Key ways to prevent kids from drowning, according to new AAP report


(NEW YORK) — The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new report that identified top drowning risks for children and recommendations to help prevent tragedy.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in the U.S. for children ages 1 to 4 and the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in children and teens 5 to 19, according to the AAP.

The latest research from the AAP’s Prevention of Drowning report found that male toddlers and teenage boys are at the highest risk of drowning.

The report also emphasized that no single intervention, such as swim lessons or lifeguards, is sufficient and therefore recommended “multiple layers of protection to prevent drowning.”

AAP’s key ways to prevent children from drowning:

– Close, constant, attentive and capable adult supervision when children are in and around water as well as life jacket use among children and adults.

– To prevent unsupervised access, four-sided pool fencing at least 4-feet tall with self-closing and self-latching gates that completely isolates the pool from the house and yard.

– In the home, be aware that infant bath seats can tip over, and children can slip out of them and drown in even a few inches of water in a bathtub. Infants should never be left alone in a tub, even for a minute.

– Parents and caregivers should prevent unsupervised access to the swimming pool, open water or a bathtub.

– To prevent drowning in toilets, young children should not be left alone in the bathroom, and toilet locks may be helpful.

– Water should be emptied from containers, such as pails and buckets, immediately after use.

Check out more information from the full report.

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This mom’s daughter died after swallowing a battery. Here’s what she wants you to know

(NEW YORK) — Trista Hamsmith’s 18-month-old daughter, Reese, died in December, two months after Hamsmith discovered her daughter had swallowed a button battery, the small, round batteries found in many home devices and toys.

Now Hamsmith, of Lubbock, Texas, is on a mission to make sure no other parent has to suffer the pain and loss her family has experienced.

“When we thought everything was going to be fine, I just had this vision of advocating for the safety and awareness of button batteries with Reese by my side,” Hamsmith told Good Morning America. “Her being gone did not change my desire to want to protect other children and get this information out there.”

“Every day we wait, another kid is going to ingest a battery,” she said. “Had somebody [spoken out] before, our lives would look very different.”‘

Reese was 16 months old this past October when she developed cold-like symptoms, including a very stuffy nose, according to Hamsmith, who also has a 9-year-old daughter.

Hamsmith and her husband, Chris, took their daughter to see the pediatrician, who suspected Reese had croup, an infection of the upper airways, and prescribed steroids, according to Hamsmith.

Shortly after, the family discovered a button battery was missing from a remote control in their home. After looking online and discovering that symptoms of button battery ingestion — including coughing, wheezing and chest discomfort — matched those of Reese, Hamsmith and her husband rushed Reese to the emergency room.

There, an X-ray confirmed that a battery was lodged near the top of Reese’s esophagus. The toddler underwent emergency surgery to remove the battery, and after a few days she was sent home from the hospital with instructions to stay on a liquid diet.

Hamsmith soon learned what she now wants other parents to know: Button batteries can continue to cause damage by burning tissue, even after they are removed.

When Reese did not improve, a CT scan confirmed she had a fistula through her esophagus and trachea that was created by the inflammation, according to Hamsmith.

Reese underwent another surgery to implant a gastronomy tube so she could receive nutrition, and she was placed on a ventilator.

“She came back sedated and on a ventilator, and that was the last time I saw my child like herself,” Hamsmith said.

“She went back for surgery, and that was the last time she was not on sedation for the rest of her life,” Hamsmith said, adding, “I wasn’t able to hold her, because her airway was so small, every single move was critical.”

Reese spent the next six weeks hospitalized and undergoing various surgeries and attempts to try to save her life. She ultimately died Dec. 17, 2020, with her mom by her side.

“I finally got to rock her in a rocking chair for a while,” said Hamsmith, who said she found inspiration to keep going and advocate for button battery awareness from a plaque in Reese’s hospital room.

“There was a plaque that read, ‘He has a plan, and I have a purpose,’ and I know that God has a plan, and Reese has a purpose,” she said. “It sits on my fireplace mantel now to remind me not to quit.”

In the seven months since Reese died, Hamsmith has created a nonprofit organization, Reese’s Purpose, to educate parents about button battery safety and to try to create change around how button batteries are protected in packaging and in the items in which they are found.

Hamsmith has testified before the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), created a national Button Battery Awareness Day (June 12) and is now calling on Congress to enact legislation that would create national standards for consumer products with button batteries. A petition launched by Reese’s Purpose calling for legislation has nearly 80,000 signatures.

“The main thing is that 10 years down the road, if I hear about a kid dying of a button battery ingestion, I want to know that I did everything I could without a shadow of a doubt to help prevent and help put the knowledge out,” Hamsmith said. “It’s a hidden danger.”

What parents need to know

Hamsmith calls button batteries a “hidden danger” because they are used many items, including remotes, hearing aids, thermometers, tealight candles, battery-powered jewelry, greeting cards, key fobs, kids’ toys and even toothbrushes.

“It literally takes one second [for button battery ingestion to happen],” she said. “You can set your kid down, turn around and pick up a piece of laundry, and it’s happened.”

More than 3,500 people swallow button batteries each year in the United States, according to the National Poison Control Center.

But the actual number of button battery ingestions each year is actually much larger because the incidents are vastly underreported, according to Dr. Kris Janata, professor in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Janata helped create the GIRC App, a global database by the Global Injury Research Collaborative for medical professionals to track the severity of injuries, including from button batteries.

Over the past year of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a 93% increase in emergency department visits for battery-related complaints in school-age children, according to Janata’s research.

“I do think there is a lack of awareness among parents that these are severe hazards,” he said. “We can’t fix the injuries that these batteries cause, so that’s what’s led us to how can we prevent these injuries in the first place.”

Here are three tips from Janata and Hamsmith to both prevent and treat button battery ingestion injuries.

1. Keep an inventory of button batteries in your home: Because the symptoms of button battery ingestion can mimic the symptoms of other illnesses in kids, as was the case with Reese, both Hamsmith and Janata say the most important thing for parents and caregivers is to always be aware of and know about the presence of all the button batteries in their home.

Hamsmith’s advice to caregivers is to keep products that contain button batteries not just out of reach but also out of sight of children, especially those ages 6 and under, who are most at risk for swallowing a foreign object.

Janata said to not only know where the button batteries are in your home, but to also to regularly check all electronic devices to make sure the battery compartment is secured.

2. Know the symptoms: Symptoms of swallowing a button battery may include fever, not wanting to eat or drink, irritability, wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, throat pain, choking, gagging, problems swallowing and vomiting, according to a button battery resource website created by Janata and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Children may also put a button battery in their nose or ear, which can also present dangers. Symptoms to look for include irritability, pain or swelling around the ears or nose, fever and fluid drainage or bleeding from the ears or nose, according to Janata.

Children who ingest button batteries may also present no symptoms at all, which is why parents and caregivers should know the whereabouts of button batteries in their home at all times, Janata said.

3. Act quickly: Serious esophageal injury can occur within two hours of a child ingesting a button battery, before symptoms even start, according to Janata.

“The clock is ticking from the moment the battery is lodged in the esophagus,” he said.

If a child ingests a button battery, immediately call for help, either through 911 or the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Parents and caregivers may also use honey to treat the child while waiting for medical help. Experts recommend giving 10 mL of honey every 10 minutes to children 12 months and older.

Janata stressed not to delay going to the emergency room and said seeking professional medical help should be the top priority.

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Climate change also has a mental health toll


(LOS ANGELES) — For Meg Keene, climate change is something that not only needs to be addressed but is also very difficult to cope with personally.

“As someone with anxiety, I kind of try not to think too much about the future with regards to climate change, because it’s so terrifying,” Keene, 41, said.

Keene’s life has been bookended by devastating wildfires in increasingly hot and dry California. As a baby she survived the 1980 Panorama Fire in San Bernardino. Most of the houses in her neighborhood were burned, her family’s home was one of the lucky ones that survived.

She has also been through the latest extreme wildfires in East Oakland, where she now lives with her husband and her two children.

Keene says she has been struggling with anxiety since she was a kid and for her, talking about the uncertain and changing weather patterns is triggering.

“I find it crippling with my anxiety and depression, but mostly with my anxiety,” Keene told ABC News.

Some experts say that the mere discussion of climate change can contribute to that anxiety.

“Climate change can affect mental health by just increasing people’s stress and worry about the issue, the more they hear about it,” said Dr. Susan Clayton, a professor in psychology and environmental studies in The College of Wooster, in Ohio.

“It’s been described as an existential threat, something that really challenges the way we think about the world. And I think it has the potential to really erode our sense of security,” Clayton added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated climate change “may weigh heavily on mental health in the general population and those already struggling with mental health disorders.”

Other drastic weather patterns like rising temperatures, droughts and natural disasters combined with socio economic stresses could also have a toll on certain people since some communities rely heavily on agriculture, a report published by the CDC says.

According to another report by the American Health Public Association, 25-50% of people exposed to extreme weather disasters are at risk of adverse mental health effects. And more than half of adults and 45% of children suffer depression after a natural disaster, the report said.

The day the sky turned orange

Last September, a mix of smoke and fog caused the sky in some areas of Northern California to look eerie and orange during the wildfire season.

“We were driving along the highway and you couldn’t see the ocean, it just looked like the world ended,” Keene told ABC News.

“I sort of can’t explain how apocalyptic it was. It was like being in some sort of apocalypse movie.”

The scene was so impactful she said she had a panic attack in the car, forcing her to stop driving.

“I was not breathing,” Keene recalled.

According to Clayton, “people experience more mental health impacts” as natural disasters become more intense or more frequent.

“I think we can all recognize that if you experience a natural disaster, it’s a very stressful event. It’s frightening. It disrupts your life, it disrupts your community,” Clayton told ABC News.

The climate impact has also affected Keene’s 8-year-old son and husband. She says both deal with anxiety and depression.

“At one point, my son said, ‘Mommy, I think we’re living through something that’s going to be in history books. I would rather not. I would prefer to live during something that would not be in a history book, ‘” she said.

Hurricane Katrina’s impact on mental health

Tyffani De La Cruz is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. She was 13-years-old when the Category 5 storm slammed the Gulf Coast in August 2005, leaving over 1,800 people dead and an estimated $161 billion in damages, according to the nonprofit World Vision Organization.

De La Cruz’s house was located in the hard-hit 9th Ward. Before Katrina made landfall, the family sought shelter in another family’s house in North Louisiana.

As a result of the historic flooding in the area, their home suffered major damage, forcing the family to relocate to a nearby city.

“I was about maybe 15 or 16, when I realized that Katrina had an impact on my well being as far as just being in totally new environments,” De La Cruz told ABC News.

When De La Cruz enrolled in college, she said she started to disengage from extracurricular activities, miss classes and lay in bed all day as part of the instability she was feeling ever since the impact of Katrina.

“I felt like I was chasing a feeling that I could not give back. I wanted to feel how I felt before Katrina, but I never got that feeling. I never was anywhere that I felt as comfortable as I was before the storm,” De La Cruz said.

After noticing that something was off, she searched online for some of her symptoms, she recalled.

“When you see psychiatrists, or psychologists, you’re like ‘Oh well, I’m not crazy I’m just a little tired,'” De La Cruz mentioned.

A psychiatrist diagnosed De La Cruz with post-traumatic stress disorder. Years later she said she was also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nearly 50% of Hurricane Katrina survivors developed an anxiety or mood disorder, AHPA’s report says.

The association also reported that suicide and suicide ideation more than doubled, while 1 in 6 developed PTSD.

De La Cruz says it took her a while to understand and internalize what was happening because of the stigma mental health issues had.

“As a global society, there’s still often a lot of stigma around mental health problems,” Clayton told ABC News.

Despite the reluctance to get help, experts encourage that “it’s okay to get help.”

“There are things that can help you with this, I think we would help people cope,” Clayton added.

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Fauci urges people to put politics aside to get vaccinated as ‘nasty’ delta variant rages


(WASHINGTON) — Unvaccinated Americans should put politics aside and get vaccinated to protect themselves from the highly transmissible and “nasty” delta variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

“What we’re trying to do is to just put politics aside, this is no time for politics. This is a public health issue and viruses, and public health don’t know the difference between a Democrat and Republican or an Independent,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease told ABC “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos.

A recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll found that 93% of Democrats said they were vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated, while only 49% of Republicans said the same.

“We’ve got to get away from the divisiveness that has really been a problem right from the very beginning with this outbreak,” Fauci added.

The delta variant was present in at least 51% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. between June 20 and July 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Fauci said should concern individuals who aren’t vaccinated.

“It’s very clear that this is a nasty variant, it has a much greater capability of transmitting from person to person,” Fauci said.

At least 25 states have seen an uptick in coronavirus cases as vaccination rates dropped to their lowest point since January, averaging 600,000 daily administered doses this past week compared to an average of 1 million administered doses the week prior. According to the CDC, 99.7% of current cases are among the unvaccinated.

Stephanopoulos also noted that Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who appeared later on “This Week,” has said that the vaccines’ lack of full authorization has contributed to vaccine hesitancy.

“I think the governor does have a point there,” Fauci said in response.

“So although it’s understandable — quite understandable that some people might say, well, we want to wait for the full approval, that’s really only a technical issue,” Fauci continued. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that these vaccines are going to get full approval because of the extraordinary amount of positive data.”

Stephanopoulos also asked Fauci to clarify the need for booster shots after the CDC and Food and Drug Administration said a booster shot is not necessary at this time, following an announcement from Pfizer about the need for a third shot of its COVID-19 vaccine 6 to 12 months after individuals are fully vaccinated.

“So there’s a lot of dynamic things going on right now,” Fauci responded. “Though the CDC and the FDA correctly said right now we don’t feel you need a booster. That doesn’t mean that we’re not very — very actively following and gathering all of this information to see if and when we might need it and — if and when we do — we’ll have everything in place to do it.”

“The CDC put out guidance this week urging all schools to open this fall. They said masks are not necessary for fully vaccinated students and teachers. But they left most of the key decisions on issues like distancing and whether to wear masks up to the local school districts. That’s led to some confusion. Should the guidance be more specific and strict?” Stephanopoulos asked Fauci.

“The guidance I think is pretty explicit there, George,” Fauci responded, adding that school districts should implement social distancing, testing or enforce any guidelines recommended from the CDC that they see as fit to keep schools open and safe.

“The bottom line is we need to get the children back in school, in-person classes in the fall,” Fauci continued. “But also to do it safely for the children.”

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Hospital breaks record with ‘baby boom’ of over 100 babies born in 91 hours

Courtesy of Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center

(FORT WORTH, Texas) — A hospital broke its record of high-volume stretches of births twice between June 24 to June 28, delivering 107 babies in a total of 91 hours.

The “baby boom” was not entirely an anomaly for Andrews Women’s Hospital at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center, as it is considered high-volume delivery hospital. However, this influx of births was higher than any the hospital had experienced in the past, surpassing the previous record of 48 births in 41 hours.

Staff at the hospital speculate that this record, which Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center called “rare and exceptional” in its press release, may have been influenced by the pandemic.

“Last spring, when we first went into quarantine, we were all speculating … that perhaps around December [or] January, we may see a boom, and it didn’t happen,” Michelle Stemley, a labor and delivery nurse at Andrews Women’s Hospital, told “Good Morning America.” “Our volumes stayed steady through the winter months, but they have hit now.”

So, Stemley said, she and her colleagues think people got more comfortable “expanding their families after things with the quarantine started to get to be the new normal.”

Stemley was “very busy” when working through the “baby boom,” although she enjoyed helping families bring new life into the world.

“The team was working very hard but we were having a lot of fun taking care of all of these families during these busy times,” Stemley said.

One of the ways in which the team adapted to the high volume deliveries was by rushing the process of transporting mothers post-delivery.

“Everybody has to pull together to make sure that we were able to get our moms moved through as quickly as possible so they would deliver, and, after they had their recovery period, we would get them out to their next room to their postpartum room right away so that we could open up another room in labor and delivery to get these patients in,” Stemley said.

OBGYN Dr. Jay Herd had a different experience. In fact, he didn’t even notice a heightened number of births until they counted the numbers, because the Women’s Hospital is a “busy, busy unit,” he said.

“And my patients didn’t notice that much difference in their delivery,” Herd added.

He believes the boom is not an isolated incident. Instead, he foresees that due to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, birth rates will continue to rise.

“I don’t think it’s going away,” Herd said. “Seven or eight months from now, we’re going to see lots of … population growth.”

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CDC puts out new guidance on masks in schools


(ATLANTA) — Students who are vaccinated don’t have to wear masks in school this fall unless they are riding the school bus or their school decides otherwise, according to new guidance released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new federal guidelines aren’t mandatory but are expected to influence school officials, local health departments and governors who are in the midst of preparing for students to return to the classroom full time this fall.

The recommendation also could encourage parents who were previously undecided. Kids older than 12 qualify for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses three weeks apart.

“Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff, and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations,” the CDC stated.

The CDC recommendations specifically call for unvaccinated students and staff to continue mask-wearing and encourages schools to offer voluntary routine testing at least once a week. It also encourages 3-feet of distancing among unvaccinated kids in the classroom but says that recommendation shouldn’t prevent classrooms from reopening.

The CDC also recommends that all bus drivers and their passengers — vaccinated or not — wear a mask while traveling to school.

The biggest sticking point for schools though will likely be whether to require proof of vaccination. Most schools already require proof of childhood immunizations with few exceptions.

The CDC, which does not set vaccination requirements for schools or child care centers, makes clear in its recommendations that it will be up to schools and local officials to decide what to do. The agency specifically notes that schools may opt for a universal masking policy, particularly if they have unvaccinated populations and don’t want to require verification that a person has been vaccinated.

“We do allow for flexibility in our guidance,” said Capt. Erin Sauber-Schatz, who helped to write the guidelines as a member of CDC’s COVID response team.

In the end, “this is really about protecting the people who are either not yet eligible for vaccine due to their age, or people who are not yet fully vaccinated,” she added.

The Biden administration has said it won’t pursue a federal mandate for vaccines and is leaving it up to schools and businesses to decide what to enforce. But it has called for universal mask-wearing, even among vaccinated people, on airplanes, trains, buses and other public transportation because of the risk of variants spreading through travel.

So far, many businesses have been reluctant to mandate the vaccines or ask for proof, creating a kind of honor system. Health experts say that could change in a few months if federal regulators grant full approval to the vaccines, which are currently distributed under emergency authorization.

It’s likely that many schools will set their own policies anyway, even ignoring CDC guidance.

In Arizona, Chandler Unified School District, which welcomes back students July 21 — one of the earliest start dates in the nation — had already decided masks would be voluntary when Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law that prohibits local counties and school districts from requiring students or staff to wear face coverings.

Sauber-Schatz said the CDC’s goal was to write useable guidance for all schools, even jurisdictions that were planning to forgo mask mandates.

Under the recommendations, the CDC advises schools to lift COVID protocols slowly — including for masks — if the community has low case numbers and high vaccination rates; on the contrary, areas with high cases and low vaccination rates should keep various strategies in place to prevent outbreaks, according to the CDC.

Parents also should know a child isn’t “fully immunized” until two weeks after their second shot. Because the shots are spaced three weeks apart, that means a teen hoping to become fully immunized by mid-August would need their first shot now.

“The message is really, if your child is eligible for vaccine, the time to get vaccinated is now,” Sauber-Schatz said.

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Experts differ on need for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 booster shot

Bill Oxford/iStock

(NEW YORK) — The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been pitched with one major advantage over its counterparts since it was authorized for use: It requires just one dose. But with the exponential spread of the highly transmissible delta variant, questions have arisen over whether recipients might need to “top off” their immunity against the now-dominant strain in the U.S. with a second shot.

Although the J&J vaccine’s efficacy at protecting against symptomatic COVID-19 in clinical trials was less than the two-dose mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, it showed 100% effectiveness against hospitalization and death.

Recent research suggests that mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer and Moderna, appear to hold up against the delta variant as long as you’ve been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Pfizer reported Thursday that initial data showed that receiving a third dose, six to 12 months after being fully vaccinated, may give more protection and promised to have data to publish in the coming week to ask the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend a third dose.

Johnson and Johnson has put out its own data suggesting that their single dose also holds up against the dominant variant, but it was a small study and people are thinking more is more.

The promising preliminary data suggests that the J&J vaccine offers good protection against the delta variant.

In a laboratory experiment, researchers analyzed the blood of 10 people who had been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and tested it against multiple concerning variants, including delta.

They found the vaccine appeared to work against the variants, shown by “neutralizing antibody titers” and other immune system response indicators.

What level immune response is required to achieve protection is still open science, but the experiment offered promising clues, if not definitive proof of real-world protection.

The news offers some measure of reassurance for the more than 12 million Americans who have received the J&J vaccine; it’s also prompting some medical experts to reevaluate what role a “booster” shot might have — whether it’ll still be needed, and if so, when, and for whom.

“The new data does in fact change my opinion,” said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist from Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News medical contributor. “We try as much as possible to stick to the science when it comes to vaccine strategy, and overall this is really encouraging news.”

All vaccines available in the U.S. have so far shown to be both safe and effective for at least up to eight months. Brownstein said that receiving a booster is likely safe, and looks forward to further data. In the meantime, this new data lends some hope to those who received the J&J vaccine, that for now, they still have protection.

“We want to wait for data to support any kind of vaccine strategy that we recommend,” Brownstein said, highlighting the importance of uniform recommendations backed by data.

The science has yet to be settled, experts say.

“I think there are still open questions for those who are immunocompromised,” Brownstein said. “Talk to your doctor — especially if you’re in the high-risk category.”

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, explained that “when talking about people who are immunocompromised, that includes a large spectrum of disease, and there are no studies at the present time to indicate that an additional dose will benefit you or what sort of reactions you might get from an additional dose.”

For now, Schaffner firmly stands against the idea of an additional booster shot without formal recommendations. He emphasized that the CDC is yet to recommend any booster, under any circumstances at the present time.

“People are making these recommendations on the basis of hope: hope that it would work and hope there wouldn’t be any adverse events. But there certainly has been no formal study to support it at this time,” Schaffner added.

In fact, following Pfizer’s announcement, the FDA and the CDC released a joint statement urging caution on the need for a booster shot, as still only 47.7% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated at this time.

“Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time,” the agencies said in the statement Thursday. “FDA, CDC, and NIH (National Institutes of Health) are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary.”

While many experts remain split on the issue of boosters, it’s not for lack of confidence in the single-shot vaccine doing its job. Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist and faculty at University of Wisconsin Medicine, said an added booster shot on top of the single J&J vaccine would essentially be an additional layer of protection.

Gupta advocated for a booster not because he thinks the J&J shot doesn’t work well, but rather, to ensure level protection for all vaccines across the board. He stands by that stance.

“The idea is, if we are going to have one uniform set of policies, everyone should be entitled to the same level of immunity and effective vaccines,” Gupta said. “The point is a booster with mRNA doesn’t appear to be harmful and bringing everyone to the same level of immunity should be our goal.”

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Study shows booster shot after 6 to 12 months likely to provide best protection from COVID-19, Pfizer says

Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Pfizer and BioNTech have released initial data from a study on booster shots for their COVID-19 vaccine, saying a third dose delivered about six months after the second shot has shown neutralization titers are five to 10 times higher than after two primary doses.

The companies said they expect to publish “more definitive data” soon and submit the Food and Drug Administration “in the coming weeks.”

Pfizer said real-world evidence from Israel showed a decrease in efficacy about six months after people were fully vaccinated.

“While protection against severe disease remained high across the full 6 months, the observed decline in efficacy against symptomatic disease over time and the continued emergence of variants are key factors driving our belief that a booster dose will likely be necessary to maintain highest levels of protection,” Pfizer said in a statement.

Additionally, the companies are working on materials with a plan to test a new vaccine construct based on the delta variant — with plans to start clinical trials in August.

“While we believe a third dose of BNT162b2 has the potential to preserve the highest levels protective efficacy against all currently known variants including Delta, we are remaining vigilant and are developing an updated version of the Pfizer-COVID-19 vaccine that uses a new construct based on the B.1.617.2 lineage, first identified in India and also known as the Delta variant,” the companies said in a statement.

“The companies are already producing clinical trial material and anticipate beginning clinical studies in August, subject to regulatory approvals,” Pfizer and BioNTech added.

Moderna, the maker of the only other authorized mRNA vaccine in the U.S., has made similar statements about the need for booster shots in the past.

“Booster shots will be needed as we believe the virus is not going away,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said during a first-quarter earnings call to investors in early May.

It will be up to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine if and when booster shots will be allowed, recommended and made available.

“Clearly, the pharmaceutical companies have an economic incentive, particularly the ones who have vaccines that are for profit,” Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told ABC News in late May. “We want the decision to be made based on public health solely and [not] on economic incentives of the companies.”

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos, Dr. Deepak Ramanathan and Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

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Cancer death rates fall, with a few exceptions


(NEW YORK) — Cancer death rates continue to decline, with decreases in melanoma and lung cancer death rates leading that trend, according to a new report.

The report, published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Thursday, includes data from 2001 to 2018, meaning it does not reflect cancer incidence or deaths rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decline in cancer death rates held true for both men and women of all racial and ethnic groups. The report showed a decrease in death rates among 11 of the 19 most common cancers in men and 14 of the 20 most common cancers in women. That overall decline translates into an average 2.2% cancer death rate decrease per year for men and an average 1.7% decrease per year for women.

Experts attributed the decline in deaths to reduced smoking rates and targeted cancer treatments.

“The continued decline in cancer death rates should be gratifying to the cancer research community, as evidence that scientific advances over several decades are making a real difference in outcomes at the population level,” Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, one of the groups that collaborated on the report, said in a statement.

Despite those gains, death rates for a few types of cancers, including uterus, brain, nervous system and pancreatic cancers, increased.

Additionally, cancer incidence rates among women, children, adolescents and young adults rose between 2014 and 2018, the report found. The most common cancer among adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 39 was female breast cancer. Among children younger than 15, the most common cancers were leukemia, lymphoma and brain and nervous system cancers. Although the incidence of cancer is increasing among women, in general, cancer incidence rates are higher for men.

“I believe we could achieve even further improvements if we address obesity, which has the potential to overtake tobacco use to become the leading modifiable factor associated with cancer,” Sharpless added.

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How heat waves, climate change put people with disabilities at risk


(NEW YORK) — It was more than 90 degrees in Moranda Rasmussen’s Portland, Oregon, apartment during a historic heat wave late last month when the 27-year-old began to panic. They have cerebral palsy and depression and rely on Supplemental Security Income while they work on their degree.

They said they couldn’t afford an air conditioner and couldn’t charge their electric wheelchair battery because it could easily overheat. Taking antidepressants also wasn’t an option, because it makes it difficult to regulate their body temperature.

Rasmussen said they were left scrambling for a solution to escape the searing heat, which reached a high of 115 degrees. In Portland, the average high temperature in June is around 74 degrees.

“We don’t get temperatures like that in the Pacific Northwest,” Rasmussen said. “I was just really frantic. What if we have more days like this? When am I going to be able to take my medication again? When am I going to be able to charge my wheelchair again?”

With heat waves battering the Northwest and Northeast and heatwave season extending and intensifying, people with disabilities like Rasmussen are preparing for the worst. Though climate change is impacting communities across the globe, experts say disabled people will likely be adversely affected by global weather extremes, including events where evacuation is needed.

It is unclear how many of the 106 people who are believed to have died due to the heat wave in Oregon were disabled. In Multnomah County, many of those who died were found alone and without air conditioning or a fan, according to the county medical examiner. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of the people who die from hyperthermia-related causes, when the body is unable to cool itself, had an underlying cardiovascular condition.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has since demanded that local agencies work to open three 24-hour cooling centers and nine cooling spaces, reach out to seniors, people with disabilities and pregnant women directly, and coordinate with 60 outreach groups focused on people without housing or shelter.

Rasmussen, along with climate and disability activists, is calling on policymakers to not only remember disabled residents in their emergency plans but to turn the tide on climate change in an effort to mitigate the plights of people with disabilities in the future.

“Disabled people are the first people to be set aside,” Rasmussen said. “A lot of policy around disabled folks needs to change.”

1 in 4 adults in the US

In a study by the United Nations, the organization affirmed that climate change will continue to have direct and indirect impacts on the human rights of people with disabilities. In climate emergencies, disabled people disproportionately experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and are typically the least able to access emergency support, the study said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a disability as any mental or physical condition that makes it “more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities” or “interact with the world around them.” Some 61 million adults, or 1 in 4, have a disability in the United States, and roughly one billion people across the globe have some kind of disability.

The diverse population includes people with mental illnesses, chronic health conditions, physical or visual impairments and others.

“I cannot sweat to cool down my body — if it’s a very hot day, I don’t have that thermoregulation,” said Alex Ghenis, a disability and climate activist who founded Accessible Climate Strategies, a disability consulting organization, who has a severe spinal cord injury and lives in Oakland, California. “Anybody really with a cardiovascular or chronic health condition is going to be disproportionately affected by extreme heat events on the physiological level.”

However, the way that climate change affects people with disabilities is as diverse as the population.

“With folks experiencing the effects of wildfire smoke, a lot of disabilities have respiratory components to them,” Ghenis said. “Someone with asthma is going to have a hard time with smoke, and someone who uses a ventilator is going to have a hard time with the smoke.”

Director of the Disability Mobility Initiative Anna Zivarts said her organization aims to help people who don’t have transportation or accessible forms of public transportation to get around.

Transportation is vital to escaping wildfires, heading to a cooling shelter, stockpiling goods during an emergency, or getting to a health professional. Even when they arrive, many public facilities are inaccessible to people with mobility impairments, service animals and more.

Almost 14% of disabled people have a mobility disability, with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs, according to the CDC.

Disabled people are also more likely to be impoverished and experience high unemployment rates, according to the National Council on Disability, an independent U.S. agency.

“Many folks in the disability community are poor,” Zivarts said. “So they can’t afford to flee, to relocate, to get air conditioners, to have a car, to hire an Uber. There’s so many reasons that people get trapped or stuck in situations that are really, really harmful.”

This often gives them a disadvantage when it comes to fighting, escaping, or living with the consequences of climate change.

A way forward

Climate activists, in agreement with the United Nations’ findings, recommend collaborations with leaders of the disability rights movement to create accessible and disability-inclusive solutions to climate change and emergency events.

“We are constantly having to move and live in a world that doesn’t exist for us,” Marlena Chertock said. “People are forced to create workarounds and build things that work for themselves and come up with creative solutions. So, there’s a lot that people could learn from people with disabilities.”

Columbia University’s Climate Adaptation Initiative states that protections for people with disabilities are essential in emergency planning and that as long as much of the country’s infrastructure remains inaccessible, it prioritizes the non-disabled and puts disabled people at risk.

Ghenis said that the solutions range from simple fixes — like, making emergency shelters accessible and providing quality public transportation — to structural changes that could lift disabled people out of poverty and ensure that they’re protected in an emergency.

Rasmussen went online to vent about their poor living conditions — and after their plea for help went viral, they were able to crowd-fund an air conditioner. They want lawmakers to know that disabled activists are prepared to hold them accountable.

“One of the biggest things that lawmakers and policymakers can do is really put pressure on these corporations to do better,” Rasmussen said. “Things definitely need to change.”

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