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After Pfizer, Moderna, US advisers endorse Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON, Feb 27: S health advisers endorsed a one-dose Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic.

The acting head of the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that the agency will move quickly to follow the recommendation, which would make J&J's shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the US.

Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. Once FDA issues a final decision, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday.

"There's an urgency to get this done," said Dr Jay Portnoy of Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

"We're in a race between the virus mutating - and new variants coming out that can cause further disease - and stopping it."

More than 47 million people in the US, or 14 per cent of the population, have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays due to winter storms.

While early J&J supplies will be small, the company has said it can deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June.

J&J's vaccine protects against the worst effects of Covid-19 after one shot, and it can be stored up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to handle than the previous vaccines, which must be frozen.

One challenge in rolling out the new vaccine will be explaining how protective the J&J shot is after the astounding success of the first US vaccines.

"It's important that people do not think that one vaccine is better than another," said panelist Dr Cody Meissner of Tufts University.

The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were found to be about 95 per cent effective against symptomatic Covid-19.

The numbers from J&J's study are not that high, but it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. One dose of the J&J vaccine was 85 per cent protective against the most severe Covid-19. After adding in moderate cases, the total effectiveness dropped to about 66 per cent.

Some experts fear that lower number could feed public perceptions that J&J's shot is a "second-tier vaccine." But the difference in protection reflects when and where J&J conducted its studies.

J&J's vaccine was tested in the US, Latin America and South Africa at a time when more contagious mutated versions of the virus were spreading. That wasn't the case last fall, when Pfizer and Moderna were wrapping up testing, and it's not clear if their numbers would hold against the most worrisome of those variants.

Importantly, the FDA reported this week that, just like its predecessors, the J&J shot offers strong protection against the worst outcomes, hospitalization and death.

While J&J is seeking FDA authorization for its single-dose version, the company is also studying whether a second dose boosts protection.

Panel member Dr Paul Offit warned that launching a two-dose version of the vaccine down the road might cause problems.

"You can see where that would be confusing to people thinking, 'Maybe I didn't get what I needed,'" said Offit, a vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It's a messaging challenge."

J&J representatives said they chose to begin with the single shot because the World Health Organization and other experts agreed it would be a faster, more effective tool in an emergency.

Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since their January peak that followed the winter holidays. But public health officials warned that those gains may be stalling as more variants take root in the US.

"We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said during a White House briefing Friday. She noted that new Covid-19 cases have increased over the past few days.

While it's too early to tell if the trend will last, Walensky said adding a third vaccine "will help protect more people faster." More vaccines are in the pipeline.

On Sunday, a CDC panel is expected to meet to recommend how to best prioritize use of the J&J vaccine.

Other parts of the world already are facing which-is-best challenges. Italy's main teachers' union recently protested when the government decided to reserve Pfizer and Moderna shots for the elderly and designate AstraZeneca's vaccine for younger, at-risk workers. AstraZeneca's vaccine was deemed to be about 70 per cent effective in testing.

Experts reveal sleeping naked could mean more shuteye

LONDON, Feb 26: Going to bed naked is officially the best way to get some shuteye, according to a new study.

'How to sleep' is Googled nearly four million times per month globally, so the experts at TheDozyOwl decided to find out what the best thing is to wear to bed in order to get better sleep.

The team conducted a month-long study with 2,680 volunteers worldwide, who were asked to record their Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycles via a sleep monitor.

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) is seen as the most important stage of our sleep cycle as it stimulates areas of the brain essential for learning and memory. REM should make up around 23 per cent of our sleep.

According to the results sleeping naked will increase your REM sleep the most.

On average participants recorded a 26.5 per cent sleep score. Men gained the most out of sleeping in the nude with an average of 27 per cent REM sleep a night, with women following closely behind with 26 per cent.

In second place are a t-shirt and shorts set averaging a 26 per cent REM sleep score. Women sleep the best in this pyjama style (27%), with men resulting in a respectful 25 per cent REM sleep per night.

Another short pyjama style, boxers and underpants, came in third with participants seeing an average of 25.5 per cent REM sleep. This nipple freeing attire helped men achieve the highest REM sleep a night with an average of 27 per cent and women at 24 per cent.

What not to wear to bed

On the flip side, a the t-shirt and pants combo should be avoided, as volunteers recorded a low average REM sleep score of just 17.5 per cent. Both women (18%) and men (17%) scored under the recommended average of REM sleep.

In second last place is the iconic bathrobe - it scored a 19 per cent REM sleep average.

Not the most obvious pyjama choice, bathrobes are best left hanging in the bathroom as women reported a mere 18 per cent REM sleep and men with 20 per cent.

To wear socks to bed or not

Finally, the sleep experts also wanted to settle the socks in bed on or off debate once and for all, asking a group of volunteers to add socks to their sleep attire.

It was pretty close in the end with participants who wore socks in bed recording an average of 27 per cent REM sleep as opposed to socks off (26% REM).

It appears that women sleep better with socks on, as the results illustrate a 3% discrepancy (socks on with 28% REM sleep and socks off with 25% REM sleep).

Russia Reports First Cases Of Bird Flu In Humans

MOSCOW, Feb 20: Russia said Saturday its scientists had detected the first case of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu to humans and had alerted the World Health Organization.

In televised remarks, the head of Russia's health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, said scientists at the Vektor laboratory had isolated the strain's genetic material from seven workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia, where an outbreak was recorded among the birds in December.

The workers did not suffer any serious health consequences, she added.

"Information about the world's first case of transmission of the avian flu (H5N8) to humans has already been sent to the World Health Organization," Popova said.

There are different subtypes of avian influenza viruses.

While the highly contagious strain H5N8 is lethal for birds it has never before been reported to have spread to humans.

Popova praised "the important scientific discovery," saying "time will tell" if the virus can further mutate.

"The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion," Popova said.

People can get infected with avian and swine influenza viruses, such as bird flu subtypes A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) and swine flu subtypes such as A(H1N1).

According to the WHO, people usually get infected through direct contact with animals or contaminated environments, and there is no sustained transmission among humans.

H5N1 in people can cause severe disease and has a 60 percent mortality rate.

Located in Koltsovo outside the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, the Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Center has developed one of Russia's several coronavirus vaccines.

In the Soviet era the top-secret lab conducted secret biological weapons research and still stockpiles viruses ranging from Ebola to smallpox.

Speaking in televised remarks, Vektor head Rinat Maksyutov said the lab was ready to begin developing test kits that would help detect potential cases of H5N8 in humans and to begin work on a vaccine.

The Soviet Union was a scientific powerhouse and Russia has sought to reclaim a leadership role in vaccine research under President Vladimir Putin.

Russia registered coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V in August, months before Western competitors and even before large-scale clinical trials.

After initial scepticism in the West, the Lancet journal this month published results showing the Russian vaccine -- named after the Soviet-era satellite -- to be safe and effective.

Avian flu has raged in several European countries including France, where hundreds of thousands of birds have been culled to stop the infection.

Covid causes heart damage in many patients, research suggests

LONDON, Feb 18: UK scientists say that more than half of patients admitted to hospital with severe Covid-19 and raised levels of a protein called troponin had heart damage when they were discharged.

It is thought that 40 per cent of Covid-19 patients have raised levels of troponin - a protein released into the blood when the heart muscle is injured.

The findings have been published in the European Heart Journal.

Researchers say that the findings raise hope that the injury can be prevented through targeted treatments and careful monitoring.

The research was led by Professor Marianna Fontana, an expert in cardiology at University College London.

The professor said: "Raised troponin levels are associated with worse outcomes in Covid-19 patients.

“Patients with severe Covid-19 disease often have pre-existing heart-related health problems including diabetes, raised blood pressure and obesity.

“During severe Covid-19 infection, however, the heart may also be directly affected.

“Unpicking how the heart can become damaged is difficult, but MRI scans of the heart can identify different patterns of injury, which may enable us to make more accurate diagnoses and to target treatments more effectively.”

The research is believed to be the largest to date that looks at Covid-19 patients who had raised levels of troponin.

It studied 148 patients from six acute hospitals in London.

Those with abnormal troponin levels were offered a heart scan following their discharge from hospital.

The results were compared to those from a control group of 40 healthy volunteers and a group of patients who had not have Covid-19.

Evidence of heart damage was discovered in the patients who had high levels of troponin in their systems, with scarring or heart muscle injury present in 54 per cent.

The injuries didn't stop the heart from pumping normally, researchers said, but there are concerns that there might be an increased risk of heart failure in the future.

Professor Fontana said: “The recovering Covid-19 patients had been very ill; all required hospitalisation and all had troponin elevation, with around one in three having been on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.

“We found evidence of high rates of heart muscle injury that could be seen on the scans a month or two after discharge.

“Whilst some of this may have been pre-existing, MRI scanning shows that some were new, and likely caused by Covid-19.

“Importantly, the pattern of damage to the heart was variable, suggesting that the heart is at risk of different types of injury.”

The research is limited as it only looked at those who survived a coronavirus infection that required admission to hospital.

Professor Fontana said: “The convalescent patients in this study had severe Covid-19 disease and our results say nothing about what happens to people who are not hospitalised with Covid, or those who are hospitalised but without elevated troponin.”

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist, commented: "These findings aren’t applicable to people who’ve had mild or asymptomatic Covid-19 infections.

“Some people in the study may have had heart damage they did not know about before they caught the virus.

“People who had heart damage thought to be caused by the virus often had subtle injuries which did not stop the heart pumping normally.

“More research looking at the long-term effects of severe illness is needed so that we can learn how to prevent and treat any damage that Covid-19 does to the heart.”

Chhattisgarh Govt Says Won't Use Covaxin Till Phase 3 Trial is Over

RAIPUR, Feb 11: Chhattisgarh health minister T S Singh Deo has said that the state government will not use the indigenously developed Covaxin vaccine against coronavirus until its final phase of trials is completed. He had written a letter to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, requesting not to send Bharat Biotech's Covaxin till all trials are over, the minister said on Wednesday.

The Union government has allowed the use of Covishield vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and Covaxin developed Bharat Biotech for the COVID-19 inoculation program in the country. Singh Deo said Phase-3 trial of Covaxin is not complete, and consent forms sent with Covaxin doses, to be filled by the person administering it, underline this fact.

The government can not be expected to complete a trial which the company is supposed to do, he said, adding that the vaccine would be used in Chhattisgarh once the final phase of trials is completed successfully. As per state officials, 66 per cent of 2.74 lakh health workers selected for the first phase of inoculation have received the jab so far.

Chhattisgarh had received about 5.55 lakh doses of Covishield and over 70,000 doses of Covaxin, but the state government had not given its consent to use Covaxin, officials said. Opposition BJP, meanwhile, accused the Congress government in the state of adopting a stubborn approach over the use of Covaxin.

Party spokesperson and former minister Ajay Chandrakar said the state government and Singh Deo were trying to get political mileage over Covaxin when it is in demand and being used globally. The Union government allowed the use of Covaxin following all necessary tests, he said.

Bill Gates says bitoterrorism is a huge threat

NEW YORK, Feb 11: Bioterrorism is the next threat facing humanity, billionaire Bill Gates has revealed in an interview with science YouTuber Derek Muller on his channel, Veritasium.

Gates, who predicted the pandemic in 2015, told Muller that bioterrorism, which is when someone who wants to cause damage engineers a virus, is likely the next “disaster” that humans aren’t prepared for.

“So it means the chance of running into this [virus] is more than just the naturally caused epidemics like the current one,” Gates said.

And it’s not the first time Gates has flagged bioterrorism as a huge threat - one bigger than a nuclear war. In 2017, Gates took to Reddit to field questions from fans, and said: “I am concerned about biological tools that could be used by a bioterrorist.”

That same year, the billionaire told The Telegraph it would be “relatively easy” to engineer a new flu strain. Unlike a nuclear war though, the disease wouldn’t stop killing once it was released.

The next disaster that humans aren’t prepared for is climate change, Gates said.

“That would be a death toll even greater than we’ve had in this pandemic,” he said.

Last year, Gates wrote in his blog GatesNotes that by 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as the pandemic, and by 2100, it could be five times as deadly.

“In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years,” he said.

“And by the end of the century, it will be much worse if the world remains on its current emissions path.”

Gates told Muller that much like COVID, another pandemic could still wreak havoc on the world, despite any lessons learned in this one.

“We could increase our preparedness so we never have a death toll anywhere near what we have today,” Gates said.

“We were lucky that the fatality here is not not super high, but we can nip it in the bud. It'll still get to a lot of countries, but the number of deaths...with the right system should be a tenth of what we've seen here.”

No Breakthrough On Covid Origins As WHO's China Probe Ends

WUHAN, Feb 9: A much-anticipated inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic wrapped up its mission in China on Tuesday with no breakthrough discovery, as investigators ruled out a theory that Covid-19 came from a lab but failed to identify which animal may have passed it to humans.

While the coronavirus likely jumped to humans from animals, it is still unclear which species first transmitted it, said Liang Wannian, who headed up the Chinese contingent of an inquiry carried out jointly with World Health Organization (WHO) experts.

The WHO mission -- which China repeatedly delayed -- was dogged by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a "robust" probe into the origins of the pandemic in late 2019, and China firing back with a warning not to "politicise" the investigation.

During the closely monitored mission -- which included a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China's recovery -- reporters were largely kept at arms' length from the experts.

Liang, supported by WHO expert Ben Embarek, said there was "no indication" the sickness was circulating in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases were recorded.

Embarek, who said identifying the virus' pathway from animals to humans remains a "work in progress", also scotched a controversial theory that the virus had leaked from a lab, calling it "extremely unlikely".

As investigators have struggled to pinpoint the origins of a virus that has now killed more than 2.3 million people, governments are continuing to grapple with its daily consequences.

Vaccination campaigns are gaining pace worldwide, with Iran the latest country to begin its rollout of Russia's Sputnik V jab.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the vaccination was being carried out in "memory of the martyrdom of health workers", as medics at Tehran's Imam Khomeini hospital received the first shots.

Iran is also expected to receive 4.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines under the Covax scheme, which intends to ensure jabs are distributed across the world and not hoarded by richer nations.

The AstraZeneca vaccine makes up the bulk of initial Covax deliveries to some 145 countries but it suffered a setback in recent days with a trial showing it only offers minimal protection against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

The results forced South Africa to delay the start of its vaccinations, but the WHO insisted Monday that the AstraZeneca shot remained vital to the global fight against Covid-19.

Richard Hatchett, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said it was "vastly too early to be dismissing this vaccine".

"It is absolutely crucial to use the tools that we have as effectively as we possibly can," he told a WHO press briefing.

AstraZeneca has stood by its vaccine, and said researchers are working on an updated version that can be effective against the new variants. WHO authorisation for the shot is expected next week.

Despite the vaccine rollouts, life is far from back to normal for most people.

The pandemic and associated restrictions have crushed entire sectors of the global economy, laid waste to sports and cultural calendars and confined hundreds of millions to their homes.

In France, a row is brewing over restrictions on cultural institutions, with one local mayor allowing museums to reopen despite a nationwide ban.

"There is a virus and it will be with us for a long time," said Louis Aliot, the far-right mayor of the southern city of Perpignan. "Let's get used to it and start by trying things out."

As the pain of shutdowns has bitten hard, governments have turned to other measures to try to facilitate reopening -- mass testing campaigns and quarantines for travellers are still prominent tools.

Britain is the latest country to order international travellers to undergo several tests while under quarantine.

But the surest sign that the world is far from back to normal comes from Tokyo, where organisers of this summer's Olympic Games have issued a 33-page booklet of rules on social distancing.

Athletes' time in Japan will be minimised to reduce the risk of infection and those staying at the Olympic Village will be expected to "avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact".

Despite this, organisers said on Tuesday that they still plan to hand out roughly 150,000 free condoms to athletes.

"If you have been to the Games before, we know this experience will be different in a number of ways," the guidebook warns, adding that breaching the rules could result in expulsion.


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