It’s been over a year that COVID-19 spread worldwide and turned our lives upside down. During this year, many advancements were made that deepen our understanding of this new invisible threat, but new and important data on the topic keep emerging every week and month.
With new variants of the virus emerging every month now, as well as new vaccines being approved and tested, this month has been quite dense in terms of new information. If you feel like you’ve missed out on the latest developments, this quick read will fill you in.
1. New variants of the virus keep emerging
Just a few months ago, we wrote a piece about four new known strains of the novel coronavirus: the UK strain, the South African variant, the California strain, and the Brazil variant. These new coronavirus mutations are more contagious, and so they spurred another wave of lockdowns and restrictions across the globe. Since then, it was discovered that one of these variants - the California strain - is associated with higher mortality risks.
However, it seems that new versions of COVID-19 just keep emerging, and there are at least two other known variants in the US: the New York strain, and more recently, a new variant from Oregon. Like the previous mutations we mentioned, the so-called New York strain is more transmissible.
As for the new strain found in Portland, Oregon, it seems to combine the mutations of several strains. As reported by USA Today, “Discovered in a patient in Portland, it is similar to the UK strain but carries a mutation seen in variants of the virus being spread in South Africa, Brazil, and New York City.” This variant, too, is considered to be more easily contractable. But transmissibility isn’t the only concern with all these new variants of COVID-19.
Medical professionals are concerned that these new strains could be more difficult to target by existing vaccines, which brings us to our next point.
2. The efficacy of vaccines against new COVID-19 variants
When it comes to the newest variants like the New York strain and the California variant, little is known on whether or not existing vaccines are as effective against them, but scientists do speculate that the New York variant specifically may be less responsive to existing vaccines.
That said, there’s some recent good news, too. Just a few days ago, on March 8, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which is one of the top vaccines administered to patients, is highly effective at protecting patients from the Brazil strain. This is great news, as the Brazil variant of COVID-19, also known as P.1, is capable to reinfect those who have already had COVID-19, and so it’s a relief to know that vaccination can help prevent this from happening.
Earlier, follow-up lab studies also established that the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines all offer protection against the UK and the South African strain, but they also point out that current vaccines are less effective against the South African strain. It’s also important to note that NO existing variant of COVID-19 was explicitly found to be immune to vaccinations, which is great news!
3. Eyeglasses help protect you from COVID-19
In a previous article, we pointed out that the novel coronavirus can penetrate the body through the eyes and also that it is possible to catch COVID-19 from someone’s tears. There is new scientific evidence on that topic. The study suggests that wearing eyeglasses provides added protection against COVID-19. According to the research, glasses wearers are 3 times less likely to get COVID-19 than those who don’t wear glasses.
This evidence is in line with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendation to wear a face shield or goggles to get better protection than wearing a mask alone. Though there is no official regulation to wear glasses or a face shield in public, you can try to wear a pair to get better protection from the virus.
4. Travel bans are almost completely ineffective
A recent study seriously questions the continuous travel bans that are being imposed worldwide. According to the researchers, limiting travel was really only effective at the first stages of a pandemic. After that, travel restrictions have little effect on limiting the spread of the disease, so at this point, travel bans are pretty much redundant, according to the authors of the study and other experts.
Instead, the authors suggest that widespread COVID-19 testing on the borders between countries would be a more useful and effective approach.
5. A new side effect to vaccinations
We’ve covered the possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccinations in a previous article in detail, and for those of you who have already received the vaccine, the occasional muscle pain in the arm, possible fever, and fatigue are all known occurrences. However, doctors also point out that recently-immunized people may also have swollen lymph nodes.
This is completely normal and is not a cause for concern. The reason why it’s still important to point out is that swollen lymph nodes are a symptom of other health conditions, including cancer. So, if you do end up getting any type of screening immediately after getting a vaccination, this symptom could lead to a false-positive result. If you’ve recently received any dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s best to wait for a month until you have your yearly health exam, routine breast cancer screening, or any other imaging done.
6. COVID-19 mortality is significantly higher in countries with higher obesity rates
A report published by the World Obesity Forum shared an alarming tendency: COVID-19 mortality is 10 times higher in countries where the majority of the population is overweight. The study looked at data provided by the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University, and they established that countries where obesity levels are low also reported much lower levels of COVID-19 deaths, on average.
Of the 2.5 million deaths due to COVID-19 reported in late February 2021, a whopping 2.2 million occurred in countries where at least half of the population is struggling with excess weight. Although it’s difficult to give this data its due meaning, as it’s unknown whether or not the authors controlled for other factors known to increase the risk of COVID-19, it certainly brings home the point that the obesity epidemic is just as serious of a global issue as is the coronavirus pandemic itself.
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