You know what's spooky? Not getting your flu shot this year. 👻 As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to go sleeves up for the flu vaccine to protect yourself and help out our healthcare system. Find flu shot facts at ldh.la.gov/fighttheflu. #lagov pic.twitter.com/D50aWlybw8
1/ After taking COVID and flu shots, Angela West tested positive for COVID yesterday, Friday. Col. West is experiencing a low grade fever and light body aches. Out of concern for public health, Col. West is suspending in-person events until receiving an all-clear indication. pic.twitter.com/Cwpc2XkWVG
Now is the time! @CDCgov recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October to stay protected throughout flu season. (You can even get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time). #GetVaccinated www.twincities.com/2021/10/07/us-health-experts-urge-flu-shots-to-avoid-twindemic/
Like the #COVID19 vaccine, the flu shot can prevent illnesses, hospitalization, and death. It is now more important than ever to get both to keep yourself & your family healthy. Make a plan to get your shot by the end of October for the best protection. cdc.gov/fightflu
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LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. — Health officials in Larimer County urge residents to get vaccinated and wear their masks as the fall and winter months approach to help keep hospitalizations down.
The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment said in a press release that they are bracing for a potential surge in COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and influenza (flu). The number of people getting sick could bring a large number of patients into hospitals.
Hospitals in Larimer County have been at or above capacity for over four weeks, according to Tom Gonzales, the Larimer County public health director.
"I am very concerned about our standard care for any medical emergency in Larimer County," he said.
According to Gonzales, hospitals are having to turn away patients because there isn't enough room in the county. They are transporting patients to other facilities along the I-25 corridor.
On July 14, Larimer County said there were 10 patients with COVID-19 in county hospitals. On Saturday, 86 patients were hospitalized. Since September 1, 26 patients have died from the virus. The county said the majority of the people who passed away were unvaccinated.
As of Oct. 9, Larimer County ICU utilization is at 105% of the level of customary care. 40 percent of patients in the ICU have COVID-19.
With the potential increase of COVID-19, RSV, and the flu, Larmier County is asking the community to help stop the spread by doing the following:
"Even if we have a mild influenza season with 100 hospitalizations, on top of COVID-19, our hospitals are going to be overwhelmed," Gonzales said.
Larimer County is anticipating at least a mild influenza season. Last year, Gonzales said they only had three hospitalizations for the flu.
"That was due to being in Colorado," he said. "The Colorado dial, wearing our face coverings, staying at home, and we don't have many of those restrictions right now."
This is the second time this year Larimer County officials have urged the community to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Back in August, ICU beds in the main hospital were at full capacity.
"If you have a regular health emergency, whether that is a heart attack, a trauma from an accident, we don't have beds for these individuals," he said.
Anyone in Larimer County looking to get vaccinated can visit the Larimer County website to see where they can get vaccinated and make an appointment.
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09 October, 2021 - 09:01pm
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“We need to have safe workplaces,” Edwards said, suggesting testing requirements for unvaccinated workers to ensure they weren’t spreading the deadly disease.
But more than a month later, no such testing regiment has been implemented, even after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Aug. 23.
Ultimately, the endeavor proved too difficult, Edwards said.
“We continue to make the case for people to be vaccinated, because it’s the right thing to do,” the governor said at a press conference last week. “But standing up the testing program that would be required is really challenging.”
Hurricane Ida is partly to blame.
The catastrophic storm made landfall shortly after the FDA granted the vaccine full approval, and officials have had little time in its aftermath to focus on the logistical hurdles of setting up a testing program for state workers.
A nationwide shortage in rapid COVID tests is also to blame, the governor said. Though Louisiana’s Department of Health has around 150,000 rapid tests in stock, much of those are being used to support testing in K-12 schools and areas impacted by Ida.
However, that could soon change. The White House recently announced that it was investing $2 billion to ramp up production of certain at-home rapid tests, which federal officials say will quadruple their availability by the end of the year.
But even if the supplies were sufficient, it's unclear how Louisiana would coordinate making those tests available to all of its workers. The state employs more than 40,000 people in offices in all 64 parishes. The Health Department said it isn't feasible to set up testing sites at every state office.
“Implementing this kind of vaccination and testing policy for our executive branch employees is challenging, as there are many moving parts, and we have many executive branch employees,” the governor’s spokesperson, Christina Stephens, wrote Thursday in a statement.
It's unclear how many state employees remain unvaccinated, but Edwards hoped to use the policy to nudge workers to roll up their sleeves.
“We think we can say, ‘You’re a state employee. You’re not vaccinated. You got to go get a test. And if you don’t, you’re going to be fired.’ We can do that,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said in August.
Some states are requiring employees get the vaccine and do not offer a testing alternative for the unvaccinated, an option that Edwards doesn’t intend to implement in Louisiana right now, Stephens said.
“Moving forward, we are going to continue to evaluate our testing stock and other options for testing state workers who are not yet vaccinated,” Stephens said.
But several questions remain, including how often testing would be required, when it would be offered and how the state would pay for it.
State law prohibits a public employer from requiring an employee to pay for a medical or drug test as a condition of employment, so taxpayers will have to pick up the tab.
Email Blake Paterson at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater
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09 October, 2021 - 09:01pm
09 October, 2021 - 09:01pm
Vaccine makers are betting that the mRNA technology powering two successful Covid vaccines will help curb the tragic global death toll from the flu.
As the world grapples with Covid-19, influenza isn’t getting much attention these days. But the flu’s global impact is staggering: three million to five million cases of severe illness every year, and up to 650,000 deaths. Every few decades, a new flu strain spills over from animals and leads to a pandemic.
The deadly toll of influenza is all the more striking when you consider that we have had vaccines to fight it for eight decades. But they remain mediocre. A flu shot is good for only one flu season, and its effectiveness typically reaches somewhere between 40 and 60 percent. In some years it’s as low as 10 percent.
But a new generation of highly effective flu vaccines may emerge in the next few years, based on the same mRNA technology that has protected hundreds of millions of people against Covid-19.
While traditional influenza vaccines are grown for months in chicken eggs, mRNA vaccines are manufactured relatively quickly from scratch. In theory, their faster production may make them better matched to each season’s flu strains. And when they’re injected into people, they may provoke a stronger immune response than traditional flu vaccines do.
Two companies — Moderna, the Massachusetts biotech company that produced one of the authorized mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, and Sanofi, a French vaccine maker — began trials for mRNA flu vaccines this summer. Pfizer and BioNTech, the companies that produced the other mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, started their own flu trial last month. And Seqirus, a vaccine producer based in England, is planning to test another mRNA vaccine for the flu early next year.
No one can say for sure how well any of these four seasonal flu vaccines will turn out, but many experts are optimistic. And further down the line, mRNA technology may be tailored to make vaccines that work for years against a wide range of influenza strains.
“I am beyond excited for the future of flu vaccination,” said Jenna Bartley, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut.
The 1918 influenza pandemic was the worst in modern history, killing somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people. As the death toll climbed, doctors responded by inoculating people by the thousands with an assortment of experimental vaccines. None of them worked.
Scientists at the time wrongly believed that disease was caused by bacteria, not viruses. That error led them to make vaccines from the microbes they gathered in the sputum of flu patients. The vaccines were useless at mounting an immune defense against the viral disease.
It was not until 1933 that British virologists isolated the influenza virus, finally making it possible to design an effective vaccine. Researchers injected influenza viruses into chicken eggs, where they multiplied. Once they had extracted and purified the new viruses, they killed them with chemicals, and injected the inactivated viruses into people.
The United States licensed the first commercial influenza vaccine in 1945. The Nobel-prize-winning virologist Wendell Stanley hailed the milestone, declaring that the vaccine would prevent influenza from ever again becoming “one of the great destroyers of human life.”
But the vaccine didn’t quite live up to Dr. Stanley’s hopes. Influenza outfoxed it with an awesome power to mutate.
During an influenza infection, cells in our airway begin copying the virus’s genome, allowing it to proliferate. The copying process results in lots of genetic errors. Sometimes these mutations will enable the virus to escape the body’s immune response spurred by a vaccine.
Flu viruses also have another route to rapid evolution. If two types of flu viruses infect the same cell, it can produce a genetic hybrid, which may evade vaccine-triggered immunity even more successfully.
This extraordinary capacity for change also explains why several strains of flu may circulate in a single flu season, and new strains may rise to dominance the following year.
“The flu virus, for lack of a better word, is just kind of a jerk,” Dr. Bartley said.
Vaccine makers have responded by including up to four different strains in their annual formulations. But because producing vaccines in chicken eggs is such a slow process, scientists must choose which strains to include several months before a flu season, often leading to a mismatch when the shape-shifting virus actually arrives.
“It’s an educated guessing game,” said Dr. Alicia Widge, an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center. “We’re always catching up with the virus.”
Between 2004 and 2019, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine ranged from as high as 60 percent to as low as 10 percent. Even that modest protection translates into a lot of benefit, however, because so many people get the flu every year. In addition to lowering the odds of getting infected, the vaccine also lowers the chances that people sick with the flu have to go to the hospital.
In the 2018-19 flu season, the flu vaccine — with an effectiveness of just 29 percent — prevented an estimated 4.4 million illnesses in the United States alone, plus 58,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths, according to one study.
If scientists could make more robust flu vaccines, they could potentially save thousands of additional lives.
“The bottom line is that the flu vaccines we have aren’t good enough,” said Nicholas Heaton, a virologist at Duke University School of Medicine.
In the 1990s, a few researchers set out on an entirely new course, making flu vaccines from mRNA.
The idea behind the technology was radically different than the chicken-egg approach. In effect, the new shots would turn people’s own cells into vaccine factories.
Scientists would create an mRNA molecule with the instructions for making an influenza protein, then deliver it into cells. Those cells would then make copies of the viral protein, some of which would end up on their surface. Immune cells passing by would detect the alien proteins and respond with a defense against the virus.
In 1993, a team of French scientists conducted the first experiments on an mRNA vaccine for the flu. The vaccines produced promising responses in mice, but were still primitive. For one thing, the animal’s cells sometimes responded to the vaccine’s mRNA by destroying it, as if it belonged to a foreign enemy. It took more than two decades of additional lab work before mRNA vaccines were ready for human trials.
When Moderna formed in 2010 to bring mRNA vaccines to the clinic, influenza was one of the first diseases it tackled. The company started with vaccines for two flu strains that normally infected birds but sometimes sickened people — exactly the kind of viruses that might give rise to new pandemics.
Their first clinical trial results, in 2016, were encouraging. The volunteers produced antibodies against the viruses, though they also had side effects like fever and fatigue. The results spurred Moderna to build a new factory in Norwood, Mass., where the company could make large quantities of mRNA for more clinical trials.
The company began developing a new flu vaccine, this one for seasonal influenza rather than for pandemics. And the researchers worked on making the side effects of the vaccine less severe.
“You want folks to feel comfortable strolling into CVS and getting their shot, and not be worried about adverse events,” said Rose Loughlin, vice president for research and development strategy at Moderna.
Over the next year, Moderna made and tested a Covid mRNA vaccine in record speed. And its shot, like that of its primary competitor, Pfizer-BioNTech, was remarkably protective, with an efficacy rate around 95 percent.
The success of mRNA vaccines delivered huge revenues to both companies. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is on track to become the best-selling medicine of all time. And Moderna’s market cap since the beginning of the pandemic increased 26-fold to around $123 billion.
Riding the mRNA wave, these companies, along with Sanofi and Seqirus, are moving on to seasonal flu projects.
Jean-François Toussaint, Sanofi Pasteur’s head of global research and development, cautioned that the success of mRNA vaccines against Covid did not guarantee similar results for influenza.
“We need to be humble,” he said. “The data will tell us if it works.”
But some studies suggest that mRNA vaccines might prove more potent than traditional ones. In animal studies, mRNA vaccines seem to provide a broader defense against influenza viruses. They prompt the animals’ immune systems to make antibodies against the virus, and also train immune cells to attack infected cells.
But perhaps most important for the flu, mRNA vaccines can be made rapidly. The speed of mRNA manufacturing may allow vaccine makers to wait a few extra months before picking which influenza strains to use, potentially leading to a better match.
“If you could guarantee 80 percent every year, I think that would be a major public health benefit,” said Dr. Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer.
The technology also makes it easier for mRNA vaccine makers to create combination shots. Along with mRNA molecules for different strains of influenza, they can also add mRNA molecules for entirely different respiratory diseases.
At a Sept. 9 presentation for investors, Moderna shared results from a new experiment in which researchers gave mice vaccines combining mRNAs for three respiratory viruses: seasonal flu, Covid-19 and a common pathogen called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The mice produced high levels of antibodies against all three viruses.
Other researchers have been searching for a universal flu vaccine that could protect people for many years by fending off a broad range of influenza strains. Rather than an annual shot, people might need only a booster every few years. In the best-case scenario, one vaccination might even work for a lifetime.
At the University of Pennsylvania, a team of researchers led by Norbert Pardi is developing mRNA vaccines that encode proteins from influenza viruses that mutate only rarely. Experiments in animals hint that these vaccines could remain effective from year to year.
Although Moderna isn’t working on a universal flu vaccine at the moment, “it’s absolutely something we’d be interested in for the future,” said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, the company’s head of infectious disease research.
Even if mRNA flu vaccines live up to expectations, they will probably need a few years to gain approval. Trials for mRNA flu vaccines won’t get the tremendous government support that Covid-19 vaccines did. Nor will regulators be allowing them to get emergency authorization. Seasonal flu is hardly a new threat, and it can already be countered with licensed vaccines.
So the manufacturers will have to take the longer path to full approval. If the early clinical trials turn out well, vaccine makers will then have to move on to large-scale trials that may need to stretch through several flu seasons.
“It should work,” said Dr. Bartley of the University of Connecticut. “But obviously that’s why we do research — to make sure ‘should’ and ‘does’ are the same thing.”
09 October, 2021 - 07:00am
In her quest to run all six major marathons in this closely packed fall season, Flanagan will run Chicago on Sunday and Boston on Monday.
With the world’s six major marathons — Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo and New York City — squeezed into a six-week window this fall, most top runners had a tough decision to make.
Flanagan, who won the 2017 New York City Marathon, these days coaches Nike’s Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore. But she saw an opportunity in the closely packed schedule created by the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed three spring races into the fall. Most marathoners wanted to run just one marathon. Flanagan wanted to run in all six, and to try to complete each one in under three hours, a pace of under 6 minutes 50 seconds per mile.
So far, so good. She ran the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 26 in a faster-than-expected 2 hours 38 minutes. Seven days later, she finished in London in 2:35:04.
Now comes an exhausting holiday weekend: the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, followed by the Boston Marathon on Monday. That is two marathons, nearly a thousand miles apart, in roughly 28 hours.
If she can walk after that, she will do a virtual version of the Tokyo Marathon at home in Oregon next weekend, since organizers canceled the in-person event because of the pandemic. Then it’s off to the New York City Marathon, which is Nov. 7.
That’s a heavy workload after two major knee reconstructions in 2019. Her patellas have hamstring tendons from cadavers.
“I missed pushing myself,” Flanagan, 40, said of life after the end of her competitive running career. “It was just fun to have a big goal again.”
So much for taking it easy in retirement.
As it turns out, old habits, especially for people who have spent the vast majority of their lives competing and whose identities are so closely tied to running races, die very hard.
Deena Kastor, 48, the American record-holder in the marathon, maintains she will never officially retire and is planning to race in the Berlin marathon next year. Kara Goucher, 43, an Olympian in 2008 and 2012, has in recent years competed in trail races, and doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
“We all reach a point where we know we can’t make that podium anymore, but it’s difficult at that point to just walk away and not challenge yourself anymore,” Goucher said this week.
Still, six sub-three-hour marathons in 43 days is a particularly gritty challenge. It would gain Flanagan, who rarely ran more than two marathons a year in her professional career, entry into the Marathon Maniacs, a group in Tacoma, Wash., that requires aspiring members to run two marathons within 16 days or three within 90.
And yet, two sub-three-hour marathons in 28 hours, with the second one being the hardest of the six majors because of the dreaded Newton hills in the second half of the race, is on a different level of kooky.
“It’s so typical of Boston to be the super hard part,” said Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Mass., northeast of the city.
This weekend’s double has loomed over her training. She hunted for training spots in sweltering Tokyo during the Olympics, where several of the athletes she coaches were competing. She was not allowed outside the Olympic bubble, though she could run on the warm-up track with her athletes outside the Olympic Stadium — until it was clogged with hurdlers and sprinters. The U.S. team’s training facility was a 45-minute bus ride away. She missed several days of training, and never had a run that lasted more than 10 miles while in Japan.
She tried to mimic a shorter version of the Chicago-Boston double last month, running 20-plus miles on a flat course one day, then 21 miles at a 6:40 per mile pace on hilly terrain the next day. Changing her 17-month-old son’s diapers and working in her garden after the first run served as a stand-in for what could be a hectic journey from Chicago to Boston.
In Berlin, where she started conservatively, Flanagan averaged about 6:40 per mile for the first third of the race as she ran with her physical therapist, Colleen Little, a sub-three-hour marathoner in her own right. But on Berlin’s flat course on a not-too-sunny day, she hit the gas in the second half, clicking off a 5:30 mile at one point.
Speaking from London days later, she said her back was sore, probably from lugging her son around. Otherwise she was fine. Still, she said, she was planning to slow down for London.
She landed in a corral with the sub-elite men, got caught in their wave of speed, lost track of her splits and ended up passing the halfway mark in 75 minutes. Whoops.
She told herself it was time to back off, but barely did, even though she knew the door to the pain cave might be just around the corner. Her body started to quit around the 20-mile mark. Her quads were on fire, and she could barely lift her legs. She even started walking in the last mile because she thought she was going to fall over. She finished in just over 2:35.
“That last five kilometers was absolutely brutal,” she said on Tuesday.
Her legs had started to recover, she said, but her right foot was a bit janky. It felt as if she had rolled her right ankle even though she knew she hadn’t.
On Wednesday, Little said, a massage and some joint mobilization work helped matters, especially with the sore ankle.
“When Shalane told me she wanted to do this, the physical therapist in me was wary but the endurance athlete in me was like, ‘I want to do it with you,’” Little said. “I just want her to be as healthy coming out of this as she was going in.”
Flanagan is sure she can be, and she really does plan to slow down this weekend so she can accomplish the original goal of completing all six races.
“I know I am a better person if I run,” she said. “I just needed something else other than running for the sake of running.”