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Vaccination offers more protection against Covid than prior infection, CDC study suggests

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that vaccination provides stronger and more reliable protection against the coronavirus than a past infection does, the agency said Friday.

Unvaccinated people who had previously recovered from a coronavirus infection were five times as likely to get COVID as people who had received both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, the CDC said.

The study’s authors cautioned, however, that certain gaps inpatient data and biases in their study participants could have influenced the results.

“We now have additional evidence that reaffirms the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, even if you have had prior infection,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement accompanying the release of the report.

The question of whether people who have had COVID really need a shot has gained traction among some Americans as vaccine mandates take hold across the country. Scientists have urged COVID survivors not to skip the vaccine, noting that the strength and durability of so-called natural immunity depends heavily on people’s age and health, and the severity of an initial infection.

The CDC study used a roundabout experimental design. The researchers examined roughly 7,000 people hospitalized this year with COVID-like illness across nine states. They then looked at how many of those hospitalized patients were indeed infected with the coronavirus. The odds of testing positive for the virus were considerably higher among unvaccinated, previously infected patients than they were among vaccinated people.

The study comes with several caveats, however. The researchers cautioned that the findings may not translate to nonhospitalized people with different levels of access to medical care, and that some patients in the vaccinated group may unknowingly have also had previous infections.

The researchers also noted that separate research in Israel had failed to show that vaccinated people were better protected than those who had only been infected. In general, scientists said, studies on the topic had drawn contradictory conclusions.

Still, some patterns have emerged. Two doses of an mRNA vaccine produce more antibodies, and more reliably so, than a coronavirus infection does. But the antibodies from prior infection are more perse, potentially helping people fend off variants.

Whatever the effect, doctors have warned that acquiring natural immunity is perilous and uncertain. Not everyone survives COVID in the first place, and those who do may not be able to count on a vigorous immune response.

Are we safe after Covid-19 vaccination?

Real-world effectiveness data from the US, the UK, Scotland and Israel show that vaccines reduce severe disease and hospitalisation. In India, reports of a few people getting infected after their jabs have raised concerns over the effectiveness of vaccines. But such vaccine “breakthrough cases” help to track real-world evidence of vaccination. ET reports on how this works and what experts are saying about vaccines.

Getting infected after vaccination. What does it mean?
“Breakthrough cases” refer to people who are infected by a virus even after getting the vaccine. Data from various parts of the world does not suggest any outward incidents yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US found that out of 75 million people who were fully vaccinated with two doses, breakthrough infections were reported in 5,814 people. Of them, 29%, or 1,695 cases, were asymptomatic, 7%, or 396, were hospitalised, and from this subgroup, 133 were hospitalised for reasons not related to Covid-19.

What about the Astrazeneca vaccine?
In the UK, a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine provides 80% protection against severe disease and mortality among the elderly, according to a study. In England, there is 60% protection against symptomatic infection and 80% against severe disease. “The data shows that vaccines are working,” said Gagandeep Kang, professor of microbiology at the Christian Medical College in Vellore.

When does vaccine protection kick in?
Vaccine-induced protection should not be expected for at least three weeks after the first dose. In the case of Covaxin, protection can be expected at least two weeks after the second dose. For Covishield, data shows that one dose offers protection up to about 70% after two weeks, Kang explained. “If your oxygen saturation is not dropping, then that is not a severe disease. Vaccines are expected to protect against severe disease and deaths, and are not supposed to be protection against mild infection,” Kang said.

How do we measure vaccine effectiveness?
India needs to start studies along the lines of what the UK and the US are doing to determine the profile of people getting infected, when they get infected and how severely. An effectiveness study is needed to look at the proportion of the people vaccinated who get severe disease or die compared with those who are not vaccinated.

Who should conduct these effectiveness studies and when?
The Indian Council of Medical Research is responsible for starting such studies. India’s vaccination drive kicked off on January 16 and, as in most countries, the effectiveness studies (real-world assessment on whether the vaccine works) should have started at about the same time.

Do I need to get tested for COVID-19 if I’m vaccinated?

Do I need to get tested for COVID-19 if I’m vaccinated?

Yes, if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19.

The latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who are fully vaccinated should get tested three to five days after a potential exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms.

That change comes two months after the agency eased its initial testing guidance. In May, the CDC said vaccinated people face very little risk of serious illness and don’t need to be tested in most cases, even if exposed to someone who was sick. The thinking was that vaccinated people also weren’t likely to spread it to others.

But the agency says it’s reversing that guidance because of the more contagious delta variant, which now accounts for most COVID-19 infections.

The COVID-19 vaccines are still very good at protecting people from getting seriously ill, but the CDC says new data shows vaccinated people infected with the delta variant could spread it to others.

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers should consult with their employers, some of whom may require routine testing for their staff. People working in prisons and homeless shelters are also generally subject to stepped-up testing requirements.

U.S. citizens returning from abroad still have to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flights home, regardless of their vaccination status. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should still isolate for 10 days, the CDC says.

How many variants of the coronavirus are there?

How many variants of the coronavirus are there?

There are many circulating around the world, but health experts are primarily concerned with the emergence of three.

As a virus infects people, it can mutate as it makes copies of itself. Some mutations can be harmful to a virus, causing it to die out. Others can offer an advantage and help it spread.

“Not every mutation is created equal,” said Dr. Mary Petrone, who studies infectious diseases at Yale University. “The virus is going to get lucky now and again.”

Monitoring variants is important because of the possibility that they could make vaccines and treatments less effective, or change the way they infect people.

A mutation early in the pandemic fueled the spread of the virus around the world, but there had been no notable changes since – until recently, said Ohio State University biologist Daniel Jones.

One of the three main variants experts are watching was discovered in the United Kingdom late last year and has been detected in dozens of countries since. Health officials initially said it didn’t seem to cause worse disease, but some newer information suggests it might – that remains unknown at the moment. It does appear to spread more easily, which could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

The variant might become dominant in the U.S. by March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other variants first detected in South Africa and in Brazil also appear more contagious, experts say.

Data so far suggests current vaccines should still protect against these variants, though there’s some concern their effectiveness may be slightly diminished. There is some evidence that some antibody treatments may be less effective against certain variants.

There are ways to adjust vaccines and treatments to maintain their effectiveness, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert.

The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread. It’s another reason experts stress the importance of mask wearing and social distancing.

“The fewer humans carrying the virus, the fewer opportunities it has to mutate,” Jones said.

U.S. service sector activity index jumps to record high in March: ISM survey

A measure of U.S. services industry activity surged to a record high amid robust growth in new orders, in the latest indication of a roaring economy that is being boosted by increased vaccinations and massive fiscal stimulus.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said on Monday its non-manufacturing activity index rebounded to a reading of 63.7 last month also lifted by warmer weather. That was the highest in the survey’s history and followed 55.3 in February.

A reading above 50 indicates growth in the services sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index rising to 59.0 in March.

The survey added to a raft of reports from manufacturing to consumer confidence and employment in suggesting that the vastly improved public health situation and the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic rescue package were providing a powerful tailwind to the economy.

The ISM reported last week that its measure of national manufacturing activity soared to its highest level in more than 37 years in March. Nonfarm payrolls jumped by 916,000 jobs in March, the most in seven months, the government said on Friday.

The services industry, hardest hit by the pandemic, could accelerate further. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday fully vaccinated people could safely travel at “low risk.”

The ISM survey’s measure of new orders for the services industry rebounded to an all-time high of 67.2 in March from a nine-month low of 51.9 in February.

But businesses continued to face supply constraints, which are raising costs for them. The survey’s measure of prices paid by services industries jumped to 74 last month, the highest reading since July 2008, from 71.8 in February.

The surge in these price measures have added to concerns of higher inflation this year. But some economists say they are not reliable predictors of future inflation. Price pressures are seen driven by the generous fiscal stimulus and extremely accommodative monetary policy.

The ISM survey’s measure of services industry employment shot up to 57.2 last month, the highest reading since May 2019, from 52.7 in February. That confirmed the sharp acceleration in private services industry employment in March.

US warns Covid ‘becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated’

US health authorities on Friday pleaded with Covid vaccine holdouts to roll up their sleeves and get their shots, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths surged.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky told reporters.

The agency reported more than 33,000 new cases on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average up to 26,306, a 70 percent rise on the week before.

The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 2,790 per day, an increase of 36 percent. And after weeks of declines, the seven-day average of deaths was 211, an increase of 26 percent.

The spikes are focused in communities with low vaccination rates, and “unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator.

The new wave is driven by the Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 80 percent of new cases, according to the covSpectrum tracker.

A recent study in the journal Virological shows Delta grows more rapidly inside the body compared to past strains, and people who are infected shed much more of it in the air, greatly increasing the likelihood it will be transmitted.

Vaccines, including those made by

Pfizer

, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, remain highly effective against the variant, but the United States’ immunization campaign has drastically slowed in recent weeks.

President Joe Biden set July 4 as a target for 70 percent of adults to have received one or more doses, but as of July 15 the figure was still only 67.9 percent. At the present rate the goal won’t be achieved until the end of the month.

Parts of the country that voted for former Republican president Donald Trump in the 2020 election have significantly lower vaccination rates than those which voted for Democrat Biden, and are now at the center of the surges.

Hotspots include Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

But health officials are hopeful that, since 80 percent of the most vulnerable age group of over-65s are fully vaccinated, the rise in hospitalizations and deaths won’t be as dramatic as the spike in cases.

This would follow the pattern seen in Israel and Britain, highly vaccinated countries struck by Delta waves.

An expert panel convened by the CDC will next week be examining whether immune-compromised people, whose bodies mounted a subpar response to Covid vaccines, may require a third dose, said Walensky.

US life expectancy in 2020 saw biggest drop since WWII

US life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday. The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years.

The drop spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said is responsible for close to 74% of the overall life expectancy decline. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in US history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11% of those deaths.

Black life expectancy has not fallen so much in one year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials have not tracked Hispanic life expectancy for nearly as long, but the 2020 decline was the largest recorded one-year drop.

The abrupt fall is “basically catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a University of Texas sociology professor who studies changes in US mortality.

Killers other than COVID-19 played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. And rising homicides were a small but significant reason for the decline for Black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, the report’s lead author.

Other problems affected Black and Hispanic people, including lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions, and a greater share of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to keep working when the pandemic was at its worst, experts said.

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year might expect to live. It’s an important statistical snapshot of a country’s health that can be influenced both by sustained trends such as obesity as well as more temporary threats like pandemics or war that might not endanger those newborns in their lifetimes.

For decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing. But that trend stalled in 2015, for several years, before hitting 78 years, 10 months in 2019. Last year, the CDC said, it dropped to about 77 years, 4 months.

Other findings in the new CDC report:

—Hispanic Americans have longer life expectancy than white or Black Americans, but had the largest decline in 2020. The three-year drop was the largest since the CDC started tracking Hispanic life expectancy 15 years ago.

—Black life expectancy dropped nearly three years, to 71 years, 10 months. It has not been that low since 2000.

—White life expectancy fell by roughly 14 months to about 77 years, 7 months. That was the lowest the lowest life expectancy for that population since 2002.

—COVID-19’s role varied by race and ethnicity. The coronavirus was responsible for 90% of the decline in life expectancy among Hispanics, 68% among white people and 59% among Black Americans.

—Life expectancy fell nearly two years for men, but about one year for women, widening a longstanding gap. The CDC estimated life expectancy of 74 years, 6 months for boys vs. 80 years, 2 months for girls.

More than 80% of last year’s COVID deaths were people 65 and older, CDC data shows. That actually diminished the pandemic’s toll on life expectancy at birth, which is swayed more by deaths of younger adults and children than those among seniors.

That’s why last year’s decline was just half as much as the three-year drop between 1942 and 1943, when young soldiers were dying in World War II. And it was just a fraction of the drop between 1917 and 1918, when World War I and a Spanish flu pandemic devastated younger generations.

Life expectancy bounced back after those drops, and experts believe it will this time, too. But some said it could take years.

Too many people have already died from COVID-19 this year, while variants of the coronavirus are spreading among unvaccinated Americans — many of them younger adults, some experts said.

“We can’t. In 2021, we can’t get back to pre-pandemic” life expectancy, said Noreen Goldman, a Princeton University researcher.