'I'm sorry but it's too late' - unvaccinated patients beg for shot; J&J vaccine may be less effective against delta variant: live COVID news

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USA TODAY 21 July, 2021 - 09:48am 23 views

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may not be as effective as those with mRNA technology, according to a new study. More COVID-19 updates.

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The Delta variant is spreading in the US, but the WHO, CDC and local governments have put out conflicting mask-wearing guidance. Here's what we know. USA TODAY

An Alabama physician glumly says she is making "a lot of progress" in encouraging people to vaccinate – as she struggles to keep them alive.

Dr.  Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham and virus survivor, wrote in a recent Facebook post that she is treating a lot of young, otherwise healthy people for serious coronavirus infections.

"One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine," she wrote. "I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late."

Cobia says that, when the patient dies, she hugs their family members and urges them to get vaccinated. She says they cry and tell her they thought the pandemic was a hoax, or political, or targeting some other age group or skin color.

"They wish they could go back. But they can't," Cobia wrote. "So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives."

Cobia was pregnant when she battled the virus herself last summer, suffering from a low-grade fever, sore throat, fatigue, congestion, and sneezing. She had spent a weekend with other family members – and eight of them ultimately tested positive for the virus, including her husband. Most suffered more severe symptoms than she did, she said.

"The fear that I feel for myself and my unborn baby is bad enough, but the guilt that I feel for exposing people that trusted me is what I want to focus on," she wrote in a Facebook post at the time. "Don't be me. Don't wear a mask everywhere else in the world EXCEPT around your core."

►Dr. Anthony Fauci recommends that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance calling for everyone older than 2 to wear masks at school regardless of vaccination status. Fauci told "CBS This Morning” the CDC is reviewing its guidance calling for only unvaccinated children and adults to wear masks.

►Public health researchers  called the rise in cases and hospitalizations in Arkansas a “raging forest fire,” and the state’s top health official warned that he expects significant outbreaks in schools. Only 35% of Arkansans are fully vaccinated.

►Las Vegas employees are now required to wear masks indoors, but the mandate will not be extended to tourists strolling the strip or gathering in casinos, Clark County commissioners decided. The new mandate will remain in place until at least Aug. 17.

►Apple is reportedly delaying their return to the office by at least a month until October due to delta variant’s spread, Bloomberg reported. CEO Tim Cook previously said that employees would return to the office three days a week in September.

►A White House official and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tested positive for the coronavirus after attending an event together, a White House official confirmed. Both were fully vaccinated.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 609,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 191 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. More than 161.4 million Americans — 48.6% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we're reading: Amid fears over COVID cases in Congress, the White House and public health experts urge vaccinations.

The U.S. will continue to restrict non-essential travelers from Mexico and Canada via land and ferry at least through Aug. 21, according to documents to be published in the Federal Register. The previous border restrictions were set to end Thursday. Travelers from Canada and Mexico can still come into the U.S. by air with proof of a negative COVID test or recovery from COVID. The borders were first closed to leisure travelers in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The restrictions have been extended on a monthly basis ever since.

Canada announced Monday that it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents Aug. 9, with plans to allow fully vaccinated travelers from any country on Sept. 7.

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may not be as effective as those with mRNA technology, according to a new study. The study, posted by bioRxiv, says that the 13 million people who received the vaccine may need to receive a second dose, ideally the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Although the study has not been peer-reviewed nor published, the findings align with studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine that concludes one dose of the vaccine is 33% effective against symptomatic disease of the Delta variant and 60% effective against the variant after the second dose. The results contradict studies published by Johnson & Johnson that say a single dose of their vaccine is effective against the variant. 

“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J.&J. vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J.&J. or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” Nathaniel Landau, a virologist at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine who led the study, told New York Times.

Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 can apply for up to $9,000 in funeral assistance, but some are finding it hard to get the money. More than $710 million has so far been distributed to 107,000 people. But some applicants said they struggled to prove to FEMA that their relative had died from COVID if another cause of death, such as underlying conditions like heart disease or diabetes, was listed on the death certificate – especially during the early days of the pandemic when testing was limited. FEMA says it is streamlining the paperwork, but Kalpana Kpoto says she submitted paperwork three times on the FEMA website after her mother died last year. Her documents were finally approved, but she has seen no money.

"I'm still waiting," Kpoto said, "It's a process." 

Desireé Williams

The United States saw the largest one-year drop in life expectancy since World War II during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hispanic and Black populations saw the largest declines, according to government data released Wednesday.

Life expectancy at birth declined by 1.5 years in 2020 to 77.3 – the lowest level since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics found. Between 1942 and 1943, during the Second World War, life expectancy in the U.S. declined 2.9 years.

"The numbers are devastating," said Chantel Martin, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "The declines that we see, particularly among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black population, are massive." 

Health experts said the life expectancy data is further proof of the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color. 

COVID-19 deaths contributed to about 74% of the decline in life expectancy among the general U.S. population, according to the data. Another 11% of the decline can be attributed to increases in deaths from accidents or unintentional injuries, including drug overdose deaths. Read more here.

A recent study reveals another devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on children around the world. Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital estimate more than a million children may have been orphaned because of a COVID-19-related death, according to their model published Tuesday in The Lancet. They defined orphaned as losing at least one parent.

The countries with the highest number of children who lost primary caregivers included the United States, South Africa, Peru, India, Brazil and Mexico. Read more here.

Nevada-based scientists argue in a new study that wildfire smoke may increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus. A study published last week by scientists at the Desert Research Institute found that coronavirus infection rates increased disproportionately during wildfire season in 2020, when smoke from fires in neighboring states blanketed much of northern Nevada.

In a paper in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, Desert Research Institute Assistant Research Scientist Daniel Kiser and four co-authors note the test positivity rate in Washoe County increased significantly during periods when monitors measured high levels of particulate matter in the air from wildfire smoke.

For every 10 micrograms per cubic meter of small particulate matter known as PM2.5 in the air, the positivity rate increased about 6.3% two to six days later, the study found. Kiser said the study was observational and noted that the uptick could be attributed to other factors, such as last year’s second surge, students returning to schools or changes in local restrictions. But he said momentary upticks during periods of high pollution suggested a connection between smoke and the spread of the virus.

“That temporary association in the midst of a large uptick in cases overall is what convinced us that something’s going on,” he told the Associated Press.

Shelby County Schools, Tennessee's largest district, will continue requiring masks of all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, the district announced. All district students are required to return to in-person learning Aug. 9, the first time since the district shuttered in March 2020. Since then, all in-person attendance for students has been optional. Teachers were required to return in-person last March.

The district says it encourages COVID-19 vaccinations, but will not require them of students or employees.

"The District is mindful of the rising cases and the spread of the Delta variant," the SCS announcement said. The move is in line with American Academy of Pediatrics guidance issued Monday, calling for students to learn in person this school year and that for all people, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in schools. 

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