 12- to 17-year-old vaccinated. Many parents said they are worried about vaccine side effects. 

Side effects and risks

The most common side effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in kids ages 12 to 15 are “tiredness, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever and joint pain,” according to the FDA statement about the EUA. These side effects are similar to those reported by vaccine recipients ages 16 and up, according to the statement. 

In a May 17 statement, the CDC said it had been investigating a few cases of myocarditis (heart inflammation), primarily in adolescents, within four days of receiving a vaccine, Live Science previously reported. And recently, data from the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) showed a higher than expected number of myocarditis cases in older adolescents and young adults, ages 16 to 24, within a month after receiving their second shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Researchers will continue to monitor this link as more young people are vaccinated to determine whether the vaccine is really the cause of these myocarditis cases, the ACIP said. It will be important to determine if there really are more cases among vaccinated people, Milstone said, because only then would it make sense to attribute the heart inflammation to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Given the large number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 in children, “we do think that the benefits of the vaccine will outweigh the risks, and that if people are concerned about myocarditis, they should know that the CDC and others are still investigating a potential relationship, but if there is a relationship, it will be rare,” Maldonado said. Out of millions of vaccinations given to people under 18, there have been just a few cases of heart inflammation. Those cases have been mild and have resolved quickly, she said. 

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Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in people under 18. However, Moderna announced in a May 25 statement that its vaccine is safe and effective in kids ages 12 to 17, based on the results of a Phase 2/3 clinical trial, and that it plans to submit its data to the FDA in June.

Originally published on Live Science.

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DR KAYE: How can I get rid of yellow gunge that covers my tongue?

How can I get rid of yellow gunge that covers my tongue? DR PHILIPPA KAYE answers your questions

I have suffered from a slimy yellow deposit on my tongue for nearly three years. Doctors have recommended antifungal tablets – no improvement. I’ve tried a different toothpaste, regular tongue scraping and mouthwash. Nothing has an effect. Any ideas?

Yellow discolouration on the tongue is usually due to a build-up of dead skin cells on the papillae – the tiny projections on the surface of the tongue that give it its characteristic rough texture.

This tends to happen when the papillae become enlarged or inflamed. Common infections such as colds and flu, acid reflux, smoking and even eating spicy foods might be triggers.

Yellow discolouration on the tongue is usually due to a build-up of dead skin cells on the papillae – the tiny projections on the surface of the tongue that give it its characteristic rough texture

Be honest, are you too old to drive? 

When is a person too old to drive? At the moment, when we reach 70 we’re required by law to renew our licence, and then again every three years afterwards. 

But this simply involves filling in a form confirming you can still see well and don’t have any medical conditions that would pose a risk.

If there is a health problem, GPs might be asked by the DVLA to make an assessment. 

But usually it’s a system that relies on the honesty and judgment of individuals to know whether or not they’re fit to drive.

Having heard a few stories recently about people reluctant to relinquish their licence, despite being quite doddery and frail, I have begun to wonder whether the system works. 

Deaths among elderly drivers increased by eight per cent between 2018 and 2019, according to figures from the Department for Transport.

Should there be a more stringent assessment of fitness to drive as we get older? Or is it totally up to us when we stop, if we’re in good health?

Write to us and let us know. 

It could also be because of a dry mouth – due to other medical conditions – or as a side effect of medication, particularly those containing bismuth such as Peptobismol, taken for heartburn. 

I know it sounds obvious, but a dry mouth is also commonly caused by not drinking enough water, so it’s worth considering this.

Bacteria that live in the mouth feed on the build-up of dead cells and over-grow, and they are what causes the yellow colour. 

It can worsen, becoming black or brown. It’s not a fungal infection, which is why antifungal treatments are ineffective.

We’d advise stopping smoking (if you do) and increasing fibre in your diet, which will help boost the good bacteria in the mouth.

A dentist may recommend specific mouthwashes, such as those containing hydrogen peroxide, as well as give advice on appropriate mouth care.

A yellow tongue could also be a sign of jaundice, which is a symptom of a number of conditions, such as gallstones, liver disease and pancreatitis, and these should be ruled out.

My son is 36 and has suffered from hand tremors for years. He struggles with everyday tasks and we are absolutely desperate to find help. Can you point us in the right direction?

Everyone’s hands probably tremble a bit, from time to time, and sometimes, you might notice it more than others. 

Being tired or stressed, and drinking too much caffeine can all make our hands shake more than usual.

But for those with a severe tremor, lifting a cup, dressing and doing up buttons and writing can become difficult or impossible. And this can have a significant impact on quality of life.

Everyone’s hands probably tremble a bit, from time to time, and sometimes, you might notice it more than others

We recently focused on the downsides of taking proton pump inhibitors, a type of acid reflux medication, long term – and received dozens of letters from readers who’d been taking them, in some cases for more than a decade. 

One reader said she’d no idea there was a risk of serious side effects like osteoporosis until she broke her wrist. 

Another, taking a whole range of medicines, had been told by her pharmacist to take it because ‘all older people should be on it’.

Understandably, she was concerned, having read that the drug wasn’t appropriate for long-term use. Now, having read many similar accounts, I am too.

There are rare stomach conditions that might require taking it continuously. And if a patient still has symptoms, we might extend prescriptions, but this would require monitoring.

The guidance is clear: patients should be on the lowest dose for the shortest time possible.

Have you been taking a proton pump inhibitor, such a Lansoprazole or Omeprazole, for longer? We need to know.

Tremors can be brought on by brain injury or stroke, or it can be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other health conditions such as liver disease and an overactive thyroid (hyperthryoidism).

It can also be a side effect from taking various medications, including the blue asthma inhaler –salbutamol – and certain psychiatric drugs. 

If all these things are ruled out as the cause, we call it essential tremor, a condition believed to affect one in 100 people.

The exact cause of essential tremors isn’t known, but it may be genetic as it tends to run in families and it’s often more noticeable in the dominant side and in the hands.

It’s more often seen in the over 65s and studies suggest people often suffer for years before seeking help. 

Treatments include the beta blocked propranolol – a medication used for various conditions such as heart disease, migraines and anxiety.

A referral to a neurologist might be needed, and the anti-seizure medication primidone, Botox injections and even brain surgery, or other procedures on the brain, could be offered.

I am 71, and have recently been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. It wasn’t a great shock, as I’ve suffered the symptoms for years, including weak muscles, coughing fits and problems swallowing. Recently I almost choked when something ‘went down the wrong way’ – now I’m scared I am going to choke to death one day.

Myasthenia gravis occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves that control muscles. 

It’s rare, and tends to occur in women over the age of 40 and men over 60.

Dr Ellie will be back soon 

In the meantime, her GP colleagues will be stepping in to answer your questions. 

Keep writing in to [email protected] 

Typically, people will first notice muscle weakness which tends to get worse with activity and improves with rest. It’s diagnosed using blood tests and scans. 

It can cause problems with chewing and swallowing, and this can lead to recurrent chest infections if food is inhaled.

Treatment options include medications such as pyridostigmine, which slows the immune attacks on the nerves and increases muscle strength, steroids and other immune suppressing treatments.

A thymectomy, to remove the thymus gland, might also be offered. 

The thymus produces the antibodies that attack the muscle-nerve connections, so taking it out can help.

With treatment, myasthenia gravis can go into remission, meaning that the symptoms resolve, either temporarily or permanently. 

Patients can then lead normal lives, with normal life expectancy, and the risk of issues such as choking are significantly reduced.

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Life-Changing Benefits You Get From Dancing

For the brain, age is nothing but a number. That is if one knows how to go about it. A recently published study in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal goes at length to demonstrate this.

The study shows that exercising has a profound effect in slowing down and even counteracting the telltale signs of aging on the human brain. Physical activity greatly helps in increasing the brain region that declines with age. Once dancing is introduced into the equation, it seems to have the greatest benefit in improving brain health. Apparently, massively dancing helps in refining behavioral changes.

For a while now, modern medicine has long touted music as a wonder drug. However, what was never apparent to anyone was how music and its tenets of rhythm and flow can greatly influence mental health through dance.

Shake a Leg!

Whether it’s learning the two-step, Fandango, or the Minuet, we can greatly insure our brains from aging by dancing. People over their 40s can attest to noticing a slowdown in the functioning of their brains through the years. This is a theory that neurologists have thrown weight behind in recent years.

The most affected aspect of brain functioning due to aging is usually the processing speed. People aged 40 and above are bound to perform worse than the younger generations when tasked with fast processing speed tests. Their response speeds will continually slow down with every passing decade too.

For the young, the messages are relayed at breakneck speed. Scans on the older generations have shown that white matter is not quite efficient in the transmission of information. Thus, messages are often delayed during transmission.

What’s the reason behind this? Scientists posit that this decline has a lot to do with the brain’s wiring. With time, the brain’s white matter experiences a concomitant fraying of its composition. It’s basically the effects of wear and tear. White matter is a brain constituent that is composed of dedicated cells and offshoots those relay messages between neurons in various regions of the brain.

The Reasoning

Dancing demands the use of many cognitive skills. This means that people need to take time to learn and master choreography over prolonged periods. As with everything, to be a true dance maestro, practice makes it perfect. The prolonged use of cognitive skills among the elderly can lead to enhanced white matter development. The thickening and increased wiring levels in the white matter region of the brain are responsible for this.

Physical activity can greatly slow down the aging effects on the brain, many studies indicate

Those who are advanced in age yet regularly ‘get down’ every once in a while, are likely to improve their cognitive skills. The ricochet effect will be an increase in processing speed, even with their perceived white matter weakness.

Age tends to create a lag in the structural composition of our brains. This is the chief reason why the old seem to have trouble thinking and remembering events. By dancing, we actively engage the brain leading to positive structural improvements inside it.

Explore

It takes two to tango! Finding a good dance partner and a routine can be quite helpful in improving dancing ability. However, all these things are greatly determined by the music genre that one feels at home with. It all comes down to personal preference.

There are numerous genres to explore out there in the world of dance. There’s Jazz, Cha Cha, Ballet, Zouk, Samba, Kizomba, Break Dancing, Disco, Bachata, and the Waltz, just to name a few.

To improve cognition, a variance can be made in the steps, formations, rhythms, and arm-patterns on a weekly basis. Having a dance instructor is a great way to learn and muster most of these moves to perfection. When taking dance lessons in multitudes, the competitive edge to the sessions can help improve the intensity of the routines.

Parting Shot

When we dance, we are able to become consumers of a certain culture

Many dance styles are shaped by the times and they often take cultural inspirations from communities of origin. Thus, by exploring a couple of moves, it will feel akin to traveling the world and taking in the culture. All this whilst exercising the cognitive brain functions. Two birds, one stone.

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Why Turmeric Acid Is a Sure Way to Get Paparazzi Snapping Our Smiles

In the age of Instagram models and fashion bloggers, more people want to look their best whenever the camera lens shutter and flash. Getting the right pose and caption is as important as ever. However, no matter how well dressed for an occasion one may be, sometimes, the greatest asset in any photo is the smile.

Revealing a set of well-stacked pearly whites for audiences is a sure fire way to get hits and adoration. It’s the cherry on top of the cake in your clad ensemble. Truthfully, smiling is a form of art in itself. The models in fashion industries know it, magazine editors too.

The advent of smartphones has revolutionized modern telephony. Most of our gadgets come equipped with high pixel cameras. Thus, at any instant, a photo op moment can arise. The need to experience a rush of dopamine in our brains is the primary motivator why millions flock on social media platforms to share their pictures with the online community. The tingling sensation of compliments and praises turns into a craving that needs to be filled with each passing day.

Today, we analyze the essence of smiles and the cheapest, healthiest and most convenient ways to get the ever-essential pearly whites.

Brushing Our Teeth

Common sense dictates that regularly-brushed teeth are a must if we aim to keep our oral hygiene in place. The best time to brush teeth is usually about 30 minutes before or after eating food. Doing so ensures that our teeth remain healthy and clean enough. This is because when we brush before or after meals, we not only brush off the gunk from previous meals but also clear bacterial remnants.

Often times, once we brush right before meals, we tend to feel everything we consume immediately after to taste weird. This weird aftertaste is usually a result of the scrubbed off bacterial remnants.

Tip: After eating acidic foods and beverages like orange juice, it is advisable to wait at least 30 minutes before brushing the teeth. The reason behind this school of thought is that acids tend to weaken the enamel in teeth. Rushing to brush our teeth right after consuming acids can inflict further damage to our oral area.

The Power of Turmeric

Turmeric is a wonderful food additive. It blends so perfectly with foods like curries by bringing enhanced color and flavoring that makes them stand out. For eons, we have all come to associate turmeric with this sole function plus a couple of others. Incredibly, it turns out that turmeric is fantastic when used to whiten teeth as well!

Most of us buy commercial toothpaste looking to improve our dental hygiene. Some of us have toothaches, plaque, and yellow teeth and seek to achieve improved health and appearance of our teeth by making a purchase of expensive toothpastes.

Despite the condition of your teeth, using turmeric paste is always a good idea!

The truth however is that most toothpastes only serve us for short-term benefits. Some of them have come to be associated with causing damage to our dental health by contributing to several oral infections, brittle teeth, gum irritation, toothaches, yellowing of the teeth and receding gums.

Typically, when such incidences happen, the go-to option for most of us is increasing the use of toothpastes by brushing their much more often. Whilst this is done in good faith, at times, we further worsen our conditions.

Luckily, Mother Nature is always there for us in such situations. Today, it delivers a safe alternative in the form of turmeric. Truthfully, it seems like a far-fetched idea. Who would ever come to believe that the substance that makes mustard yellow is an essential ingredient in whitening teeth?

Homemade, teeth-whitening turmeric paste

Concoction

All we need is one tablespoon of coconut oil, some peppermint oil and one tablespoon of turmeric powder. To make the perfect paste, we need to mix the ingredients properly. The next step would be to wet our toothbrushes and dip them in the mixture. From there, we should just brush as we would normally when using toothpaste. For effectiveness, experts recommend brushing our teeth with this paste on a daily basis until we attain our set objectives.

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Michigan officials investigating after 246 ‘fully vaccinated’ residents get COVID-19, 3 die: report

CDC: More than 4M vaccine doses administered in one day

Fox News medical contributor and Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Marc Siegel joins ‘America’s Newsroom’ to discuss new vaccine milestone.

As many as 246 Michigan residents who were “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19 later tested positive for the deadly bug — including three who have died, according to a new report.

The group — whose cases were reported between Jan. 1 and March 31 — tested positive at least two weeks after receiving the last dose of the inoculation, a health official told the Detroit News.

“Some of these individuals may ultimately be excluded from this list due to continuing to test positive from a recent infection prior to being fully vaccinated,” Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email Monday.

“These cases are undergoing further review to determine if they meet other CDC criteria for determination of potential breakthrough, including the absence of a positive antigen or PCR test less than 45 days prior to the post-vaccination positive test,” Sutfin said.

UK CORONAVIRUS VARIANT NOW REPORTED IN ALL 50 STATES

“In general, these persons have been more likely to be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic compared with vaccinated persons,” she said, adding that hospitalization data were available for 117 of the cases, while 129 were incomplete.

“Of the 117 with hospitalization data entered, 11 were hospitalized, 103 were not hospitalized, and three are reported as unknown,” Sutfin said.

The three people who died were all 65 or older and two “were within three weeks of completion of vaccination,” she said.

“While the majority of the population develops full immunity within 14 days of completion of their vaccine series, a small proportion appear to take longer to mount a full antibody response. CDC is actively working to better understand the risk characteristics of this group,” she added.

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

The newly released data emerged as COVID-19 cases in Michigan, which leads the nation in new cases by population, continue to rise and officials seek to boost jabs.

The state surpassed 700,000 cases Monday, according to the Detroit News.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she was increasing the state’s goal from 50,000 shots administered per day to 100,000 per day.

This article originally appeared on the NYPost.com

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Get the COVID vaccine that’s available to you—and don’t forget your flu shot

Yes, COVID vaccines are front and centre. But don't forget about your flu shot

As the nights begin to close in and the temperatures cool, it’s clear winter is approaching again.

With the winter season comes the risk of the usual winter lurgies, most of which result from respiratory infections. Some of the usual suspects include rhinoviruses (the common cold), RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and influenza.

This year, of course, we’re also contending with the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) could escape from its quarantine status and circulate alongside these other viruses.

We don’t know yet how the winter season will play out in terms of respiratory viruses. But one important way we can prepare for it is by getting a flu vaccine.

What will winter bring?

In 2020 there was a paucity of seasonal winter viruses. Only rhinoviruses circulated widely, while the others were either vastly reduced (for example, we saw a very minimal flu season) or very delayed (RSV circulated later than usual in some states until spring or even summer).

So what’s going to happen in 2021? Will it be similar to 2020, or will it be like 2019, which saw very high levels of influenza? Or perhaps something completely different?

We simply don’t know for sure. With COVID-related restrictions having eased in all Australian states and territories—albeit to varying degrees—people are free to move around, come together in crowds, and attend schools, universities and offices.

These activities promote the transmission of respiratory viruses, which explains why we saw such different trends in the usual winter lurgies last year, when we were mixing much less.

But the virus circulation needs to start from somewhere. While some viruses are happy to circulate domestically, like rhinoviruses and adenoviruses, others, like influenza, are largely transported into the country each year. So it’s possible that if Australia’s international borders remain closed through winter, we may again have a less serious flu season in 2021.

On the other hand, if borders are opened and the flu does take hold, people might have reduced immunity to the viruses given the missed season last year, and be more susceptible.

A vaccine is your best bet

In the face of this uncertainty, the usual adage prevails: “prevention is better than cure.” The best measure we can take is to get our influenza vaccine.

The flu vaccines available in Australia in 2021 under the National Immunization Program are:

  • for children aged six months to five years—Vaxigrip Tetra (Sanofi) and Fluarix Tetra (GSK)
  • for children and adults aged five to 64 years—Vaxigrip Tetra, Fluarix Tetra and Afluria Quad (Seqirus)
  • for adults aged 65 and over—Vaxigrip Tetra, Fluarix Tetra, Afluria Quad and Fluad Quad (Seqirus).

The Fluad Quad vaccine, which is slightly different and more potent than the others, is the preferred vaccine for the over-65 age group. It contains a component called an adjuvant, which helps boost the immune response in elderly people.

This season’s flu vaccines are made up of four different viruses—two influenza A types and two influenza B types. The 2021 vaccines have two changes (both in the influenza A types) from the 2020 influenza vaccines.

It’s very hard to predict in advance which strains will circulate, but the World Health Organization provides guidance on this every year, and recommends which components of the vaccine should be updated accordingly.

All the influenza vaccines used in Australia are inactivated virus vaccines, meaning the virus contained in the vaccine doesn’t replicate, so you can’t get the flu from the vaccination.

In addition to the flu vaccines under the National Immunization Program, a new vaccine called Flucelvax Quad (Seqirus) is available through retail outlets, like pharmacies, for people aged nine years and older.

This vaccine is the first influenza vaccine available in Australia which has been produced entirely in cell culture, rather than chickens eggs. This new vaccine may have some benefits over the traditional egg-based vaccines for certain people, for example those with severe egg allergies.

How effective are flu vaccines?

Flu vaccines are only moderately effective at preventing infection with influenza. On average, they offer around 60% protection across the population, although rates can often be higher in children.

While this is lower than we’d like, it’s the best measure we currently have to protect us from influenza infections. There’s also evidence it reduces the more severe consequences of being infected, such as being hospitalized or dying.

Scientists are continuing to work on new flu vaccines that may offer greater protection.

The practicalities

This year’s vaccines are already becoming available through pharmacies and some GP clinics, and will be available under the National Immunization Program from GPs and other providers, such as workplace immunization programs, in April.

The flu season generally starts in earnest around June, so it’s reasonable to get your vaccine any time between now and then.

Under the National Immunization Program, some groups are eligible to receive the influenza vaccine for free. These include:

  • adults 65 and older
  • all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians six months and older
  • children aged six months to five years
  • pregnant women
  • people with certain medical conditions.

For people who don’t fall into these groups, the vaccine costs as little as A$14.99.

Influenza vaccines are being rolled out this year alongside the COVID-19 vaccines. With both programs operating at the same time, there may be some confusion and logistical challenges.

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Why we’ll get COVID booster vaccines quickly and how we know they’re safe

covid

The United States’ drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said last week COVID vaccines updated for variants won’t need to go through full randomized controlled clinical trials.

The booster shots will only be required to undergo initial testing to check they are safe and produce an immune response. They won’t need to go through lengthy “phase 3” efficacy trials which would normally enroll tens of thousands of participants.

The European Medicines Agency hasn’t published formal guidelines, but has taken the same position. Chair of the agency’s vaccine evaluation team, Marco Cavaleri, told Reuters: “We will ask for much smaller trials, with a few hundred participants, rather than 30,000 to 40,000.” The focus would be primarily on safety and immune response data.

This is encouraging news, because it means we could get access to booster shots much more quickly than if they went through full trials. And because drug companies will have to prove they’re using the same technology and manufacturing process as the original vaccines, we can still be assured they’ll also be safe.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not yet confirmed whether it’ll do the same, but history tells us we can probably expect it to follow suit.

Why do we need boosters?

Variant strains of the virus have been detected around the world, including those originating in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. People infected with these variants have been found in Australian hotel quarantine, and the B.1.1.7 strain, first found in the UK, has escaped the quarantine system several times.

For those tested, the current crop of vaccines still perform relatively well against the B.1.1.7 strain.

And data suggest most COVID vaccines will still be somewhat useful in preventing hospitalization and death from these variants.

However, efficacy against mild to moderate illness, and against transmission of the virus, has likely dropped off sharply against some of these variants.

For example, preliminary data suggest vaccine efficacy for AstraZeneca’s vaccine dropped to just 10% against mild-moderate illness from the B.1.351 variant which originated in South Africa. Efficacy of Novavax’s shot slid from 89% to 60% against this variant. These data were from small trials and more studies are needed, but it’s still very concerning.

We don’t have solid real world data yet about the performance of the Pfizer vaccine against the B.1.351 variant.

Why don’t we need full trials again?

Drug companies have flagged the need to develop updated booster shots to cover these new variants, which would involve tweaking their sequences.

Some scientists were worried this would mean drug companies would have to go through full randomized controlled clinical trials, including large phase 3 efficacy trials, to get these booster shots to market. These phase 3 clinical trials include many thousands of volunteers and the primary aim is to determine if the vaccine can prevent people from getting the disease.

By the time these trials were completed, it may be too late to control outbreaks caused by variants, and new variants may emerge that we’d need coverage for. In a pandemic, we don’t have the luxury of time.

But the FDA has dispelled this fear. The drug regulator seems most interested in ensuring any booster shots are safe and the manufacturing process hasn’t been modified from the original vaccines it approved.

The boosters will still require smaller trials to show they’re safe and generate an immune response. The trials typically involve a few hundred people and would examine the percentage of vaccinated volunteers who make antibodies to the variants, as well as the strength of the immune response.

This would be similar to what’s done for annual flu shots, although not exactly the same. We get very different flu strains circulating every few years, but current COVID-19 vaccines and variant “boosters” could be sufficient to use for several years—we don’t know yet.

The FDA also indicated boosters won’t necessarily need to undergo animal testing before progressing to human testing, which will also save time. But this may be encouraged if results from human trials are ambiguous.

How do we know they’ll be safe and effective?

Any potential side effects from a vaccine are mostly based on how the vaccine is made, the technology and how it’s delivered.

If drug companies keep all these factors the same, and only make minor sequence changes to cover variants, then we can expect the boosters to still be very safe vaccines.

The US and EU drug regulators would like to see data where the booster is given to people who’ve already had an original COVID vaccine, given this will be the likely scenario for most people receiving a booster shot by the time they’re approved.

The boosters will probably also be tested in people who haven’t had any COVID disease or vaccine. This is to ensure the boosters can induce strong immune responses like the original vaccine.

When required, the TGA will independently review all of this data. It will also likely seek advice from internal and external experts.

It’s also unclear when booster shots will be available or if they will be necessary in the short term. Melbourne-based biotech company CSL, which is producing the AstraZeneca vaccine onshore, said this week booster shots to cover coronavirus variants probably won’t be available until the end of the year.

US pharmaceutical company Moderna has already sent a new COVID vaccine booster shot for phase 1 testing, to target the B.1.351 variant. Pfizer is also planning to develop a booster to cover this variant, either as a third dose or a reformulated vaccine.

New variants will continue to arise, but the best chance we have of stopping or slowing this process is by continuing public health measures to ensure as few people as possible become infected.

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Significant drop in Australians who will get COVID jab

vaccine

There has been a substantial increase in COVID-19 vaccine resistance and hesitancy among Australians, according to new analysis from the Australian National University (ANU).

The survey of more than 3,500 Australians is the only longitudinal study available tracking individuals from prior to the pandemic, and the only study that doesn’t rely solely on people volunteering to participate.

It is the most robust survey data available on whether or not someone expects to get vaccinated, finding a large decline in the number of people who are likely to take a vaccine once it becomes available.

The findings, based on Australia’s longest running study of Australians’ experiences of and attitudes to the coronavirus, come as Australia begins rolling out the first dosages of the Pfizer vaccine.

According to the study, more than one-in-five Australians (21.7 percent) said in January 2021 that they probably or definitely will not get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once health officials notify the public that one is available.

“This is a large and significant increase from the 12.7 percent of Australians who said the same thing in August 2020 when vaccines were still being developed and trialed,” study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said.

“We also found more than three-in-10 Australians, some 31.9 percent, became less willing to get a vaccine between August 2020 and January 2021.

“In contrast, less than one-in-10 Australians, 9.9 percent, became more willing to get vaccinated.”

The largest single change in willingness was the 19.7 percent of Australians who went from being ‘definitely willing’ to get a COVID vaccine to ‘probably wiling’ to get one.

Between August 2020 and January 2021, the number of Australians who said they won’t get the vaccine jumped from 5.5 percent to 8.4 percent.

The analysis shows the groups who became less willing to take a vaccine were females, Indigenous Australians, those who speak a language other than English at home and those who have not completed Year 12.

“These population groups are arguably the most urgent focus of any public health campaigns to improve willingness,” Professor Biddle said.

“This is because they have low willingness to start with, but also because there is the potential opportunity to bring their willingness back to what it was in August 2020 when there was a smaller gap with the rest of the Australian population.

“There is a real need to consider a significantly enhanced public health campaign in languages other than English.

“There is also a need to convey information to the general public in a way that is informative, reassuring and salient for those without a degree.

“We have been tracking Australians’ attitudes to getting a vaccine for months now, giving us powerful insights into what potential uptake will be like.

“Worryingly, as we get closer to administering a vaccine more Australians have cooled on the idea of getting one. The challenge now is to work out why and how we can address that.”

The study also provides key insights into why Australians say they won’t or are less likely to take a vaccine. These include people thinking too much is being made of COVID-19, low confidence in hospitals and those who are not optimistic about the next 12 months.

“Clearly our leaders, policymakers and health experts need to work out why more Australians are unlikely to get a vaccine, particularly as it is about to be administered across the country,” Professor Nicholas Biddle said.

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Biden predicts all Americans can get COVID vaccine by August

Biden predicts all americans can get COVID vaccine by august

Every American who wants a coronavirus vaccine should be able to get one by the end of July, President Joe Biden said Tuesday.

His message, delivered during a town hall meeting hosted by CNN, was more optimistic than one he delivered last week when he warned that logistical hurdles would most likely mean that many people would still not have been vaccinated by the end of the summer, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Tuesday revised his own optimistic estimate from last week, when he predicted the beginning of an “open season” for vaccines by April, the Times reported.

“That timeline will probably be prolonged, maybe into mid-to-late May and early June,” he said in an interview with CNN.

At a time when Americans are keen for life to return to normal, Biden tried on Tuesday night to reassure the public.

While the president said he did not want to “overpromise,” he said at one point that “by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today.” At another point he predicted that by the time the next school year starts in September, the nation would be “significantly better off than we are today,” the Times reported.

The White House also said Tuesday that states would begin receiving 13.5 million doses each week—a jump of more than 2 million doses.

The increases were welcomed by state officials desperate to inoculate more vulnerable Americans before more contagious variants of virus become dominant, the Times reported.

The Biden administration has been working with Pfizer to get the company more manufacturing supplies through the Defense Production Act, the Times reported. The administration announced last week that Pfizer and Moderna, the other maker of a coronavirus vaccine authorized in the United States, would be able to deliver a total of 400 million doses by the end of May, well ahead of schedule.

The latest boost in supply came partly because Pfizer will now get credit for six doses instead of five per vial, a White House spokesman said, while two-thirds of the boost came from increased output. Officials also now say there is an ample supply of the specialized syringes needed to extract the extra Pfizer dose.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that with the latest increase, vaccine deliveries had jumped 57 percent since Biden was inaugurated, the Times reported.

Winter storm slows US COVID vaccine rollout

Biden’s prediction came as winter storms continued to disrupt vaccine distribution. Clinics were closed and shipments were stalled in states where the pace of vaccinations had already lagged behind the national average. Vaccine appointments were rescheduled or canceled from Texas to Kentucky, the Times reported.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Times that the government was projecting “widespread delays” in vaccine shipments and deliveries in the coming days, because weather was affecting a FedEx facility in Memphis and a UPS facility in Louisville, both vaccine shipping hubs.

“CDC and federal partners are working closely with the jurisdictions, as well as manufacturing and shipping partners, to assess weather conditions and help mitigate potential delivery delays and cancelations,” the spokeswoman said.

The cancelations are just the latest hurdle in the vaccine rollout, which had finally been ramping up in recent weeks. An average of about 1.7 million people have been getting a shot each day, the Times reported.

Many of the closures and cancelations have been in the South, where the storm sent temperatures plummeting to record-breaking lows. The storm’s impact stretched beyond the South, however. Health officials in Washington State, where the storm has come and gone, said they are dialing down vaccination plans for later this week because they expect delays in delivery of doses, the Times reported. And Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that vaccine distributions run by the state would be canceled for the rest of the week.

“Missouri is experiencing severe winter weather that makes driving dangerous and threatens the health and safety of anyone exposed to the cold,” he said in a statement. “These conditions will also likely delay some vaccine shipments. We want to protect the safety of everyone involved in the mass vaccination events, from the patients being vaccinated to the volunteers who generously support these events.”

The vaccination delays are likely to grow as the storm continues to move across the country. Power outages have affected millions of people in Texas, Oregon, Virginia, Kentucky and elsewhere, the Times reported.

In Alabama, hospitals have closed vaccination clinics, as have more than two dozen county health departments. In New Hampshire, state officials said all Tuesday vaccination appointments would be canceled or rescheduled.

New evidence that British COVID variant could be more deadly

More evidence has emerged that suggests a coronavirus variant already known to spread faster is also likely to be more deadly.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which is thought to have originated in Britain, is already firmly entrenched in America and could soon become the dominant strain, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” she said “we know now that, or we estimate now that about 4% of disease in this country is related to B.1.1.7,” she said. “And we have projections that it may be the dominant strain by the end of March.”

As of Tuesday, there were 1,277 cases of the British variant found in 42 U.S. states, according to the CDC.

Walensky’s warning came on the heels of research released by British scientists that shows B.1.1.7 might be more likely to trigger more lethal cases of COVID-19.

“The overall picture is one of something like a 40 to 60 percent increase in hospitalization risk, and risk of death,” Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and scientific adviser to the British government, told the Times.

Vaccines already being distributed in the United States are believed to be effective against B.1.1.7, so Walensky said it’s imperative that the massive rollout already underway continues. At the same time, and in the face of other new variants, other steps are underway, she told CBS.

Pharmaceutical companies are tweaking their research to fight the B.1.1.7 variant, she said, and the CDC is monitoring how people who’ve already gotten the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are faring.

“But we’re not waiting for that,” she said. “We’re doing the science to scale up different vaccines in case we either need bivalent vaccines, that is a vaccine that has two different strains, or booster vaccines. Both are happening.”

As of Wednesday, more than 55.2 million Americans had been vaccinated, with 71.6 million doses distributed. More than 15 million people have gotten their second shot, according to the CDC.

A global scourge

By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 27.8 million while the death toll neared 488,000, according to a Times tally. On Wednesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 3.5 million cases; Texas with more than 2.5 million cases; Florida with over 1.8 million cases; New York with more than 1.5 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.1 million cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count was more than 10.9 million by Wednesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had nearly 10 million cases and nearly 241,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.

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