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Study Finds Regular Physical Activity Could Reduce Covid-19 Risk 

According to a data analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, regular exercise can lower the risk of developing Covid-19 or getting seriously ill when one contracts the virus. The data suggests that about 20 minutes of exercise a day yielded the greatest results. 

The study stated that a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity would give the greatest results. 

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“Regular physical activity seems to be related to a lower likelihood of adverse Covid-19 outcomes,” the team of researchers wrote. 

“Our analysis reveals that individuals who engage in regular physical activity have a lower likelihood of Sars-CoV-2 infection, Covid-19 hospitalization, severe Covid-19 illness and Covid-19-related death than physically inactive individuals, independent of design and instrument used.”

In general, exercise has a protective effect when it comes to respiratory infections. Regular physical activity reduces one’s chances of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and a multitude of other illnesses, most recently Covid-19. 

The researchers emphasized that the analysis was relatively limited, so the results shouldn’t be taken at face value. The team attempted to quantify the specific threshold of physical activity needed to make an actual difference in lessening the risk of contracting Covid-19, or lessening the severity should one become infected. 

The study observed data from 1.8 million adults, 54% of which were women, and the median age of each individual was 53. 

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The data analysis showed that, overall, “those who included regular physical activity in their weekly routine had an 11% lower risk of infection with Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid.”

Those individuals also had a 36% lower risk of hospitalization, a 44% lower risk of severe Covid-19, and a 43% lower risk of death from Covid-19. 

The research team also warned that the data was a result of “observational studies, differing study designs, subjective assessments of physical activity levels, and concerned only the Beta and Delta variants of Sars-CoV-2 rather than Omicron, all of which could weaken the findings.”

“There are plausible biological explanations for what we found. Regular moderate-intensity exercise may help to boost the body’s anti-inflammatory responses, as well as cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, all of which may explain its beneficial effects on Covid-19 severity,” the researchers said. 

“Our findings highlight the protective effects of engaging in sufficient physical activity as a public health strategy, with potential benefits to reduce the risk of severe Covid-19.”

“Given the heterogeneity and risk of publication bias, further studies with standardized methodology and outcome reporting are now needed,” they wrote. 

moderna

UK Approves Updated Covid-19 Vaccine From Moderna, Targets Omicron And Original Strain 

The United Kingdom has become the first nation to approve an updated version of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine booster, meant to target the omicron strain as well as the original virus that first appeared in 2020. 

“An updated version of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna that targets two coronavirus variants (known as a “bivalent” vaccine) has today been approved for adult booster doses by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to meet the UK regulator’s standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” read an official government release.

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“Half of the booster, called Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron, targets the original coronavirus strain while the other half targets Omicron,” it said.

The MHRA, the UK government’s independent expert scientific advisory board, endorsed the decision to approve of the new vaccine after carefully reviewing the evidence. 

The clinical trial by Moderna reported that the booster targets Omicron and showed a stronger immune response against the variant in addition to the original strain. The company said the “updated booster showed a potent response against BA.4 and BA. 5 sub variants.” 

“The side effects are the same as for the original Moderna booster dose and found to be typically mild and self-resolving. No serious safety concerns were identified,” the UK government release said.

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MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said that “the new Moderna booster will help keep communities protected.

“The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.”

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization will advise on the vaccine’s rollout, as it is not yet clear who will be offered the booster or when. 

Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, said on Twitter he was “delighted the vaccine had been approved.”

“This represents the first authorization of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, this bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”

Besides Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech have been testing two Covid-19 vaccine boosters that will also target the Omicron variant.

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San Diego Comic-Con Mandating Masks And Health Pass Screenings To Attend 

San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC) has released their set of safety protocols for attendees as the world combats the sixth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to the set of health and safety protocols, all convention attendees must provide vaccine verification that proves they’ve received at least two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, or proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours. 

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Additionally, attendants must be wearing a mask the entire time they’re at the convention. Guidelines state that “face coverings should completely cover the nose and mouth, fit snugly against the side of the face, and not have any gaps.” 

The Los Angeles Times reported that as of Monday, “the California COVID Assessment Tool, published by the state Department of Public Health, said the spread of the coronavirus is likely increasing, with every infected Californian likely spreading it to 1.15 other people.”

“When you look at the [coronavirus] case counts, they’re no longer reliable. There are tremendous undercounts, and the number of cases now probably is not all that dissimilar to what we saw during the massive surge in December and January,” Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine, said. 

According to the SDCC’s FAQ page about attending the event, individuals can download the CLEAR app to easily upload their Covid-19 vaccine verification. 

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For unvaccinated individuals, SDCC says that “adults and children aged 5 and older who are not fully vaccinated, a recent negative COVID-19 test result must be obtained. All COVID-19 tests must be done by a certified lab, clinic, or physician. A negative test result must show the specimen was collected within 72 hours. Additionally, both PCR and antigen are acceptable as long as testing is conducted within the time frame.”

The website for SDCC also emphasizes that they will have health and safety protocol enforcers at the event to ensure that everyone in attendance is adhering to the guidelines that are implemented for everyone’s safety. 

During May’s Star Wars celebration in Anaheim, California, and June’s Anime Exposition in Los Angeles similar protocols were put in place, which allowed staff at SDCC to prepare for the convention itself and enforce the covid safety protocols. 

SDCC kicks off with preview night this Wednesday, July 20th, and ends Sunday July 24th.

white house

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Explains Why Some Americans Don’t Trust The Science

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, recently spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival and explained why Americans continue to grow less trusting of medical advice from experts. One of the biggest reasons cited is due to a lack of representation in the scientific/medical field. 

“If you look at the experience of the way the public health system has treated, let’s say, African Americans in America, there’s a lot of basis for mistrust. It is not a glorious history.”

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According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 29% of US adults say they believe medical scientists are acting in the best interest of the public: that percentage is down from 40% in late 2020. 

Jha said that for many people of color, that mistrust can be rooted back to not seeing enough representation or diversity in the medical field in general, especially when it comes to positions of power in the public health system. 

“We have to do a much better job at diversifying our scientific workforce. It will make science better. It’ll make the communication better. The proportion of Black men in medical school is the same today as it was 40 years ago.” 

According to a 2015 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only 1,337 Black men applied to US medical schools in 2014, compared to 1,410 Black men in 1978. Less than 6% of all physicians in America are Black, according to a 2018 study by UCLA. 

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Diversity in medicine has been luckily on the rise recently; January data from the AAMC shows that there were roughly 20% more Black male first-year medical students in the US in 2021 when compared to 2020. However, the report also cited an 8.5% decrease in American Indian and Alaska Native first-year students. 

Jha noted that “diverse doctors and healthcare workers could help get more people of color on board with vaccinations. The words of trusted community members often carry more weight than government officials, even publicly elected ones.”

“Here are communities that have been served badly, where the health system has treated them badly, and then someone shows up and says, ‘You want a vaccine?’ and you’re surprised that people are not immediately jumping for it?”

“You saw incredible vaccine uptick rates in lots of communities of color, but, when you work with those right partners. It was proof of this principle that if you get the right partners, you do this humbly, you do this in an effective way, it really moves the needle,” said Jha.

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Severe Cases Of Covid-19 Linked To Long-Term Air Pollution Exposure

According to a study conducted in 2020 using healthcare data from 4,443 fatal cases of Covid-19, long-term exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) correlated to an increased risk of severe/potentially fatal cases of Covid-19.

Child Vaccine

FDA Says Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine Safe And Effective For Children Under 5

Staff for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on Sunday that the Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech is safe and effective for children under the age of 5. Staff members said the vaccine is effective in producing a virus-blocking response without any major safety concerns, now the results will be studied by a group of independent advisers for the FDA.

Independent experts working for the agency will review a request for emergency use authorization for the vaccine in children under the age of 5. The group will also review a similar request from Moderna for the use of their vaccine for children under the age of 6. 

After the advisers make their recommendations, the FDA will then decide whether or not to follow the panel’s advice, which it likely will. If the agency approves, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do the same, the vaccines could be available for young children and infants as soon as the beginning of next week. 

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According to the FDA, “overall preliminary data indicated the vaccine was 80.4% effective in preventing symptomatic covid-19. The rate was 75.6% for babies and toddlers six to 23 months old, and 82.4% for children 2-to-4-years-old.

It’s still too soon, however, to reach definitive conclusions on the vaccine’s effectiveness.”

“Side effects were minimal and included irritability and drowsiness for children 6-to-23-months-old, and pain at the injection site and fatigue for children 2 to 4. Babies and children younger than 5 — a group numbering 19 million — remain the only age group in the United States not yet eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.”

The FDA also emphasized with these findings that they believe vaccines for the youngest group of Americans are critical for navigating the rest of the pandemic. 

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“Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and likely continued virus transmission in coming months, deployment of the vaccine for use among children 6 months through 4 years of age will likely have a beneficial effect on COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality in this age group,” the agency said.

Assuming that both Pfizer and Moderna receive an emergency use authorization, most children will likely be able to receive their shots at their pediatricians office, however, many states and communities are already gearing up to set up vaccine clinics and make the shots available throughout local pharmacies. 

Sallie Permar, an expert in pediatric vaccines, said that her facility will offer both vaccine options to ideally make it easier for the parents to choose what they want their child to receive. 

“While there may be some confusion over the difference between the two vaccines, offering both gives you more flexibility. Parents can weigh all the information and decide,” she explained. 

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China Slowly Recovering From Worst Surge Of Covid-19 Since Pandemic’s Start 

The capital city of Beijing, China took a step towards Covid-19 recovery by allowing restaurants to resume in-store dining this week, after a hiatus of nearly a month. Most other businesses are also able to restore in-person operations. 

Shanghai, which has been locked down for nearly two months, also announced reopening plans for their restaurants and in-person businesses, as well as outdoor activities like camping and local parks. 

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The traffic rates in both major metropolitan areas increased this week after weeks of nearly no congestion due to lockdown procedures. Virus testing in both cities has relaxed from every two days to every three days as well. 

Surges of Omicron cases have been spiking throughout China since March, prompting the nation to reinstate many of their “dynamic zero-Covid” policies. The nationwide daily Covid case cound has now fallen to well below 50, according to official data.

“The unsynchronized lockdowns and reopenings across major cities suggest that China’s ongoing post-lockdown growth recovery should be less steep than the V-shaped one in spring 2020.”

“Our high-frequency trackers suggest that barring another severe Covid resurgence and related lockdowns, mobility, construction and ports operation could recover to pre-lockdown levels in around one month,” said Goldman Sachs China Economist Lisheng Wang in a report.

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Local authorities have been enforcing strict travel bans and stay-home orders to control the spread of the virus, a method they’ve been using since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. 

The report from Goldman Sachs also stated that “businesses in the service sector that involve close human contact would find it challenging to achieve a full recovery any time soon.”

The Dragon Boat Festival holiday weekend in China indicated to the government that overall economic recovery will likely be slow. Spending on domestic tourism during the holiday dropped 12.2% when compared to last year. 

The Purchasing Managers’ Index in China showed continuous declines in business plans for hiring new employees as well due to a lack of income overall. 

Even with Beijing and Shanghai reopening, many specific apartment complexes and neighborhoods could remain closed off due to contact with Covid cases. 

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

FDA Places Strict Limits On Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it is limiting the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for individuals 18 and older. The vaccine is now available for adults who don’t have access to other vaccinations and for adults who aren’t able to receive the other Covid-19 vaccine for personal medical reasons. 

The FDA released a statement in which they detailed the changes and why they’re being made. They explained that the change is being implemented due to the rare risk of a dangerous clotting condition known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the vaccine. 

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“We’ve been closely monitoring the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and occurrence of TTS following its administration and have used updated information from our safety surveillance systems to revise the EUA,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the statement. 

“We recognize that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine still has a role in the current pandemic response in the United States and across the global community. Today’s action demonstrates the robustness of our safety surveillance systems and our commitment to ensuring that science and data guide our actions.”

The agency also confirmed that the updated authorizations apply to booster doses as well. The FDA also emphasized that the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks for certain individuals as well. 

In their statement, they wrote that individuals who had a severe allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), have personal concerns over mRNA vaccines, or don’t have access to mRNA vaccines should definitely receive the J&J jab. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18.7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the US, and of all the Americans who are currently fully vaccinated, about 7.7% got the J&J vaccine. 

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The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee issued their own statement on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, saying it “makes a preferential recommendation for the use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over the Janssen adenoviral-vectored COVID-19 vaccine in all persons aged  ≥ 18 years in the United States.”

Both the CDC and FDA have made these statements mainly due to TTS concerns. When rare clotting events began appearing in the initial periods of vaccination in the US, Johnson & Johnson made a statement emphasizing their commitment to giving Americans a safe and effective vaccine. 

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine. … We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public.”

The FDA released data that showed around 60 cases of TTS since the J&J vaccine began its distribution, nine of those unfortunately were fatal. 

The FDA emphasized, however, that the risk for TTS is extremely rare. Current data shows that there’s about three cases of TTS for every million doses administered. 

Symptoms of TTS can appear within one to two weeks after vaccination, and they include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms like headaches or blurred vision, and red spots appearing under the skin at the site of vaccination.

Individuals With Psychiatric Conditions More Likely To Catch Covid-19

According to a new psychiatric study, individuals diagnosed with a psychiatric condition are more likely to catch Covid-19 after being fully vaccinated. The study reviewed health records of more than 260,000 individuals from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, so the correlation was much stronger in people 65 and older. 

While the results could also be the result of decades of unknowing when it came to psychiatric conditions, individuals who have suffered from these conditions in general have weaker immune systems. 

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that chronic stress, traumatic stress, and psychiatric conditions can actually accelerate cellular aging,” Aoife O’Donovan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and one of the study authors.

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“It’s putting you at risk for appearing older biologically, and for your immune system, in particular, to function like the immune system of someone who’s older than you, and that’s certainly seen in patients with psychiatric disorders.”

People with any psychiatric condition were found to be 3.7% more likely to develop a breakthrough infection of Covid-19. Among all the diagnoses, non-alcohol substance abuse had the greatest correlation to breakthrough cases; risk is increased by 16%. 

“Addiction causes people to increase risk-taking behaviors, and the pandemic created an environment where everything from hugging to eating at a restaurant was a risk-taking behavior,” said O’Donovan.

Adjustment disorders, or feelings of unusual stress or sadness in response to a life event, was linked to a 13% increase in risk for infection, followed by anxiety conditions (8%), bipolar disorder (7%), alcoholism (5%), depression (5%), and PTSD (3%). 

Overall, the study found that people aged 65 or older with a psychiatric diagnosis are 5% more likely to have a breakthrough Covid-19 infection. Additionally, O’Donovan explained how using data exclusively from the VA wasn’t the most ideal situation when looking at this specific correlation. 

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“Using data exclusively from the V.A. was not ideal. This group is not representative of the entire U.S. population. People who go to the V.A. are more likely to be of lower socioeconomic status, have several medical conditions, and live in a rural area. They are also generally older and almost all men,” O’Donovan says. 

“However, the V.A. did a very good job of gathering all of this information and releasing it quickly. Without that kind of real-time record-keeping, she says, it would be incredibly difficult to get this much information on a recent phenomenon.”

The findings “are unlikely to be specific to Covid-19,” says O’Donovan, “but are much more likely to generalize to other infections. An obvious issue is risk for the flu and prevention of the flu.”

These findings give reason to consider mental health when crafting responses to Covid-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks.

“This study adds to a body of literature that’s telling us that patients with psychiatric disorders may well be — and do appear to be — a vulnerable population in this pandemic that might need targeted prevention efforts,” says O’Donovan. “We may need to be focused on integrating Covid prevention into mental health care and also integrating mental health care into our Covid prevention strategies because the two are so interlinked.”

New Data Reveals How The End Of Covid-19 Pandemic Protocols Could Negatively Impact US Healthcare 

Whenever the Covid-19 pandemic ends, the US healthcare system may be disrupted greatly due to the amount of hospital systems who have been able to acquire new technology and resources to keep up with temporary emergency measures throughout the pandemic.  

When the many temporary emergency measures that have been implemented throughout the US’s healthcare system end, an estimated 15 million Medicaid recipients will likely need to find new coverage. Congress will need to take action in order to preserve the broad telehealth access that many Medicare users have been able to use throughout the pandemic. 

Beyond just patients, payment policies are also likely to change for doctors, hospitals, and insurers. Many are raising concerns over these issues because of their tie to the coronavirus public health emergency declaration that was made more than two years ago and needs to be periodically renewed in order to keep these protective policies in place. 

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The state of emergency is set to end on April 16th, and it’s expected that Biden will likely extend it through July, but many healthcare workers are hoping for a more secure extension that will last longer. Juliette Cubanski is a Medicare expert working with the Kaiser Family Foundation who recently spoke on the potential consequences of stepping back from the state of emergency. 

“The flexibilities granted through the public health emergency have helped people stay covered and get access to care, so moving forward the key question is how to build on what has been a success and not lose ground.”

Medicaid currently covers 79 million people through its state-federal health insurance program which is designed to assist low income individuals. The amount of people covered by Medicaid has increased at record rates throughout the pandemic. 

The Urban Institute revealed research that estimates about 15 million people could lose their Medicaid coverage when the public health emergency ends, at a rate of 1 million individuals per month. Matthew Buettgens of the Urban Institute stated that almost all of the people losing Medicaid will likely be eligible for “another source of coverage through employers, the Affordable Care Act or, for kids, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

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“But that’s not going to happen automatically. Cost and lack of awareness about options could get in the way. This is an unprecedented situation. The uncertainty is real,” said Buettgens. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure is an administrator at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, and she advises states to take it slow when it comes to rolling back on policies so that they have time to connect with Medicaid recipients who will be disenrolled to provide them with additional coverage. 

“We are focused on making sure we hold on to the gains in coverage we have made under the Biden-Harris administration. We are at the strongest point in our history and we are going to make sure that we hold on to the coverage gains,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. 

The end of the public health emergency could impact telehealth access for millions enrolled in traditional Medicare and other insurers. 

“Congress has given itself 151 days after the end of the public health emergency to come up with new rules. If there are no changes to the law after that, most Medicare beneficiaries will lose access to coverage for telehealth,” the Kaiser Foundation’s Cubanski said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra recently told The Associated Press that his department is “committed to giving ample notice when it ends the public health emergency. We want to make sure we’re not putting in a detrimental position Americans who still need our help. The one that people are really worried about is Medicaid.”