Can vaccinated people get infected with the Omicron variant?
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If Omicron doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease so far, why are doctors still concerned?
How fast is the Omicron variant spreading? How widespread is Omicron in the US?
“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” the director-general of the World Health Organization said December 14.
At least 77 countries have reported cases, and “the reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
As of December 11, the Omicron variant made up an estimated 2.9% of novel coronavirus cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A week earlier, the CDC estimated the Omicron variant accounted for 0.4% cases in the US.
But the Delta variant is still the dominant strain in the US, making up an estimated 96.8% of cases as of December 11, according to the CDC.
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Does “fully vaccinated” mean two shots or three now?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are considered fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
- 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
But the CDC has recommended additional booster shots for all adults who are 2 months past their Johnson & Johnson vaccination or 6 months past their Moderna vaccination.
The CDC has also recommended a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for everyone ages 16 and up who are 6 months past their second dose.
But the definition of “fully vaccinated” might change to include booster shots, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.
“It’s going to be a matter of when, not if,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said December 8.
“For me, as a public health person, I just say get your third shot,” Fauci said, referring to eligible Pfizer and Moderna vaccine recipients.
“Forget about what the definition is. I just want to see people be optimally protected. And for me, that’s unequivocally and unquestionably getting a third shot boost.”
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Can a PCR or rapid test tell me which type of variant I might have if I have Covid-19?
Diagnostic tests like PCR tests and rapid antigen tests can help detect whether you’ve been infected with coronavirus. But they can’t tell you exactly which strain you have.
It takes another layer of testing, involving genetic sequencing, to determine what strain or variant caused the infection.
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If we don’t know how well vaccines and boosters work against Omicron, why are doctors urging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible?
There are several reasons why everyone should get booster shots ASAP, health experts say, even if scientists don’t know exactly how well they work against Omicron.
“We know from experience that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant, if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
And booster shots can elevate antibodies even better than the original course of vaccination. A recent study found that a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine lowers the risk of Covid-19 infection more than 80% beyond the protection after two doses.
Of course, Omicron is different from other variants. “It has a lot of mutations – more than 50. That’s a new record,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health.
And many of those mutations are in the spike protein — the part of the virus targeted by most leading vaccines.
But here’s the good news: “All of the previous variants, which have also had differences in the spike protein, have responded to vaccines – and especially boosters,” Collins said.
Aside from Omicron, there are more reasons why everyone should get vaccinated (and boosted) as soon as possible, doctors say.
As more people gather indoors, the Delta variant is fueling a holiday-season surge in hospitalizations.
And the best way to prevent even more variants from forming is to get vaccinated and boosted, doctors say.
“The virus mutates when people get infected. It doesn’t mutate in the air,” said Dr. Jorge E. Rodriguez, an internal medicine specialist based in Los Angeles.
“There is no such thing as a good infection, even if you survived it with minimal symptoms. Even though you’ve got infected and you did fine, guess what? You may very well have contributed to mutations that will be stronger.”
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If vaccine makers are already working on Omicron-specific boosters, shouldn’t I just wait to get one of those doses instead of getting a booster shot now?
“The answer is no,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“If you are eligible — namely, if you’ve had the Moderna or the Pfizer (vaccines), and you’re 6 months following your primary regimen of vaccination, or you’re 2 months following J&J — don’t wait,” Fauci said.
“Get that extra boost now because we know when you do that, the level of antibodies that rise and go up following a boost is much, much higher than the peak level that you get after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine,” he said.
“Our experience with variants such as the Delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn’t specifically targeted to the Delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection even against a variant that the vaccine wasn’t specifically directed at.”
While vaccine makers test how well their current vaccines work against the Omicron variant, Pfizer and Moderna are also working on Omicron-specific booster shots — just in case they might be needed.
But even if Omicron-specific shots are needed, it would take a while to get them rolled out to the public.
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Who should get a booster shot?
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How did the Omicron variant get its name? Didn’t they skip some letters in the Greek alphabet?
Since May, the World Health Organization has been assigning Greek letters to notable new coronavirus variants.
Before Omicron, the last two variants of interest or concern were called Lambda and Mu. The next letter in the Greek alphabet is Nu, followed by Xi.
But WHO skipped over Nu and Xi and went straight to Omicron for the latest variant of concern, which has the scientific name B.1.1.529.
The reason? “Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and Xi was not used because it is a common surname,” WHO said in an email to CNN.
“And WHO best practices for naming new diseases suggest ‘avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”
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Will current Covid-19 vaccines work against the Omicron variant? What happens if they don’t?
Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson are testing how well their vaccines work against the new Omicron strain.
With Omicron, the “combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity,” Moderna said.
Moderna said it’s also working on a larger-dose booster and an Omicron-specific booster in case its current vaccine and booster don’t sufficiently work against the new variant.
If scientists determine an Omicron-specific vaccine dose is needed, “we think within weeks to maybe two to three months, we would be able to have a Omicron-specific vaccine booster available for testing,” Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said November 28.
Pfizer has also started working on a new vaccine “for Omicron that will be used only in case we need it, if we see that the current one doesn’t work,” CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC on November 29.
Johnson & Johnson said it’s testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron.
Health experts say they’re confident the existing vaccines — and especially booster doses — will help to some degree against Omicron and urged everyone to get a vaccine or booster dose if they’re eligible.
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What makes the Omicron variant so different from other variants? Don’t we get new Covid-19 variants all the time?
As coronavirus keeps spreading, new mutations and new variants are expected to develop.
But the new Omicron variant has an unusually high number of mutations, including dozens on the spike protein — the structure used by a virus to latch onto and get inside cells under attack.
“It has a lot of mutations — more than 50. That’s a new record,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health.
More than 30 of those mutations are in the spike protein — the part of the virus targeted by leading Covid-19 vaccines.
Scientists are trying to learn how much the Omicron variant might evade the antibodies produced from vaccination or natural infection.
“We worry if the spike protein is of a different shape, maybe the antibodies won’t stick quite as well. That’s the reason for the concern,” Collins said.
“On the other hand, all of the previous variants, which have also had differences in the spike protein, have responded to vaccines — and especially boosters,” he said.
Scientists might not know how well the current vaccines work against the Omicron variant until mid-December. But Collins and other health experts say they’re confident that getting all the recommended doses, including boosters for people ages 18 and up, will help.
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What should I do if I’m physically unable to go out and get a vaccine or booster shot?
“If you have difficulty reaching a vaccination site, you may be able to get an in-home vaccination,” the CDC says.
The CDC suggests contacting the following to see if they provide at-home vaccination in your area:
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What do we know about the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines in younger children? Are there any side effects?
Pfizer said its vaccine is safe and 90.7% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 in children ages 5 to 11, based on clinical trial data. Trial participants who got the vaccine received two doses, spaced three weeks apart.
After monitoring trial participants for three months after the shots, there were no serious side effects such as myocarditis or pericarditis, Pfizer said.
“The side effects we’re seeing in the kids are really identical to what we’re seeing in adults,” said Dr. Bob Frenck, director of the Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, one of the Pfizer pediatric trial sites. Such side effects include a sore arm, fatigue, headache and fever in about 10% of children. Those side effects don’t last more than a day or two.
Separately, Moderna has been testing various doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in children.
On October 25, Moderna said interim trial results showed its vaccine was well tolerated and generated a robust immune response in children ages 6 to 11.
Some participants had side effects such as fatigue, headache, fever and pain at the injection site. Moderna said planned to submit its data to the FDA.
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Can I get a Covid-19 vaccine (or booster shot) and a flu shot at the same time?
“Yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“If you haven’t gotten your currently recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can,” the CDC said.
The ability to get both vaccines at the same time can make it more convenient for Americans to try to stay healthy, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“If that means going in and getting the flu shot in one arm (and) the Covid shot in the other, that’s perfectly fine,” Fauci said.
But don’t assume you’re protected right afterward. “Remember, after you are vaccinated, your body takes about two weeks to develop antibodies that protect against flu,” the CDC said.
Similarly, you’re not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 until two weeks after the final dose.
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If my child is 11, should I wait until she turns 12 to get a larger dose of Covid-19 vaccine? Or should she get a pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11?
“I wouldn’t wait,” said Dr. Paul Spearman, a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.
He said data presented to the committee by Pfizer “showed that a 10-microgram dose — so a third of the dose that is licensed for adults — was equally effective in terms of generating neutralizing antibodies, one of the most important means of protecting people from Covid-19.”
One advantage of the smaller (but equally effective) doses for children was reduced side effects, said Dr. Bob Frenck, director of the Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital — one of the Pfizer pediatric trial sites.
“So, one-third of the dose that we’re giving adults, or even one-third of the dose that was used in 12-year-olds and above, was just as immunogenic. We got just as good an immune response as the 30-microgram dose, and there were less side effects,” Frenck said.
“A lot of people are asking us: ‘Does this mean you’re giving us less of a vaccine?’ I said, well, we’re giving you less antigen, but their immune response is so good that they’re making the same immune response – so there’s no need to give more vaccine,” he said.
For parents of larger 10- or 11-year-olds who are worried a pediatric dose might not be enough, weight is not important when it comes to vaccines, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
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How many kids were in Pfizer’s Covid-19 trial for ages 5 to 11? Do kids get the same doses as adults? And do kids get one shot, or two?
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Why were kids in vaccine trials divided by age groups and not weight? Wouldn’t size or weight matter more than age when determining dosage?
In this case, weight isn’t important, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“I think people have a misconception about the way vaccines work. They think of them in the same way as drugs. If you give, for example, an antibiotic like amoxicillin, your weight matters because the antibiotic is distributed throughout your bloodstream,” Offit said.
“That’s not true with vaccines. With vaccines, you get those as a shot in the arm, and that’s taken up by the local draining lymph nodes. So really weight doesn’t matter.”
Adolescents ages 12 and up who get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine get the same dosage that adults get – 30 micrograms per dose.
Researchers have been trying to see which doses give the best combination of high efficacy and minimal side effects among younger children.
In September, Pfizer announced its Covid-19 vaccine was safe and generated a “robust” antibody response in children ages 5 to 11. It said the “preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity” among that age group was 10 micrograms per dose – one-third the dosage for teens and adults.
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Can I mix-and-match different brands of vaccine for my booster dose?
Yes. On October 20, the FDA also authorized a mix-and-match approach — saying people could get any vaccine as a booster, regardless of which vaccine they got for the initial immunization.
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Why bother getting vaccinated if there’s still a chance you could get Covid-19?
No vaccine is 100% effective, but the Covid-19 vaccines significantly reduce the chances of severe illness and death — across multiple age groups.
For adults under age 50, the rate of Covid-19 hospitalizations among those unvaccinated was 15 times higher than for those fully vaccinated, according to August data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those ages 50 to 64, the hospitalization rate is 31 times higher for unvaccinated people.
And the risk of dying from Covid-19 is more than 11 times higher for unvaccinated adults than it is for vaccinated adults, according to the CDC data.
For seniors, who are more susceptible to severe Covid-19, that gap is smaller. Among those 80 and older, the risk of dying from Covid-19 in August was about five times higher among those unvaccinated compared to those fully vaccinated.
Of the breakthrough cases resulting in death, 85% were among people age 65 and older, according to the CDC.
But those cases are extremely rare. As of October 12, about 7,178 breakthrough Covid-19 infections resulting in death had been reported, and 187 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. In other words, about 0.004% of fully vaccinated people died of Covid-19.
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Is it true children can’t get very sick from Covid-19? How many kids have actually been hospitalized with Covid-19?
More than 66,000 children have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since August 2020, according to the CDC.
And it’s not just children with preexisting conditions getting hospitalized.
Almost half – 46% – of children hospitalized with Covid-19 between March 2020 and August 2021 had no known underlying condition, according to CDC data from almost 100 US counties.
During the Delta variant surge, some hospitals saw an increase in pediatric Covid-19 patients.
At the University of Mississippi Medical Center, “we’ve had infants as small as 6 to 8 months old up to the teenage years,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones said in July.
“It appears as though this particular variant, the Delta variant, while being more infectious is also causing more children to be symptomatic,” he said.
“Whether that just is that it causes a little more severe illness than other variants or that it is just more prevalent — and so we’re seeing more symptomatic cases — we’re not sure … but it’s probably multifactorial.”
Some youngsters have suffered long-term effects from Covid-19 or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) – a rare but potentially serious condition that can happen in children weeks after a coronavirus infection.
More than 5,200 children have suffered from MIS-C, according to the CDC.
And while pediatric Covid-19 deaths are rare, at least 765 children in the US have died from Covid-19, according to CDC data.
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My kids don’t want to wear a mask. What should I do?
If possible, buy a few different brands of masks and see which one is most comfortable for your child, emergency physician and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said.
“Different people have different comfort levels,” she said. For example, some children might like one brand of kid-sized surgical masks over another.
Other children might feel more comfortable wearing kid-sized KN95 masks, which allow more room for the nose and mouth.
“The most important thing is to find the best that you can consistently wear throughout the day,” Wen said. “You don’t want to find a mask that you’re trying to pull off your face every 20 minutes.”
Buying masks with fun designs or with your child’s favorite characters on them can also help, psychologist Christopher Willard said. Children can also customize their masks by drawing on them with markers.
And, of course, parents can set a good example by also wearing a mask.
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Which Covid-19 vaccine is the most effective?
A head-to-head study of all three authorized vaccines in the US found the Moderna vaccine was slightly more effective than Pfizer’s in real-life use in keeping people out of a hospital, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine came in third.
Moderna’s vaccine provided 93% protection against hospitalization; Pfizer’s was 88% effective; and Johnson’s provided 71% protection, according to a nationwide study led by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study involved more than 3,600 adults hospitalized for Covid-19 from March 11 to August 15, 2021.
Despite the variation, “all FDA-approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide substantial protection against COVID-19 hospitalization,” the study team wrote.
The biggest difference between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines was driven by a decline that started about four months after people were fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s vaccine, the team found.
The two-shot vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer both use genetic material called messenger RNA to deliver immunity, but they use differing doses and slightly different formulations. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses an inactivated common cold virus called adenovirus – a viral vector – to carry genetic instructions into the body.
As for the differences in vaccine effectiveness between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine: They “might be due to higher mRNA content in the Moderna vaccine, differences in timing between doses (3 weeks for Pfizer-BioNTech versus 4 weeks for Moderna), or possible differences between groups that received each vaccine that were not accounted for in the analysis,” the team wrote.
The study had limitations. “This analysis did not consider children, immunocompromised adults, or vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 that did not result in hospitalization,” the team wrote.
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What is this drug called molnupiravir? How do you pronounce it? Is it a cure for Covid-19?
Molnupiravir (mole-new-PEER-uh-veer) is not a cure for Covid-19. It’s an investigational oral antiviral medication made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics that, according to a Merck news release, can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 by half.
As of October 1, full data from the molnupiravir trial had not yet been released nor peer-reviewed. Merck said it will soon seek authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. If that’s granted, molnupiravir could be the first antiviral pill authorized to help fight Covid-19.
But there are many unknowns, such as if or when molnupiravir might get authorized by the FDA and whether it might reduce the spread of coronavirus.
To be clear: “It’s not an alternative to vaccination,” former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said. “We still have to try to get more people vaccinated.”
Vaccination is still the best way to reduce the risk of infection, hospitalization and death from Covid-19, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“The news of the efficacy of this particular antiviral (molnupiravir) is obviously very good news,” Fauci said.
“It decreased the risk – this pill did – of hospitalizations and deaths by 50%. You know the way to decrease the risk by 100%? Don’t get infected in the first place.”
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What are the side effects of a Covid-19 vaccine booster?
Data suggests side effects from a booster dose of a mRNA Covid-19 vaccine have been similar in frequency and type to those seen after second doses — and were “mostly mild or moderate and short-lived,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said September 28.
The two-shot vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer both use genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to deliver immunity.
Walensky cited a study published that day by the CDC. It covers 22,191 people who received a third dose of an mRNA vaccine and made reports to CDC’s v-safe system, a voluntary, smartphone-based app that lets people report how they feel after they’ve been vaccinated. The reports were made from August 12 (when the US Food and Drug Administration OK’d additional doses for certain immunocompromised people) through September 19.
Among those 22,191 who made reports, about 7,000 – nearly 32% – reported any health impacts. More than 6,200 – about 28% – reported they were unable to perform normal daily activities, mostly commonly on the day after vaccination.
The most common complaints were injection site pain (71%), fatigue (56%) and a headache (43.4%). Of those who reported general pain, only about 7% described it as “severe.” Severe was defined as pain that makes “daily activities difficult or impossible.”
Nearly 2% said they sought medical care and 13 people were hospitalized, but it was not clear from the v-safe reports why these people sought medical care or were hospitalized. Those who sought medical attention are contacted by staff members from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and encouraged to make a report, it said.
Of the 22,191 people, 12,591 happened to have tracked how they felt after all three doses. Out of that smaller group, 79.4% reported a local reaction to the third shot and 74.1% reported a systemic reaction. That’s similar to what they reported after a second dose, when 77.6% reported local reactions and 76.5% reported systemic reactions.
No unexpected patterns of adverse reactions were identified, the report said.
Some people reported getting a booster from different company than their original vaccine or getting a second dose of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the report’s authors said the numbers in both cases were too small to draw any conclusions.
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What should I do if I lost my Covid-19 vaccination card?
Contact the vaccination provider site where you received your vaccine. “Your provider should give you a new card with up-to-date information about the vaccinations you have received,” the CDC said.
“If the location where you received your COVID-19 vaccine is no longer operating, contact your state or local health department’s immunization information system (IIS) for assistance,” the CDC said.
“Please contact your state or local health department if you have additional questions about vaccination cards or vaccination records.”
To be clear: “CDC does not maintain vaccination records or determine how vaccination records are used, and CDC does not provide the CDC-labeled, white COVID-19 vaccination record card to people. These cards are distributed to vaccination providers by state and local health departments,” the agency said.
And don’t try to use a forged or fraudulent vaccination card — that could land you in prison.
Should pregnant women get vaccinated?
“COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future,” the CDC said.
“Evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy has been growing,” the CDC said in an August 11 update.
Scientists say Covid-19 — not the Covid-19 vaccine — can put a woman at higher risk of severe illness during pregnancy.
Covid-19 can lead to “adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth,” said Sascha Ellington, team lead for emergency preparedness and response in the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health.
“This vaccine can prevent Covid-19, and so that’s the primary benefit.”
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What exactly is in the Covid-19 vaccines? I’ve heard so many rumors and don’t know what to believe.
The CDC lists active and inactive ingredients for each of the three coronavirus vaccines used in the US.
“None of the vaccines contain eggs, gelatin, latex, or preservatives,” the CDC said.
And contrary to popular myths, the vaccines don’t have microchips and can’t make you magnetic.
“All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals such as iron, nickel, cobalt, lithium, rare earth alloys or any manufactured products such as microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes, or nanowire semiconductors.”
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What are the chances of long Covid if someone fully vaccinated gets a breakthrough infection?
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If I’ve already had Covid-19, should I still get vaccinated? What if I got monoclonal antibody treatment?
“Yes, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19,” the CDC says.
“Evidence is emerging that people get better protection by being fully vaccinated compared with having had COVID-19. One study showed that unvaccinated people who already had COVID-19 are more than 2 times as likely than fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 again,” the CDC’s website says.
“If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.”
“Many of the vaccines that we’ve made in history are actually stronger than the virus is itself at creating immunity,” epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant said.
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Is it true you’re just as likely to get the Delta variant from any vaccinated person as you are from any unvaccinated person?
No. “The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to get infected, and therefore transmit the virus,” the CDC said about the Delta variant on August 26.
A study published by the CDC in late August showed vaccinated people were 5 times less likely to get infected than unvaccinated people.
When a fully vaccinated person does get a breakthrough infection, “your chances of having symptoms go down by 8-fold” compared to an unvaccinated person, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said August 1.
“People infected with the Delta variant, including fully vaccinated people with symptomatic breakthrough infections, can transmit the virus to others,” the CDC said. “CDC is continuing to assess data on whether fully vaccinated people with asymptomatic breakthrough infections can transmit the virus.”
Even if a vaccinated person gets a breakthrough infection and is contagious, “vaccinated people appear to spread the virus for a shorter time,” the CDC said.
“For people infected with the Delta variant, similar amounts of viral genetic material have been found among both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people. However, like prior variants, the amount of viral genetic material may go down faster in fully vaccinated people when compared to unvaccinated people,” the CDC said. “This means fully vaccinated people will likely spread the virus for less time than unvaccinated people.”
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Why should anyone care whether I’m vaccinated if they’re already vaccinated?
Avoiding vaccination can harm your loved ones and help create even more contagious or more dangerous variants for everyone, doctors say.
Full vaccination reduces the chances of getting and spreading the highly contagious Delta variant.
Children too young to be vaccinated and people who are immunocompromised also rely on the vaccination of others to help protect them, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
But vaccination is also important to help prevent more contagious or more dangerous variants from forming — such as one that might evade vaccines and harm those who are fully vaccinated.
“If we are going to continue to allow this virus to spread, we’re going to continue to allow … variants to be created,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
Viruses frequently mutate as they replicate among infected people. If the mutations are significant, they can lead to a more contagious variant like the Delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the US.
“Think of a virus as a necklace full of different-colored beads,” board-certified internist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez said.
“In position No. 1, you need a red bead. Position No. 2 is a green bead. That’s the genetic code – that sequence of bead colors,” he said.
“When a virus replicates, it is supposed to make an exact replica of those bead colors. But every once in a while, maybe a green bead gets into where a red bead is supposed to be.”
When mutations give the virus an advantage — such as the ability to replicate faster or to hide from the immune system – that version will outcompete others.
The only way to get rid of variants is to lower the number of infections, said Penny Moore, an expert in viruses at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
That’s a big reason why doctors say people should get vaccinated as soon as they can. Those who don’t get vaccinated aren’t just risking their own health — they’re also jeopardizing the health of others.
“Unvaccinated people are potential variant factories,” Schaffner said. “The more unvaccinated people there are, the more opportunities for the virus to multiply.”
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Do vaccines still work against the Delta variant?
Full vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from the Delta variant, though breakthrough infections are possible.
“Vaccines continue to reduce a person’s risk of contracting the virus that cause COVID-19, including this variant,” the CDC said in a August 2021 update.
But when the Delta variant accounted for the majority of coronavirus in the US, the effectiveness of vaccines against infection dropped from 91% to 66%, according to a study published August 24 by the CDC.
The study is in line with others from the US and around the world showing Delta’s increased tendency to cause largely minor infections among fully vaccinated people.
Still, the effectiveness of vaccines against severe disease — including hospitalization and death — has remained high against all known variants.
And “the vast majority of hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19 are in unvaccinated people,” the CDC said.
Health experts say it’s important not to skip a dose of any two-dose vaccine and for everyone who’s eligible to get a booster shot to do so.
Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offered 88% protection against symptomatic Covid-19 caused by the Delta variant, according to a study published in May by Public Health England.
But those who got only one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had just 33% protection against the Delta variant three weeks later, according to the study.
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Does a vaccine need to be fully approved by the FDA for an employer or business to mandate vaccination?
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When will the other Covid-19 vaccines get fully approved by the FDA?
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When will the Pfizer vaccine be fully approved by the FDA for children ages 12 to 15?
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With the Delta variant spreading, how much does vaccination reduce infection, hospitalization and death?
Compared to unvaccinated people, “If you’re (fully) vaccinated now, your chances of getting infected go down by 3 1/2-fold,” National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said August 1.
“Your chances of having symptoms go down by 8-fold. Your chance of ending up with illness significant enough to be in the hospital goes down 25-fold.”
Such decreases in infections, illnesses and hospitalizations are “fantastically good for any vaccine,” Collins said. “We didn’t really have a right to dare they would be this good in the real world, and they are — even against Delta.”
The Delta variant “is highly contagious, more than 2x as contagious as previous variants,” the CDC said.
More than 99.99% of people who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death, a CNN analysis of August 2 CDC data suggests.
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Why do some people get breakthrough infections after being fully vaccinated? Are they getting Covid-19 from the vaccine?
It’s impossible to get Covid-19 from a vaccine because there is no coronavirus in any of the vaccines used in the US.
The vaccines can’t prevent people from breathing in the virus. What they can do is ensure that the body mounts a fast response to clear the virus if someone does get exposed. During that time, some people might actually become infected.
But more than 99.99% of people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death, a CNN analysis of CDC data suggests.
As of August 2, more than 164 million people in the US were fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
Among them, 7,101 people – or less than 0.005% – were hospitalized with Covid-19, and 1,507 people — or less than 0.001% — died, according to the CDC data.
Those who get breakthrough infections generally have milder symptoms than unvaccinated people or no symptoms at all, CDC research shows.
Because few people get tested after they’ve been fully vaccinated, there’s limited data on how many vaccinated people get mild or asymptomatic infections.
But about half of states have reported data on Covid-19 breakthrough cases – and in each of those states, less than 1% of fully vaccinated people had a breakthrough infection, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published July 30.
More than 90% of people who end up in the hospital or who die from Covid-19 have not been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
It’s important to remember you’re not fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after your final dose of Covid-19 vaccine, so you’re still vulnerable in the first few weeks of vaccination.
“Keep taking all precautions until you are fully vaccinated,” the CDC says.
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Do fully vaccinated people also need to wear masks because of the more contagious Delta strain?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on July 27:
- If you are fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic.
- To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
- Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated. If this applies to you or your household, you might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in your area.
That guidance is stronger than in May, when the CDC said fully vaccinated people could unmask in most situations. But back then, the highly contagious Delta variant represented only about 1% of reported infections. By late July, at least 83% of sequenced samples were from the Delta variant.
“The Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause Covid-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said July 27.
“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” she said. “This is not a decision that we or CDC has made lightly.”
States with below-average vaccination rates had, on average, almost triple the rate of new Covid-19 cases compared to states with above-average vaccination rates, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
For those not fully vaccinated, the CDC says it’s crucial to mask up:
“Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever,” the CDC said.
“Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.”
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Is it true the Covid-19 vaccines don’t work as well in immunocompromised people? Can they get a third dose or a booster shot?
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What should I do if I’m wearing a mask but have to sneeze?
If there are tissues nearby, you can take your mask off and sneeze into the tissue before putting your mask back on, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.
For kids in school — or anyone else who might have to wear a mask all day — keep a backup mask in a baggie in case the first mask gets dirty. You can put the dirty mask in the baggie.
It’s also a good idea to keep backup masks in your car in case of any mask accidents.
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Is it safe to go on vacation?
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What’s the difference between the Delta and Delta Plus variants?
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What should I tell friends, family or coworkers who are hesitant to get vaccinated?
“It is a normal human reaction to be afraid,” pediatrician Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez said. “They’re having a normal reaction, and perhaps they haven’t been able to sit down with their physician.”
She suggests finding a time to have a calm, rational conversation — when neither person is angry or likely to start a fight.
“The first thing I would say is ‘I get it. I totally get where you’re coming from and I understand that you’re concerned about this,’” Bracho-Sanchez said.
It’s also important to cite scientific data — like the truth about side effects, the safety of Covid-19 vaccines and why it’s important for young, healthy people to get vaccinated.
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Will Americans be required to get a Covid-19 vaccine? What happens if I don’t get vaccinated?
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How much does a Covid-19 vaccine cost?
“It’s all free. The government is paying for this,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
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What are the side effects of the vaccines?
Some people have reported feeling temporary, flu-like symptoms. Don’t freak out if this happens to you, health experts say.
“These are immune responses, so if you feel something after vaccination, you should expect to feel that,” said Patricia Stinchfield of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
“And when you do, it’s normal that you have some arm soreness or some fatigue or some body aches or even some fever,” Stinchfield said.
Read more about what to do if you do get side effects and why side effects are often a good sign.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has shown no serious safety concerns, Pfizer said. Pfizer has said side effects “such as fever, fatigue and chills” have been “generally mild to moderate” and lasted one to two days.
Moderna said its vaccine did not have any serious side effects. It said a small percentage of trial participants had symptoms such as body aches and headaches.
With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the most common side effects were pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue and muscle pain. While the CDC recommends the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, “women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare but increased risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS),” the agency says. “TTS is a serious condition that involves blood clots with low platelets. There are other COVID-19 vaccine options available for which this risk has not been seen.”
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What is aerosolized spread? What’s the difference between aerosols and droplets?
Aerosolized spread is the potential for coronavirus to spread not just by respiratory droplets, but by even smaller particles called aerosols that can float in the air longer than droplets and can spread farther than 6 feet.
Respiratory aerosols and droplets are released when someone talks, breaths, sings, sneezes or coughs. But the main difference is size.
“If you have droplets that come out of a person, they generally go down within 6 feet,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
But aerosols (aka droplet nuclei) are smaller – less than 5 microns in diameter, according to the World Health Organization.
“Aerosol means the droplets don’t drop immediately,” Fauci said. “They hang around for a period of time.”
This becomes “very relevant” when you are indoors and there is poor ventilation, he said.
Multiple case studies suggest coronavirus can spread well beyond 6 feet through airborne transmission, such as during choir practices, said Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer of Providence Health System.
In Washington state, for example, 53 members of a choir fell sick and two people died after one member attended rehearsals and later tested positive for Covid-19.
Last July, 239 scientists backed a letter urging public health agencies to recognize the potential for aerosolized spread.
“There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission,” the letter said.
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This pandemic is taking a toll on my mental health. How can I get help if I’m feeling isolated and depressed?
The Crisis Text Line is available texting to 741741. Trained volunteers and crisis counselors are staffed 24/7, and the service is free.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to disasters. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
For health care professionals and essential workers, For the Frontlines offers free 24/7 crisis counseling and support for workers dealing with stress, anxiety, fear or isolation related to coronavirus.
For more resources, check out CNN’s guide to giving and getting help during the pandemic.
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What “underlying conditions” put people at higher risk of bad outcomes with Covid-19?
More than 40% of US adults have at least one underlying condition that can put them at higher risk of severe complications, according to the CDC.
Those conditions include obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, according to the CDC.
People who have cancer, an organ transplant, sickle cell anemia, poorly controlled HIV or any autoimmune disorder are also at higher risk.
Covid-19 patients with pre-existing conditions — regardless of their age — are 6 times more likely to hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from the disease than those who had no pre-existing conditions, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.
While young, healthy people are less likely to die from Covid-19, many are suffering long-term effects from the disease.
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What’s the guidance for carpooling or riding with someone from another household?
Unvaccinated people from different households in a car should wear face masks, said Dr. Aaron Hamilton of the Cleveland Clinic.
“You should also wear one if you’re rolling down your window to interact with someone at a drive-thru or curbside pickup location,” Hamilton said.
It’s also smart to keep the windows open to help ventilate the car and add another layer of safety, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
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Should we clean our cell phones daily?
Yes, that’s a good idea because cell phones are basically “petri dishes in our pockets” when you think about how many surfaces you touch before touching your phone.
You should regularly disinfect your mobile phone anyway, with or without a coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s probably quite a lot of microorganisms on there, because you’re holding them against your skin, you are handling them all the time, and also you’re speaking into them,” said Mark Fielder, a professor of medical microbiology at Kingston University.
“And speaking does release droplets of water just in normal speech. So it’s likely that a range of microbes – including Covid-19, should you happen to be infected with that virus – might end up on your phone.”
Watch the best ways to disinfect your cell phone here.
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Is it safe to go back to the gym?
There are certainly more risks if you’re not fully vaccinated.
Coronavirus often spreads more easily indoors rather than outdoors — especially if you’re indoors for an extended period of time.
Researchers have also found that heavy breathing and singing can propel aerosolized viral particles farther and increase the risk of transmission.
During one fitness instructor workshop, about 30 participants with no symptoms trained intensely for four hours, according to research published by the CDC. Eight participants later tested positive, and more than 100 new cases of coronavirus were traced back to that fitness workshop.
To help mitigate the risk, many gyms are limiting capacity or requiring masks.
And while health experts have recommended staying 6 feet away from others, it’s smart to keep even more distance than that at the gym.
“With all the heavy breathing, you may even want to double the usual 6 feet to 12 feet, just to be safe,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.
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I heard you can get Covid-19 through your eyes. Should we wear goggles, too?
Doctors say wearing eye protection (in addition to face masks) could help some people, but it’s not necessary for everyone.
Teachers who have younger students in the classroom are “likely to be in environments where children might pull down their masks, or not be very compliant with them,” epidemiologist Saskia Popescu said. “There is concern that you could get respiratory droplets in the eyes.”
If you’re a health care worker or taking care of someone at home who has coronavirus, it’s smart to wear eye protection, said Dr. Thomas Steinemann, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
(Note: Regular glasses or sunglasses aren’t enough, because they leave too many gaps around the eyes.)
But if you’re vaccinated or not in a high-risk situation, wearing goggles isn’t necessary.
While it’s still possible to get Covid-19 through the eyes, that scenario is less likely than getting it through your nose or mouth, Steinemann said.
He said if a significant number of people were getting coronavirus through their eyes, doctors would probably see more Covid-19 patients with conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye (though having pink eye doesn’t necessarily mean you have coronavirus).
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Should people wear face shields instead of (or in addition to) face masks?
The CDC does not recommend using plastic face shields for everyday activities or as a substitute for face masks. There are a few exceptions, such as for those who are hearing-impaired and rely on lip-reading or those who have physical or mental health conditions that would be exacerbated by wearing a cloth face mask.
“Cloth face coverings are a critical preventive measure and are most essential in times when social distancing is difficult,” the CDC says.
Clinical and laboratory studies show cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth – what the CDC refers to as “source control.” And many people are contagious even when they don’t have any symptoms and don’t know they’re infected.
Face shields worn in addition to masks can provide an added layer of protection and can also help people stop touching their faces. Workers who are around people for long periods of time, such as grocery store workers or hospital personnel, may want to wear face shields in addition to masks, to increase their protection.
If someone must use a face shield without a mask, the CDC says the shield “should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin. Disposable face shields should only be worn for a single use. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.”
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How do I prevent my glasses or sunglasses from fogging up when I wear a mask?
First, make sure the top of your mask fits snugly against your skin. Then put your glasses over the snug-fitting top portion of your mask.
If that doesn’t do the trick, soap and water can create a barrier that prevents glasses from fogging up. Here’s how.
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Are cancer patients at higher risk of severe complications from Covid-19?
Yes. And the increased risk applies to cancer patients of all ages, the CDC says.
“Having cancer currently increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” the CDC says. “At this time, it is not known whether having a history of cancer increases your risk.”
Researchers found that patients whose cancer was getting worse or spreading were more than five times more likely to die in a month if they caught Covid-19.
But there are steps cancer patients can take to stay as healthy as possible:
- Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of your medications.
- Don’t delay any life-saving treatment or emergency care during this pandemic.
- Talk with your healthcare provider about your individual level of risk based on your condition, your treatment, and the level of transmission in your community.
- Don’t stop taking your medicines or alter your treatment plan without talking to your healthcare provider.
- Call your healthcare provider if you think you may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.
- Read the CDC’s tips for preventing infections in cancer patients.
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Can central air conditioning spread Covid-19 in public places?
Technically it can, but HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) systems are not thought to be a significant factor in the spread of coronavirus.
Many modern air conditioning systems will either filter out or dilute the virus. Ventilation systems with highly effective filters are a key way to eliminate droplets from the air, said Harvard environmental health researcher Joseph Gardner Allen.
Filters are rated by a MERV system – their “minimum efficiency reporting value” that specifies their ability to trap tiny particles. The MERV ratings go from 1 to 20. The higher the number, the better the filtration.
HEPA filters have the highest MERV ratings, between 17 and 20. HEPA filters are used by hospitals to create sterile rooms for surgeries and to control infectious diseases. They’re able to remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and other airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns.
For context, this coronavirus is thought to be between 0.06 to 1.4 microns in size.
But “HEPA filtration is not always going to be feasible or practical,” Allen said. “But there are other filters that can do the job. What is recommended now by the standard setting body for HVAC is a MERV 13 filter.”
High-efficiency filters in the 13-to-16 MERV range are often used in hospitals, nursing homes, research labs and other places where filtration is important.
“If you’re an owner of a home, building or mall, you want to have someone to assess your system and install the largest MERV number filter the system can reliably handle without dropping the volume of air that runs through it,” advised Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“In addition, virtually all modern air conditioning systems in commercial buildings have a process called makeup air where they bring in air from outside and condition it and bring it inside,” Bromage said. “It’s worse in regards to energy, but the more outside air we bring in, the more dilution of the virus we have and then the safer you are.”
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What does asymptomatic mean?
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Can you get Covid-19 through sex?
The odds of transmitting coronavirus through sex hasn’t been thoroughly studied, though it has been found to exist in men’s semen.
But we do know Covid-19 is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can spread via saliva, coughs, sneezes, talking or breathing — with or without symptoms of illness.
So three Harvard physicians examined the likelihood of getting or giving Covid-19 during sex and made several recommendations.
For partners who haven’t been isolating together, they should wear masks and avoid kissing, the authors write.
In addition to wearing masks, people who have sex with partners outside of their home should also shower before and after; avoid sex acts that involve the oral transmission of bodily fluids; clean up the area afterward with soap or alcohol wipes to reduce their likelihood of infection.
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Why has the guidance on wearing face masks changed so much?
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How can I stay safe in an elevator?
Doctors say getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent coronavirus infection.
If you’re not vaccinated, it’s best to take the stairs if you can. But if you can’t, emergency room physician Dr. Leana Wen offers several tips:
- Wear a mask. Not only does wearing a mask reduce your risk of inhaling the virus — which can linger in the air for 8 minutes — it also helps reduce your chances of infecting others if you are an asymptomatic carrier.
- Use a tissue to push the elevator buttons. If you don’t have a tissue, use your elbow, then wash or disinfect that area when you can.
- Try to keep your distance from anyone else inside the elevator as much as possible.
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How safe are public restrooms?
For those not fully vaccinated, try to avoid public restrooms if you can, said microbiologist Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists. But he acknowledged that’s not always possible: “Sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go.”
Close contact with others is the most significant risk in a public restroom, Nouri said. So if there’s a single-person bathroom available that doesn’t have multiple stalls, using that might be best.
If you do use a multi-stall public restroom, Nouri offers the following tips:
- Don’t use your freshly washed hands to turn off the water with the germ-laden faucet handle. Instead, use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the bathroom door. Throw away the paper towel immediately afterward.
- Wear a face mask. “Masks are one of the most effective ways to stop human-to-human transmission,” Nouri said. “If people in a public bathroom are not wearing masks, think twice before going in.”
- If the restroom looks crowded, wait until it clears out, if you can. “You’re reducing the risk of inhaling aerosolized particles from other people,” Nouri said.
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What’s the risk of having a maid service come to clean your house if you’re not home?
“It’s probably safe if you’re not at home,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen said. She suggested leaving the windows open to improve ventilation and asking the cleaners to use your own cleaning supplies so they don’t bring items that have been in other people’s houses.
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Can I disinfect my mask by putting it in the microwave?
That’s “not a great idea,” said Dr. Joseph Vinetz, a professor of infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine. “We have no evidence about that.”
“If there’s a metal piece in an N95 or surgical mask and even staples, you can’t microwave them,” he said. “It’ll blow up.”
Vinetz said cloth masks can be washed and reused, and even disposable masks can be reused if you let them sit for several days.
To disinfect masks that you can’t wash, Vinetz recommends leaving them in a clean, safe place in your home for a few days. After that, it should no longer be infectious, as this coronavirus is known to survive on hard surfaces for only up to three days.
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Is it safe to perform CPR on a stranger?
Doctors strongly recommend performing CPR when someone needs it.
You could be hundreds of times more likely to save that dying person’s life than you are to die from Covid-19 if you contract it after performing CPR, according to a report published by a group of Seattle emergency room physicians in the journal Circulation.
But it’s important to act quickly for CPR to be effective.
“The chance of survival goes down by 10% for every minute without CPR,” said Dr. Comilla Sasson, vice president for science and innovation in emergency cardiovascular care at the American Heart Association. “It’s a 10-minute window to death in many cases.”
If you’re not certified in CPR, performing chest compressions could also buy more time until help arrives. Bystanders should “provide high-quality chest compressions by pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest, with minimal interruptions,” the American Heart Association said.
If you’re not sure how “fast” to do to those chest compressions, singing any of these popular songs will help you get the right rhythm.
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I saw other countries spraying down sidewalks and other public places with disinfectant. Why haven’t we done that in the US?
Randomly spraying open places is largely a waste of time, health experts say.
It can actually do more harm than good. “Spraying disinfectants can result in risks to the eyes, respiratory or skin irritation,” the World Health Organization said.
“Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or marketplaces, is also not recommended to kill the COVID-19 virus or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris, and it is not feasible to manually clean and remove all organic matter from such spaces,” the WHO said.
“Moreover, spraying porous surfaces, such as sidewalks and unpaved walkways, would be even less effective.” Besides, the ground isn’t typically a source of infection, the WHO said.
And once the disinfectant wears off, an infected person could easily contaminate the surface again.
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Can protests increase the spread of Covid-19?
And when people are “shouting and cheering loudly, that does produce a lot of droplets and aerosolization that can spread the virus to people,” said Dr. James Phillips, a physician and assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital.
So doctors and officials say its important to get vaccinated or wear a face mask and try to keep your distance from others as much as possible.
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Do I need to wash fruits and vegetables with soap and water?
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Should I wash my hands and laundry in very warm or hot water?
Hot water is best for killing bacteria and viruses in your laundry. But you don’t want to use that kind of scalding hot water on your skin.
Warm water is perfectly fine for washing your hands — as long as you wash them thoroughly (like this) and for at least 20 seconds. (To time yourself, you can hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice or sing a couple of verses from any of these hit songs from the past several decades.)
Cold water will also work, “but you have to make sure you work really vigorously to get a lather and get everything soapy and bubbly,” said chemist Bill Wuest, an associate professor at Emory University. To do that, you might need to sing “Happy Birthday” three times instead of twice.
“Warm water with soap gets a much better lather – more bubbles,” Wuest said. “It’s an indication that the soap is … trying to encapsulate the dirt and the bacteria and the viruses in them.”
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Can you safely reuse a non-cloth mask that you can’t wash, like a disposable mask?
Yes you can, said Dr. Joseph Vinetz, an infectious diseases professor at Yale School of Medicine.
To disinfect masks that you can’t wash, Vinetz recommends leaving them in a clean, safe place in your home for a few days. After that, it should no longer be infectious, as this coronavirus is known to survive on hard surfaces for only up to three days.
You can reuse cloth masks, too. Just launder them between each use on a high-heat setting.
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Will an antibody test show whether I’m immune and can go back to work or school?
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Can I use vodka as hand sanitizer?
Please don’t. The CDC advises using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Vodka typically contains between 35% and 46% percent alcohol.
If the stores are out of hand sanitizer and you want to make your own, the Nebraska Medical Center offers this recipe:
What you’ll need:
- 2/3 cup 91% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel
- Mixing bowl
- Spoon or something for whisking
- Small container, such as a 3-oz. travel bottle
- Optional: essential oil to give your hand sanitizer a fragrance
In a mixing bowl, stir isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel together until well blended.
Add 8-10 drops of scented essential oil (optional, but nice). Stir.
Pour the homemade hand sanitizer into an empty container and seal. Write “hand sanitizer” on a piece of masking tape and attach to the bottle.
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Are smokers or vapers at higher risk? What if I only smoke weed?
This is not a good time to be vaping or smoking anything, including weed.
“Vaping affects your lungs at every level. It affects the immune function in your nasal cavity by affecting cilia, which push foreign things out,” said Prof. Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Research Control and Education at University of California San Francisco.
When you vape, “the ability of your upper airways to clear viruses is compromised,” Glantz said.
Tobacco smokers are at especially high risk. In a study from China, where the first Covid-19 outbreak occurred, smokers were 14 times more likely to develop severe complications than non-smokers.
Even occasionally smoking marijuana can put you at greater risk.
“What happens to your airways when you smoke cannabis is that it causes some degree of inflammation, very similar to bronchitis, very similar to the type of inflammation that cigarette smoking can cause,” said pulmonologist Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association.
“Now you have some airway inflammation, and you get an infection on top of it. So yes, your chance of getting more complications is there.”
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My teenagers aren’t taking this seriously. Any advice?
Coronavirus isn’t just infecting young people. It’s killing young, healthy people as well.
Dimitri Mitchell, 18, admits he had a “false sense of security.” But he was later hospitalized with coronavirus and now wants everyone to take it seriously.
“I just want to make sure everybody knows that no matter what their age is, it can seriously affect them. And it can seriously mess them up, like it messed me up,” the Iowa teen said.
“Four days in, the really bad symptoms started coming along. I started having really bad outbreaks, like sweating, and my eyes were really watery. I was getting warmer and warmer, and I was super fatigued. … I would start experiencing the worst headaches I’ve ever felt in my life. They were absolutely horrible.”
Eventually, the teen had to be hospitalized. His mother said she worried he might “fall asleep and never wake up.”
Mitchell is now recovering, but has suffered from long-term effects.
“I just hope everybody’s responsible, because it’s nothing to joke about,” he said. “It’s a real problem, and I want everybody to make sure they’re following social distancing guidelines and the group limits. And just listen to all the rules and precautions and stay up to date with the news and make sure they’re informed.”
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Does this pandemic have anything to do with the 5G network?
No. That’s just a hoax going around the internet.
“The theory that 5G might compromise the immune system and thus enable people to get sick from corona is based on nothing,” said Eric van Rongen, chairman of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
Learn more about how 5G really works and why this hoax makes no sense.
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My ex and I have joint custody of our kids. Is it safe for them to go between two homes?
Ideally, you should limit your children’s potential exposures to coronavirus and work out the safest plan possible with your ex.
The problem: Some state and county family courts might be closed, or open only for emergencies involving abuse or endangerment. So it might be difficult to formally modify pre-existing custody agreements.
But some states may be offering some flexibility during the pandemic. And there may be creative solutions, such as spending more time with one parent now in exchange for extra time with the other parent after the pandemic ends.
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How do I safely take care of someone who’s sick?
It may be difficult to know whether your loved one has coronavirus or another illness.
So it’s critical to play it safe and not infect yourself and, in turn, others. The CDC suggests:
- Giving the sick person their own room to stay in, if possible. Keep the door closed.
- Having only one person serve as the caretaker.
- Asking the sick person to wear a face mask, if it doesn’t cause breathing problems. It’s a good idea for the caretaker to also wear a secure face mask.
What are the symptoms?
Fatigue, fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing and the loss of taste or smell are some of the symptoms of Covid-19.
Symptoms can appear anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks after exposure, the CDC says. But some people get no symptoms at all and can infect others without knowing it.
The illness varies in its severity. And while many people can recover at home just fine, some — including young, previously healthy adults — are suffering long-term symptoms.
The stores are out of disinfectant sprays and hand sanitizer. Can I make my own?
Yes, you can make both at home.
“Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted” if you’re trying to kill coronavirus on a non-porous surface, the CDC said.
The CDC’s recipe calls for diluting 5 tablespoons (or ⅓ cup) of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.
What you’ll need:
- 2/3 cup 91% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel
- Mixing bowl
- Spoon or something for whisking
- Small container, such as a 3 oz. travel bottle
- Optional: essential oil to give your hand sanitizer a fragrance
In a mixing bowl, stir isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel together until well blended.
Add 8-10 drops of scented essential oil (optional, but nice). Stir.
Pour the homemade hand sanitizer into an empty container and seal.
Write “hand sanitizer” on a piece of masking tape and attach to the bottle.
Work/life Treatment & Prevention
Can I be fired if I stay home sick?
But there are exceptions. Employers who make workers with Covid-19 come in may be violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] regulations, said Donna Ballman, who heads an employee advocacy law firm in Florida.
What happens when workers don’t get paid sick leave?
But there is no federal mandate that requires companies to offer paid sick leave, and almost a quarter of all US workers don’t get it, according to 2019 government data. Some state and local governments have passed laws that require companies to offer paid sick leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can sometimes protect a worker’s job in the event they get sick, but it won’t guarantee they get paid while they’re out.
Employee advocates urge businesses to consider the special circumstances of the Covid-19, and some already have
Can managers send a sick worker home?
The Society for Human Resource Management recommends companies “actively encourage sick employees to stay home, send symptomatic employees home until they are able to return to work safely, and require employees returning from high-risk areas to telework during the incubation period (of 14 days).”
If a manager feels an employee’s illness poses a direct threat to colleagues’ safety, the manager may be able to insist the employee be evaluated by a doctor, said Alka Ramchandani-Raj, an attorney specializing in workplace safety.
If traveling on a plane, how do I stay safe?
Since Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, many airlines require passengers to wear face masks during the flight, except for while eating or drinking.
Health experts suggest eating, drinking and using the restroom before getting on the plane, to eliminate the need to take off your mask or go into a cramped lavatory on board.
And always be mindful of where your hands have been, travel medicine specialist Dr. Richard Dawood said.
Airport handrails, door handles and airplane lavatory levers are notoriously dirty.
“It is OK to touch these things as long as you then wash or sanitize your hands before contaminating your face, touching or handling food,” Dawood said.
“Hand sanitizers are great. So are antiseptic hand wipes, which you can also use to wipe down armrests, remote controls at your seat and your tray table.”
Travel family work/life
What do I do if I think I’m sick?
Stay home. Call your doctor to talk about your symptoms and let them know you’re coming for an appointment so they can prepare for your visit, the CDC says.
Only a Covid-19 test can diagnose you with coronavirus, but if you suspect you have it, isolate yourself at home.
Many patients with coronavirus are able to recover at home. If you’ve been diagnosed and your illness is worsening, seek medical attention promptly. You may need to be monitored in a hospital.
Treatment & Prevention
Should I spray myself or my kids with disinfectant?
No. Those products work on surfaces but can be dangerous to your body.
There are some chemical disinfectants, including bleach, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid and chloroform, that may kill the virus on surfaces.
But if the virus is already in your body, putting those substances on your skin or under your nose won’t kill it, the World Health Organization says. And those chemicals can harm you.
Treatment & Prevention myths & misinformation
I’ve heard that home remedies can cure or prevent the virus. Is that true?
There’s no evidence from the outbreak that eating garlic, sipping water every 15 minutes or taking vitamin C will protect people from the new coronavirus. Same goes for using essential oils or colloidal silver.
Treatment & prevention myths & misinformation
Why was the US been so far behind other countries with testing?
Experts said cuts in federal funding for public health and problems with early testing forced the US to play catch-up.
Problems with public health infrastructure: Two years ago, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 countries, including China. This happened because the Trump administration refused to allocate money to a program that started during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden warned that move “would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world.”
Problems with the testing: Malfunctions, shortages and delays in availability have all contributed to the slowdown.
In the first few weeks of the outbreak in the US, the CDC was the only facility in the country that could confirm test results — even though a World Health Organization test became available around the same time.
Some test kits that were sent around the country were flawed — a move that put the US behind about “four to five weeks,” says Dr. Rob Davidson, executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare.
Treatment & Prevention
Did Dean Koontz predict this outbreak in the book “The Eyes of Darkness” almost 40 years ago?
No. There are some interesting coincidences in the 1981 fiction novel, which says “a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread around the globe” around the year 2020. Modern editions of the book call the biological strain “Wuhan-400,” and the current coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China.
But there are important differences between the book and reality. The original version of the book called the strain the “Gorki-400,” in reference to a Russian locality, before it was later changed to the “Wuhan-400.” In the book, the virus was man-made, while scientists believe the novel coronavirus started in animals and jumped to humans. And in the book, the virus had a 100% mortality rate. Early estimates of the mortality rate for this coronavirus outbreak range from 2-4%.
myths & misinformation