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vaccine

Scientists Create Vaccine To Potentially Help Protect Us From Future Coronaviruses 

Scientists have now created a vaccine that could potentially protect against a wide range of coronaviruses, including variants that may not even be known yet. 

The shot is currently in its experimental phase and has been tested on mice. This new vaccine shows a change in “proactive vaccinology,” which refers to when vaccines are developed to be ready for manufacturing before potential pandemic outbreaks.

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According to reports from The Guardian, this particular vaccine was developed by attaching harmless proteins from different coronaviruses to minuscule nanoparticles that are injected into the body to prime its defenses to fight the viruses if they were to invade. 

Since this vaccine was developed to train the immune system to target proteins that are shared among many various coronaviruses, the protection it could provide would be vast. 

“We’ve shown that a relatively simple vaccine can still provide a scattershot response across a range of different viruses. It takes us one step forward towards our goal of creating vaccines before a pandemic has even started,”  said Rory Hills, a graduate researcher at the University of Cambridge and first author of the report.

When the vaccines were tested in mice, the vaccine was shown to provide a broad immune response to coronaviruses. The study itself was a collaboration between the universities of Cambridge and Oxford and the California Institute of Technology, and has been published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Hills stated that the universal coronavirus vaccine can be produced in existing medical facilities for “microbial fermentation.” He added that the researchers involved in the recent study are working with industrial partners to scale up the production process.  

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The nanoparticles and viral proteins that are used to produce the vaccine can also each be made in separate facilities at different times. However, medical regulators currently don’t have procedures for proactive vaccinology, and those procedures would have to be developed as the vaccine becomes more available. 

The researchers said that if this vaccine proves to be safe and effective in humans, it could potentially be used as a Covid booster, which would not only protect against Covid-19, but other coronaviruses. 

 “In the event that a coronavirus or other pathogen crosses over you could have pre-existing vaccine stocks ready and a clear plan to quickly scale up production if needed,” Hills said.

“Scientists did a great job in quickly producing an extremely effective Covid vaccine during the last pandemic, but the world still had a massive crisis with a huge number of deaths. We need to work out how we can do even better than that in the future, and a powerful component of that is starting to build the vaccines in advance,” said Professor Mark Howarth, a senior author of the study

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What Health Officials Are Saying About New Covid Variant JN.1

JN.1 is the newest fast-spreading variant of Covid-19, and is now the most widely circulating version of the virus, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to reports from the Alabama Local News, JN.1 is an offspring of the Omicron variant, and currently accounts for 66% of the current positive cases of Covid-19; an increase from the 44% two weeks ago. 

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In a statement, the CDC said that “Covid-19 activity is currently high. Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased in recent weeks. JN.1 may be intensifying the spread of Covid-19 this winter.”

Covid-19 infections, however, are not causing severe disease as frequently as it was. The CDC’s recent report showed that while cases are up by 27% compared to this time last year, the number of Covid-related illnesses requiring emergency room visits are down by 21%. 

Overall Covid-19 hospitalizations are 22% lower when compared to 2023, and the total deaths associated with Covid is down by 38%. The CDC cited the immune protections provided by vaccines, prior infections, or the combination has led to these lower percentages. 

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“Over 97% of people have natural or vaccine-induced antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19. This immune protection can fade over time but tends to last longer for preventing severe disease than for preventing infections.”

While the JN.1 specifically hasn’t caused more severe illness for those who contract Covid-19, the symptoms are similar. ALN reported that these symptoms include: sore throat, congestion, runny nose, cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, fever, chills, loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

NBC News reported that of these symptoms, healthcare facilities have reported more upper respiratory symptoms followed by congestion and cough. The symptoms that were more common in earlier Covid-19 cases, such as loss of taste or smell and diarrhea, are much less present. 

All diagnostic Covid-19 tests, including common rapid antigen tests and PCR tests, are effective at detecting the JN.1 variant, as well as other variants. The CDC also reported that the variants are impacted by antiviral treatments as well.

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HV.1, The New Covid-19 Variant Spreading Throughout The US 

A new Covid-19 variant is dominating the cases in the US, with another version of the coronavirus already spreading overseas. 

Kelly Oakeson, the chief scientist for next generation sequencing and bioinformatics for the Utah Department of Health and Human services, stated that “virus evolution is what we’re seeing in real time,” according to Deseret News

HV.1 is the variant currently the most prevalent in the US. “The variant is just getting better at getting into our cells. It’s better at making us sick. It’s better at doing what viruses do,” Oakeson said. 

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“The variant hasn’t yet reached dominant status in Utah but should soon, since the state tends to lag about two weeks behind the national variant proportions estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said. 

When it comes to what citizens in Utah, where the variant is quite prominent, should know about HV.1, Oakeson stated that “it’s more infectious.” 

“It can definitely infect more people. That’s why we’re seeing it increase in prevalence in the population. The symptoms seem to be the same. The severity seems to be the same as EG.5. I wouldn’t call it severe but I wouldn’t call it mild.”

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“Mild seems to instill in people’s minds, ‘Oh, it’s nothing at all. I don’t have to worry about it. it’s not going to cause any serious effects.’ People are still dying from this, I wouldn’t call that mild. People are still getting long COVID from EG.5 or HV.1. I wouldn’t call that mild,” he explained. 

“People are still ending up in the hospital with this. I wouldn’t call that mild. COVID-19 could kill them … (or) they could get it, have a runny nose, and be fine. There’s a huge dynamic range there of symptoms and severity.”

“If it was happening in the summertime, it might have less of an impact on everything. But now that it’s happening in the fall/winter … people are indoors, it’s getting colder outside. There’s more holidays. 

You’re probably going to see an increase in cases for sure. Is that driven by HV.1? Is that driven solely by the seasonality, what time of year it is? No, it’s probably a combination of all of those things. … We’ve seen this now, year after year,” he explained.

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Getting Your Next Covid-19 Vaccine, With Or Without Insurance

Federal authorities are urging Americans to get the new Covid-19 vaccine, and to reach out to their insurers if they’re having issues getting the shot for free, as it’s been made available for no cost to any American citizen.

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Covid-19 Is Still A Part Of Our Reality: How The Virus And Our Immunity Has Changed

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 97% of people in the US have some level of immunity against Covid-19 through vaccination, infection, or both. Covid-19 infections are now on the rise again, and with the government slowing down on health and safety measures since the public health emergency was declared over in May, many individuals are wondering what to do as we enter this next wave of infections.

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US Experts Warn Of New Covid Variant, Eris

This summer in the US, a new Covid-19 variant has become the dominant strain currently spreading throughout the nation, according to infectious disease experts. Experts are warning Americans to remain diligent about their Covid-19 safety procedures and vaccine boosters to keep themselves protected from this spike. 

The technical name of this strain is EG.51, a subvariant of Omicron also referred to as Eris. The Eris variant is currently the leading strain of the virus, accounting for about 17% of Covid cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Experts state that the rise in infection and hospitalizations do not indicate a need for health and safety measures to be mandated, however, the new variant is a part of a potential evolution of the virus, so it’s important for people to protect themselves. 

​​“As this virus continues to circulate, the potential for mutations to occur remains, and so we will see new genetic variants. It’s very often the case when we see new genetic variants that they may increase in circulation. Sometimes they replace the variants that came before; sometimes they just kind of burn themselves out,”  said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health.

People should continue to take Covid-19 tests if they feel sick, and stay diligent about monitoring virus data, especially if they’re in a vulnerable immunocompromised position. 

“We do need to continue to keep our eye out and be cautious for something that is truly like a new pandemic strain, which EG.5.1 is not,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina.

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“The biggest concern that we have right now is that testing is not nearly what it was in many, many countries, including the United States,” Nuzzo said. This means it’s more difficult to track trends in the virus. 

“Even if there is a high percentage of test positivity, it’s unclear whether it’s because the only people getting tested right now are people who are really quite ill and know very well that they have Covid, versus maybe in the past people getting tested were people who needed a negative test before they could play sports or go to camp. That meant that we were sampling a larger portion of the population,” Nuzzo said

“Public health agencies rely on wastewater testing, which allows them to see the amount of Covid and what variants are in that concentration. But it’s harder for people collecting that data to determine whether that means people are getting sicker or whether a person who is infected is infecting more people on a per-person basis,” Nuzzo said.

“We can’t link the wastewater data to people. It’s totally anonymous. If the variant is a problem, we will see it, but the question is: how early will we see it? I don’t think there is this hidden severe wave,” Nuzzo added.

“Also, as the fall virus season approaches – meaning a likely uptick in Covid, flu and RSV cases – it’s important for healthcare workers to conduct tests in places with inadequate healthcare infrastructure, such as rural areas and low-income communities,” Nuzzo said.

According to the CDC, there were around 9,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations during the last week of July, marking a 28% increase from June.

New Study Offers Explanation As To Why Some Covid Patients Never Felt Symptoms 

In a new study published in Nature this month, scientists have estimated that over 20% of people who were infected with Covid-19 never had any symptoms, and now believe that their genetics are the reasoning behind why they never felt sick. 

Some people have a version of a gene in their immune system known as HLA-B which protects them from feeling the effects of the virus. The study found that people with a special variant of the gene are 2 to 8.5 times more likely to be asymptomatic than those without the variant. 

Scientists have concluded that this protein remembers infections from other seasonal coronaviruses, such as many common colds, and thus remembers how to go after the Covid-19 virus. 

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Jill Hollenbach is an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco who led the research in the new study. Hollenbach herself had Covid-19, but it wasn’t an asymptomatic experience. 

“I had Covid-19. I was sick for about a week. I didn’t love it,” Hollenbach explained, describing a more average experience with moderate symptoms before making a full recovery. Now, her research is very focused on the more extreme cases, as well as cases with no symptoms. 

“One extreme is very severe disease [leading to hospitalization or death]. And the other end of that spectrum is you didn’t have any symptoms. We really haven’t understood what’s driving that,” she stated.

Hollenbach’s Covid-19 Citizen Science Study received contributions from the Be The Match program, which accepts donations of bone marrow from volunteers. 

“We simply asked people who were registered donors to track their COVID experience through a smartphone app and consented to let us look at their genetic data and link it to their answers,” Hollenbach said.

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When it comes to the HLA variants, Hollenbach found that one specific one, known as HLA-B*15:01, was associated with asymptomatic Covid. 

“To be fair, not everybody that has [HLA-B*15:01] will be asymptomatic. But it was a really clear, robust and replicable association. The thinking is that your exposure to some seasonal cold viruses, that in some cases share a lot of similarities with parts of SARS-CoV-2, gave you some existing immunity,” Hollenbach says.

Dr. Eric Topol, a physician-scientist at the Scripps Research Institute, discussed how this recent study could be the first step in further medical research: “It’s a breakthrough, I think it may wind up giving us a whole new map for what to do in terms of drugs and vaccines, which is really notable.”

One in every five people in the study were reported to be asymptomatic when they contracted Covid-19, and had the HLA-B*15:01 variant, there may even be other variants that offer the same potential protection. 

“I think that it gives us an opportunity to think about potentially developing vaccines and therapeutics that are aimed not at preventing infection but preventing symptoms,” Hollenbach says.

“If you can find a path so that people don’t get sick from COVID. That’s extraordinary,” Topol says.

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New Study Suggests Women Leading Healthy Lifestyles May Reduce Their Risk Of Long Covid By Half

“Among the women who contracted Covid-19 during the study, 44% of them developed long Covid and of those women, the participants who practiced five or six of the healthy lifestyle factors lowered their risk of long covid by 49%.”

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Grand Canyon’s Havasu Falls Reopening After 3-Year Closure 

Havasu Falls is known as one of the most beautiful and popular features of the Grand Canyon. The Falls have been closed for the past three years after initially closing down due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

The reopening of Havasu Falls is scheduled for February 1st, however, access will initially be limited for small groups. 

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People who had reservations before the Falls closed three years ago will have the first chance to reschedule their visit.

Havasu Falls is famously known for its mesmerizing pool located at the base of where the water falls. The land itself is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and while it’s adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park, the Havasupai tribe has full control over the falls.

As of right now, no new 2023 reservations are being offered to give individuals who had their trips suspended the opportunity to finally bear witness to the beauty of the falls. However, if the individuals who had their trips suspended opt out of rescheduling their visit, their spots will be made available online. 

According to the Havasu Falls official Facebook page, “the tribe says that “the only way to get a reservation for 2023 is to purchase off the official transfer list. Open an account at www.havasupaireservations.com to see what is available.”

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Individuals who had their initial trips suspended have a limited window to sign up for rescheduling, as the tribe warned that they’re implementing a “new check-in process and there may be some delays as [they] work through the system.”

According to their most recent Facebook post, the tribe sent out detailed instructional emails to trip leaders last week, specifically for groups who had trip arrival dates throughout the entire month of February this year. 

Havasu Falls was closed for so long due to the disproportionate healthcare problems faced by Native American tribes throughout the US during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We closed our Reservation in March 2020. With limited access to meaningful healthcare, closing the reservation was the best way to keep our community safe and healthy. We have remained closed to tourists since that time.” 

Additionally, in October 2022 the trails and bridges at Havasu Falls were damaged by severe flooding, the debris have recently been cleaned up, hence the February 1st reopening date. 

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China Gearing Up For Likely Covid-19 Surge As Travel For The Lunar New Year Begins

The Lunar New Year holidays, also referred to as the spring festival, officially begins on January 21st. Local media outlets have already been reporting massive spikes in Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths, along with supply and drug shortages to combat the spread.