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James Webb Space Telescope: An astronomer on the team explains how to send a giant telescope to space and why – The Conversation US

Posted: September 22, 2021 at 3:04 am

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to head to space on Dec. 18, 2021. With it, astronomers hope to find the first galaxies to form in the universe, will search for Earthlike atmospheres around other planets and accomplish many other scientific goals.

I am an astronomer and the principal investigator for the Near Infrared Camera or NIRCam for short aboard the Webb telescope. I have participated in the development and testing for both my camera and the telescope as a whole.

To see deep into the universe, the telescope has a very large mirror and must be kept extremely cold. But getting a fragile piece of equipment like this to space is no simple task. There have been many challenges my colleagues and I have had to overcome to design, test and soon launch and align the most powerful space telescope ever built.

The Webb telescope has a mirror over 20 feet across, a tennis-court sized sun shade to block solar radiation and four separate camera and sensor systems to collect the data.

It works kind of like a satellite dish. Light from a star or galaxy will enter the mouth of the telescope and bounce off the primary mirror toward the four sensors: NIRCam, which takes images in the near infrared; the Near Infrared Spectrograph, which can split the light from a selection of sources into their constituent colors and measures the strength of each; the Mid-Infrared Instrument, which takes images and measures wavelengths in the middle infrared; and the Near Infrared Imaging Slitless Spectrograph, which splits and measures the light of anything scientists point the satellite at.

This design will allow scientists to study how stars form in the Milky Way and the atmospheres of planets outside the Solar System. It may even be possible to figure out the composition of these atmospheres.

Ever since Edwin Hubble proved that distant galaxies are just like the Milky Way, astronomers have asked: How old are the oldest galaxies? How did they first form? And how have they changed over time? The Webb telescope was originally dubbed the First Light Machine because it is designed to answer these very questions.

One of the main goals of the telescope is to study distant galaxies close to the edge of observable universe. It takes billions of years for the light from these galaxies to cross the universe and reach Earth. I estimate that images my colleagues and I will collect with NIRCam could show protogalaxies that formed a mere 300 million years after the Big Bang when they were just 2% of their current age.

Finding the first aggregations of stars that formed after the Big Bang is a daunting task for a simple reason: These protogalaxies are very far away and so appear to be very faint.

Webbs mirror is made of 18 separate segments and can collect more than six times as much light as the Hubble Space Telescope mirror. Distant objects also appear to be very small, so the telescope must be able to focus the light as tightly as possible.

The telescope also has to cope with another complication: Since the universe is expanding, the galaxies that scientists will study with the Webb telescope are moving away from Earth, and the Doppler effect comes into play. Just like the pitch of an ambulances siren shifts down and becomes deeper when it passes and starts moving away from you, the wavelength of light from distant galaxies shifts down from visible light to infrared light.

Webb detects infrared light it is essentially a giant heat telescope. To see faint galaxies in infrared light, the telescope needs to be exceptionally cold or else all it would see would be its own infrared radiation. This is where the heat shield comes in. The shield is made of a thin plastic coated with aluminum. It is five layers thick and measures 46.5 feet (17.2 meters) by 69.5 feet (21.2 meters) and will keep the mirror and sensors at minus 390 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 234 Celsius).

The Webb telescope is an incredible feat of engineering, but how does one get such a thing safely to space and guarantee that it will work?

The James Webb Space Telescope will orbit a million miles from Earth about 4,500 times more distant than the International Space Station and much too far to be serviced by astronauts.

Over the past 12 years, the team has tested the telescope and instruments, shaken them to simulate the rocket launch and tested them again. Everything has been cooled and tested under the extreme operating conditions of orbit. I will never forget when my team was in Houston testing the NIRCam using a chamber designed for the Apollo lunar rover. It was the first time that my camera detected light that had bounced off the telescopes mirror, and we couldnt have been happier even though Hurricane Harvey was fighting us outside.

After testing came the rehearsals. The telescope will be controlled remotely by commands sent over a radio link. But because the telescope will be so far away it takes six seconds for a signal to go one way there is no real-time control. So for the past three years, my team and I have been going to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and running rehearsal missions on a simulator covering everything from launch to routine science operations. The team even has practiced dealing with potential problems that the test organizers throw at us and cutely call anomalies.

The Webb team will continue to rehearse and practice until the launch date in December, but our work is far from done after Webb is folded and loaded into the rocket.

We need to wait 35 days after launch for the parts to cool before beginning alignment. After the mirror unfolds, NIRCam will snap sequences of high-resolution images of the individual mirror segments. The telescope team will analyze the images and tell motors to adjust the segments in steps measured in billionths of a meter. Once the motors move the mirrors into position, we will confirm that telescope alignment is perfect. This task is so mission critical that there are two identical copies of NIRCam on board if one fails, the other can take over the alignment job.

This alignment and checkout process should take six months. When finished, Webb will begin collecting data. After 20 years of work, astronomers will at last have a telescope able to peer into the farthest, most distant reaches of the universe.

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James Webb Space Telescope: An astronomer on the team explains how to send a giant telescope to space and why - The Conversation US

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Looking at the ends of the universe – The Statesman

Posted: at 3:04 am

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to head to space on 18 December this year. With it, astronomers hope to find the first galaxies to form in the universe, will search for Earth-like atmospheres around other planets and accomplish many other scientific goals. I am an astronomer and the principal investigator for the Near Infrared Camera or Nircam for short aboard the Webb telescope. I have participated in the development and testing for both my camera and the telescope as a whole. To see deep into the universe, the telescope has a very large mirror and must be kept extremely cold. But getting a fragile piece of equipment like this to space is no simple task. There have been many challenges my colleagues and I have had to overcome to design, test and soon launch and align the most powerful space telescope ever built.

Young galaxies & alien atmospheres

The Webb telescope has a mirror over 20 feet across, a tennis-court sized sunshade to block solar radiation and four separate camera and sensor systems to collect the data.It works kind of like a satellite dish. Light from a star or galaxy will enter the mouth of the telescope and bounce off the primary mirror toward the four sensors Nircam, which takes images in the near infrared; the Near Infrared Spectrograph, which can split the light from a selection of sources into their constituent colours and measures the strength of each; the Mid-Infrared Instrument, which takes images and measures wavelengths in the middle infrared; and the Near Infrared Imaging Slitless Spectrograph, which splits and measures the light of anything scientists point the satellite at.This design will allow scientists to study how stars form in the Milky Way and the atmospheres of planets outside the Solar System. It may even be possible to figure out the composition of those atmospheres.Ever since Edwin Hubble proved that distant galaxies are just like the Milky Way, astronomers have asked: how old are the oldest galaxies? How did they first form? And how have they changed over time? The Webb telescope was originally dubbed the First Light Machine because it is designed to answer those very questions.One of the main goals of the telescope is to study distant galaxies close to the edge of the observable universe. It takes billions of years for light from those galaxies to cross the universe and reach Earth. I estimate that images my colleagues and I will collect with Nircam could show protogalaxies that formed a mere 300 million years after the Big Bang when they were just two per cent of their current age.Finding the first aggregations of stars that formed after the Big Bang is a daunting task for a simple reason: These protogalaxies are very far away and so appear to be very faint.Webbs mirror is made of 18 separate segments and can collect more than six times as much light as the Hubble Space Telescope mirror. Distant objects also appear to be very small, so the telescope must be able to focus the light as tightly as possible.The telescope also has to cope with another complication since the universe is expanding, the galaxies that scientists will study with the Webb telescope are moving away from Earth, and the Doppler effect comes into play. Just like the pitch of an ambulances siren shifts down and becomes deeper when it passes and starts moving away from you, the wavelength of light from distant galaxies shifts down from visible to infrared light.Webb detects infrared light it is essentially a giant heat telescope. To see faint galaxies in infrared light, the telescope needs to be exceptionally cold or else all it would see would be its own infrared radiation. This is where the heat shield comes in. The shield is made of a thin plastic coated with aluminium. It is five layers thick and measures 46.5 feet by 69.5 feet and will keep the mirror and sensors at minus 234o Celsius.The Webb telescope is an incredible feat of engineering, but how does one get such a thing safely to space and guarantee that it will work?

Test & rehearseThe James Webb Space Telescope will orbit a million miles from Earth about 4,500 times more distant than the International Space Station and much too far to be serviced by astronauts.Over the last 12 years, the team has tested the telescope and instruments, shaken them to simulate the rocket launch and tested them again. Everything has been cooled and tested under the extreme operating conditions of orbit.I will never forget when my team was in Houston testing the Nircam using a chamber designed for the Apollo lunar rover. It was the first time that my camera detected light that had bounced off the telescopes mirror, and we couldnt have been happier even though Hurricane Harvey was fighting us outside.After testing came the rehearsals. The telescope will be controlled remotely by commands sent over a radio link. But because the telescope will be so far away it takes six seconds for a signal to go one way there is no real-time control. So, for the past three years, my team and I have been going to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, United States and running rehearsal missions on a simulator covering everything from launch to routine science operations. The team even has practised dealing with potential problems that the test organisers throw at us and cutely call anomalies.

Some alignment requiredThe Webb team will continue to rehearse and practise until the launch date in December, but our work is far from done after Webb is folded and loaded into the rocket.We need to wait 35 days after launch for the parts to cool before beginning alignment. After the mirror unfolds, Nircam will snap sequences of high-resolution images of the individual mirror segments. The telescope team will analyse the images and tell motors to adjust the segments in steps measured in billionths of a metre. Once the motors move the mirrors into position, we will confirm that telescope alignment is perfect. This task is so mission critical that there are two identical copies of Nircam on board if one fails, the other can take over the alignment job.This alignment and checkout process should take six months. When finished, Webb will begin collecting data. After 20 years of work, astronomers will at last have a telescope able to peer into the farthest, most distant reaches of the universe.

The writer is Regents professor of astronomy, University of Arizona, United States. This article first appeared on http://www.theconversation.com

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Can We Call The Inspiration4 Crew Astronauts? – WMFE

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The Inspiration4 crew takes a selfie from SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. Photo: Inspiration4

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The crew of Inspiration4 is safely here on the ground after spending three days in low Earth orbit.

It was the first all-civilian space mission, launching on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center. Inside their Crew Dragon capsule, the crew flew higher than the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope.

But before they launched, the mission was gaining lots of buzz. A Netflix documentary followed the crew during training and people came to Floridas space coast to watch this historic mission launch off this planet.

Well hear from some of those people that came out to cheer Inspriation4 on and ask them what made them turn to the sky and watch these four launch into space.

Then, is the crew astronauts? Its a complex question. Well chat with a spaceflight historian Amy Foster and retired NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman about what it takes to be called an astronaut and if this crew meets the definition.

Looking back at Inspiration 4s launch, and the future of commercial astronauts thats ahead on Are We There Yet, here on WMFE Americas Space Station.

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Former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes on Nassar hearing: USA Gymnastics is about ‘medals and money’ – The Week Magazine

Posted: September 16, 2021 at 6:35 am

Former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes spoke to MSNBC Wednesday regarding the Senate hearing on the FBI's botched investigation into abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

"The sport of gymnastics, USAgymnastics has all been about medals and money," said Dawes. She added that her Olympic team's win in 1996 made the organization "extremely wealthy," and inspired many gyms and parents looking for an Olympian or college gymnast of their own.

But be cautious, she warned. "I want to plead to these parents and have them open their eyes and see that there is a great deal of toxicity in these private clubs. It's not solely USA Gymnastics," Dawes said. "It's also the clubs that are within and under USA Gymnastics, it's those private coaches" that are out there "verbally, emotionally, physically, and psychologically abusing these young girls."

Earlier, Dawes also told NBC News of "the very toxic culture" in the sport of gymnastics, and discussed how it related to Nassar's abuse. "What this predator did is he saw the vulnerability in these young athletes, and he preyed on them and he took advantage of them," she said.

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Former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes on Nassar hearing: USA Gymnastics is about 'medals and money' - The Week Magazine

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10 Best Clinics for Covid-19 Vaccination in Amman [2021 …

Posted: September 8, 2021 at 10:14 am

When you receive a COVID-19 vaccine, you should still wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth unless you cannot wear one for a disability or health reason. Make sure to stay 6 feet away from others while you are waiting in line to get the vaccine.

Before the medical staff injects the vaccine, you will be asked some questions about your medical history. Tell the staff if you are pregnant, have ever had a severe allergic reaction, or have certain medical conditions. You will then be given an injection of the vaccine into your upper arm. Most COVID-19 vaccines require more than one injection, so you will be asked to return to the facility for another injection between three to four weeks following the first one, depending on the COVID-19 vaccine used. It is important to have both injections of the same vaccine to get the best protection. The first injection should give you adequate protection from the virus. Still, you do need to have two injections of the vaccine to get full and longer-lasting protection. Unless your doctor or a provider tells you not to get a second shot, make sure to get the second shot even if you have side effects from the first one.

There are currently more than 200 candidates of COVID-19 vaccines in development and clinical trials worldwide. Some have produced very positive results in phase III clinical trials. As of December 2020, several vaccines have been authorized and recommended to prevent COVID-19 in various countries. These are:

Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine

Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has been given emergency use authorization by the FDA (the United States Food and Drug Administration) and the MHRA (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency). Data has shown that this vaccine is 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 in people without evidence of the previous infection. This vaccine requires two injections, which are given 21 days apart. It is delivered through shots in the muscle of the upper arm. Pfizer/BioNtech Vaccine is for people age 16 and older.

Moderna Vaccine

Like the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine has also been given emergency use authorization by the FDA and the MHRA. Evidence from clinical trials has shown that this vaccine has an efficiency rate of 94.1%. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for people aged 18 and older. It needs two injections, one month (28 days) apart, and is given through shots in the upper arm muscles.

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to create a protein that can trigger an immune response inside of the body. This immune response produces antibodies, which protect us from getting infected if the virus enters our bodies.

AstraZeneca Vaccine

AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine, or Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine, was approved by the MHRA on 30 December 2020 but has not been submitted application for emergency use authorization in the US. Data from clinical studies have shown that AstraZeneca Vaccine is 70% effective in protecting people from getting infected. It requires two injections, given four weeks apart.

Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Vaccines, AstraZeneca Vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. It is created from a weekend version of a common cold virus (called adenovirus) that has been modified to look more like the coronavirus. When the AstraZeneca vaccine is injected into our body, it prompts our immune system to begin creating antibodies, which attack SARS-CoV-2 infection.

CoronaVac

Besides these three, another COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved by many countries is the CoronaVac, which was developed by the Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac. At this point in time, it is hard to say exactly how effective the Sinovac vaccine is. A late-stage trial in Turkey shows that the vaccine was 91.25% effective, a clinical trial in Brazil says that the vaccine was 78% effective, and Indonesia says that the vaccine is 65.3% effective. It is an inactivated whole virus vaccine that works by using killed viral particles to expose our bodys immune system to the virus without risking a serious response. It triggers our bodies to produce an immune response that will protect us against infection.

As of January 2020, Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia have signed an agreement with Sinovac to buy the CoronaVac. Ukraine, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Bolivia, and Chile have also authorized the use of CoronaVac or struck supply deals with Sinovac.

Sputnik V

Several countries, such as Argentina, have also authorized Sputnik V for emergency use. Also known as the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V is developed by Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Breakthrough cases, booster shots and more – The Texas Tribune

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Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

With coronavirus hospitalizations in Texas hovering just below the pandemics winter peak, Texans are again grappling with how to deal with the virus in their day-to-day lives.

Last week, the Texas Education Agency announced that at least 45 small school districts shut down in-person classes due to high COVID-19 numbers. On top of that, major metropolitan hospitals are halting elective surgeries as they did during prior surges when hospitals filled up with COVID patients.

Although vaccines have slightly changed the calculus on safety protocols, many of the same factors that drove the winter surge are also driving the current wave of cases.

The Texas Tribune spoke with Dr. James Cutrell, an associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who specializes in COVID-19 treatment, to answer questions about masks, vaccinations and breakthrough cases. Cutrell completed a fellowship in infectious diseases in 2013 at UT Southwestern and now is the director of the adult fellowship program in infectious diseases.

If you get vaccinated, do you still have to wear a mask?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide very good protection, particularly against severe disease, hospitalization or death, there remains a risk of milder infection in those who are fully vaccinated.

Moreover, if infected, those who are fully vaccinated are able to transmit that infection to others, although their overall risk of transmission is lower than those who are unvaccinated. In order to reduce both the personal risk of infection and risk of spreading it to others, masking can be one effective strategy to protect yourself and others.

Therefore, the current CDC recommendations are that fully vaccinated individuals should continue to wear a mask when in public indoor spaces if they live in an area of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. The definition of an area of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission is more than 50 cases per 100,000 people or a test positivity rate greater than 8%. This would currently include many areas of the country, including Texas.

How common are breakthrough cases for vaccinated people? Is the state tracking that?

Although early data from the end of April 2021 reported that breakthrough cases were very uncommon (about 0.01% among the first 100 million Americans vaccinated), breakthrough cases have become more common as community cases and transmission with the delta variant have risen across the country.

Precise estimates of the frequency of breakthrough cases are not known because since May 2021 the CDC has primarily been tracking breakthrough cases only in those who are hospitalized or die. There are some states that have continued to track the rates of breakthrough cases, but Texas is only tracking hospitalized or fatal cases due to COVID-19 breakthrough infections.

The CDC is conducting focused studies in 10 states through the Emerging Infections Program to determine better estimates of the overall rate of breakthrough cases during the current delta variant surge, including milder disease and infection.

What are the timelines around expanding eligibility for the vaccine? When can children under 12 get it?

Current clinical trials are ongoing, evaluating the safety and efficacy of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) for children under 12.

We expect that the data in the group of children ages 5-11 will be submitted to the FDA at some point in the early to mid-fall for review. There is less certainty around how long the FDA review process will take.

The CDC is recommending that pregnant women get vaccinated. Is there any research on how the vaccine affects pregnancy?

The CDC recently strengthened their recommendation of the COVID-19 vaccines for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering pregnancy. This is based on increasing data showing that the vaccines are safe in pregnancy, with no signals of increased risk of miscarriage, preterm birth or other adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Additionally, the vaccine has proven effective at reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection in pregnancy.

Finally, there is a growing body of evidence showing that pregnant women who develop COVID-19 have a higher risk of severe disease leading to hospitalization or death and also a higher risk of pregnancy complications due to the infection. For all of these reasons, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy strongly outweighs potential risks or side effects.

I live with someone who is immunocompromised. They already got their Pfizer booster. Should I get the booster early, too?

Currently the additional third doses (boosters) are only being administered to those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised. Those who are close or household contacts of an immunocompromised individual are not yet recommended to receive a booster.

At this point, the most important things for those who are close contacts to an immunocompromised patient are to be sure they are fully vaccinated (with their first two vaccine doses) and to be sure that they are wearing masks and taking other precautions when in public settings to minimize their risk of developing COVID-19 and spreading it to their loved one.

Are the mRNA boosters developed specifically for the delta variant? I've seen reports that Moderna and Pfizer are working on vaccines that target the delta variant.

The current boosters being administered and considered are the original mRNA vaccine, which was targeted for the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. These vaccines still show good efficacy against the delta variant, particularly in preventing more severe disease.

Clinical trials of updated mRNA vaccines, which are designed specifically to target the delta variant, began in August 2021, so in the future there will likely be boosters approved specifically for that variant.

When will the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines get FDA approval?

Moderna completed its submission of data for full FDA approval in late August 2021. The FDA is reviewing under priority review so we expect that this fall it will be approved (for reference, it took 97 days from full submission of the Pfizer vaccine data to full approval). The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to have its data submitted for full approval by the end of 2021.

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Here are your chances of getting a breakthrough COVID-19 case – WANE

Posted: at 10:14 am

by: Aleksandra Bush, Joe Donlon, Nexstar Media Wire

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows concern is growing among partially and fully vaccinated adults, with 52% worried about catching the virus. Thats up from 32% in late June.

Is that concern warranted?

New data suggests the chance of vaccinated people getting COVID-19 is probably about one in 5,000, or .02%, per day, according to The New York Times. The chance may even be one in 10,000, or .01%.

When you look at the data, its very unlikely, if youre fully vaccinated, that you get a breakthrough infection, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said. Yes, they occur. Yes, theyre getting more common in certain areas where theres high spread, but its not something to worry about to the degree that people are.

Adalja says even if a vaccinated person does get COVID-19, the symptoms will likely be mild.

I think that really shows the power of these vaccines, Adalja said. The best way to put this pandemic behind us is to get our high-risk people vaccinated because we cannot have hospitals continually worrying about capacity problems because the unvaccinated are getting infected and taking up hospital space.

Dr. Daniel LaRoche, a physician at Mount Sinai in New York, agrees.

When you get infected with the COVID virus, then stay home, LaRoche said. Dont infect my colleagues, dont take up the space of a bed from another patient of mine.

LaRoche thinks we need to do a better job of educating the community, create more incentives for people to get vaccinated and assess penalties for those who dont.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden is expected to outline a new six-point COVID-19 plan.

Right now, we know 30% of Republicans are averse to getting the vaccine, political strategist Laura Fink said. We know young people are averse to getting the vaccine. And we know that communities of color dont have access. All of these are challenges that will have to be tackled by this administration and by everyone in this country.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R.-Md., says the White House has a messaging problem on vaccines and boosters. Fink said we need all hands on deck to inform the unvaccinated about the shots benefits.

You need trusted messengers, you need members of their church, you need people that are leading their unions, you need community leaders to all get out there on the frontlines and help, Fink said.

For Adalja, the message is clear.

This virus is going to find you if youre unvaccinated, Adalja.

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New Studies Find Evidence Of ‘Superhuman’ Immunity To COVID-19 In Some Individuals – NPR

Posted: at 10:14 am

An illustration of antibodies attacking a coronavirus particle. Christoph Burgstedt/Science Photo Library /Getty Images hide caption

An illustration of antibodies attacking a coronavirus particle.

Some scientists have called it "superhuman immunity" or "bulletproof." But immunologist Shane Crotty prefers "hybrid immunity."

"Overall, hybrid immunity to SARS-CoV-2 appears to be impressively potent," Crotty wrote in commentary in Science back in June.

No matter what you call it, this type of immunity offers much-needed good news in what seems like an endless array of bad news regarding COVID-19.

Over the past several months, a series of studies has found that some people mount an extraordinarily powerful immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Their bodies produce very high levels of antibodies, but they also make antibodies with great flexibility likely capable of fighting off the coronavirus variants circulating in the world but also likely effective against variants that may emerge in the future.

"One could reasonably predict that these people will be quite well protected against most and perhaps all of the SARS-CoV-2 variants that we are likely to see in the foreseeable future," says Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University who helped lead several of the studies.

In a study published online last month, Bieniasz and his colleagues found antibodies in these individuals that can strongly neutralize the six variants of concern tested, including delta and beta, as well as several other viruses related to SARS-CoV-2, including one in bats, two in pangolins and the one that caused the first coronavirus pandemic, SARS-CoV-1.

"This is being a bit more speculative, but I would also suspect that they would have some degree of protection against the SARS-like viruses that have yet to infect humans," Bieniasz says.

So who is capable of mounting this "superhuman" or "hybrid" immune response?

People who have had a "hybrid" exposure to the virus. Specifically, they were infected with the coronavirus in 2020 and then immunized with mRNA vaccines this year. "Those people have amazing responses to the vaccine," says virologist Theodora Hatziioannou at Rockefeller University, who also helped lead several of the studies. "I think they are in the best position to fight the virus. The antibodies in these people's blood can even neutralize SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus, which emerged 20 years ago. That virus is very, very different from SARS-CoV-2."

In fact, these antibodies were even able to deactivate a virus engineered, on purpose, to be highly resistant to neutralization. This virus contained 20 mutations that are known to prevent SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from binding to it. Antibodies from people who were only vaccinated or who only had prior coronavirus infections were essentially useless against this mutant virus. But antibodies in people with the "hybrid immunity" could neutralize it.

These findings show how powerful the mRNA vaccines can be in people with prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2, she says. "There's a lot of research now focused on finding a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would protect against all future variants. Our findings tell you that we already have it.

"But there's a catch, right?" she adds: You first need to be sick with COVID-19. "After natural infections, the antibodies seem to evolve and become not only more potent but also broader. They become more resistant to mutations within the [virus]."

Hatziioannou and colleagues don't know if everyone who has had COVID-19 and then an mRNA vaccine will have such a remarkable immune response. "We've only studied the phenomena with a few patients because it's extremely laborious and difficult research to do," she says.

But she suspects it's quite common. "With every single one of the patients we studied, we saw the same thing." The study reports data on 14 patients.

Several other studies support her hypothesis and buttress the idea that exposure to both a coronavirus and an mRNA vaccine triggers an exceptionally powerful immune response. In one study, published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists analyzed antibodies generated by people who had been infected with the original SARS virus SARS-CoV-1 back in 2002 or 2003 and who then received an mRNA vaccine this year.

Remarkably, these people also produced high levels of antibodies and it's worth reiterating this point from a few paragraphs above antibodies that could neutralize a whole range of variants and SARS-like viruses.

Now, of course, there are so many remaining questions. For example, what if you catch COVID-19 after you're vaccinated? Or can a person who hasn't been infected with the coronavirus mount a "superhuman" response if the person receives a third dose of a vaccine as a booster?

Hatziioannou says she can't answer either of those questions yet. "I'm pretty certain that a third shot will help a person's antibodies evolve even further, and perhaps they will acquire some breadth [or flexibility], but whether they will ever manage to get the breadth that you see following natural infection, that's unclear."

Immunologist John Wherry, at the University of Pennsylvania, is a bit more hopeful. "In our research, we already see some of this antibody evolution happening in people who are just vaccinated," he says, "although it probably happens faster in people who have been infected."

In a recent study, published online in late August, Wherry and his colleagues showed that, over time, people who have had only two doses of the vaccine (and no prior infection) start to make more flexible antibodies antibodies that can better recognize many of the variants of concern.

So a third dose of the vaccine would presumably give those antibodies a boost and push the evolution of the antibodies further, Wherry says. So a person will be better equipped to fight off whatever variant the virus puts out there next.

"Based on all these findings, it looks like the immune system is eventually going to have the edge over this virus," says Bieniasz, of Rockefeller University. "And if we're lucky, SARS-CoV-2 will eventually fall into that category of viruses that gives us only a mild cold."

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New Studies Find Evidence Of 'Superhuman' Immunity To COVID-19 In Some Individuals - NPR

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Breakthrough: When the fully vaccinated get COVID-19 anyway – Monterey Herald

Posted: at 10:14 am

When summer began, delta was still just an airline. Coronavirus restrictions had vanished and fully vaccinated folks felt liberated hopping on planes to visit loved ones, munching popcorn in real movie theaters, peeling masks off with the giddy confidence that looser public health recommendations gave them.

It felt, for a blissful few weeks, that the COVID-19 shots were like armored shields, protecting them.

We were told these vaccines were like unicorn farts, said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and demographer at UCI Irvine. The CDC missed another opportunity to be realistic in its messaging. Theyre not exactly magic.

Fully vaccinated Steve Edwards of Big Bear discovered that in July, when he developed what he thought was a head cold. As did fully vaccinated C.P. Smith of Lake Forest, whose general malaise devolved into a wave of fatigue unlike anything hed ever experienced. It was a summer epiphany for Kristen Howerton of Costa Mesa, whose two fully vaccinated sons tested positive in July and August without displaying a single symptom.

There was hope the vaccines might prove to be impenetrable shields, staving off all infection but experts say they werent designed to do that. They were designed to prevent severe disease and death, and theyre doing that spectacularly well, despite the much more contagious delta variant.

I got a little cold, almost like allergies, said Edwards, a manager at Stater Bros. in Big Bear. I probably wouldnt have even missed work because of it during normal times, but I knew it was going around at work, so I went and got tested.

The first test was inconclusive; the second was positive. I barely knew I had it, and I probably wouldnt have known if it wasnt going around the store, he said.

Fully vaccinated people are indeed getting breakthrough COVID-19 cases with increasing frequency, state data show.

As the delta variant surged this summer, more than 100,000 vaccinated Californians got hit with breakthrough COVID-19 cases over June, July and August with more than 10,000 cases reported in the last week of August alone.

With the caveat that hospitalization and death data for breakthrough cases are imprecise (the states figures include those who went to the hospital for something besides COVID a car accident, for example and tested positive upon arrival, and also fail to differentiate between those who died with COVID such as the car accident victim from those who diedfromCOVID), the increases were still striking:

Thats just 0.5% of Californias total COVID-19 deaths, which now total more than 66,000.

I feel very strongly the Moderna coursing through my system almost like an internal battle of good and evil, said Smith, a retired editor for the Orange County Register.

After jaunts to Catalina and Albuquerque, he woke up on a July morning with profound fatigue. His sense of smell had blinked off like a light. But within 36 hours, his sense of smell blinked back on Hey! he exclaimed as he entered his kitchen, I can smell peanut butter! and he felt much, much better.

I never had fever, never had chills, never lost any sense of taste, Smith said. I fit into the senior category, a crotchety old 67, but not once did I feel that any breath I took was in any way challenged. Except for that one day of fatigue and the smell blinking off and blinking on, I felt like myself, and I came out thinking, Science worked. I really feel thats what made me safe.

Dr. Julie Parsonnet, professor of medicine, epidemiology and population health at Stanford University, is sure of that as well. Its true that, as the number of unvaccinated people drops and the number of vaccinated people rises, well see more cases in the vaccinated thats just a function of statistics, she said.

Overall, the vaccines look great in terms of preventing severe illness, Parsonnet said. Theyre just incredible. People can be sick sometimes its not just a little runny nose, but more like a bad cold but then their symptoms go away a lot faster than if they were unvaccinated, and they dont progress.

The key thing is, these vaccines are miraculous, she said. Miraculous. Were tuned in to all the negative things, but the fact is, people are going to restaurants, to movies, doing other things maybe with masks but getting back to their regular lives. People should be very happy with the vaccines.

It may be cruel irony when a fully vaccinated doctor who specializes in infectious diseases gets COVID-19. But thats what happened to Dr. Paul Adamson, a physician at UCLA Health and a clinical instructor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, about six weeks ago.

Adamson was readying for a trip to Northern California for a baby shower when he noticed that he had a runny nose. It felt like allergies. But it would be bad to expose people at a baby shower, so he took one of those rapid antigen tests. It came back positive, and was soon confirmed by the gold standard PCR test at UCLA.

He canceled the trip. The next morning, he awoke with deep muscle aches and deep exhaustion. He felt awful but by later that afternoon, he felt much better, and the next day, felt back to normal.

It was quite incredible, he said. I had aches and pains and a little bit of chills, but it was amazing how quickly I recovered. It lasted about 36 hours, and I felt bad for maybe 18 of them.

It wasnt completely over, though: When his wife made his favorite Indian dish, it tasted like a bowl of hot mush. He had lost his sense of taste. But that reappeared about 12 days later.

Howerton, psychotherapist and author of Rage Against the Minivan, never got a breakthrough infection herself, but her two fully vaccinated sons did. Kembe, 14, was exposed at church camp, where some 20 people most of them unvaccinated were infected.

It was real clear that the kids who had been vaccinated had no symptoms, and the kids who werent vaccinated, some of them got very sick, Howerton said. Its great that both of my boys had no symptoms, but it was an incredibly stressful time and they both missed big portions of their lives.

There was worry. What if they had exposed kids on the football team? What if they exposed their sister, who had been rehearsing a play for months?

Thats the part people may not understand, Howerton said. People who feel that vaccination is a personal decision its not. That decision has far-reaching consequences that can affect entire communities, including kids who have vulnerable family members.

The fallout could be teen disappointments, or days of missed work, or hospitalization, or even death. Get the vaccine, Howerton said.

Philip L. Felgner and his colleagues at UCIs Vaccine Research and Development Center are studying the strength of immunity over time in vaccinated health care workers at the UCI Medical Center.After six months, theyve found that the immune response appears durable, declining by only about 10% from the peak.

Based on our data, it looks like an annual boost similar to what we expect to get for the flu vaccine may be recommended, said Felgner, director of the center. Since this coronavirus is prone to variants, the annual boost may contain a different variant from year to year, similar to the flu shot.

COVID-19 continues to mutate, as all viruses do, in populations that are not well protected by vaccination, said Dr. Elizabeth Hudson, regional chief of infectious diseases for Kaiser Permanente.

Until we get to a time where the virus doesnt have large numbers of people it can infect, we can expect it to continue to change, Hudson said. Some of these changes could be helpful to the virus, and some of them will not be so. At this time, the vaccines we have do provide good protection against all the variants of concern, including delta and alpha, so theres no need for a different type of vaccine at this time.

If more changes come to the COVID virus, she said, newer vaccines with different types of protection may be needed. When and if that time comes, the mRNA vaccine technology will allow for a rapid scale-up of new COVID vaccines.

Noymer, the epidemiologist at UCI, is a bit less sanguine.

Breakthrough cases dont please me too much, he said. Obviously, a symptomatic breakthrough case that, in the absence of the vaccine, could have been a hospitalization or worse yeah, give me more of that. If its a vaccine that converts fatalities into people simply feeling sick, OK. Good. But we were hoping for fewer breakthrough cases at all.

Its not that we cant all survive a few days of feeling crappy. You could spread it to someone else in the period before you became symptomatic. Herd immunity is going to be very elusive if vaccinated people can spread it and get infected, so its just going to prolong this whole thing.

On July 1, Noymer was feeling liberated, finally venturing to restaurants and taking off his mask. By Aug. 1, he was canceling lunch plans and masking up again. And here we are on Sept. 1, he said. Im nervous, with school starting and breakthrough cases happening. COVID has capacity to surprise us. I know for sure well have at least one other wave before this is all over.

Adamson, the UCLA doctor who had a breakthrough infection, said Los Angeles hospitals are seeing many COVID patients again, and 99% of them are unvaccinated. For people who are unvaccinated, he said, its really quite a threat.

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Breakthrough: When the fully vaccinated get COVID-19 anyway - Monterey Herald

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‘So hard to watch’: Weekend spike brings Alaska’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers to another record – Anchorage Daily News

Posted: at 10:14 am

At Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, nearly half the patients have tested positive for COVID-19. Photographed August 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Alaskas COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a dramatic new high this week as health care facilities struggle with a surge of mostly unvaccinated patients who providers say are stretching the system to its limits.

The state reported 186 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday as well as two deaths in people with the virus, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard. The deaths were in a man in his 50s from the Fairbanks North Star Borough and a woman in her 60s from the Kusilvak Census Area in Western Alaska.

Statewide, COVID-positive patients accounted for 1 in 5 of all hospitalized people as of Monday. The states hospitals added about 20 new COVID-positive patients over the Labor Day weekend, putting more pressure on a hospital system providers say is already becoming overwhelmed.

Hospitalizations recently hit new records, superseding 151 people hospitalized at one time over the winter. There were at least 165 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals around the state by weeks end.

The hospital statistics dont include long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but continue to need care, hospital officials said this week. So they underestimate the true impact of the virus on capacity.

Cars wait in line at Alaska Airlines Center COVID-19 testing site in Anchorage on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Providers say COVID-19 patients now are younger and sicker than before, requiring time-intensive care, and needing hospitalization longer than traditional patients.

Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, in the states least vaccinated urban region, reported 39 COVID-19 patients as of Monday nearly half of the hospitals total patient count.

The hospital has stopped accepting transfers from other facilities and is postponing non-emergency procedures on a daily, case-by-case basis, according to Dr. Thomas Quimby, the hospitals emergency department director. That can mean delaying cardiac catheterization or the removal of cancerous tumors.

The hospitals COVID-positive patients stay for an average of three weeks longer than other patients.

Cases show no sign of abating in Mat-Su, which tends to lag several weeks behind Anchorage, Quimby said. Maybe Anchorage will level off soon and his hospital can send patients there.

If that doesnt happen, theres no place to shift patients, he said. Thats very concerning.

The states chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, worked an emergency shift at the Mat-Su hospital on Saturday night and shared a photo on social media of a patient dashboard with 10 cases, eight of them showing symptoms of the virus.

So much COVID, Zink tweeted.

[Idaho hospitals, overloaded with COVID patients, begin rationing care]

The highly contagious delta variant is driving the surge in hospitalizations and new cases. The state reported 2,059 resident cases over a four-day period from Friday to Monday, including 850 reported for Friday, the second-highest one-day resident tally since the pandemic began in March 2020.

This situation continues to get worse and worse, said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. It is so hard to watch.

The new levels come as Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy continue to make it clear they plan no new mitigation measures like mask orders and shy away from specific vaccine messaging. And unlike during last winters peak, hospitals are already full with other patients being treated by health care workers reeling from pandemic burnout or leaving the profession for good, leading to shortages.

As of Tuesday, 61.3% of eligible Alaskans had received at least one dose of vaccine and 55.7% were fully vaccinated, according to state data. Alaska was ranked 33rd out of 50 states for per capita vaccination rates.

The states test positivity rate, the percent positive tests out of the total performed, was 8.07% over a seven-day period as of Monday. Health experts say anything over 5% means broader testing is needed.

Dunleavy last week rejected calls to enact a public health disaster declaration. The governor amended the upcoming special session, adding bills expanding telehealth offerings and streamlining background checks and nurse licensing. Hearings began Tuesday.

More than 90% of the patients he sees at Mat-Su Regional are unvaccinated, Quimby said.

He saw a patient on Sunday who was in his 50s without significant medical problems. His wife was vaccinated but he wasnt. Hed already been sick for 10 days before coming to the ER and was admitted with low oxygen levels.

The patient was scared.

He just was miserable and remorseful. Hes already been sick for 10 days, now hes going to be in the hospital, Quimby said. He asked me, Can I get the vaccination now? I wish I had gotten it.

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'So hard to watch': Weekend spike brings Alaska's COVID-19 hospitalization numbers to another record - Anchorage Daily News

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