Health

Pandemic helped cause biggest drop in US life expectancy since WWII, study finds

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study estimates that life expectancy in the United States decreased by nearly two years from 2018 to 2020, primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, marking the largest drop since World War II.

The study, published this week in the medical journal The BMJ, estimates that from 2018 to 2020, average life expectancy in the U.S. decreased by 1.87 years, from 79 to 77.

That marks the greatest drop in life expectancy in the U.S. since 1943, during World War II, and is 8.5 times the average loss seen when compared to 16 other high-income countries, according to the study. Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time a baby born today is expected to live.

"This study shows that the gap in life expectancy in the U.S. increased markedly between 2018 and 2020," the authors wrote. "The conditions that produced a U.S. health disadvantage before the arrival of COVID-19 are still in place, but the predominant cause for this large decline was the COVID-19 pandemic: in 2020, all cause mortality in the U.S. increased by 23%."

The study also found "large differences" in life expectancy based on race and ethnicity. On average, from 2018 to 2020, the drop in life expectancy was 3.25 years for Black people and 3.88 years for Hispanic people, compared to 1.36 years for white people, the study found.

"Progress since 2010 in reducing the gap in life expectancy in the U.S. between Black and white people was erased in 2018-20; life expectancy in Black men reached its lowest level since 1998 (67.73 years), and the longstanding Hispanic life expectancy advantage almost disappeared," the authors wrote.

Black and Hispanic people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, experiencing more severe illness and death due to COVID-19 than white Americans. The disparity in life expectancy found in the study "draws attention to the root causes of racial inequities in health, wealth, and wellbeing," the authors wrote.

"A longstanding and widening U.S. health disadvantage, high death rates in 2020, and continued inequitable effects on racial and ethnic minority groups are likely the products of longstanding policy choices and systemic racism," they wrote.

Life expectancy is expected to recover, the authors said, though noted that there may be "lifelong consequences" for survivors.

The study used data from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Human Mortality Database to compare changes in life expectancy among Black, white and Hispanic Americans in the U.S. and against peer nations. Data for other racial groups, including Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian and Alaskan Native populations, was not available.

The results of the study are in line with prior research, the authors noted, including a CDC report published in February that found that U.S. life expectancy decreased by 1 year between 2019 and 2020, with even greater drops for Black and Hispanic people.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused approximately 375,000 deaths in the U.S. during 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the third-leading cause of death that year, behind heart disease and cancer.

More than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

ABC News' Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 vaccines safe for kids despite rare heart complication: What parents should know

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(ATLANTA) -- Amid more than 300 confirmed cases of heart inflammation in teens and young adults who have received COVID-19 vaccines, the nation's leading health experts say the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remain safe for use.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Good Morning America Thursday the benefits of the vaccine for young people "overwhelmingly outweigh the risk," echoing the findings of researchers at a CDC advisory committee meeting this week on vaccines.

Out of more than 26 million doses given to young people, the CDC has so far confirmed 323 cases of heart inflammation, called myocarditis or pericarditis, and is still monitoring more cases. Of the confirmed cases, the vast majority were temporary and resolved with monitoring and treatment.

"To put this in perspective, if we have a group of 12 to 17-year-olds who we're working to vaccinate over the next four months and can vaccinate 1 million of them, which would be great strides, over the next four months we could expect 30 to 40 of these mild self-limited cases of myocarditis," Walensky said on GMA. "And for that, if we were to vaccinate all 1 million we would avert 8,000 cases of COVID, 200 hospitalizations, 50 ICU stays and one death."

The rare instances of heart inflammation occurred about 12.6 times out of every million second dose administered and were mostly among younger males about a week after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, according to researchers at the CDC advisory committee.

Regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say they are preparing a warning to go along with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to make young people aware of the very rare risk.

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for use in children ages 12 to 15 last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The two other COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are currently available for anyone 18 years and older in the U.S.

Moderna filed for emergency use authorization with the FDA for its vaccine in adolescents on June 10.

Here is what parents may want to know about the COVID-19 vaccines and kids to help them make decisions.

1. What is the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology, which does not enter the nucleus of the cells and doesn't alter human DNA. Instead, it sends a genetic "instruction manual" that prompts cells to create proteins that look like the outside of the virus -- a way for the body to learn and develop defenses against future infection.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses an inactivated adenovirus vector, Ad26, that cannot replicate. The Ad26 vector carries a piece of DNA with instructions to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that triggers an immune response.

This same type of vaccine has been authorized for Ebola, and has been studied extensively for other illnesses -- and for how it affects women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Neither of these vaccine platforms can cause COVID-19.

2. What is the status of vaccine eligibility for kids?

Pfizer announced earlier this month it is moving forward with the final phase of clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine, meaning kids as young as five are one step closer to being able to be vaccinated.

Pfizer's new study of more than 4,500 children in four countries, including the United States, will see children ages 11 and under receive a smaller dose of the COVID-19 vaccine than adults.

Children in the trial will receive 10 micrograms of each vaccine dose, compared to the 30 micrograms in each dose that people ages 12 and older receive.

In the coming weeks, Pfizer said it plans to launch a Phase 2/3 trial in children ages 2 to 4 years and then children ages six months to 2 years with an even smaller dose of the vaccine.

"Children younger than 12 make up a significant portion of the total global population and can develop COVID-19 disease, and also can spread the virus to others," Bill Gruber, M.D., senior vice president of clinical research and development at Pfizer, said in a statement. "If successful, we believe vaccinating children will help further protect our communities and contribute to the evolving herd immunity.”

Pfizer has said it will likely seek an emergency use authorization for its vaccine for children ages 2 to 11 in September. Its COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for use in children ages 12 to 15 last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The two other COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are currently available for anyone 18 years and older in the U.S.

Moderna filed for emergency use authorization with the FDA for its vaccine in adolescents on June 10.

3. Why do kids need to be vaccinated against COVID-19?

While have not been as many deaths from COVID-19 among children as adults, particularly adults in high-risk categories, kids can still get the virus and just as importantly, they can transmit the virus to adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported this week that children now make up 22.4% of all new weekly cases, and over 3.7 million children have been diagnosed during the pandemic.

"There are really two big reasons why kids need to get the vaccine," explained Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent.

"One of them is that it is possible that they could be infected and then unknowingly pass COVID-19 to someone with a serious or underlying, pre-existing medical condition," she said. "And also, though it’s very uncommon and unlikely, it is still possible that children infected with COVID-19 could become seriously ill or worse. We have seen that."

"It’s important to think in ripple effects, outside the box," Ashton added. "It’s not just your home environment that you need to worry about."

4. Will kids experience the same vaccine side effects as adults?

Adolescents experienced a similar range of side effects as seen in older teens and young adults -- generally seen as cold-like symptoms in the two to three days after the second dose -- and had an "excellent safety profile," Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a press briefing announcing Pfizer's authorization.

"Based on all this available information, the FDA determined the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has met all of the criteria required to amend the EUA, which concluded that the known and potential benefits of this vaccine in individuals 12 years of age and older outweigh the vaccines known and potential risks," Marks said.

Marks encouraged parents who were hesitant to vaccinate their children to speak with their pediatricians, urging confidence in the trial and data.

Moderna said its COVID-19 study with teens ages 12 to under 18 identified no "significant safety concerns." The most common side effects from the vaccine were injection site pain, headache, fatigue, muscle pain and chills, according to the company.

The FDA will scrutinize Moderna’s clinical data before authorizing the use in anyone under 18.

5. How effective are the vaccines in children?

Pfizer announced in late March that its clinical trials showed the vaccine was safe and 100% effective in children ages 12-15, similar to the 95% efficacy among adult clinical trial participants.

Marks confirmed on May 10 that after a trial with over 2,000 children, Pfizer found no cases of infection among the children who had been given the vaccine and 16 cases of infection among the children who received a placebo.

No cases of COVID occurred in the 1,005 adolescents that received the vaccine, while there were 16 cases of COVID among the 978 kids who received the placebo, "thus indicating the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 In this trial," said Marks.

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is 100% effective in children ages 12 to under 18, the company said last month, in announcing results of their latest clinical trials.

In addition to its efficacy, the vaccine showed "no significant safety concerns" in the trial of more than 3,700 adolescent participants, according to Moderna.

6. Will kids get the same dose of the vaccines as adults?

The FDA has authorized the same dosing for 12- to 15-year-olds as adults with the Pfizer two-dose vaccine.

Pfizer is currently testing smaller doses of the vaccine in children ages 11 and under.

7. What will fully vaccinated kids be able to do?

Children who are fully vaccinated will be able to follow the updated guidance for vaccinated people from the CDC.

That means not wearing a mask while outdoors, except in crowds, and not having to quarantine after known or suspected exposure to COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Kids who are fully vaccinated may also attend small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family, friends, or those who are unvaccinated, and dine at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households, according to the CDC.

Being fully vaccinated -- a milestone achieved two weeks after a person’s final vaccine shot -- will also make it easier for children to travel internationally and gain entry into concerts or sporting events.

8. Could COVID-19 vaccines impact puberty, menstruation?

There is currently no clinical evidence to suggest the vaccines can have long-term effects on puberty or fertility, according to Ashton, a practicing, board-certified OBGYN.

Ashton noted that while there has been anecdotal discussion of the emotional event of finally receiving the vaccine temporarily impacting menstruation for adult women, the idea of the cause being from the vaccine itself "defies science and biology."

It is really important to understand basic biology here," Ashton said. "Women can have changes in their menstrual cycle and also have gotten the vaccine, that does not mean that one caused the other."

"Right now there is no puberty concern. There is no fertility concern," she added.

9. Will the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine be available for kids?

Johnson & Johnson announced in April that it had begun vaccinating a "small number of adolescents aged 16-17 years" in a Phase 2a clinical trial.

As of April, the trial was enrolling participants only in Spain and the United Kingdom, with plans to expand enrollment to the U.S., the Netherlands and Canada, followed by Brazil and Argentina.

10. Where can children access COVID-19 vaccines?

As with the distribution of vaccines to adults, the process of distributing COVID-19 vaccines to children differs by state.

The rollout is a "multi-pronged approach," including vaccination sites already in operation, major retail pharmacies, mobile health clinics, schools and family doctors, according to the CDC advisory panel.

CVS and Walgreens began giving the Pfizer vaccine to the newly eligible group on May 13, either with scheduled appointments online, through their apps or over the phone.

The Biden administration announced plans to ship Pfizer doses directly to pediatricians' offices, which they have stressed will be an important partner in this effort, encouraging governors to help enroll family practitioners and pediatricians "as quickly as possible."

If a child gets the vaccine at a mass vaccination site or pharmacy, their parent should alert the child's pediatrician’s office so they can keep the immunization record up to date.

Both the CDC panel and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have said it is okay for children to get other vaccines at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.

Later this summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will launch "back to school" partnerships to support vaccinations as part of annual physicals and sports physicals.

11. What are health groups saying about COVID-19 vaccines and kids?

The AAP has recommended that "all eligible children, teens, family and household members be vaccinated as soon as possible."

“This is truly an exciting development that allows us to protect a large population of children and help them regain their lives after a really rough year,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers, MD, said in a May 12 statement. “As a pediatrician and a parent, I have looked forward to getting my own children and patients vaccinated, and I am thrilled that those ages 12 and older can now be protected. The data continue to show that this vaccine is safe and effective. I urge all parents to call their pediatrician to learn more about how to get their children and teens vaccinated.”

“We’ve seen the harm done to children’s mental and emotional health as they’ve missed out on so many experiences during the pandemic,” Beers said. “Vaccinating children will protect them and allow them to fully engage in all of the activities—school, sports, socializing with friends and family— that are so important to their health and development.”

12. Will COVID-19 vaccines be required by schools?

It will be up to each state's government to decide whether a COVID-19 vaccine is required for school entry. Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have announced they will require students to be vaccinated from COVID-19.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Doctors unsure on recommending new Alzheimer's treatment

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(NEW YORK) -- This month, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease -- the first in nearly 20 years. But the decision was not without controversy, with doctors split on how they feel about the treatment.

Since the approval, doctors have faced questions from patients and families desperate for good news, but they are conflicted on whether to recommend and prescribe the new drug, developed by Biogen.

“The news is out, and patients and families are calling with their hopes up,” said Dr. Ipsit Vahia, a geriatric psychiatrist and researcher and the medical director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at McLean Hospital.

"I think many people, including myself, find themselves conflicted between a strong urge to do something to help, using a tool that we couldn’t just offer previously, and balancing of course, first doing no harm and also not knowing for sure that [it] works for everyone,” Vahia said.

“So if you ask, would I recommend [Adulhelm]? It’s complicated," he said.

The FDA granted a broad approval for Adulhelm, the so-called "drug label" open to any patient with Alzheimer’s disease. But the clinical trials studying the drug only looked at a narrow group of patients: those recently diagnosed and those early in the progression of their disease.

In the resulting uncertainty, neurologists, psychiatrists and hospital systems are coming together to establish guidelines on how to safely prescribe the drug.

“The bar to get the medication is still very high, and appropriately so," said Dr. Brent Forester, a geriatric psychiatrist and chief of the Center of Excellence in Geriatric Psychiatry at McLean Hospital. “Despite the FDA label, I would limit using Adulhelm to only the patients within the study population, in addition to all exclusion criteria within the trial."

On Tuesday, the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Director Patrizia Cavazzoni acknowledged the controversy and released new documents on the FDA Adulhem website stating "in the presence of such complexity, it is not surprising that our deliberations were lengthy and at times difficult." The FDA website notes that the approval was granted given "an expectation of clinical benefit despite some uncertainty about the clinical benefit."

Biogen, the company that makes the drug, said in a statement that the company is encouraged by the approval of "a new treatment option to address a defining pathology of the disease" and that they "continue to hear from many physicians who are supportive of the data."

Adulhelm is estimated to cost more than $50,000 per person per year before discounts and rebates. The drug is likely to be covered by Medicare Part B, though insurance companies may limit who can receive the drug.

In a press release, Biogen and its partner Eisai announced payment assistance programs that are available, saying the companies feel a "great sense of purpose and responsibility" and are "committed to providing access to ADUHELM for patients across a spectrum of financial situations."

Forester and Vahia said the cost is not just about the drug itself. Finding the right patient also involves screening tests, imaging considerations, risk management and resources that would be needed to get patients the monthly infusions.

“So much would need to be in place first -- protocols, resources, etc. And then you run into enormous issues of cost and equity,” Vahia said.

The FDA is mandating that Biogen conduct a follow-up study to further determine the clinical effectiveness of the drug. The company has until 2030 to submit a final report to regulators.

“Do I think the approval was premature? Absolutely," Forester said. “But I also feel hopeful that this attention, focus and discussion about Alzheimer’s will bring about a lot of change.”

Other experts are focused on what this means for the development of future treatments.

“Controversy surrounding [the approval of] new, imperfect medications is not new,” said Dr. Dennis Selkoe, the co-director for the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Selkoe pointed to the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, in which the FDA approved a toxic antiviral drug that was also met with controversy, but was nonetheless seen as a place to start. That drug, AZT, became the first of many subsequent antivirals, now often used in combination, that are the mainstay of HIV treatment.

Adulhelm, Selkoe said, could prove to be a similar story.

"This is a significant step forward," Selkoe said.

Yet, not all specialists agree, citing the fact that the FDA’s own independent advisory committee recommended against the new medication.

“The FDA going through with this approval against an independent review board’s recommendation is a dangerous precedent,” said Dr. Michael Menchine, associate professor of emergency medicine and vice chair and research director at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, whose work and podcast focuses on critical appraisal of clinical research.

“Approving drugs that don’t work does not foster innovation,” Menchine said. “It fosters complacency, it fosters ‘me-too’ drugs, and it diverts resources away from things that potentially could work and help.”

Alzheimer’s disease affects upward of six million people, and with the world’s aging population, the global burden of the disease is expected to only continue to increase in the next decade.

For those living with Alzheimer’s today, Menchine said it’s essential for the doctors treating these patients to have honest conversations about the risks and limitations of this new drug.

"We need the scientific interpretation of data to drive all decision-making processes, big and small,” Menchine said. “Ultimately, an essential part of being a physician includes discussing the science, discussing the data with patients and their families so they can make the best decisions for themselves."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Vaccine or virus? CDC says vaccines are still safer for young people than risks of COVID

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(ATLANTA) -- The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe for teens and young adults despite 323 confirmed cases of heart inflammation out of the more than 26 million young people who have received the shots, the nation's leading health experts concluded Wednesday.

The move comes as regulators at the Food and Drug Administration said they were preparing a warning to go along with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to make young people aware of the very rare risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will continue to monitor the cases, but researchers at a CDC advisory committee meeting on vaccines Wednesday said the rare instances of heart inflammation occurred about 12.6 times out of every million second dose administered and were mostly among younger males about a week after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Out of more than 26 million doses given to young people, the CDC has so far confirmed 323 cases of heart inflammation, called myocarditis or pericarditis, and is still monitoring more cases. Of the confirmed cases, the vast majority were temporary and resolved with monitoring and treatment.

"I think we're very much aligned with the information that's been presented today and do agree that, based on the available data, a warning statement in the statutes for both health care providers and vaccine recipients and caregivers, would be warranted in this situation," FDA representative Dr. Doran Fink said at the advisory meeting.

The warning statements are likely to say that these rare but serious events have happened in some recipients of the mRNA vaccine within several days to a week following the shot, particularly after the second dose, and that limited information is yet available, especially about long-term effects.

Still, the overarching message from members of the CDC's committee was that the vaccine is strongly recommended and the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the advisory committee based at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the association was "concerning," but that not getting the vaccine carried a higher risk.

"It is a choice to take a much greater risk of not only suffering or being hospitalized or die from the virus, but of getting myocarditis," he said in an interview, pointing to a greater risk of heart inflammation from the virus itself.

Almost immediately after the CDC's meeting about heart inflammation, doctors and nurses associations nationwide were quick to partner with the federal agencies, including the CDC and the Human and Health Services Department, to issue a statement declaring their support.

"The facts are clear: this is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination," wrote 13 leading health associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Importantly, for the young people who do, most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. In addition, we know that myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe," the doctors and nurses said in the statement.

Of the 323 cases the CDC discussed on Wednesday, 309 people had been hospitalized but 95%, or 295, were discharged by the time of the CDC's meeting and 79%, or 218, had recovered. Nine were still hospitalized and two were in the Intensive Care Unit, while 14 were not hospitalized at all.

"Currently, the benefits still clearly outweigh the risks for COVID-19 vaccination in adolescents and young adults," Dr. Megan Wallace of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said at the CDC meeting.

Young people between the ages of 18 to 24 already have the highest rates of COVID-19 cases, CDC data showed, while increasingly transmissible variants are becoming more dominant in the U.S.

And for every 1 million male teens -- the highest risk group -- an estimated 5,700 will get COVID, 215 will wind up in the hospital and two kids will die.

With myocarditis, the symptoms overwhelmingly resolve themselves and no deaths have been reported.

"The good news is it's mild, it's short lived. It appears to be self resolving. And it's rare," Offit said.

Sixteen-year-old Noah Hiers of Hoover, Alabama, who experienced heart inflammation after receiving the vaccine, said he has since recovered and would still encourage others to get the vaccine.

He was hospitalized with chest pain for two days after getting the Pfizer vaccine. It went away within hours and doctors continue to monitor his case.

"I would encourage everyone to get their children vaccinated and I think Noah feels the same way," Tanya Hiers, his mother, told ABC News.

"Yes," Noah said. "As far as we know there's zero long term effects from this -- so 100% would still get the vaccine."

Overall, CDC data shows the cases were highly concentrated in young men and teenage boys.

"I think the take-home message here is that we're observing them in younger age groups, mainly people in the teens and early 20s, and observing it more in males, compared to females," Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, a member of the CDC's COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, said at the meeting.

In fact, the cases largely flattened out in ages older than 25.

"After about the mid 20s, it really flattens out. Most of these reports are occurring in individuals in their late teens and early 20s," he said.

There were more cases after the second dose, compared to the first dose, but in both situations the symptoms presented within a week and were mostly people in their late teens and early 20s.

"Reassuringly the available outcome data indicates that patients generally recover from symptoms and do well," he also said.

There isn't long-term data on these cases, though, which is continuing to be monitored and part of the CDC's next steps.

"Initial presentations are reassuring; however, continued monitoring of cases, clinical course, and long-term outcomes of myocarditis after mRNA vaccines will be important," the CDC said on a prepared slide of risk-benefit analysis.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US had nearly 17 million undiagnosed COVID-19 cases in early months of pandemic: Study

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(WASHINGTON) -- There may have been nearly 17 million undiagnosed COVID-19 cases in the United States in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new National Institutes of Health study.

The study suggests that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the spring and summer of 2020 "far exceeded" the number of confirmed cases -- especially in people who were asymptomatic.

"A hallmark of the coronavirus pandemic is that there are people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 who have few or no symptoms," Dr. Matthew Memoli, director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Clinical Studies Unit at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which participated in the research team, said in a statement. "While counting the numbers of symptomatic people in the United States is essential to contend with the impact of the pandemic and public health response, gaining a full appreciation of the COVID-19 prevalence requires counting the people who are undiagnosed."

The NIH report, which was published this week in Science Translational Medicine, represents the first data from a 12-month study launched in April 2020.

By analyzing blood samples of more than 8,000 people who were not previously diagnosed with the virus -- along with socioeconomic, health and demographic data -- NIH researchers estimated that for every diagnosed COVID-19 case during the spring and summer of 2020, there were 4.8 undiagnosed cases -- representing an additional 16.8 million cases.

"The estimate of COVID-19 cases in the United States in mid-July 2020, 3 million in a population of 330 million, should be revised upwards by almost 20 million when the percent of asymptomatic positive results is included," senior co-author Kaitlyn Sadtler, chief of the Section on Immunoengineering at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, an NIH institute that was part of the research team, said in a statement. "This wide gap between the known cases at the time and these asymptomatic infections has implications not only for retrospectively understanding this pandemic, but future pandemic preparedness."

Blood samples were collected from 8,058 volunteer participants primarily between May 10 and July 31, 2020, which were then analyzed to detect antibodies against COVID-19. Of the approximate 8,000 blood samples, 304 contained antibodies.

Based on those findings, the researchers estimated that 4.6% of U.S. adults had undiagnosed cases of COVID-19 during their study period -- which was also at a time when labs were still reporting a shortage of supplies and personal protective equipment needed to test patients.

Black respondents had the highest estimated rate of positive COVID-19 antibody tests (14.2%), followed by Native American/Alaska Native (6.8%), Hispanic (6.1%), white (2.5%) and Asian (2%) respondents, researchers found. When comparing age groups, the youngest participants -- those between the ages of 18 and 44 -- had the highest estimated rate, at 5.9%, the study found.

"The information will be invaluable as we assess the best public health measures needed to keep people safe, as new -- and even more transmissible -- variants emerge and vaccine antibody response changes over time," NIBIB Director Bruce Tromberg said in a statement.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently warned that a highly contagious variant first detected in India could soon become the dominant strain in the U.S. The so-called delta variant has been detected in nearly every state, according to the CDC.

NIH researchers are currently following up with the study participants to evaluate the presence of antibodies after six and 12 months, as well as antibody reactivity to variants of concern, the medical research agency said.

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Missouri sees rise in severe COVID-19 cases among the young, unvaccinated as delta variant spreads

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(SPRINGFIELD, Mo.) -- Health care workers in southwest Missouri are sounding the alarm over a wave of young, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who are now filling hospital beds.

Leanne Handle, an assistant nurse manager of a medical surgical COVID-19 unit at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, said she and her staff have seen the patient population over the past year go from elderly people who are immunocompromised or have multiple other conditions to, more recently, younger individuals who "don't think COVID is real" and haven't been vaccinated against the disease.

"Right now, our average patient population is anywhere from 30 to 55 [years old]. We have seen patients as young as 18," Handle told ABC News in a self-filmed video diary on Tuesday. "I cannot speak to the pediatric population, as our unit doesn't take care of them."

"So, what we're seeing now are the patients who are coming in who don't think that they're going to get sick from it, who aren't mentally prepared to make life and death decisions of do they want to be intubated, do you want CPR if your heart should stop," she added. "We have very few patients who have been admitted that have been vaccinated. So it has been proven to keep you at least out of the hospital, and from severe disease."

Handle also noted a "scary trend" among younger patients with the spread of the so-called delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the virus that was first identified in India and has since been detected in more than 80 countries around the world as well as dozens of U.S. states, including Missouri.

"With the new variant in our area, these patients are getting sicker quicker," she said. "They are progressing through this spectrum very, very quickly."

"We are still throwing everything that we have at them," she added. "But our methods are mostly supportive to get the virus to stop replicating within the body. And by the time you're already in the hospital, so much damage has been done that we can't stop what's going on. So, as a health care provider, what I want the community to know is that your best bet to avoid severe disease is to get vaccinated."

Handle said there is currently no lack of beds in her unit, but there is a limited number of staff to take care of severely ill COVID-19 patients because the hospital is now operating at full capacity.

"We're tired of taking care of COVID patients, and I'm saying this in the best way possible, because the majority of patients that we see now on our unit are -- they don't have to be there," she told ABC News. "Their admissions were preventable."

Handle urged people to "be smart, get vaccinated" and to keep in mind that frontline workers, like herself, are still battling the coronavirus pandemic even though life may seem to be returning to normal, with many restrictions lifted.

"We're still in the midst of it every time we go to work, to clock in," she said.

Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has reported more than 33.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which over 602,000 were fatal, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. More than 520,000 of those cases and at least 9,250 deaths were in Missouri, which has a population of about 6.1 million. So far, over 2.6 million residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including more than 2.3 million who are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Although COVID-19 cases are declining nationwide, infections in areas with low vaccination rates persist across the country as new, more transmissible variants emerge. Missouri now has the highest percentage of delta variant infections than any other U.S. state, compromising 29.1% of new COVID-19 cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Missouri's Greene County, where Springfield is the county seat, local health officials currently estimate that 90% of new COVID-19 cases are the result of the delta variant.

The World Health Organization declared delta a "variant of concern" last month, and the CDC upgraded its classification of the strain last week from "variant of interest" to a "variant of concern." WHO officials said variants of concern have shown to spread more easily than others.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said Tuesday that the delta variant is the "greatest threat" to the nation's attempt to eliminate COVID-19. The national presence of the delta variant has doubled to over 20% in the last two weeks and continues to double on the same timeframe, according to Fauci. He said the strain is spreading rapidly among young people in the United States, which appears to be "following the same pattern" as the United Kingdom, where the delta variant was detected in mid-April and is now the dominant strain.

The CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has warned that the delta variant will likely soon become the dominant strain in the United States, too. It's something health officials are "actively trying to prevent," Walensky told ABC News last week, which is why they are "really encouraging people to get vaccinated."

Since taking office earlier this year, Biden has set a goal of getting 70% of all American adults ages 18 and older vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one shot by Independence Day on July 4. But on Tuesday, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients conceded that the current pace of vaccinations would prevent the nation from reaching that target. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the country has already met the goal of 70% of partially vaccinated adults among those aged 30 and older, but that it's been harder to vaccinate younger populations as well as conservative communities and people of color.

CoxHealth, a six-hospital system in southwest Missouri, announced last week that there's a possibility it may soon begin diverting some COVID-19 patients to other facilities throughout the state due to to surging admissions at one of its hospitals, Cox South, which it said is "associated with the delta variant."

"The health system currently has 79 inpatients with COVID-19, which is a more than five-fold increase from less than a month ago," CoxHealth said in a statement on June 18. "If projections prove true, the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations will continue to dramatically increase in the coming weeks. We hope this won’t be the case. However, we continue to strongly encourage our communities to utilize the strongest tool we have against this surge: vaccination. Despite increasing hospitalizations, we are seeing very few people who have been vaccinated become critically ill. These vaccinations can be the line between life and death."

Ivy Garcia, a critical care nurse at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, said she has been working in a COVID-19 intensive care unit throughout the pandemic and has seen an "uptick" in the number of patients requiring hospitalization in recent weeks.

"We've been seeing much younger patients needing management within the hospital -- some as young as their late teens, in their 20s, in their 30s and, unfortunately, all of those unvaccinated and very sick," Garcia told ABC News in a self-filmed video diary on Tuesday.

Garcia asked for prayers for those still working in COVID-19 wards, such as herself.

"We are tired, just like everyone else, and it has been a very painful year and so please pray for us," she said, her voice wavering as she fought back tears. "There are stories that we don't want to tell you and experiences that we have been through."

Garcia said seeing the number of people who "have put themselves second" throughout the pandemic to serve others -- from health care workers to teachers, delivery drivers and grocery store employees -- has inspired her to "keep fighting." She remains hopeful that "we will get through this and we will get through this stronger," she said.

"This has been a very difficult year for everyone and I don't know that anyone is going to be able to escape this pandemic unaffected in some way," she noted. "But it is compassion and empathy that is going to help us find peace personally and as well as finding healing in our community after we get through this pandemic."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What to know about the lifeguard shortage across the US

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(NEW YORK) -- As Americans head back to beaches and pools this summer, there is a new warning for families: Swim at their own risk. Some parts of the country are experiencing a lifeguard shortage.

Tom Gill, vice president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, told ABC News, "There's no substitute for safety, and the lifeguards are a part of the safety chain."

The pandemic is largely to blame for the shortage. Towns are not able to hire, train and certify new lifeguards fast enough, just as more Americans are flocking to waterfront destinations for the summer.

One pool at Lackawanna State Park in Pennsylvania closed due to the staffing shortages. Another in Ohio has posted notices on Facebook turning away eager poolgoers. And in Austin, Texas, the bustling city is trying to stay afloat with just 250 lifeguards registered this summer compared to 750 in a typical year.

"We just don't have the time to get the lifeguards trained and on payroll for this summer," said Jodi Jay of Austin Parks and Recreation.

There have also been dangerous rescues and even fatal encounters in some areas that would typically be covered by lifeguards.

Along Lake Michigan over the weekend, a 14-year-old girl was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition.

Alex Neel, conservation officer for Indiana's Department of Natural Resources, told ABC News: "It sounds like a wave struck them and they ended up going into some deeper water and getting into problems."

While there were no lifeguards on duty, tower stands along the Great Lake's coastline stood empty.

Experts say it's even more important to make sure there's a lifeguard on duty, even for strong swimmers.

"When they're on those lifeguard stands, they're not waiting for the call, they're there to keep people out of trouble," Gill explained. "People that think they don't need lifeguards that they're probably overestimating their abilities."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Why officials are particularly concerned about unvaccinated population in the South

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(NEW YORK) -- Although national coronavirus metrics have been declining rapidly, infections in areas with low vaccination rates persist -- a particularly worrisome trend, experts say, as new, and more transmissible variants emerge.

Health experts have been emphatic in their message that the best way to curtail the spread of the highly infectious, and potentially more dangerous, delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now classifies as a "variant of concern," is to get fully vaccinated.

"People who are unvaccinated will be at heightened risk in the coming months," Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, told ABC News.

A recent ABC News analysis of county-level data from the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services found that per capita, hospitalization rates are twice as high in counties with the lowest rates of fully vaccinated residents, than in counties with the highest rates of fully vaccinated residents.

Of particular concern are southern states like Alabama, which has the second lowest full vaccination rate in the country and already had a struggling health system prior to the pandemic.

Experts fear outbreaks in the state and region as government officials work to convince hesitant populations to get vaccinated.

While with other variants, a single dose of the vaccine conveyed sufficient protection, one dose of the vaccines only gave 33% protection against symptomatic disease from the delta variant, according to recent data from the U.K., compared to roughly 50% effectiveness against the alpha variant, first identified in the U.K.

Protection rises dramatically with a second dose: another study, just released last week found two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are 96% effective against hospitalization with the delta variant. The two doses are also 88% effective against symptomatic disease, compare to 93% effectiveness against the alpha variant.

"If you're fully vaccinated, you're protected. But if you're unvaccinated, you're at risk of getting seriously ill or spreading the disease to others," COVID coordinator Jeff Zients said during a briefing at the White House on Thursday.

Hospitalization rates double in areas with lowest vaccination rates

State health departments and local hospitals anecdotally corroborate the ABC News analysis, reporting that the "vast majority" of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

In Washington state, for instance, the 14-day hospital admission rate for unvaccinated individuals ages 45 to 64, is about 21 times greater than among their fully vaccinated peers.

Even states with the highest vaccination rates, such as New York and Connecticut, are still reporting unvaccinated patients in need of care, and the very few who have been vaccinated and hospitalized are largely experiencing less severe disease.

"I am still putting patients on life support machines, because they're non-vaccinated and becoming very ill. The patients I'm seeing now are either young people, who never believed they would get sick, young pregnant women who were afraid of the vaccine ... or we're still seeing that elderly patient with comorbidities, becoming sick weak, and landing up on life support machines," Celeste Winters, a respiratory therapist at University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, told ABC News. "So far, I haven't seen a patient with a COVID vaccination coming in and being placed on a life support machine in the facility."

Low vaccination rates cause concern among experts

With six of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates located in the South, there are growing concerns about resurgence in the region. On average, those 10 states have approximately one-third of their total population fully vaccinated, compared to the national average of over 45%.

Several states with low vaccination rates, including Arkansas, Missouri and Utah, continue to see upticks in their COVID-19 metrics.

Concerns about a potential outbreak are particularly acute in Alabama, which has exhibited concerning fluctuations in its data, and currently has the nation's second lowest vaccination rate -- less than a third of the total population fully inoculated.

According to COVID ACT Now, Alabama has the highest percentage of intensive care unit usage in the country, with 84%, compared to a state like Connecticut, which has nearly 60% of the state's population fully vaccinated, and 49% of ICU beds in use.

In a recent survey of Alabama's hospitals, 94% of current COVID-19 positive patients were unvaccinated, Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told ABC News in a statement.

The growing threat of the delta variant is of significant concern in Alabama, given the large pockets of people who are not vaccinated, noted Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The variant has already been found in numerous locations across the state, a concerning trend, which will "inevitably" increase, added Harris.

"If you're finding it in different locations, it just makes you think there's a lot more of it," he said.

According to Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama, of additional concern has been the reluctance from some Alabamans to adapt to COVID-19 protocols throughout the pandemic.

"There was often resistance to public health measures, such as masking, business closures, and social distancing that were put in place to slow the transmission of SARS-CoV-2," Judd told ABC News, and it is those same factors that are contributing to vaccination resistance.

Although experts concur that a potential outbreak will not likely be on the same large scale as previously experienced during the pandemic, Harris noted that it could still result in school, and business closures.

Many of the chronic issues within Alabama's health care system that existed prior to COVID-19 were exacerbated by the pandemic.

The state is "near the bottom in terms of health indicators," struggling with poverty, and low educational attainments that lead to high rates of chronic disease and poor health outcomes, said Harris.

Addressing hesitancy within communities

These factors are compounded by issues of access and a particularly strong skepticism of government, when it comes to public health, particularly among African-American communities, "just because of the history we have in Alabama... everyone knows the story of Tuskegee [syphilis study]," said Harris.

To overcome the fear that the new vaccine was unsafe, Harris told ABC News, much work was done early in the vaccination process, to reach out to Black communities in the state. The outreach has been relatively successful, he said.

In fact, Lowndes County, a predominantly African American county with a high rate of poverty, "is the county that has the single highest percentage of vaccinated residents," added Harris.

However, the state was not as prepared for the pushback against vaccinations that stemmed from certain white communities living in rural areas, Harris admitted.

"I would say one thing we probably didn't do as well was really think about the hesitancy that we're experiencing in rural white communities," he said.

Some of the white men living in rural areas, said Harris, tend to distrust messages from the government or the media, and even from their own politicians. However, "they do seem to have a little bit of confidence in the messages they get from their own health care provider," and thus the state has begun working with medical organizations to encourage people to get the vaccine, according to Harris.

Another factor, Judd said, is that the most hesitant group, is 30- to 54-year-olds per data from the state's health department.

"This is a time in their life when they are probably working and taking care of a family. Their risk for major complications from COVID-19 is lower than in those over 65 so they may not perceive that it's important for them to get vaccinated," Judd said.

Additionally, according to Judd, a decrease of the number of COVID cases in the state is contributing to the low vaccination rates.

"Since people can't see the devastation from COVID at this moment, and this may be slowing their desire to get vaccinated," she said.

Reaching residents still on the fence

Alabama's outreach focus is now primarily on the 25% to 35% of residents not yet reached, but who are not "definite no's" about being vaccinated.

Across Alabama and the country, there are issues of access to the vaccines. Approximately 10% of the country's vaccine eligible population lives more than a 15-minute drive from a publicly advertised distribution location, while millions live in vaccine deserts, with limited access to pharmacies and doctors.

State officials in Alabama are now working to expand access, recruiting messengers, who could potentially shift the tide for some residents, including local doctors, and "influencers," such as former athletes and football coaches.

No stone will be left unturned in this effort, and "maybe we have a chance to reach them eventually," said Harris.

"COVID is not going to go away. Anyone who is not vaccinated will remain at risk for developing serious complications including death," Judd concluded.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Male doula aims to be an advocate for women during childbirth

Courtesy of Dustin Young

(CARSON, Calif.) -- One California resident wants to make childbirth a safer process for moms while bringing men into the fold as well.

Dustin Young, 37, from Carson, California, became a certified doula in 2020. His experience helping his youngest sister, Alexis Pitts, with her pregnancy led him to pursue the job, which involves providing support to moms during and after pregnancy.

"It was a safe birth but it still wasn't a great experience," Young told "Good Morning America" of his sister giving birth to his nephew, Kassius Harris, in 2019. "She wasn't listened to at the hospital."

The family worked hard on a birthing plan, complete with positions Pitts wanted to try during the birth. But when they got to the hospital, Young explained, staff ignored them.

"It was just like, 'Sit here. Do this. Push,'" Young said. "It was just so quick and fast. We didn't really get to cherish the moment."

The environment at the hospital was in direct contrast to the atmosphere the family created at home, specifically for Pitts' initial contractions.

"I had lavender oils burning, no television was on, all cellphones were off, we were just relaxing," Young said. "Every time she'd contract, I'd massage her lower back, we'd get on the ball, we'd do all these things to make sure she could labor as long as possible at home. It was extremely relaxing for her."

"What I would like more is for nurses to have a little more empathy and just be receptive and open to listening," he added. "Just ask some questions like, 'How do you feel? How do you feel today? What can I do for you right now?' It does a lot."

A mother's well-being is important to any pregnancy, particularly Black moms in the United States, who historically have higher mortality rates. Black women are two to three times more likely to die during childbirth than women of other races, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Young's interest in the birthing process goes back to when he was a child.

"I was one of those 'why' kids," he said. "I was like, 'Where do babies come from? Where do humans come from? How do we keep recreating ourselves? How does this world exist?'"

Young described his family as having no filter, so they would often answer his questions and explain in a way that he could understand. His grandmother also ran a day care where he would help out.

"As I got a little bit older, I'm like, 'OK let me dive in more into this anatomy? What goes on internally within the male body and a woman's body?" he said.

Once Young started researching childbirth, he said he was amazed at all the changes women had to go through.

"It's actually incredible," he said."I know it takes sperm too but as a male species we can't create life without women. Without women, we are not necessary here."

Young added, "I try not to normalize extraordinary and the birth experience is something that's extraordinary."

Young became certified through Kindred Space, a birth center in Los Angeles. He initially found out about it while supporting a friend through her own pregnancy and attending classes with her there.

He eventually met with Kimberly Durdin, Kindred Space's cofounder and a doula, who heard Young was interested in becoming one himself. Young said Durdin offered him the chance to become her assistant to get some hands-on experience prior to the certification.

"I love the doula approach because you feel like you get a more individualized practice and service," he said. "You relate, build and grow over the nine months."

In addition to advocating for mothers, Young wants to educate other men and make them part of the experience. He doesn't expect them to follow in his footsteps and become certified doulas, but hopes that by providing this knowledge, it makes pregnancy and birth that much easier.

"It's more about providing confidence for the man to show up in a way that makes sense for their partner," he said. "I think if more men were more educated on the birthing experience, we can support more."

Young believes men can "create a healthier birthing experience and a healthier relationship and bond" with both their spouses and children.

Young said it was important for him to give back and take care of his community.

He founded Our Own, a nonprofit organization dedicated to dismantling systemic barriers in nutrition, education, entrepreneurship, mental health and fitness, and providing resources to underserved communities to ensure racial equity.

Currently, the nonprofit has three programs: Seed and Soil, which provides nutritious meals to people who lack access to healthy food; Be Right Back, a mentorship program that offers participants the chance to explore different industries, develop their skills and practice self care; and Self, which focuses on fitness through yoga, meditation, cycling and running.

"I just really want to change things," Young said. "I like solving problems. I don't want to put Band-Aids on anything, I actually want to solve and heal."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ashley Graham sends inspiring words to fans about embracing their bodies this summer

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(NEW YORK) -- Ashley Graham recently used her massive social media following to spread a body-positive message just in time for summer.

The supermodel took to Instagram, writing, "Believe me when i say your body is beautiful, and i know it's easy to tell yourself the lie that you're not good enough, thin enough, sexy enough, 'flawless' enough to wear a tank top or a swimsuit, but it's hot out there and so are you."

Graham also shared photos of different body types with hopes that the images would motivate her fans to love their skin.

The first photo slide included a photo of stretch marks with the caption "Beautiful. End of Discussion." She also included a photo of herself nude and with little to no makeup.

Graham concluded the post: "Don't let your mind stop you from enjoying your life to the fullest (and remember to say 'i love you' to yourself every day)."

The new mother and podcast host has received over 524,516 likes on her post.

Graham has continued to break barriers as a model and inspire her fans to channel their own body confidence along the way.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Three siblings get Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of global trials in young children

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(JEFFERSON, La.) -- Three American siblings have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of global clinical trials for young children.

Christian Bui, 3, and Sloan Bui, 14 months, both got the initial shot on Monday at Ochsner Hospital for Children in Jefferson, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. Their older sister, 6-year-old Ellie Bui, got her first dose earlier this month.

The children's parents, Dr. Cuong "CJ" Bui and Dr. Erin Biro, are neurosurgeons at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson and discussed with ABC News their decision to have all their kids participate in the study.

"For us, our kids living safely in a world where we don't have to worry about them getting sick from COVID, being able to go to school, have playdates with their friends, we feel strongly that vaccine is what is going to get us to those goals," Biro said.

The mother also expressed worry over the so-called delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the novel coronavirus first identified in India that has since been detected in more than 80 countries around the world and in at least 41 U.S. states, including Louisiana.

"The delta variant has really picked up steam in the U.S. and I think in Louisiana especially, given the fact that so much of our population is not vaccinated yet that it has a really significant chance of causing an uptick in COVID cases in Louisiana," Biro told ABC News. "So we feel fortunate that we have the possible chance of having our kids protected, but more so getting the pediatric trial across the finish line so that all kids have the possibility of being protected from the variant if it becomes more significant or if there's more cases this fall."

"We're super excited that our entire family now has the opportunity and the chance of possibly being protected," she added, "and also just contributing to the research and the science to hopefully get all kids across the finish line."

In November, American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech began enrolling child volunteers aged 12 to 17 in the Phase 2/3 trials of their two-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Now, volunteers as young as 6 months are being enrolled. The placebo-controlled study will include up to 4,500 participants from the United States, Spain, Poland and Finland, according to Pfizer.

Ochsner Hospital for Children, one of two locations in Louisiana to offer the trial, announced earlier this month its participation as a site for the global study and said it is enrolling as many as 75 participants.

"Now that the vaccine has proven to be effective in adults, it is a natural next step in the research process to study the unique needs of younger individuals," Dr. Julia Garcia-Diaz, Ochsner's director of clinical infectious diseases research, said in a statement. "A child’s immune system is different than an adult’s immune system, so it is critically important to have a study focused on the efficacy of the vaccine in this cohort."

In December, the U.S Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in people aged 16 and up, after data showed the shot was safe and 95% effective in a massive Phase 3 trial. The FDA then expanded the temporary authorization in May to include individuals as young as 12, after data from a Phase 3 trial showed the vaccine was safe and 100% effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15. For younger age groups, Pfizer and BioNTech would potentially apply for emergency use authorization of the vaccine in the U.S. shortly after getting trial results, assuming the data shows the vaccine to be both safe and effective.

Pfizer and BioNTech have already applied for full FDA approval of the vaccine for use in people 16 and older.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Chadwick Boseman's death inspires reporter to document his colonoscopy

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(NEW YORK) -- Chadwick Boseman's death last year due to colon cancer led one man to take charge of his own health and try to inspire others to do the same.

Nicholas St. Fleur, a reporter for STAT News, a science-focused publication, decided to get a colon cancer screening and document it from start to finish.

"I wanted to help fight or combat any stigma associated with it," St. Fleur told Good Morning America. "Because it is such a personal part of your body and it is something that many people don't want to go through because they might find it scary."

St. Fleur said Boseman's death alerted him to the importance of getting screened for cancer considering he had several risk factors -- he is Black and has a family history of the disease.

"My mother had colon cancer at the age of 34, so I knew that I was at a higher risk to develop the disease myself," he said. "Once I saw that Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer, it really kind of sparked me. It really opened my eyes and it made me realize I need to be more serious about this, about getting checked myself."

Health experts say they are seeing a spike in colon cancer rates among young adults.

Over the last decade, while cases of colorectal cancer have decreased in adults over 55 -- thanks in large part to cancer screening -- rates in people younger than 55 are increasing. Screenings for colon cancer are currently recommended to start at age 45 or younger if you are at higher risk, like St. Fleur.

"It is going to become the top leading cause of cancer death in people aged 20 to 49 by the year 2030," said Dr. Kimmie Ng, an oncologist and co-director of the Colon and Rectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "There is a stigma around talking about colorectal cancer and some of the symptoms that may be associated with colorectal cancer, so my hope is that the conversation around this cancer becomes more normalized and that people understand what a prevalent cancer this is."

Colorectal cancer -- an umbrella term for cancers of the large intestine, the colon and the rectum -- is currently the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer as well as the third-most deadly in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black Americans have a 20% higher chance of getting colorectal cancer and are 40% more likely to die from it than other groups, according to the CDC. Rates of colon cancer are 30% higher in men than in women of all races.

"I knew I had a family history, but I didn't realize that as a Black man, you know, I was at higher risk as well," said St. Fleur.

Boseman was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2016 and battled it for four years, keeping his cancer fight private while he filmed movies ranging from "Black Panther" to "Marshall" and "Da 5 Bloods," according to a statement announcing his death.

The actor had not publicly revealed he was battling cancer before his death at age 43.

Experts stress the importance of screenings and colon cancer symptoms may include blood in stool, stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away and unexplained weight loss, according to the CDC.

The disease can be deadly if not caught early.

A colonoscopy, like the one St. Fleur underwent publicly, allows a doctor to use a tube, called a colonoscope, to view the inside of the entire colon and look for any abnormalities.

"Though it is one of the deadliest types of cancer, it is also one of the most preventable with early detection," St. Fleur wrote in his reporting. "My procedure was done by Bethany DeVito, the same gastroenterologist who found my mother’s cancer some 20 years ago."

"After it was over, my mother said she felt relieved that my outcome was different than hers and that she was proud that I was willing to share my experience," he wrote.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Parents speak out as RSV cases spike in the US post-COVID-19 pandemic

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(NEW YORK) -- When Charlie and Makayla Hardin's infant son Moxxon began to experience symptoms like a runny nose and cough, they thought he had a typical cold.

The Hardins, of Amarillo, Texas, did not expect Moxxon, the youngest of their four children, to be diagnosed with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a respiratory virus that could be dangerous to young children, cases of which typically spike in the United States in the fall and winter, during flu season.

"RSV was never on my radar because when our oldest child had it, it was just treated and wasn’t a big deal," Charlie Hardin told ABC News' Good Morning America. "And then with it being in the summertime, no one really thought it was RSV."

Once Moxxon, now 1, was finally diagnosed with RSV, he was hospitalized for five days and came close to being intubated due to his low oxygen levels, according to the Hardins.

He is now home and recovering well and the Hardins say they now know that his case is part of a spike in RSV cases across several states in the southern U.S.

"While we were in the hospital, I talked with a few friends of mine who have kids around the same ages as our kids, and they told me that their pediatricians had all told them that there’s a ton of RSV cases going around," said Charlie Hardin, noting that he and his wife wished they had known earlier so Moxxon could have potentially been diagnosed faster. "I hadn’t heard anything about it."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory earlier this month due to a seasonally unusual increase in the spread of RSV, especially in the South.

"Due to this increased activity, CDC encourages broader testing for RSV among patients presenting with acute respiratory illness who test negative for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19," the CDC wrote in the health advisory.

Jacie Patton, a mother of two in Missouri, said that although she was aware cases of RSV were on the rise in the state, it still took nearly two weeks for her 4-month-old daughter Teagan to be diagnosed with the virus.

"They said she was to the point where if she had gone any longer it would have been a different story," Patton said of Teagan, who spent two nights hospitalized. "I wish I wouldn’t have waited that long [to take her to the hospital], but at the same time I didn’t know."

In Teagan's case, though she tested positive for RSV early on, she was sent home to recover from the virus on her own. After several days of seeing her suffer, Patton said she trusted her mother's instinct and took her to the emergency room of a local children's hospital.

"She wasn’t eating and she was coughing to the point she would throw up," recalled Patton. "Her diaper was completely dry and when she cried there were no tears coming out of her eyes because she was so dehydrated."

Adding her advice to parents, Patton said: "If you know something is wrong and you just don’t know what it is, just stick with your gut."

What parents should know about RSV

RSV infections are the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in kids under the age of 1 in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Why the number of cases of RSV is on the rise now, during the warmer months of summer, likely has to do with the country's emergence from the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. William Linam, pediatric infectious disease doctor at Children's Hospital of Atlanta.

"As we’ve lifted restrictions -- less masking, more businesses open and more people out and about and interacting -- we’ve seen a spike in RSV cases," said Linam, noting the U.S. is following the pattern experienced by Australia, which also saw a late spike in RSV cases as pandemic restrictions were lifted.

RSV is a contagious virus that can spread from virus droplets transferred from an infected person's cough or sneeze, from direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV, and from touching surfaces, like tables, doorknobs and crib rails, that have the virus on it, according to the CDC.

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days, but some infants can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as four weeks, according to the CDC.

Among children, premature infants and young children with weakened immune systems or congenital heart or chronic lung disease are the most vulnerable to complications from RSV.

"Pretty much all kids have gotten RSV at least once by the time they turn two, but it’s really younger kids, especially those under 6 months of age, who can really have trouble with RSV and sometimes end up in the hospital," said Linam. "That’s where we want to get the word out, for families with young children or children with medical conditions, making sure they’re aware this is going on."

Parents should be alerted to symptoms including difficulty breathing, dehydration and not eating, according to Linam.

"Not making a wet diaper in over eight hours is often a good marker that a child is dehydrated and a good reason to seek medical care," he said. "Sometimes kids under 6 months of age can have pauses when they’re breathing, and that's something to get medical attention for right away."

In the case of the Hardins' son Moxxon, he experienced difficulty breathing to the point where they noticed a slight change in the color of his lips.

"His lips would turn this really light shade of purple that wasn’t severe but it was enough different from his normal pink," said Makayla Hardin. "I would tell parents the [color of the] lips and the fingers and the toes are the biggest thing to look out for because everything else looks like it could be a cold, like a runny nose and fever."

Parents can help protect their kids from RSV by continuing to follow as much as possible the three W's of the pandemic: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance, according to Linam.

"I don’t think people need to necessarily lock down like we were doing in the early parts of the pandemic, but there’s a balance in there, especially if you have a young infant or a higher-risk child," he said. "If you have a child who has significant underlying health conditions, you probably need to sort of maintain some of those precautions you were following during the worst of the pandemic, like continuing to wear masks more when you’re in enclosed spaces, being diligent about keeping hand sanitizer with you and using it a lot and avoiding crowds."

Linam said parents should be prepared for more contagious viruses like RSV to spread as people resume activities post-pandemic.

"As precautions start to lift, we’ll start to see more of these viruses circulate, so my hope is that we'll find that nice balance of continuing some of these strategies to keep [kids] safe," added Linam.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mother-daughter duo emphasize importance of knowing your family's health history

Courtesy Via Family

(NEW YORK) -- A mother-daughter duo are sharing their story in the hopes of highlighting the importance of knowing your family's health history and the inherited cancer risks in the Black community.

Patricia Via, from Martinsville, Virginia, was 55 years old when she found out she had stage 2 breast cancer. She felt a lump after administering a self-breast exam one day and went in for a mammogram, but her doctor didn't find anything out of the ordinary.

"They didn't see cancer," Via told ABC News' Good Morning America. "But I could feel it."

She went in two more times before a doctor found the cancer in her left breast by performing a needle biopsy in 2009.

After going through rounds of chemotherapy, doctors also found precancerous cells in Via's right breast. She then decided to have a double mastectomy surgery to remove both of her breasts.

Via, now 67 years old, has been cancer-free for 12 years since then, and her personal experience has led her to actively advocate for breaking the stigma around speaking about health issues. It's something she believes can save lives -- and something she wishes her own family had done.

Her family has a long history of cancer. Via's father died of esophageal cancer, her younger sister died of ovarian cancer, and her mom and aunt died of breast cancer. Her older sister currently has uterine cancer.

"It was not discussed at all," Via said of her relatives' cancer diagnoses and any health issues they had in general. "The word 'cancer' was like a death sentence. They wouldn't discuss it with us and they wouldn't tell us this is what's going on."

Her mother, Myrtle Lee Carter, received a misdiagnosis in the 1990s when she was 66 years old, she said. Carter's doctor told her they saw something that wasn't right during a routine check-up, but it was OK and not something she needed to worry about.

Getting a second opinion is key

"I actually have a letter from my grandmother," Via's daughter, Telesa Via, 49, told GMA. "She knew she was not in a good place but in that letter she wrote to me, she basically said, 'I'm fine. The doctors have told me that I'm fine.'"

Carter's complete trust in her doctor's initial diagnosis and lack of follow-up is not unusual.

According to the Pew Research Center, adults ages 50 and up are more likely than those under 50 to trust doctors. It found that older adults are more likely than younger adults to believe doctors have their patients' best interests in mind and a majority of that older age group believes doctors do well in providing diagnoses.

When Carter's sister died due to cancer, Carter was prompted to go in for a mammogram. But by the time she went in, it was too late.

"The cancer had spread across the shoulder, down her back, and a little area on the rear," Via said. "It spread to her lungs and that's what killed her. That's what opened my eyes."

"If someone sees something, you don't just take the doctor for their word because something is something and you need to figure out what it is," Telesa Via said. "Early detection can save lives. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that if we would have addressed it, then my grandmother would probably still be with us today."

The importance of education and genetic testing

Patricia and Telesa Via are both firm believers that genetic testing -- finding out what health conditions you may have the genes for -- goes a long way toward early detection and prevention.

A study by the American Cancer Society found that Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women and have more incidences of cancer that has spread. Another study by JAMA Oncology found that 1 in 8 breast cancer patients have genetic variants linked to cancer.

After finding out that she had breast cancer, Patricia Via also found out she had the BRCA2 gene mutation, a variant on the BRCA genes people inherit from their parents that may cause cancer.

"Then after I went through my surgery and my treatments and all that, I said hey, I want to check my family," she said. "My sisters and my nieces, I had them all tested and all of them were carrying the gene."

Because of the testing, Via's youngest sister found out she had stage 3 ovarian cancer early on. She lived for nine more years after that before she died from it.

"The gift behind it is that we got more time to spend with her because of this education," Telesa Via said. "She was stage 3 at that point. Had we not have caught it, I don't know how much longer she would have had to live -- not the time that she was given."

Telesa Via, who has the BRCA2 gene herself, decided to be proactive about her prevention by removing her ovaries in October 2016.

"That took my chances from 80-something [percent] to 40-something," she said. "And every six months I go to either get my physical with my high-risk cancer doctor, or my mammogram, or my MRI."

Six months after her double mastectomy, Patricia Via also had her ovaries removed for preventative purposes.

"I pushed to be tested. I pushed to do all this," she said. "Had I not completely done what I did do, I would have been like the rest of the family. But I was just determined -- there's hope and I'm going to fight, and that's what I did."

After the family's initial testing for the BRCA2 gene over a decade ago, Patricia and Telesa Via recently did more testing with Invitae, which offers genetic testing at affordable price points. Invitae's screening checked 61 genes for mutations that increase cancer risk. In their case, they only tested positive for one.

"It's so important to be tested, and to live a long, long, long life," Patricia Via added.

"If you carry the genetic mutation, days are like years in your life," Telesa Via said. "So you want someone to have a choice, to make decisions to do the correct things. And sometimes, time is not on your side."

Patricia and Telesa Via recommend getting testing done as early as mid-20s, but emphasize that education prior to getting the test is also important.

"If you don't provide the knowledge and you get the test, it can emotionally be very heavy on you," Telesa Via said.

A support system goes a long way

In any health journey, making sure you have a support system in place is one of the best things you can do for yourself, both mother and daughter noted.

Patricia Via calls her daughter her "little trooper" and said she was there "every step of the way."

"When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, we made a pact that there's no journey without mom and I doing it together," Telesa Via said.

She added, "It's important to understand that you have to have a caregiver along the way. You can't comprehend everything that someone is telling you and really take action because it's overwhelming. It's a lot."

According to Telesa Via, during the visit where Patricia Via received her cancer diagnosis, her mom took all those feelings and wanted to use them to help others, too.

"Mom said, 'I want to learn and I want to give back and I want to start a nonprofit,'" her daughter recalled.

It was that moment that birthed the idea for the MLC Cancer Foundation, named after Patricia Via's mom.

"I've been given a second chance to live and I really believe it's for a reason," Patricia Via said.

The foundation has three areas of focus. The first is direct and indirect financial assistance for patients' expenses incurred during the cancer journey. The second is genetic mutation education so that people can be aware of what they may be predisposed to.

The third part is making sure people remember the word "can" is in cancer and providing them with support, whether that be connecting them to resources or just making sure they know they're not alone.

"When I saw my diagnosis, when I saw the word 'cancer,' the only thing I really pinpointed on was c-a-n. I can do this," Patricia Via recalled.

The nonprofit started out with an annual symposium in October for breast cancer awareness month, with guest speakers to touch on best practices for managing your health, ways to promote healthy living, and cancer awareness and support.

The event also includes a fundraiser aspect, and in 2019, it raised over $20,000 to assist cancer survivors with their expenses during treatment.

Other events include fundraisers for younger children who have cancer around the holiday season and general ones that provide educational information on genetic mutations and testing.

One of Patricia and Telesa Via's main goals for the foundation is to have a mobile testing unit at their events where people can get tested after learning about the importance of doing so.

Having a testing unit readily available would lend an actionable element to the events and take away any extra work attendees would have to do afterward on their own.

"You have to create the situation for people to listen and to act on immediately," Telesa Via said. "If they have two more minutes of a delay, it will not be done."

Patricia Via hopes to continue to educate the general public and push the importance of getting tested, knowing your numbers, and the value of exercise and proper nutrition.

"You have to take your life in your own hands," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Young adult vaccination rate lags behind other age groups, CDC finds

iStock/Pornpak Khunatorn

(NEW YORK) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pushing younger Americans to get their coronavirus vaccines, as data shows they are significantly lagging behind other age groups.

As of May 22, only 38% of Americans between the ages 18 to 29 received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to a report released by the agency Monday. By comparison, 57% of all Americans over 18 and 80% of all U.S. senior citizens had at least one shot during that period, the report said.

"Based on the current rate of weekly initiation (as of May 22), younger persons will not reach the same levels of coverage as older persons by the end of August," the report said.
MORE: 3 things scientists have learned about vaccine hesitancy: Analysis

As of Monday, 177 million Americans, roughly 53% of the entire U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, the CDC said.

A CDC survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 39 found that 23% of respondents said they were unsure about getting a vaccine but would probably get one. About a quarter of respondents said they would definitely not get the vaccine, according to the CDC.

The report found that respondents had different reasons behind their decisions.

For those younger Americans who didn't receive a shot but were probably going to get it done in the future, the top concerns were about potential side effects, the report said. Other reasons for not getting their shot included waiting to see if they were safe, and thinking others needed a vaccine more than they did, according to the survey.

Respondents who said they weren't going to get the vaccine also cited side effects as a concern along with a lack of trust in the vaccines or a belief that they don’t need a vaccine, according to the report.

The survey polled roughly 2,700 people between March and May, according to the CDC.

The agency stressed that the key to increasing vaccination rates among younger Americans is education, as the survey showed that two-thirds of respondents said they didn’t have adequate information about vaccine safety.

"Persons who were unsure or probably going to get vaccinated reported that they would be motivated to get vaccinated if they had more information indicating that the vaccines were safe (39.0%), were effective (28.8%), would prevent them from spreading COVID-19 to family and friends (27.6%), and would allow them to resume social activities (20.9%)," the report said.

The most helpful approach would be to deliver accurate information about safety and effectiveness from trusted sources, such as health authorities, primary care doctors and family and friends, the CDC said.

Several studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccines have reduced deaths, severe symptoms and hospitalizations caused by the virus, and early research shows they are effective against several variants.

Health experts have noted that the vaccines are already showing their effectiveness in real-time across the country as more people receive their doses.

The seven-day average for new cases has dropped from 64,622 on April 19, when vaccinations were approved for all adults throughout the country, to 11,432 on June 17, CDC data showed. The seven-day average for new daily deaths reported declined from 641 to 284 during the same period, according to the CDC.

Anyone who needs help scheduling a free vaccine appointment can log onto vaccines.gov.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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