Coronavirus News Roundup, January 16-January 22

Coronavirus News Roundup, January 16-January 22

  • January 22, 2021

The items below are highlights from the free newsletter, “Smart, useful, science stuff about COVID-19.” To receive newsletter issues daily in your inbox, sign up here.

Here’s how you should think about your immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after you receive your first shot of a two-dose vaccine, according to a 1/14/21 BBC Futures story: “Pretend it didn’t happen.” In other words, assume you have acquired no immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after that first dose. “…Most vaccines require booster doses to work,” writes Zaria Gorvett. Your immune system’s first response to a vaccine typically activates B cells, which make antibodies, as well as T cells of various types, including memory T cells that stick around. The problems are that B cells are short-lived, and the body makes few memory T cells until “the second meeting” with a virus or other pathogen, the story states. The 2nd dose or booster is a re-exposure that increases the number of memory T cells, the number and quality of memory B cells, and the quality of antibodies to a pathogen, according to an Imperial College London immunologist quoted in the piece. Advice notwithstanding, the story also states the percent effectiveness that recipients can expect to kick in after receiving vaccines currently available in various countries.

For health care professionals, infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Sax at Harvard Medical School has provided answers to frequently asked COVID-19 vaccine questions. Topics addressed include how the vaccines work; vaccine effectiveness, safety, availability; whether one vaccine is preferable to another for certain patients; guidance for immunocompromised patients; second-dose issues; and guidance for people with COVID-19 or a possible case. Sax’s replies are useful for all of us. In the New England Journal of Medicine (updated 1/11/21).

Advice for avoiding the new coronavirus variant, per this piece by Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times (1/19/21), includes upgrading to two- or three-layer masks for errands and shopping, spending time indoors only with people from your own household, cutting back on grocery store visits and time spent in stores, avoiding crowds, not entering a store if you arrive and find it crowded, remaining socially distant, washing hands frequently, and not touching your face. But most of us still don’t need N95 medical masks, according to Dr. Ashish K. Jha at the Brown University School of Public Health, the story states. Office and grocery store workers might consider a KF94 masks, Jha is quoted as saying. They resemble N95s but have ear loops rather than elastic head loops.

A computer-simulation study of airflow inside passenger cars, published 1/1/21 in Science, supports advice to keep windows open, ideally all windows, to prevent spreading SARS-CoV-2 to others while riding together in a car, truck or other motor vehicle, writes Emily Anthes for The New York Times (1/16/21). Anthes, the author of a recent book on the air we breathe inside buildings, writes that the study simulated air flow in a “Toyota Prius driving at 50 miles per hour, with two occupants: a driver in the front left seat and a single passenger in the back right.” In the cold weather, it’s uncomfortable to keep all 4 vehicle windows open in a sedan, but half-way open can ventilate just as well as fully open, the study found, according to the story. Another alternative for the two-person ride-sharing or taxi-riding configuration: fresh air flows in a way that creates “a barrier between the driver and the passenger” if each opens the window opposite them rather than the one next to them, the research suggests, Anthes writes.

It seems that the research on the transmissibility and other pandemic effects of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 remains scant. An Oxford University epidemiologist quoted in a 1/15/21 story by Kai Kupferschmidt in Science says that a new variant called P1 and identified in Manaus, Brazil, “might have nothing to do with the new surge in infections [there]; people’s immunity might simply be waning.” And a World Health Organization physician and epidemiologist is described as saying that changes in human behavior remain the driving force behind the pandemic’s resurgence. “Even if [a] variant plays a crucial role it might be driving the boost because it is transmitted more easily, like B.1.1.7, not because it can evade the immune response,” Kupferschmidt writes. He writes later in the piece, “So far, the virus does not appear to have become resistant to Covid-19 vaccines,” according to a WHO vaccinologist.

RIP Sharon Begley, one of the best science and medical journalists of our time.  

You might enjoy, “Waiting for To-Go,” by Sam Lipsyte, for the New Yorker (1/18/21).

Paper summarizing antiviral evidence for botanical ingredients becomes global touchstone

Paper summarizing antiviral evidence for botanical ingredients becomes global touchstone

  • January 22, 2021

The review, titled Botanical drugs and supplements affecting the immune response in the time of COVID‐19: Implications for research and clinical practice,​ was published in the journal Phytotherapy Research ​at the end of December.  Since then, it has become a go-to resource for many around the world, one of the authors told NutraIngredients-USA.

“I was just informed by the editor that it is among the most accessed papers they’ve published,” ​said Thomas Brendler, PhD, who is the paper’s corresponding author.

Summary of evidence for broad array of ingredients

The paper summarizes what’s known about the many botanical ingredients that have some evidence for antiviral effects.  Those ingredients categories include echinacea, elderberry, curcumin, licorice, a suite of herbal adaptogens and a specific herbal finished product from longtime German herbal medicine manufacturer Schwabe Group.

The review also includes research done on fungal ingredients, whether those derive from the fruiting bodies or the mycelium.  While this is an important distinction, the paper notes ingredients that derive from these sources often fly the common flag of ‘medicinal mushrooms.’

The authors noted that the body’s immune system is a complicated feedback loop that does not admit to simple, one-stop-shop answers for ‘boosting immunity.’  There are multiple modes of action for the body to recognize invaders, and several ways the immune system can mobilize a response, they noted.

In each case, the authors noted both the strengths and weaknesses of information supporting antiviral effects for these substances.  It’s what makes the review such a valuable addition to the debate about how herbal ingredients ought to be promoted during this turbulent time, said consultant Steven Dentali, PhD, who is the former chief science officer of the American Herbal Products Association.

Fitness centers an essential tool in coronavirus fight

Fitness centers an essential tool in coronavirus fight

  • January 21, 2021

Although Americans are desperately hoping the New Year will bring an end to COVID-19, the reality is that we are facing what President Joe Biden has called a “dark winter.” While almost 5 million American health care workers and elderly have received the COVID-19 vaccine already, distribution in the United States still has a long way to go. In the meantime, COVID-19 cases are rising and officials across the country are working to mitigate its spread. Unfortunately, this means reverting to lockdown measures and the closure of non-essential businesses.

However, difficult decisions officials make should reflect all that we’ve learned about COVID-19, how it is transmitted and how it impacts our communities. We know that regular exercise can help prevent chronic health conditions that lead to more severe COVID-19 cases, boost the immune system and help alleviate stress and depression. Yet, fitness centers in Boston remain closed. Physical activity has never been more important, and can help play a key role in our fight against COVID-19. Further, large fitness centers with enhanced COVID-19 related public health practices are essential in providing access to exercise, especially in the coming winter months.

We have learned the initial lockdowns had severe impacts on the mental and physical health of the nation. Sedentary behavior increased by over 30% and a national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than half of adults reported that stress about the pandemic had caused a negative impact on their mental health.

Exercise can be part of the solution as it produces endorphins, which not only help relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety but are known to produce long-term mental health benefits. In fact, a recent survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association found that 65% of Americans who returned to the gym after the first lockdowns said they are doing so to improve their mental health.

Along with strengthening the body and mind, exercise has a critical role to play when it comes to fighting the virus itself, both lessening its impact and providing protection. COVID-19 causes severe symptoms, a higher chance of hospitalization and death for those who already suffer from chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. With over 70% of adults already considered overweight or obese, the pandemic has made physical activity critical to improving Americans’ overall health and saving lives. Exercise can help protect all of us from developing these conditions while also producing anti-inflammatory effects that boost the immune system to fight off viruses like COVID-19.

Many large fitness centers are working diligently to make their spaces safe for members to continue reaping the benefits of exercise. Employees wear face masks, equipment is sanitized after each use, locker rooms remain closed and capacity is limited. These precautions are proving to keep their members safe while they focus on what’s important — their wellbeing.

Large fitness centers are more spacious — optimal for physical distancing — and have control over their robust ventilation systems with the ability to replace air hourly. With winter weather in much of the country, large fitness centers are one of the best options Americans have to access indoor physical activity and the benefits that it brings.

This evidence should give policymakers reason to include large fitness centers that implement appropriate public health measures among essential businesses, to allow Americans to improve their mental and physical health in the face of a challenging COVID-19 winter.

Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., was the 17th surgeon general of the United States.

Get a Good Night's Sleep Before Your COVID Vaccine

Get a Good Night’s Sleep Before Your COVID Vaccine

  • January 20, 2021

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 20, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Want to get the most out of your COVID-19 vaccine? Make sure you get some good rest before you get your shot, sleep experts say.

That’s because adequate sleep is an important factor in a strong immune system.

“As COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, it is of utmost importance that patients continue to prioritize their sleep to maintain optimal health,” American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) president Dr. Kannan Ramar said in an academy news release. “Getting sufficient, high-quality sleep on a regular basis strengthens your body’s immune system and optimizes your response to a vaccine.”

Several studies have found an association between sleep and vaccination response. For example, a 2020 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that flu vaccines appear to be more effective in people who get a sufficient amount of sleep during the two nights prior to receiving the shot. Other studies have reported similar findings about patients’ response to vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Dr. Khurshid Khurshid is director of the UMMHC/UMMS Center for Neuromodulation at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Westborough, Mass. He said, “The role of sleep in boosting innate and acquired immune response is significant. All people, particularly health workers, should be aware of the immunity-boosting effects of sleep. Studies have shown that normal sleep after vaccination strengthens the immune response against an invading antigen, and this immunity-boosting effect of sleep is clinically significant.”

So, Khurshid added in the news release, “A good night’s sleep before and after vaccination could be very advantageous.”

Most adults should sleep at least seven hours a night, but the COVID-19 pandemic has harmed many Americans’ sleep, a recent AASM survey found.

One-third of respondents said their sleep quality has been affected, 30% have had changes in their ability to fall asleep, and 29% reported an impact on their nightly amount of sleep.

The AASM offered tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Establish a bedtime and morning routine. Use the bedroom only for sleeping, not watching TV or reading. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and a bit cool.
  • Restrict blue light exposure before bed by turning off your TV and other electronic devices 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. Silence notifications and charge your devices away from your bed so you’re not tempted to look at social media or news alerts.
  • Limit alcohol, caffeine and large meals before bedtime. If you’re hungry after dinner, limit yourself to small, sugar-free and easily digestible snacks to avoid disrupting sleep.


More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 vaccines.

SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release

WebMD News from HealthDay

Copyright © 2013-2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 cross-protection? When vaccines provide 'bonus' protection against other diseases

COVID-19 cross-protection? When vaccines provide ‘bonus’ protection against other diseases

  • January 19, 2021

Those of us who avoided COVID-19 over the past year may be somewhat surprised to learn there’s a good chance we’ve already been infected by at least one coronavirus.

They’re thought to be behind up to a third of all common colds. And intriguingly, evidence emerged last year that suggested people who were previously exposed to a common cold coronavirus might have some protection against COVID-19.

So could this cross-protection go the other way? Might the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out now also cause a dip in seasonal coronaviruses?

While it’s too early to tell, it’s possible. But perhaps not in the way you’d think.

How colds may boost COVID-19 immunity

First, it’s worth looking at how vaccines generate an immune response, and how they compare to real infections.

Vaccines use parts of viruses or bacteria to train what’s called our adaptive immune system.

This part of our immune system protects us against specific microbes. It primarily involves molecules, called antibodies, that neutralise an invading pathogen.

In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, antibodies are made against the virus’s spike protein, which the virus uses to worm its way into our cells.

Your body needs quite a lot of energy to manufacture antibodies, so — ideally — vaccines also establish a few pathogen-specific immune cells called memory T cells and B cells that hang around long after the initial burst of antibodies has waned.

If a pathogen shows up again, T and B cells spring into action, once again churning out antibodies and eliminating infected cells.

When it comes to contracting an actual coronavirus infection, your body produces an immune response to many parts of the virus — not just its spike proteins.

For instance, they might also produce antibodies against other proteins embedded in the coronavirus’s fatty protective layer.

This means that if another coronavirus — perhaps SARS-CoV-2 — shares these proteins, you might have some level of immunity against it as well.

Might COVID vaccines protect against other coronaviruses?

If they do, it’s unlikely that antibodies generated by jabs will play a role, says Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland.

A non-COVID coronavirus would need spike proteins to be incredibly similar to those on SARS-CoV-2 for antibodies to recognise and destroy them.

Antibodies latch onto viruses like a lock and key. If the virus protein key is the wrong size or shape for the antibody lock, nothing happens.

But there is a chance that T cell immunity might step up against other coronaviruses. That’s because for them, the shape of a viral protein isn’t quite as important. They recognise smaller bits of viral proteins in the form of short chains of amino acids, or linear peptides.

“Some of those peptides are shared between seasonal coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2,” Dr Short says.

And while measuring antibody levels from a blood test is relatively straightforward, it’s not as easy to find out what T cells get up to after a COVID-19 jab.

“In terms of T cell responses, they become a little bit more complex,” Dr Short says.

“The type of peptides that my T cells present to the immune system are going to be different to the type of peptides that your T cells will present.

“That just relates to individual genetic differences.”

Shoring up our first line of defence

There is another way vaccines can boost our immune response against other diseases.

The adaptive immune system is just one part of our immune system. We also have our innate immune system.

It’s our first line of immune defence and responds faster than the adaptive immune system, but it doesn’t target specific pathogens. It goes for all of them.

So if you scrape your knee, your innate immune system quickly produces molecules and recruits and activates immune cells to the area to destroy any bacteria or viruses in the wound.

And for a long time, researchers thought immune system memory, involving B and T cells, was solely part of the adaptive immune system.

But in recent years, scientists have found our innate immune system also has an element of memory.

This is called “trained immunity“, and some vaccines trigger this memory response, Dr Short says.

“Mostly, it’s live vaccines that seem to do it, like the MMR vaccine and live polio vaccine.”

It’s a concept being explored by Nigel Curtis, paediatric infectious diseases physician and scientist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

He and his team are running an international clinical trial to determine if the tuberculosis vaccine — called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin or BCG — can help protect against severe COVID-19 in healthcare workers.

The BCG vaccine contains live but weakened bacteria that stimulate the immune system, but without causing disease.

A hand in a blue glove holding a small brown vial
The BCG vaccine was developed from a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis, which is similar to the bug that causes tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.(ABC News)

While it helps prevent tuberculosis, it also protects against a wide range of other diseases.

And it’s only in the past decade that immunologists have unpicked some of the mechanisms behind it.

Very simply, the BCG vaccine induces metabolic changes in some of the cells involved in the innate immune system, and this affects how they express certain genes.

Overall, it means your innate immune response better deals with any subsequent infections, Professor Curtis says.

“The idea is that you have BCG, and you induce these changes, then when you get infected with SARS-CoV-2, your response to that virus or any virus — because it’s completely agnostic to pathogen — is stronger than it would be in someone who hadn’t previously had BCG.”

Because it’s a general enhancement, it’s not technically cross-protection, and the BCG vaccine should not considered a replacement for COVID-19 vaccines, he adds.

Instead, it’s something that may stop you from becoming severely ill, should you be infected.

The goal of the work is to pinpoint the specific compounds that induce trained immunity.

“What we want to do is find out exactly what those key components are and, once we do that, we can make something that’s perhaps better than BCG — something you’d give to everybody to induce a better immune response early or even later on in life,” Professor Curtis says.

Cross-protection and HPV

One vaccine that granted some cross-protection was the human papillomavirus or HPV jab.

Of the more-than-200 HPV strains, around 40 are sexually transmitted. Two of those strains, 16 and 18, cause more than 70 per cent of cervical cancers worldwide.

Australia kicked off its HPV vaccination program in 2007 with the Gardasil vaccine, which vaccinated against types 16 and 18, as well as 6 and 11 — strains that don’t cause cancer, but are responsible for around 90 per cent of genital warts.

Suzanne Garland, a clinical microbiologist, sexual health physician and director of the Women’s Centre for Infectious Diseases in Melbourne, led a team that assessed HPV prevalence in Australian women eight years after the rollout started.

As well as finding Gardasil prevented HPV 16 and 18 infection, they also found vaccinated women were far less likely to be infected by a further three cancer-causing HPV strains when compared to unvaccinated counterparts.

Those additional strains were genetically similar to those targeted by the vaccine. Types 31 and 33 were much like 16, while 45 was close to 18.

Professor Garland calls this cross-protection a “bonus”, but why it happened in some women and not others isn’t clear.

The latest generation HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, covers nine high-risk strains — including 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45 — which are responsible for 93 per cent of cervical cancers.

It was only introduced to the National Immunisation Program in 2018, “so it’s important that women who were vaccinated as schoolgirls have regular cervical screenings, because … you’re still at risk of infection and disease for the types not covered by the vaccine”, Professor Garland says.

Study: Clinical, laboratory, and temporal predictors of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor candidates. Image Credit: Cryptographer / Shutterstock

Study predicts good passive immunotherapy donors to combat COVID-19

  • January 19, 2021

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), continues to spread worldwide. Since the virus first emerged in late-2019, over 95.55 million cases and more than 2 million deaths have been reported.

Study: Clinical, laboratory, and temporal predictors of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor candidates. Image Credit: Cryptographer / Shutterstock

Many countries have commenced targeted vaccination efforts to control the spread of the virus and immunize vulnerable groups. However, vaccine rollout may still lag behind ongoing infections, as fast-spreading new variants threaten many countries. Finding an effective therapy to help patients fight the infection remains crucial.

Passive immunotherapy treatment, wherein SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) from the plasma of recovered patients are administered to acutely sick patients, is a promising method for COVID-19 treatment in severe cases.

A team of researchers at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the National Institute of Health, USA, recently studied the neutralizing antibodies from patients recovering from COVID-19 to investigate which clinical factors predict good passive immunotherapy donors.

In the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the research team measured SARS-CoV-2-nAb titers in the plasma of 250 people with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Convalescent plasma

In the USA, convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients was approved under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 23, 2020. This mode of therapy uses antibody-containing blood from recovered individuals to help promote passive immunity in severely ill patients still battling the infection.

Blood donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19 is processed to remove blood cells, leaving behind the plasma and neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

The plasma given to severely ill patients will help boost the body’s immune system. In a recent phase II clinical trial in Argentina, scientists found that convalescent plasma with high levels of neutralizing antibodies, particularly when given early in the infection, had a marked beneficial health impact.

Yet, not all SARS-CoV-2-infected people produce a strong neutralizing antibody response. Hence, convalescent plasma from donors should be screened for SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibody activity to make sure the recovered patients are suitable donors.

The study

In the current study, the researchers tested the serum of 250 potential convalescent plasma donors with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein S1 domain, nucleoprotein (NP), and for neutralizing antibodies.

The team found that among the participants, 97 percent were seropositive on one or more assays. About 60 percent of the donors had nAb titers. The correlates of higher nAb titer included old age, male, and severity of the illness. Also, patients with more severe COVID-19 symptoms, like the difficulty of breathing and fever, had higher levels of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Moreover, a longer period between the infection and antibody screening had decreased nAb titers. The study results showed that severe COVID-19 illness produces higher levels of antibodies than less severe illness. This also means that the neutralizing antibodies in the blood of recovered patients wane over time.

COVID-19 seems to be one of a group of infections where the sicker one is, and presumably the more virus and therefore the more antigen that is around, the higher the levels of antibody,” Dr. David Koelle of the Koelle Laboratory, University of Washington, said in a statement.

He explained that the potential cause of this discrepancy is that the immune system in people who had a severe illness, was not effective in stopping it. There is a probable temporal race between the proliferation of the virus and host adaptive immunity.

The researchers concluded that nAb titers correlated with disease severity, sex, and age. Also, they suggested that commercially available SARS-CoV-2 immunoglobulin G (IgG) results can become an alternative for nAb testing.

Functional nAb levels were found to decline and a small proportion of persons recovered from COVID-19 lack adaptive immune responses,” they added.


Journal reference:

Gritstone adds COVID-19 to the pipeline with NIAID-supported vaccine

Gritstone adds COVID-19 to the pipeline with NIAID-supported vaccine

  • January 19, 2021

Gritstone Oncology, the biotech working on cancer vaccines based on traditional infectious disease immunology, is bringing that approach back to its roots. It’s working on a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that could also work against other viruses in this family in the case of a future pandemic.

The company is developing the vaccine alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided a grant to bankroll preclinical work, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which will carry out a phase 1 study through the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium.

RELATED: Looking beyond COVID-19’s spike protein for the next wave of vaccines

The vaccine is based on Gritstone’s EDGE technology—which uses machine learning to predict antigens presented by tumor cells or cells infected by a virus that the immune system can see—and work out of the La Jolla Institute of Immunology, which has studied hundreds of patients recovering from COVID-19. Under a license agreement with La Jolla, Gritstone has access to epitopes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus—a part of the virus to which antibodies bind—identified in its studies.

Like the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines, Gritstone’s candidate targets the spike protein of the new coronavirus, but it also contains other targets that could help boost T-cell immunity.

“Gritstone’s vaccine may provide more comprehensive viral protection by inducing a better combination of T cell responses and neutralizing antibodies as compared to the currently available vaccines,” said Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development and Division of Infectious Diseases, Allergy and Immunology, National Vaccine Advisory Committee member, and protocol chair and lead principal investigator of Gritstone’s COVID-19 study, in a statement.

“It is important that we move forward with developing these next generation vaccines because we do not yet know whether the existing vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization will provide long-term immunity or prevent transmission. Improved vaccines that can accomplish these additional benefits may be needed to continue mitigating the ongoing pandemic,” Hoft added.

RELATED: Fierce JPM Week: Vaccines aren’t enough. We need more COVID-19 treatments, too

Besides potentially provoking a stronger immune response than the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines does, a new vaccine aimed at targets beyond the spike protein could come in handy in the face of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What’s more, Gritstone hopes this approach could make the vaccine useful against other coronaviruses as well as the one that causes COVID-19.

“As well as a potential role in protection against SARS-CoV-2, the notion of using evolutionarily conserved viral antigens (in addition to Spike) as the basis for a vaccine that induces antibody and T-cell responses to provide protection against future coronavirus pandemics is an exciting concept that springs from our current work. We plan to pursue this in 2021,” said Karin Jooss, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Gritstone.

Treating COVID-19 symptoms at home: SoCal doctor explains what you need to know

Treating COVID-19 symptoms at home: SoCal doctor explains what you need to know

  • January 19, 2021
LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Once you test positive for COVID-19, what should you do next? Doctors say staying on top of any changes in your symptoms and taking the proper precautions is a good start, but doctors who have been treating patients’ recovery at home say there are other things you can do to boost your immune system.

Shortly before Christmas, 43-year-old Juliana Shain of Simi Valley tested positive for COVID-19. Five days later, the same would happen to her fiancé.

“I felt like I had been beaten up. I felt really hungover,” she said. “We had aches and pains then a cough and then sneezing. Really at the end of it, we had difficulty breathing.”

Fear of being hospitalized soon set in. Internal medicine specialist Dr. Aamir Iqbal with Agoura Family Practice says he’s been getting several calls a day from frantic patients.

“When you’ve tested positive it’s a big moment. A lot of people get very scared and nervous about what’s going to happen,” he said. “What do I do? Or my husband tested positive or my spouse tested positive or my kid tested positive and now I live with them.”

Iqbal’s first suggestion is to buy an over the counter pulse oximeter.

“It’s a little device that attaches to your finger and right on top of the screen it has a percentage,” he said. “When you get below 94% that starts throwing up some flags. And any number under 90% is a big red flag.”

He suggests hydrating with beverages such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. Shain’s doctor told her to take a cocktail of supplements.

“The doctor gave us a bunch of vitamins,” she said. Shain started taking Vitamin C, B12, D3 and zinc.

“Some of these home remedies can actually help. We know they can’t hurt you,” Iqbal said.

He also suggested over the counter medicines such as acetaminophen, mucus thinners and a baby aspirin to prevent blood clots.

“While the baby aspirin doesn’t equivalent to a full blood thinner medication, it can give you some protection,” Iqbal said.

Studies show sleeping on your stomach helps get more oxygen to your lungs. Iqbal said if its comfortable try it, but he tells his patients it’s not a requirement.

Some advice online includes waking up every two hours to get your blood circulating. To that Iqbal said quality sleep is much more important As for eating more bananas, avocados or asparagus, he said good nutrition is important but food alone can’t stop worsening symptoms.

A month after her infection, Shain is back at work

“I feel exhausted, and I still have some brain fog,” she said.

She hasn’t mustered enough energy to take down her Christmas decorations and Shain had to postpone her wedding day. But, she’s grateful to be on the mend.

“Just be kind to yourself. Take it one day at a time and you’ll get through it,” she said.

Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Vitamin sellers flagged by feds got coronavirus aid loans

Vitamin sellers flagged by feds got coronavirus aid loans

  • January 18, 2021

A trio of supplements sellers snagged millions in coronavirus relief loans last spring — all within weeks of getting dinged by the feds for questionable claims about their products, The Post has learned.

The vitamin marketers joined the rush for Paycheck Protection Program aid in early 2020, even as their sales reps angled to cash in on the pandemic, government records show. The reps claimed on social media that their shakes, teas and powders could help protect consumers from the deadly virus, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“Instead of stockpiling toilet paper, you need to do something to help you fight the virus!” a rep for Pruvit Ventures allegedly wrote in a post accompanied by an image of the Texas-based company’s products. “Boost your immune system with our Immunity Boost Pack!”

The claims of immunity boosting caught the feds’ attention in particular: While the pitches might seem sensible to health-minded consumers, the FTC says such claims are illegal because there’s no scientific evidence to back them up.

“Any coronavirus-related prevention or treatment claims regarding such products are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence,” the agency wrote in warning letters to Pruvit, Total Life Changes and Zurvita on April 24. “You must immediately cease making all such claims.”

Nevertheless, nine days before the FTC fired off its warning letters, Pruvit and Total Life Changes had been approved for PPP loans totaling almost $1.7 million on April 15, according to data from the Small Business Administration, which oversees the $809 billion program.

Meanwhile, the third firm, Zurvita, won its own loan of roughly $1.4 million on May 1 — about a week after the FTC’s letter raised red flags about two of its reps’ posts hawking Zeal, its supplement packed with botanicals and vitamins.

“Want to join me in drinking Zeal to combat the Corona Virus? Contact me . . . to learn how to be your own Corona Virus Super Hero!” one Zurvita rep’s post read, according to the FTC.

Yet another relief loan worth $565,402 went to supplement seller IDLife, which also got an FTC warning in April. The agency said the company’s representatives claimed people could earn “substantial income” selling its products during the pandemic-fueled economic crisis.

None of the four companies responded to requests for comment.

The loans come as critics gripe that the PPP program, meant to keep workers on payrolls during the pandemic, has ended up aiding businesses with checkered pasts and deep pockets.

The SBA opened applications on Jan. 11 for another $284 billion in PPP money authorized last month. Officials have imposed tighter rules for the latest round — publicly traded companies can’t participate, for example — and Congress gave the SBA additional funding to conduct audits and root out fraud.

But that doesn’t change the fact that sketchy businesses got a lifeline that many small firms missed, according to Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, a left-leaning good-government group that tracks coronavirus relief spending.

“Shady MLMs were showered with PPP money because the Trump administration let banks approve taxpayer-backed loans to practically anyone, even if they didn’t need it,” Herrig told The Post.

Nutrition companies make up a significant chunk of the multi-level marketing industry. Known as MLMs, such firms can walk a thin line between being considered legitimate businesses and illegal pyramid schemes. In the latter case, firms reward reps for bringing in new recruits and often pressure them into buying the products they’re supposed to be selling, according to the FTC.

There’s no evidence that any of the four companies mentioned above are pyramid schemes. But two other MLMs got PPP money despite being publicly accused by the feds of running pyramid scams, records show.

Neora, a Dallas-based seller of skin-care, weight-loss and “wellness” products, won a $2.5 million loan on April 8 — about five months after the FTC filed a lawsuit alleging that it pressed distributors to focus on recruiting new reps rather than making sales to customers.

The company also made unsubstantiated claims that one of its supplements could prevent brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to the feds.

Neora — which “firmly” denies the FTC’s allegations — used the PPP money to retain its staff and cover other business expenses amid the pandemic, co-CEO Deborah Heisz said.

“As with almost every other business in the US, when the pandemic began there was a lot of uncertainty about what the future would look like and we were concerned for our approximately 90 full-time employees,” Heisz told The Post. “When the Paycheck Protection Program issued its guidelines, we reviewed them closely and determined Neora qualified for the loan.”

Vemma Nutrition Company — which got $227,500 in PPP funds — agreed to stop its pyramid-scheme practices under a 2016 settlement with the FTC. A federal court order in the case slapped the company with a staggering, $238 million penalty that was supposed to be “partially suspended” as long as Vemma paid about $470,000 and surrendered some of its assets, the agency said at the time.

Vemma did not respond to a request for comment.

Get COVID-19 Vaccine As Soon As You’re Allowed, Experts Urge

Get COVID-19 Vaccine As Soon As You’re Allowed, Experts Urge

  • January 16, 2021

COVID-19’s record surges along with the discovery of more contagious variants of the coronavirus make getting as many people vaccinated as soon as possible critical for ending the pandemic.

“Every time the virus multiplies in a body, there is a chance for mutation,” said Stuart Cohen, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at UC Davis Health. “If it doesn’t have people to go into, there will be no mutations.”

Cohen spoke Thursday (Jan. 14) on a UC Davis LIVE program about COVID-19 vaccines. His hope is that enough people will get vaccinated and that we will reach a level of herd immunity relatively soon — possibly within the coming months or by the end of the year — so the coronavirus won’t be able to keep mutating.

“If enough people get vaccinated, the virus stops circulating,” Cohen said. “It’s cutoff and doesn’t have people to go into, so no mutations develop.”

If it does continue to mutate, Cohen worries the virus might eventually create a variant that can evade the vaccine.

“If we slowly, slowly roll out the vaccine, that’s the perfect way to generate mutants,” he said, because vaccine-resistant variants will have a survival advantage and could multiply. “If we get people vaccinated quickly, then we have a fighting chance to stop it.”

Vaccines effective and safe

Cohen and Stephen McSorley, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases at UC Davis, both said that everything they know about the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines shows both are effective and safe.

Clinical trials showed both vaccines are about 95 percent effective, and though some people have a day or two of reactions, the vaccines are safe. But both men said they worry about some people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated, or worse, about anti-vaccination activists spreading misinformation.

“I’m old enough, I had classmates with polio,” Cohen said. “The herd immunity we have now from polio or measles or other diseases is from vaccinations, and it’s what allows people who don’t believe in vaccines to get away with it.”

McSorley said the COVID-19 vaccines have a slightly different design, but work the way all vaccines work.

“They try to fool your immune system into thinking you’ve had this infection before,” he said. “Your body has the capacity to respond to any infection. If an alien race came from outer space with a pathogen, you actually have the ability to respond to that.”

But often our immune systems need to be taught how to do that. That’s what the COVID-19 vaccines do. They teach our bodies to make more of the cells that recognize the infection, and teach them how to find it and how to combat it, McSorley said.

The COVID-19 vaccines use a system that started to be developed during the 2003 SARS outbreak. It injects us with messenger RNA, or mRNA, which is natural in our bodies. The mRNA teaches our cells to build the spike protein on the coronavirus. “Your immune system responds to that, and now it’s ready to respond to the coronavirus,” McSorley said.

Q&A highlights

  • The vaccines require two doses, and both scientists urged people to get both shots on the prescribed schedule that came out of the clinical trials — which is 21 days apart for the Pfizer vaccines and 28 days for Moderna’s. “The second dose will always boost the immune response,” McSorley said.
  • Are the 21-day and 28-day intervals totally fixed? Can you wait longer? “I don’t know the answer,” Cohen said. “But I do know the best way to take it is the way it’s been studied. Freelancing is not a good idea.”
  • Some immunity starts 10 to 14 days after the first dose, but full immunity appears seven to 14 days after the second, according to the studies. “If you get just one shot,” Cohen said, “we don’t know how long the immune response will last or if one dose will even do anybody any good.”
  • Pfizer’s vaccine was shown effective in lab studies against the newest variants. Although Moderna’s vaccine has not been studied, it is likely equally effective. “The vaccines are very similar,” Cohen said. “There is no reason to think Moderna’s would be any different with the variant.”
  • It’s unclear if the vaccines actually prevent us from getting infected with COVID-19 or if a vaccinated person can spread the virus. That’s why masking and social distancing are still crucial. “Many of us believe the vaccine prevents infection. That’s how other vaccines work. We just don’t have data for that yet,” Cohen said. “We do know it keeps people from getting sick.” McSorley added: “The studies were designed to keep people out of the hospital. They weren’t studying whether you can spread infection. That’s coming.”

Other advice

Among other advice from McSorley and Cohen: It’s OK to get vaccinated if you have a cold (though if you’re feeling lousy, you might want to wait). People who’ve had COVID-19 still should get vaccinated, but it’s best to wait until 90 after all symptoms are gone. Don’t worry about which vaccine you get. They are too much alike. 

“People ask whether I would choose to take the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine,” Cohen said. “I say, ‘I’ll take the one they have. Whichever comes first.’ The only thing to know is, get vaccinated.”

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