Heart cells cozy up to prevent deadly arrhythmias


Blood may seem like a simple fluid, but its chemistry is complex. When too much potassium, for instance, accumulates in the bloodstream, patients may experience deadly irregular heart rhythms.

Cardiovascular scientists at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC are studying why.

In a new study, published in Pflügers Archiv European Journal of Physiology, the research team led by Steven Poelzing, associate professor at the institute, describes how subtle changes in potassium, calcium, and sodium levels regulate heartbeats.

Poelzing says that the results could help researchers and physicians understand the nuances of cardiac arrythmias, as well as a group of genetic disorders that impact sodium channel function, such as Brugada syndrome.

The scientists elevated blood potassium in guinea pigs, creating a condition called hyperkalemia, which causes some of the heart’s key electrical conduits, sodium channels, to shut down. Next, they increased calcium levels and observed the heart muscle cells pressing closer together. This miniscule motion—spanning mere nanometers—helps preserve electrical conduction in the heart.

“We know the heart is extremely sensitive to changes in blood electrolyte levels, but until recently we didn’t have a great picture of how the heart’s molecular landscape is remodeled, and how these muscle cells adapt,” said Poelzing, who is also an associate professor in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s department of biomedical engineering and mechanics.

Heart muscle cells primarily pass electrical signals via a network of protein bridges called gap junctions and sodium channels. These pathways let nutrients and positively charged minerals flow between cells. When there are too many positively charged potassium ions in the blood, however, the cells get overstimulated and temporarily block signaling channels.

“This can be dangerous when sodium channels get stuck in a half-closed state. The cell isn’t dying, but it’s not as electrically active as it once was. This can cause dangerous heart arrythmias and sudden cardiac death,” Poelzing said.

When the heart’s core electrical pathways falter, heart muscle cells press closer together, allowing them to sense subtle electric fields generated by neighboring cells. This secondary form of cell-to-cell signaling is known as ephaptic coupling.

“Ephaptic coupling appears to address the effects of a functional loss of sodium channels, in this case caused by high potassium, and helps keep the current flowing properly across the heart muscle,” Poelzing said.

Over the course of the eight-year study, Poelzing’s team tested different concentrations of sodium and calcium to treat the electrical defects associated with high potassium to see how the heart would respond. They discovered that increasing sodium and calcium levels together greatly reduced the distances between cells, providing a substantial improvement in cardiac conduction.

In the clinic, human patients with hyperkalemia who develop abnormal heart rhythms are administered intravenous calcium gluconate. Poelzing’s findings help explain why elevating calcium levels under these certain clinical conditions is beneficial.

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Thiazides may up risk for skin cancer in older adults

Thiazides may up risk for skin cancer in older adults

(HealthDay)—Higher exposure to thiazides is associated with increased rates of incident keratinocyte carcinoma and melanoma among older adults, according to a study published online April 12 in CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

Aaron M. Drucker, M.D., from the University of Toronto, and colleagues conducted a population-based inception cohort study using linked administrative health data from Ontario for 1998 to 2017. Adults aged 66 years and older with a first prescription for an antihypertensive medication were matched by age and sex to two unexposed adults prescribed a nonantihypertensive medication within 30 days of the index date to examine associations with keratinocyte carcinoma and melanoma. The cohorts included 302,634 adults prescribed an antihypertensive medication and 605,268 unexposed adults.

The researchers found that increasing thiazide exposure was associated with increased rates of incident keratinocyte carcinoma, advanced keratinocyte carcinoma, and melanoma (adjusted hazard ratios [95 percent confidence intervals] per one defined annual dose unit, 1.08 [1.03 to 1.14], 1.07 [0.93 to 1.23], and 1.34 [1.01 to 1.78], respectively). No consistent evidence was found for associations between other antihypertensive classes and keratinocyte carcinoma or melanoma.

“We found consistent dose-dependent increases in skin cancer risk associated with thiazides but not with other antihypertensive classes,” the authors write. “Clinicians may consider alternatives to thiazide diuretics to treat hypertension in patients at high risk for skin cancer.”

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Master Of Flip’s Kortney Wilson Reveals Her Top Tip For Sprucing Up A Rented Apartment

If you’re renting a place and want your deposit back, it can feel like you’re just stuck staring at blank white or beige walls all day, every day. But don’t despair — there is a way to help make a rented apartment reflect your own style without having to resort to paint. And it comes recommended by the one and only Kortney Wilson of HGTV’s Masters of Flip

In an interview with 29secrets.com, Wilson revealed her recommendation for a budget-friendly and temporary way to upgrade your space: “Right now I’m really into DIY accent walls. I always say that wallpaper’s back — not our grandmother’s wallpaper, but peel-and-stick products are back with a vengeance. I’m also really into peel-and-stick barn wood — things you can actually do yourself, so you know you don’t need to hire a big company to install it where it’s thousands of dollars.” For an idea of what Wilson’s talking about, check out creative sites like Etsy, which has lots of temporary wallpaper options.

Collect second-hand frames to create a gallery wall

Making an accent wall of your own isn’t just about wallpaper treatments. You can also set up your own gallery wall with a collection of beloved images. Don’t just stick photos to the wall with blue tack like it’s a college dorm though. And don’t worry about the high cost of brand new matching frames. “I love gallery walls and I think one easy tip for people is to just get a bunch of inexpensive frames,” said Wilson, “you can go to a second-hand store, sometimes people even leave them in their trash — and you can paint them all one color.” By painting them all the same color, even if they’re wildly different styles, they will seem like they go together.

Wilson’s got another idea for how to bring things together in an accent wall once you’ve got your frames collected: “Go to the fabric store and buy some pieces of fabric, and just frame fabric.” If you’re thinking about framing fabric, Tara Reed, merchandising and marketplace manager at Spoonflower, explained what to look for in order to display fabric as art: “Think big when it comes to design scale. The larger the repeat on a pattern, the more natural it looks as art” (via Spoonflower).

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NHS doctor turned nutrition expert serves up comforting home truths

Food myths exploded… from vegan diets to the truth about sugar: Are you confused about what’s bad for you? In a new book, doctor-turned-nutrition expert serves up some comforting home truths

As a newly qualified NHS hospital doctor, Joshua Wolrich — weighing 17st — became obsessed with the idea that a good doctor shouldn’t be overweight. Over 18 months he embarked on a rigorous diet and exercise plan, dropping 4st and charting his metamorphosis on social media

As a newly qualified NHS hospital doctor, Joshua Wolrich — weighing 17st — became obsessed with the idea that a good doctor shouldn’t be overweight.

Over 18 months he embarked on a rigorous diet and exercise plan, dropping 4st and charting his metamorphosis on social media.

But in 2019, disillusioned by the growing popularity of fad diets and the abundance of conflicting information across social media, he switched from hospital medicine to study for a Masters degree in nutrition. 

With nearly 400,000 Instagram followers, he’s written a book, Food Isn’t Medicine, debunking food myths and setting out his diet philosophy.

His view is that although food ‘can have a positive impact’ on someone’s health, and ‘can be used alongside medicine, and be very important for patients who cannot tolerate medication due to side-effects’, it is ‘not medicine’.

As some doctors increasingly insist on the importance of what we eat, this perhaps strikes a controversial note. 

But Dr Wolrich is concerned with the way certain ‘diets’ are promoted as an alternative to medical treatment, especially with cancer patients, for instance, blaming dairy.

‘Focusing on an individual nutrient, rather than the food it comes from, pulls us into the trap of “reductionist nutrition”, which is an assumption that once we know the nutrients in a food, that food must do all the things the nutrients do,’ says Dr Wolrich.

This, he says, is what leads to claims such as ‘fish cures autoimmune disease as it contains anti-inflammatory nutrients’.

‘Our diet doesn’t work this way,’ he says. ‘Nutrients interact with each other in the context of the wider diet and lifestyle in ways lab research can’t account for.’

Here, in an extract from his book, Dr Wolrich examines common beliefs about food and its role in disease. 

Myth: Alkaline diets cure cancer 

Fans of an alkaline diet — eating more vegetables and fruit, and cutting back on sugar, alcohol, meat and processed foods in a bid to change the body’s ‘acidity levels’ — claim it is the key to both preventing and curing cancer.

This is based on a belief that cancers flourish in an acidic environment, so by creating an alkaline one, you make your body less hospitable to the disease.

Cancer cells do produce significant quantities of lactic acid, making the environment around them acidic, but this doesn’t mean an alkaline diet may cure it. 

A review published in The BMJ in 2016 concluded that there was no evidence to support these claims. 

Fans of an alkaline diet — eating more vegetables and fruit, and cutting back on sugar, alcohol, meat and processed foods in a bid to change the body’s ‘acidity levels’ — claim it is the key to both preventing and curing cancer

Myth: Sugar causes cancer 

Nearly every cell in our bodies, including cancer when it happens, uses glucose for energy.

Cancer cells grow faster than other cells and plough through glucose, often leaving the rest of our body struggling for energy. That’s why people with cancer often experience weight loss.

But, although it is technically true that ‘sugar feeds cancer’, it is not true that cutting it out of the diet can slow its growth. 

Cancer is particularly good at getting hold of even small amounts of glucose, so if you cut out all carbs, other cells (which also need glucose) would lose out.

Also, our bodies can make glucose from fat and protein, so cutting it out of the diet won’t starve cancer cells. 

A 2019 review of 23 studies of fasting and ketogenic (very low carb) diets by researchers at University Hospitals Bristol, published in the journal BMC Cancer, found no reduction in blood sugars.

Several recent reviews (between 2017 and 2019, published in BMC Cancer, Medical Oncology, and the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics) have not shown any benefit in restricting carbs or sugar in patients with cancer. 

Cancer cells grow faster than other cells and plough through glucose, often leaving the rest of our body struggling for energy. That’s why people with cancer often experience weight loss. But, although it is technically true that ‘sugar feeds cancer’, it is not true that cutting it out of the diet can slow its growth

Myth: Milk causes heart disease 

Cutting dairy out of the diet is often seen as a cure for breast cancer. The idea is partly based on low rates of the cancer in rural Chinese women, who consume very little dairy. 

This is added to the suggestion that dairy ‘acidifies’ the body, as well as the fact milk contains the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) which, the claim goes, also causes breast cancer.

Certainly, IGF-1 has been studied for its role in cancer cell growth — it plays an important part in encouraging cells to grow. But this does not mean it causes cancer.

A glass of milk contains less than 0.015 per cent of the IGF-1 your body produces every day. Your gut breaks down the IGF-1 consumed anyway, so we never absorb it (according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology).

A newer argument has emerged since, which claims oestrogen in milk could raise your risk of breast cancer. But a glass of whole milk contains 28,000 times less oestrogen than the female body produces in a day.

This is far too little to have any physiological effect on breast tissue, as confirmed by a 2012 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which found the oestrogen in three servings of whole milk was 0.01 to 0.1 per cent of the daily production rates in humans.

Cutting dairy out of the diet is often seen as a cure for breast cancer. The idea is partly based on low rates of the cancer in rural Chinese women, who consume very little dairy

It has separately been argued that dairy products, because of their saturated fat content, can have a ‘pro-inflammatory’ effect which could contribute to cardiovascular risk.

Yes, studies have shown saturated fat intake is associated with the low-grade inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease. But dairy intake has not been shown to raise cholesterol levels like other sources of saturated fat such as red meat.

They may even have a beneficial effect. A 2017 review of studies, published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, concluded that as long as you don’t have a milk allergy, dairy even appears to have a weak anti-inflammatory effect. Milk consumption has also been shown to be associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

Dairy can be a fantastic source of calcium and is often people’s main source of iodine, which is important for thyroid function. We need to stop demonising it.

It may be compelling to read that ‘your brain lights up with sugar just like it does with cocaine or heroin’, but it’s useful to note the exact same parts of the brain are triggered by playing with puppies, and that’s not considered toxic.

Studies labelling sugar ‘addictive’ are usually based on the behaviour of rats starved for up to 16 hours before being offered a bowl of sugar. Is it any wonder the poor rodents exhibit bingeing and withdrawal anxiety?

Habit-forming is not the same as addiction and sugar simply doesn’t fit the criteria for dependency.

It may be compelling to read that ‘your brain lights up with sugar just like it does with cocaine or heroin’, but it’s useful to note the exact same parts of the brain are triggered by playing with puppies

Myth: Vegan diets are healthier 

A vegan diet may be healthier if you eat a lot of processed meat, fried food and refined carbs. 

But a vegan combination of fries, pizza, baked beans and crisps does not mark an improvement.

Meat can be a great source of complete protein and iron; dairy is a key source of calcium; and oily fish is really beneficial for heart health. 

You can have a plant-based diet without having to remove animal products entirely.

A vegan diet may be healthier if you eat a lot of processed meat, fried food and refined carbs

Myth: Eggs clog up your arteries

Cholesterol is used within the body for making cell membranes, creating bile (which we need to properly digest the fat we eat) and is broken down into vitamin D. Our body has the ability to make all the cholesterol we need — most of it in the liver.

But research shows that feeding large amounts of cholesterol to animals leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques (a fatty build-up in the arteries which can make clots more likely) which is why anyone at risk of heart disease is advised to cut cholesterol in their diet.

But the research findings are not replicated in humans. Our liver adjusts cholesterol production according to the amount in the diet, excreting any excess as bile. 

In roughly two-thirds of the population, these mechanisms are so good that dietary cholesterol has no impact on the amount of overall cholesterol in the blood. The consumption of food high in cholesterol, such as eggs, has even been shown to be beneficial for heart health.

Eggs have been demonised as being as bad for your health as smoking. But the research is clear: atherosclerotic plaque formation increases with age — not dietary choices.

Furthermore, eggs are packed with nutrients, including choline, vitamin A and vitamin B12 and can form part of a balanced diet.

Eggs have been demonised as being as bad for your health as smoking. But the research is clear: atherosclerotic plaque formation increases with age — not dietary choices


Adapted from Food Isn’t Medicine by Dr Joshua Wolrich (Vermilion, £16.99). To order a copy for £14.95 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. 

Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Offer price valid until April 13, 2021.

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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.


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

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

how much money could you save by giving up smoking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much could you save by giving up smoking?

Benefits of quitting smoking:

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

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

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

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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What Happened When I Signed Up for the AstraZeneca Vaccine Trial

I was standing outside the fence at my son’s one and only swimming meet—watching through the wrought-iron bars as the swimmers raced two at a time with an open lane between them—when I heard that University of Wisconsin Hospital was seeking volunteers to test the AstraZeneca Vaccine (AZD1222). It was a few days before school started, which would be online, and after months of social distancing, no-contact delivery, countless virtual meetings, and swabs probing into the gray matter of my lower brain to test for COVID, I was starting to feel a little desperate for anything that might facilitate a return to normal life. Even if it meant donating my body to science. I signed up as soon as I got home.

Similar to the other major vaccines in the news—most notably the Pfizer and Moderna medications—AZD1222 uses a double-injection, or two-shot, protocol. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines differ from the AstraZenenca drug in that they use messenger RNA to signal cells to make a “virus spike protein,” which the immune system recognizes as foreign and learns to attack. Instead of mRNA, the AstraZeneca vaccine delivers the spike protein by way of an adenovirus, a weakened version of the common cold. In all three cases, the first shot revs the immune system and the second shot, a month later, boosts the body’s virus-fighting engine into high gear.

What about side effects?

The AZD1222’s possible side effects include pain, mild fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, and fatigue—all signs the immune system is turning on. I wasn’t overly worried about them, nor did I buy into the rumors that the vaccine would be used to Trojan horse government tracking devices. I’d lost the twenty pounds I’d gained during the first months of the quarantine, I swam five days a week, and with no underlying health conditions, I believed I’d be able to weather the storm if the vaccine failed and I ended up getting sick. And since my wife worked for the health system running the trial, and had a number of colleagues who’d already volunteered as guinea pigs, I had had faith in the study’s integrity. In fact, as a healthy, active man, I felt a duty to pony up to help end the pandemic. Plus, if a tracking device were somehow implanted, maybe my sense of direction when driving would improve.

A rocky start

But as soon I signed up, the trial screeched to a halt. A week after I completed the screening questionnaire, AstraZeneca announced it was pausing the trial after two participants in the U.K. experienced symptoms of transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. An independent committee needed review the data before study could resume. I was glad for the safety protocols, but I confess I felt like a delayed airline passenger stuck in an airport. The endless waiting around seemed worse than the possibility of crashing.

Six weeks later, when the trial re-started, I once again filled out the screening questionnaire and, this time, was able to schedule an appointment. I was pulling into the parking garage when the news announced that the Pfizer vaccine had been approved in the U.K. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted that emergency approval in America would be coming in the next week. Health care workers and the elderly were first in line, and the vaccine would roll out to the rest of the country over the coming months. Participating in the AZD1222 study wouldn’t disqualify me from getting another vaccine—a good thing since there was a 1 in 3 chance I’d be getting a placebo instead of the actual medication. The study was “double blind,” meaning that not even the physicians administering the trial knew which volunteers got the good stuff.

What happened on injection day

A research coordinator met me in the hospital’s lobby. She knew my name and, strangely, had no trouble picking me out amongst the traffic of patients and staff crossing through the room. We couldn’t shake hands, so we nodded in our masks and I followed her deep into the hospital’s interior to an elevator I never would have found on my own. I was led into an exam room, my first of three, where I answered a long series of questions about my medical history. The trial was voluntary, and I could quit any time, but if I stayed in, the study would last two years. I’d be given injections today and again on Day 29, have blood drawn both times, as well as on Days 57, 90, 180, 360, and 730, and would conduct follow-up interviews by phone and email in the meantime. “That all sound okay?” the research assistant asked me.

“I’ve come this far,” I said, giving her a thumb’s up.

“Good,” she said. She punched in a code on a small metal box. For a moment I thought she was retrieving my shot. Instead, she handed me a small brown envelope with a crisp hundred-dollar bill inside.

“I get paid?” I asked. I hadn’t expected to receive a dime.

She nodded. “Just a little. It’s sort of buried in the consent forms.”

“Score,” I said. I slid the bill inside my wallet.

Another elevator led me to another exam room, this time with a view of Lake Mendota. It was a blue, windy day and the lake was wrinkled with white-capped waves. A pair of nurses worked in tandem to check my vital signs, draw my blood, and administer a final COVID-19 test. The nurse slid the swab so far inside my nose I felt my eyes go crossed. After a quick physical from the doctor—no pants around the ankles, no turn and cough—I was led across the hall to my final room, this time full of recliners. This where I’d, at last, get my shot in the arm.

I rolled my sleeve above my shoulder. “I just hope I get the real deal,” I said to the nurse. “I don’t want the placebo.”

“You’ll know if you get it,” said a man’s voice behind a curtain. He was another volunteer. “My buddy’s an immunologist at Harvard. He says you’ll be able to tell if you really got it.”

“Will my pee turn blue?” I asked.

He laughed. “You’ll feel like you’ve caught a cold.”

A few minutes later

For the first time in my life, I actually wished for a stuffy nose—for any sign that would confirm the presence of the actual vaccine. In addition to furthering the cause of science, I was excited about the possibility of being among the protected. Of putting the pandemic behind us.

After the nurse administered our shots, we were required to wait twenty minutes to ensure against adverse or allergic reactions. I leaned my head against the chair. A moment later, the guy spoke up again. “I have a good feeling,” he said.


“I think so,” he said. Then, “What are you going to do when this is over? You know, once we can go back to normal?”

“I’m thinking dinner party,” I said. “Lots of friends. Lots of food. How about you?”

“Concerts,” he said. “I caught thirty-four shows in 2019. I’d planned to go to even more this year, before all hell broke loose. Live music, man. It’s the stuff of life.”

“I wouldn’t mind a ball game,” I said. I imagined sitting in the stands with my sons, hot dogs on our laps.

“Oh, God, football,” he said. He let out a little hum. “There’s so much to look forward to.”

Seven days in, I’ve yet to feel a thing, other than a little soreness where the injection went in. Earlier tests have shown that AZD1222 is most effective when a half dose is given first, followed by a full dose in the second round. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that in three more weeks, I’ll wake up with a mild fever, maybe a few aches and pains. Just a little misery to know the vaccine is working.

Here’s hoping.

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EU to buy up to 300 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

The European Commission will sign a deal to secure up to 300 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU’s executive arm, said the commission will authorize the deal on Wednesday after “working tirelessly to secure doses of potential vaccines” in recent months.

“This is the most promising vaccine so far,” von der Leyen said. “Once this vaccine becomes available, our plan is to deploy it quickly, everywhere in Europe.”

Pfizer said Monday that early results from the vaccine suggests the shots may be a surprisingly robust 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.

The European Commission had already secured three other deals with pharmaceutical companies allowing its 27 member states to buy nearly one billion doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

“And more will come. Because we need to have a broad portfolio of vaccines based on different technologies,” von der Leyen said. “We have already started working with member states to prepare national vaccination campaigns. We are almost there. In the meantime, let us be prudent, and stay safe.”

The commission said once a vaccine is ready, member states should have access to it at the same time, and give priority to groups including healthcare workers and people over 60 years, as well as people with health conditions making them more vulnerable.

BioNTech said Tuesday that it and Pfizer have so far signed commercial supply agreements for 570 million doses in 2020 and 2021, with options to purchase an additional 600 million doses.

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French students age 6 and up must wear masks in class: PM

French schools will require all students aged six and over to wear face masks in class, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday ahead of a new coronavirus lockdown starting at midnight.

Until now masks were mandatory only for students 11 and older, but Castex told lawmakers in parliament that new efforts were needed “to protect all our children, teachers and parents.”

President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday that unlike during France’s two-month virus lockdown last spring, schools would remain open this time around, a huge relief for parents who had to balance working from home with “distance learning.”

But restaurants, bars and non-essential businesses will again be closed until at least December 1, and Castex said companies would be strongly pushed to have employees work from home “five days a week.”

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Effective test and trace could reduce disease reproduction number by up to 26%

Test and trace could reduce the effective reproduction number, the R number, by up to 26% if carried out quickly and effectively, new research finds.

But the Imperial College London researchers warn that testing alone is unlikely to bring the R number below 1 at current levels of immunity, and so other interventions such as continuation of physical distancing will be needed.

In a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers from Imperial’s COVID-19 Response Team investigated the potential impact of different testing and isolation strategies on transmission of the coronavirus.

The researchers say that an effective test and trace system depends strongly on the coverage of testing and the timeliness of contact tracing.

They say that if 80% of cases and contacts are identified and there is immediate testing following symptom onset and quarantine of contacts within 24 hours, then the R number could potentially be reduced by up to 26%.

However, the researchers say that the test and trace system in the UK is currently falling short of that.

Optimal testing strategies

The researchers say that optimal testing strategies should include regular screening of high-risk groups such as health and social care workers during periods of sustained transmission.

Weekly screening of these groups, irrespective of symptoms, by use of PCR testing is estimated to reduce their contribution to SARS-CoV-2 transmission by 23%, on top of reductions achieved by self-isolation following symptoms, provided results are made available within 24 hours.

The team also considered the potential of immunity passports based on antibody tests or tests for infection, but warn that they would face substantial technical, legal, and ethical challenges.

The research focuses on the UK but the results may be relevant for policy decisions made by other countries.

Test and trace alone not enough to control transmission

Professor Nicholas Grassly, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Effective testing is key to controlling the coronavirus pandemic. We need to use testing to prevent transmission in two ways: first, to identify infected individuals and their contacts to reduce transmission through isolation and quarantine, and, second, to detect outbreaks so that local lockdowns can be applied when needed. Our results show that test and trace can help reduce the R number but needs to be carried out effectively and quickly to do so. Test and trace alone won’t be enough to control transmission in most communities and other measures alongside will be needed to bring the R number below one.”

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