Will we need COVID-19 booster shots? Study considers more vaccinations

vaccine

As people across Maryland and the country seek their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Jean Armstrong got her third.

The Baltimore County public school administrator was one of the first people to get a pair of shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine last May as studies began to test its safety and efficacy. She returned this week to the University of Maryland in Baltimore to help researchers understand whether a booster could continue to keep her from getting seriously sick from the coronavirus.

“I’m a believer in vaccines and think they work, and it’s important to be involved,” Armstrong said of her willingness to be vaccinated again. “It seems like realistically we have to be prepared for boosters and vaccines for variants.”

Researchers and vaccine manufacturers are actively preparing for the possibility that people will need to get another vaccination or regular ones to keep at bay the current coronavirus or a mutated and more nefarious version.

The vaccines now approved for use are considered highly effective at staving off infection, particularly severe infection, but no one knows how long immunity lasts. It’s widely believed that it wanes at least somewhat over time.

And data is beginning to show that the vaccines are at least somewhat less potent against emerging variants. There are several now widely circulating, including ones discovered first in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom. Others with potentially concerning mutations have been logged in the United States in California and most recently in New York.

The research seeks to answer some questions and “grease the wheels” for others, said Dr. Kirsten E. Lyke, who is helping oversee the study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health.

Specifically, Lyke, director of the Malaria Vaccine and Challenge Unit, said researchers will look at immunity before and after a booster, which is a regular dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They also will assess how well people tolerate another shot.

Twenty-four hours after her third shot, Armstrong, a Harford County woman in her 40s, said she’s not had side effects except a bit of arm soreness. She had more flu-like symptoms from the first two shots she received last May.

Federal regulators gave the Pfizer vaccine authorization for emergency use in December after a remarkably speedy development period of just months rather than years. It continues to be evaluated for full approvals.

A similar vaccine from Moderna also has been authorized and a third from Johnson & Johnson is expected to get the go-ahead for use within days.

All are considered highly effective against severe disease. Researchers say, however, that the public may need another shot eventually. People may even need to have annual shots, as they do for the flu.

The vaccine makers are preparing for that possibility now, as well as moving quickly to adapt the vaccines for variants.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offered guidance this week to assure the public that the adapted vaccines will be tested, but the process won’t be delayed. The vaccine makers will be permitted to do small-scale studies of maybe a few hundred people to test the upgrades, rather than repeat large studies with tens of thousands of people for each vaccine.

“We know the country is eager to return to a new normal and the emergence of the virus variants raises new concerns about the performance of these products,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, in a statement. “By issuing these guidances, we want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts.”

Pfizer and Moderna both said this week that work is underway.

Pfizer said Thursday that it was studying a third dose in its initial phase 1 participants, who include Armstrong, to evaluate the safety and tolerability of a booster shot of the existing vaccine. The vaccine was initially tested at four sites, including Maryland.

That study also will inform efforts to adapt the vaccine to address emerging variants, said officials with the New York-based pharmaceutical giant.

“While we have not seen any evidence that the circulating variants result in a loss of protection provided by our vaccine, we are taking multiple steps to act decisively and be ready in case a strain becomes resistant to the protection afforded by the vaccine,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO, in a statement.

“This booster study is critical to understanding the safety of a third dose and immunity against circulating strains,” he said.

Moderna is following a similar path, and its officials said this week that the Massachusetts drugmaker already had sent a vaccine adapted for the variant found in South Africa to the National Institutes of Health for study.

The officials said the company would update its vaccine as many times as necessary.

“As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO, in a statement. “Leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic.”

At the University of Maryland, the first few people out of the hundreds who initially participated in the phase 1 trial got their third dose this week

All of those participants are being followed for more than two years as part of the FDA’s final approval process for the vaccine. Armstrong said she was surprised to be called back already for another shot, but wanted to help researchers as the pandemic evolved.

Despite her discomfort with needles, she had agreed to participate in another study years before, one that produced a vaccine for the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009. She volunteered again last year.

Scientists don’t know why some people have more adverse reactions than others. The previous COVID-19 shots had given Armstrong chills, body aches and a fever, which are typical and normally short-lived responses.

“I was pleasantly surprised this time,” she said. “It’s 24 hours later and my arm hurts just a little bit. It’s been easy so far.”

Lyke said that as researchers were searching initially for the right vaccine makeup and dose, participants were given any of four versions of the Pfizer vaccine in three different amounts. Others were given a placebo, but they have since been fully vaccinated.

She said all the versions induced an immune response in people, but by June researchers had narrowed the vaccine and dose to the most effective and best-tolerated one.

Messenger RNA vaccines had long been studied for infectious diseases and even cancer, but the technology had never been approved for use. Instead of weakened or dead virus, mRNA vaccines deploy a bit of the virus’ genetic code to instruct cells to produce more of the viral protein, which in turn induces an immune response. The resulting antibodies fight the virus when they later come into contact with it.

All participants getting a booster shot at Maryland are at least six months past their second vaccination. Researchers took blood before and after the latest shots to determine the effects.

“If the immune response waned we’d know they needed a booster,” Lyke said. “And we wanted to see how they would respond to a booster, meaning they tolerated it and had another good immune response.”

She said it’s unknown whether anyone will need a booster, will need seasonal boosters or will need adapted shots for variants.

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Celebs Who Hid Baby Bumps Amid Quarantine: Halsey and More

Under wraps! Pregnant celebrities, from Nicki Minaj to Lily Rabe, have hidden their baby bumps in quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The rapper hinted that she was pregnant with her and husband Kenneth Petty’s first child in May 2020 when she tweeted, “Lmao. No throwing up. But nausea and peeing non stop. Omg what do u think this means guys???? Lmaooooooooooo.”

The Grammy nominee added that she would share a photo of her budding belly “in a couple months,” explaining, “The world ain’t ready yet.”

True to her word, the “Good Form” rapper debuted her baby bump two months later. “#Preggers,” Minaj wrote via Instagram in July. “Love. Marriage. Baby carriage. Overflowing with excitement & gratitude. Thank you all for the well wishes.”

In the maternity shoot pictures, the Queen Radio host cradled her bare stomach. Later that same month, she showed her pregnancy progress while dancing to “Move Ya Hips” in an Instagram video.

Prior to her reveal, Minaj was vocal about her plans to become a mother. “[My biggest fear] is that I’ll become so consumed with work that I’ll forget to live my personal life to the fullest,” she told Complex in 2014. “If I’m done with my fifth album and I don’t have a child by then, no matter how much money I have, I would be disappointed, as a woman, because I feel like I was put here to be a mother. … I definitely will be married before I have my baby. I want to make sure I do it in that order. I’ve always felt like that since I was young; my mother always put that in my head.”

As for Rabe, the American Horror Story alum secretly welcomed her second child with boyfriend Hamish Linklater in June 2020 after keeping her pregnancy under wraps. The actress showed her baby bump in a throwback photo in August, writing via Instagram: “Looking back at a day in May. #wearamask.”

The New York native and Linklater have yet to share their little one’s name, in addition to their eldest daughter’s moniker. As for the Newsroom alum’s daughter with his ex-wife, Jessica Goldberg, the teenager’s name is Lucinda.

Keep scrolling to see how more celebrity parents kept their pregnancy news hidden during the COVID-19 spread, from How to Get Away With Murder’s Karla Souza to Ed Sheeran’s wife, Cherry Seaborn.

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U.K. COVID variant may be more lethal, and could become dominant U.S. strain by March

U.K. COVID variant may be more lethal, and could become dominant U.S. strain by march

(HealthDay)—Even as efforts to vaccinate Americans gain steam, 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.”

Her 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.

As reported Saturday by The New York Times, the new study was posted Friday on a U.K. government website. The scientists stressed that, as has always been the case, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases are not fatal, and their new research is based on only a small proportion of deaths in Britain.

Still, “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 on Saturday.

B.1.1.7 is known to have spread to at least 82 countries and is thought to be transmitted between 35 and 45 percent more easily than other variants of coronavirus already found in the United States, the Times said.

Newer data

The British team first signaled more than a month ago that they thought there was a “realistic possibility” that B.1.1.7 might also be more lethal, based on a small amount of preliminary data. With more data now in hand, they say they have a 55 to 75 percent degree of confidence in the latest finding.

Exactly why the variant causes more death isn’t clear. It could cause higher viral loads within the body, making treatment tougher. Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government, told the Times the variant may also “transmit disproportionately in settings with frailer people,” such as nursing homes, because it is more transmissible.

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.”

In the meantime, she said, Americans need to continue with tried-and-true ways of curbing viral spread such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

“So what I would say is now is the time to not let up our guard. Now is the time to double down, still with 100,000 cases a day, still with over two and a half times the cases we had over the summer,” Walensky said.

Big boost in vaccine supply

The United States will have enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 300 million Americans by summer, President Joe Biden announced Thursday.

During a tour of the National Institute of Health’s Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, where the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was created, Biden said his administration had secured the delivery of 600 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines over the next five months, the Associated Press reported.

“We’re now on track to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July,” he announced.

The country is already on pace to exceed Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, with more than 26 million shots delivered during his first three weeks in office, the AP reported.

“That’s just the floor,” Biden said. “Our end goal is beating COVID-19.”

If a third coronavirus vaccine, from drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, is approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the end of February, the pace of vaccinations should accelerate even further.

Biden emphasized that his administration is doing everything possible to increase vaccine supply and the country’s capacity to deliver injections into arms.

To date, the Biden administration has deployed active-duty troops to man mass vaccination sites in several states, as it looks to lay the groundwork for increasing the rate of vaccinations once more supply is available.

On the NIH tour, Biden was shown the lab bench where researchers sequenced the coronavirus and developed the precursor of the Moderna vaccine, the AP reported.

Just days after Chinese scientists shared the genetic blueprint of the new coronavirus in January of last year, the NIH had sent instructions to Moderna to brew up doses and scientists were already setting up the key lab and animal tests that would eventually prove they were on the right track, the AP reported.

All Americans could get vaccine by April: Fauci

Any American will be able to start getting vaccinated by April, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert predicted earlier this month.

During an interview on the “Today Show,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said that month will be “open season” for vaccinations, as increased supplies of the vaccines will allow most people to get shots to protect against COVID-19.

Fauci, who serves as science adviser to President Joe Biden, added that the rate of vaccinations will greatly accelerate in the coming months. Why? He credited forthcoming deliveries of the two approved vaccines, the potential approval of a third vaccine and measures taken by the Biden administration to increase capacity to deliver doses.

“By the time we get to April,” it will be “open season, namely virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated,” Fauci noted.

Despite that good news, he cautioned it will take “several more months” to actually deliver shots to Americans, but herd immunity could be achieved by late summer. As of Monday, more than 70 million doses have been distributed, while nearly 53 million Americans have been vaccinated. More than 14 million people have gotten their second shot.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated Americans can now skip quarantines if they are exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, new federal guidelines say.

“Fully vaccinated persons who meet criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidance posted Wednesday on its website.

There was one caveat: At least two weeks must have passed since the second shot, because it takes that long to build full immunity. But the CDC says it’s not known how long protection lasts, so people who had their last shot three months ago or more should still quarantine if they are exposed or show symptoms, the agency added.

“This recommendation to waive quarantine for people with vaccine-derived immunity aligns with quarantine recommendations for those with natural immunity,” the CDC said. People who have been vaccinated should still watch for symptoms for 14 days after they have been exposed to someone who is infected, the agency added.

That doesn’t mean vaccinated people should stop practicing social distancing, the CDC noted.

“At this time, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often, following CDC travel guidance, and following any applicable workplace or school guidance, including guidance related to personal protective equipment use or SARS-CoV-2 testing,” the agency said.

A global scourge

By Monday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 27.6 million while the death toll passed 485,000, according to a Times tally. On Monday, 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 nearly 10.9 million by Monday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 9.8 million cases and more than 239,000 deaths as of Monday, the Hopkins tally showed.

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New York sisters hope to help more than 200 seniors sign up for COVID-19 vaccines

New York sisters help seniors get vaccinated

Ava and Lily Weinstein tell ‘Fox and Friends Weekend’ they created a service to help seniors sign up for COVID-19 vaccine after assisting their own grandparents.

Two sisters from New York have teamed up to help senior citizens in their community get vaccinated.

Ava and Lily Weinstein started a service to help seniors register online and make appointments to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The two teenagers were inspired to launch their business after their own grandparents had trouble navigating the system to register for the vaccines.

“We were helping out our grandparents and it was very hard and difficult for them…many people don’t have kids or grandchildren to help them…We want to get out of this pandemic as soon as we can…we wondered how other people are supposed to do this,” Ava Weinstein told “Fox and Friends Weekend” on Saturday.

Lily Weinstein said she and her sister started to reach out to people in the community by creating and handing out fliers in front of their grandparents’ apartment building.

“It’s the best feeling in the world. They are so nice and they just love that we are so ready to help them,” Lily Weinstein said.

Ava and Lily Weinstein said their grandparents happily received their first coronavirus vaccine and have been doing well. They are expected to receive their second shot by the end of February.

“Anybody can call us at 65 or older and eligible for the vaccine… in New York, we’re just primarily doing right now… we’ll put them on our list and help them,” Ava Weinstein said.

The Weinstein sisters now have more than 200 seniors on a waitlist that they are ready to help once more vaccine appointments are available.

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For more information, visit the sisters’ website at Covid19vaccineappointments.com.

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Maci Bookout: I'm 'Interested' in Having More Kids, Considering Adoption

Maci Bookout and Taylor McKinney have closed the door on naturally conceiving another child — but the couple are open to adoption.

Angelina Jolie, Thomas Rhett and More Celebs Who Have Adopted Kids

“We’ve always both had that in our minds,” the 16 and Pregnant alum, 29, exclusively told Us Weekly on Tuesday, January 26, while promoting season 9 of Teen Mom OG. “We are still waiting. … Obviously right now is not the time, but yes, we are both definitely still interested and would welcome that in our future.”

Bookout, who is the mother of Bentley, 12, with Ryan Edwards and Jayde, 5, and Maverick, 4, with McKinney, 31, explained, “We’ll revisit it when I feel like[,] when we feel like, we have our three — not under control because I don’t think that will ever happen — but when maybe when Maverick is in school too, and things can kind of get a little bit more structured.”

‘Teen Mom’ Stars’ Best Quotes on Coparenting

The Tennessee native previously told Us Weekly exclusively that she and McKinney didn’t agree on expanding their family.

“We are on different sides of the fence when it comes to that,” the Naked and Afraid alum said in April 2020. “And we’re both also very respectful of how the other one feels about it. We’re on the same page as far as it being OK that we’re on different pages.”

The reality star added, “We talk about it a lot. And, I mean, nothing’s really changed as far as our opinions go, but that’s OK. As time goes on, we’ll come to some sort of actual resolution or agreement. But, I mean, for now, I think just as long as we keep talking about it even when we’re not on the same page, it’s best.”

At the time, Bookout had spoken to her husband about possibly getting a vasectomy.

‘Teen Mom OG’ Tots in Before and After Pics: How They’ve Grown!

On Tuesday, she clarified that she and the motorcycle racer are now “on the same page” about their future family plans. She explained to Us, “He said he’s on whatever page I’m on. So no more babies — biological, anyways.”

Season 9 of Teen Mom OG premieres on MTV Tuesday, January 26, at 8 p.m. ET.

With reporting by Christina Garibaldi

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Catelynn Lowell, Tyler Baltierra Would Consider Adoption for '1 More' Child

Keeping their options open. Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra wouldn’t be opposed to expanding their family through adoption.

Angelina Jolie, Thomas Rhett and More Celebs Who Have Adopted Kids

“We have discussed it,” the 16 and Pregnant alum, 28, exclusively told Us Weekly while promoting season 9 of Teen Mom OG. “Yeah, if we weren’t able to have one more, sure, [we’d adopt]. Most definitely. But who knows at this time?”

Lowell went on to tell Us that she and her husband, 29, “do want to have one more child and that will be [their] last child.” She added, “It’s just up to the universe right now. Whatever happens, will happen, I guess, in its own time. I don’t know when that will be.”

Catelynn Lowell, Tyler Baltierra’s Best Quotes About Expanding Their Family

The Michigan native first gave birth to daughter Carly, now 11, in 2009 and placed her for adoption. The preteen is still in touch with the MTV personalities and has met their daughters, Novalee, 6, and Vaeda, 23 months.

In December 2020, Lowell revealed that she had suffered a miscarriage. “I WAS Pregnant and excited to share it with all of you and I am heartbroken to reveal that I lost the baby,” she wrote via Instagram at the time. “I am sharing this to let you know you are not alone. We are all in this together and everyone experiences pain, loss, and the recovery from it. [I’m] still in the thick of dealing with this loss as it was recent and all the emotional trauma that follows such a loss in an already horrifically hard year.”

The Conquering Chaos author previously miscarried in 2017 and exclusively told Us that a pregnancy loss is “always going to be in the back of” her mind when she sees a positive test.

“It’s like, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t get so excited,’” she explained. “But I’m also not going to let it hold me back from what I know I want eventually. Having children and watching siblings together is one of the most amazing things we’re able to watch as a parent. It’s one of the most beautiful things in life to have children and raise them. So yeah … it’s sad and I feel those emotions, but I’m not going to let it hold me back from something really beautiful in the long run.”

Rainbow Babies: Stars Who Had Children After Miscarriages

She advised other moms in the same situation to “really have a support system,” from a therapist to a group of friends.

Season 9 of Teen Mom OG premieres on MTV Tuesday, January 26, at 8 p.m. ET.

With reporting by Christina Garibaldi

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Behind Each of More Than 300,000 Lives Lost: A Name, a Caregiver, a Family, a Story

More than 300,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

It is the latest sign of a generational tragedy — one still unfolding in every corner of the country — that leaves in its wake an expanse of grief that cannot be captured in a string of statistics.

“The numbers do not reflect that these were people,” said Brian Walter, of New York City, whose 80-year-old father, John, died from COVID-19. “Everyone lost was a father or a mother, they had kids, they had family, they left people behind.”

There is no analogue in recent U.S history to the scale of death brought on by the coronavirus, which now runs unchecked in countless towns, cities and states.

“We’re seeing some of the most deadly days in American history,” said Dr. Craig Spencer, director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

During the past two weeks, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in the U.S., outpacing even heart disease and cancer.

“That should be absolutely stunning,” Spencer said. And yet the most deadly days of the pandemic may be to come, epidemiologists predict.

Even with a rapid rollout of vaccines, the U.S. may reach a total of more than half a million deaths by spring, said Ali Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Some of those deaths could still be averted. If everyone simply began wearing face masks, more than 50,000 lives could be saved, IHME’s model shows. And physical distancing could make a difference too.

No other country has come close to the calamitous death toll in the U.S. And the disease has amplified entrenched inequalities. Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos are nearly three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

“I’m really amazed at how we have this sense of apathy,” said Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe, a professor of medicine and population health at New York University Grossman School of Medicine. He said there’s evidence that socioeconomic factors, not underlying health problems, explain the disproportionate share of deaths.

The disease, he said, reveals “the chronic neglect of Black and brown communities” in this country.

Though the numbers are numbing, for bereaved families and for front-line workers who care for people in their dying moments, every life is precious.

Here are reflections from people who’ve witnessed this loss — how they are processing the grief and what they wish the rest of America understood.

‘There Are Things We Can Do to Still Make a Difference’

Darrell Owens, a doctor of nursing practice in Seattle, was startled to learn recently that he had signed more death certificates for COVID-19 than anyone else in Washington.

Owens runs the palliative care program at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest, where he has treated COVID patients since the early spring.

“I’m feeling much more anger and frustration than I did before because much of what we’re dealing with now was preventable,” Owens said.

“We’re all in this great big storm, but some people are in a yacht and some people are on a cruise ship and some people are on a raft,” he added. “We’re not all in this together.”

Owens still finds moments of grace and meaning as he cares for the dying.

“The other day, there was a lady I was taking care of who’d come from a local nursing home and it was very clear that she was nearing the end,” Owens said. “I just picked up her hand. I sat there. I held her hand for about 25 minutes until she took her last breath.”

He stepped out of the room and called the patient’s daughter.

“It made such a difference for her that her mom was not alone,” he said. “What an incredible gift that she gave me and that I was able to give her daughter. So there are things that we can do to still make a difference.”

‘It’s Not a Joke. It’s Not a Hoax.’

Since his father died of COVID-19 in the spring, Brian Walter of Queens, New York, has helped run a support group on Facebook for people who’ve lost family and friends to COVID-19.

It’s helped him grieve his father John, whom he describes as a very loving man dedicated to his autistic grandson and to running a youth program for teenagers.

“It’s been lifesaving in a lot of ways,” Walter said. “Together, we face a lot of issues since we are grieving in isolation. But at the same time, we’re also dealing with people that openly tell us that this is not a real condition, that this is not a real issue.”

Some in their group admit they denied the severity of the virus and shunned precautions until it was too late.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not a hoax, and you will not understand how horrible this is until it enters your family and takes away someone,” he said.

All of this complicates the grief, but it has also led Walter and others in his group to speak out and share their stories, so that numbers don’t obscure the actual people who were leading full lives before dying from COVID-19.

“I know what it’s like to have to say goodbye to somebody over a Zoom call and to not have a funeral,” Walter said.

‘300,000 Stories That Got Shut Down Too Quickly’

Martha Phillips, an ER nurse who took assignments in New York and Texas in the spring and summer, said there is one patient who has become almost a stand-in for the grief of the many whose deaths she witnessed.

It was the very last COVID patient she cared for in Houston.

“I reached down to just adjust her oxygen tubing just a little bit,” Phillips recalled. “And she looks up at me and she sees me through my goggles and my mask and my shield and meets my eyes and she goes, ‘Do you think I’m going to get better?’”

“What do you say to someone who’s not ready to die? Who has so much to live for, but got this and now they’re trapped?”

Two months later, Phillips discovered the woman’s obituary online.

“That one was the hardest,” she said. “But there’s 300,000 people who had time left that was stolen from them; 300,000 stories that got shut down too quickly.”

‘This Is Worse Than Being in War’

ER physician Dr. Cleavon Gilman, a veteran of the Iraq War, said it’s still hard to communicate the brutality of a disease that kills people in the privacy of a hospital wing.

When Gilman was in New York City during the spring surge, he never imagined the U.S. would be losing thousands of people each day to COVID-19 so many months later.

“That 300,000 Americans would be dead and life would go on and people would not have empathy for their fellow Americans,” he said. “I can tell you this is worse than being in war.”

The enemy is invisible, he said, the war zone is everywhere, and many refuse to take the most simple actions to combat the virus, even as morgues fill up in their own community.

Throughout the pandemic, Gilman, who is now working in Yuma, Arizona, has shared photos and stories of people who’ve died from COVID-19 each day on social media.  “It’s really important to honor them,” he said.

This story is from a reporting partnership with NPR and KHN. 

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Coronavirus: why combining the Oxford vaccine with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could make it more effective

Coronavirus: why combining the Oxford vaccine with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine could make it more effective

When the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was announced in late 2020, there was some confusion. The overall efficacy of the vaccine at stopping people developing symptomatic COVID-19, two weeks after the second dose, was 70%. But this wasn’t the whole picture.

This figure was based on averaging the results from two groups. In one group, which was given two full doses, the vaccine was 62% effective at stopping people developing symptoms. But in the second group, a dosing error meant that volunteers received a half dose followed by a full one. This ended up being 90% protective against developing COVID-19.

This was intriguing. Why would giving people less of the vaccine lead to a more effective immune response? The answer to this may lie in the design of the vaccine, and could mean that there are ways to make this vaccine—and others that use the same design—more effective.

How the Oxford vaccine works

Vaccines work by exposing the immune system to recognisable parts—or “antigens”—of pathogens that cause disease, such as bacteria or viruses. The immune system then mounts a response. Immune cells called B cells make antibodies to destroy the pathogen. Sometimes T cells can also be called into action, which eliminate our own cells that have been infected with the pathogen.

Some B and T cells then remember the antigens for the future. At some future point, if the person is exposed to the pathogen, these long-lasting memory cells can quickly order more antibodies to be made to destroy the pathogen and attack infected cells.

In effect, the principle of vaccination is to “mimic” an infection, but in a controlled way so that immunity is generated without causing illness. After a few weeks, once T cells and B cells have been generated, the person vaccinated will be protected. For certain vaccines, this requires two doses, as in some people the first dose alone won’t generate complete immunity. The booster dose ensures as many people as possible acquire protection.

In the case of the coronavirus vaccines, a number of methods are used to present the virus’s antigens to the immune system. Some, such as the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines in China, simply present the body with a whole, inactivated version of the coronavirus. But others instead instruct the vaccinated person’s own cells to produce a specific part of the coronavirus: the spike protein on its outer surface, which is a particularly recognisable antigen.

These vaccines do this by delivering the part of the coronavirus’s genetic code that encodes the spike protein into the cells of the body, which then read the code and start making the protein. Some, such as the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, deliver the code in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA). Others use a harmless virus to get the genetic code inside cells; the Oxford vaccine uses chimpanzee adenovirus, genetically altered so that it’s unable to reproduce, called ChAdOx1. These are known as viral-vector vaccines.

How design could affect efficacy

It’s not yet known why the reduced-dose regimen of the Oxford vaccine showed better efficacy in trials, but it could be down to the viral vector.

When a person is given a viral-vector vaccine, as well as generating an immune response against the coronavirus’s spike protein, the immune system will also mount a response against the viral vector itself. This immune response may then destroy some of the booster dose when it is subsequently delivered, before it can have an effect. This has long been recognised as a problem.

However, a lower first dose might not allow for a strong anti-vector immune response to develop, which could leave the booster dose unscathed and lead to greater overall efficacy. If it turns out that this is the case, then future work will need to establish the optimum dosing regimen for generating the strongest immune response.

The Russian Sputnik V vaccine acknowledges that immunity to the viral vector could be a problem, but comes up with a different solution. It uses two different human adenoviruses—Ad26 and Ad5 (out of the 50 that affect humans) – for its two vaccine doses. This heterologous (or hybrid) vaccine, with different vectors for prime and booster vaccinations, is less likely to have one jab generate an immune response against the viral vector that then interferes with the other. The vaccine is therefore less likely to have a reduced efficacy.

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Baby born with heart defect faces more challenges after stroke

AHA news: baby born with heart defect faces more challenges after stroke

Kayla Scritchfield had a normal pregnancy and delivered her second daughter, Ava, thinking all was well. About six hours later, Ava looked purple. Medical personnel whisked away the newborn.

Kayla and her husband, Garrett, were told that Ava probably had a heart defect. She needed to be transported from Salina, Kansas, to Kansas City.

Garrett flew with the medical team and his intubated daughter, wondering if she would survive. After they arrived, doctors inserted a stent to open an artery in Ava’s heart, which had a defect known as transposition of the great arteries. The condition results from the two large arteries of the heart (aorta and pulmonary artery) being connected to the wrong heart chamber.

Open-heart surgery could correct the problem. But Ava’s heart wasn’t strong enough. She healed for 10 days.

The night before Ava’s surgery, Kayla and Garrett were headed out of the hospital for a bite to eat when they got a call to come back. No explanation was given.

Doctors and nurses filled Ava’s room. The nurse assigned to Ava for the night was crying in the hallway. The couple wasn’t allowed in the room. A doctor came out and explained they were trying to start Ava’s heart again because of an error.

“They were changing the IV line, which didn’t get fully locked to keep out all the air, so air slowly filled her IV line when they turned it back on. Air went to her heart and caused her heart to stop. And then as it moved up, it went to her brain and caused her to have a massive stroke,” Kayla said.

Doctors got Ava’s heart beating again, then sent her for tests to look for brain damage. Other evidence of the trauma already was evident. Ava was swollen and her face and hands were covered in deep red splotches because as the air embolism traveled through her body, it burst blood vessels.

“They warned us that there could be some major brain damage or that she could possibly be brain-dead based on the amount of air that had traveled to her brain, which was hard to hear,” Kayla said.

Thankfully, Ava’s brain showed activity, even though it also had some dead spots. She had 20 subclinical seizures, meaning they were experienced but were not visible. Staff took X-rays of Ava’s bowels and intestines to watch the embolism as it worked its way out of her system, checking to see that it didn’t perforate anything.

A day and a half later, Ava woke up and was alert, promptly getting hiccups at 5 p.m. – the same time of day she did when she was in the womb. It was a soothing, positive sign that things may be improving.

At 20 days old, doctors successfully performed her nine-hour heart surgery. Ava was soon ready to go home to Lindsborg, Kansas. By year’s end, she didn’t need any more seizure medication. She did have lingering effects from the stroke, specifically right-sided deficits that left her with braces on her legs and hand.

Now 3, Ava runs and plays and interacts with other kids as best she can. Twice a week, she goes to preschool, where she gets physical, occupational and speech therapy. She receives additional physical and speech therapy at an infant child development center nearby.

“If you didn’t know the background and her story, without watching her closely, you would never be able to tell that she went through all that,” Kayla said. “I always say she’s very resilient and determined.”

Garrett called her a fighter who makes the family smile.

“She’s one of the happiest kids you’ve ever seen,” he said. “She’s got a laugh that will light up a room real quick.”

Ava’s 7-year-old sister, Maleah, helps the family share Ava’s heart story by raising money as part of the American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge that helps children learn how to have a healthy heart. Kayla and Ava also go to schools to discuss how some children are born with congenital heart defects.

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Take That! Candace Cameron Bure, More Celeb Moms Back at Parenting Police

The claws will come out if you mess with a mama. Case in point: Khloe Kardashian ripped into a Twitter user who called her daughter True “not cute at all.”

A disgusted Kardashian fired back, “What type of disgusting human being are you? It’s pathetic that you are this miserable in your life.”

Of course, the Revenge Body host isn’t the only famous parent who has gone off on mom-shamers. Kourteney Kardashian, Kristin Cavallari, Cardi B, Chrissy Teigen and Jana Kramer have all defended themselves against the parent police on social media. 

Teigen explained to Parenting.com in 2017: “You can call me whatever you want. You can call me ugly, you can say my forehead is big, you can say my dress is hideous but once you start talking about my food and my child that’s when I get really crazy.” (The model has been criticized for everything from flying in her third trimester to using plastic bath toys.)

The cookbook author, who is mom of Luna and Miles, noted, “I think people should remember that everyone is just doing their best.”

Click through the photos below to read the best celebrity mom clap backs.

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