October 26, 2021

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COVID update: ‘mu’ variant, Moderna vaccine, CDC definition

In this photo provided by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock, a critical care nurse, provides care to a COVID-positive patient during the COVID-19 response operations at Kootenai Health regional medical center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6, 2021.

In this photo provided by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock, a critical care nurse, provides care to a COVID-positive patient during the COVID-19 response operations at Kootenai Health regional medical center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6, 2021.

AP

Each week, we offer you a roundup of our noteworthy coronavirus coverage.

More than 40.6 million people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday morning, Sept. 10, according to Johns Hopkins University. That includes more than 654,000 people who have died nationwide.

Globally, there have been more than 223 million confirmed cases of the highly infectious virus, with more than 4.6 million reported deaths.

More than 177.4 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Sept. 9 — about 53% of the total population, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker shows. About 65% of adults and 63% of people aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated in the U.S.

Here’s what happened between Sept. 3 and Sept. 9.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine may give you more antibodies. What this means

People who received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had “slightly higher” antibody levels than those who received the Pfizer — now formally called Comirnaty — shot, according to a new small study.

While both vaccines insert molecules called mRNA that teach our bodies how to produce coronavirus antibodies, the Moderna shot uses more than three times the amount of mRNA than the Pfizer vaccine. This, University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers say, could explain their findings.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean the Moderna shot offers more protection against COVID-19. Here’s why.

COVID-19 cases for children soar to highest number since pandemic began

Children now make up over a quarter of the country’s weekly COVID-19 cases, according to data by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As of Sept. 2, over 5 million children had tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, representing 15.1% of all cases, the AAP said. About 252,000 new cases were added last week, marking the largest number of child cases since the pandemic began.

During the last two weeks of August, children represented about 22% of weekly reported COVID-19 cases.

Why did CDC change definition for ‘vaccine’? Agency explains move

Social media is calling bluff on the CDC for modifying its definition of the words “vaccine” and “vaccination” on its website.

Before the change, the definition for “vaccination” read, “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease.” Now, the word “immunity” has been switched to “protection.”

The term “vaccine” also got a makeover. The CDC’s definition changed from “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease” to the current “a preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases.”

Read on to learn why the CDC made the changes.

Fauci says ‘mu’ coronavirus variant not ‘immediate threat’ — but US takes it seriously

The World Health Organization has added the “mu” coronavirus variant to its “variants of interest” list, joining four others, though it is not yet considered a threat in the U.S.

The earliest documented cases of the mu variant were detected in January in Colombia, and it has since spread to 38 other countries as of Aug. 29. The mu variant currently makes up less than 0.1% of sequenced cases globally, but its presence has “consistently increased” in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%), the WHO said in a weekly update.

It’s unclear how many coronavirus infections in the U.S. are of the mu variant, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser, said health officials are “keeping a very close eye on it.”

Vaccine for both COVID-19 and flu? Moderna making all-encompassing booster

Flu season is on the horizon, while the coronavirus continues to spread with alarming speed. But what happens when the two germs collide?

It’s difficult to predict what this year’s flu season will look like, but Moderna, the company behind one of the nation’s three COVID-19 vaccines, is attempting to make the what-ifs a bit more predictable.

Moderna announced it is planning to create a single dose vaccine that serves as a booster against both COVID-19 and the influenza virus as part of its “novel respiratory vaccine program.”

Risk of getting long COVID-19 cut in half with 2nd dose of vaccine

Research shows fully vaccinated people are less likely to get infected with the coronavirus or come down with serious illness compared to those who receive only one dose. Now, a new study found complete vaccination (two shots for vaccines that require them) cuts the risk of developing long COVID-19 by nearly half.

Long COVID-19 occurs when people experience coronavirus symptoms for months after their initial infection subsides.

Fully vaccinated adults included in the study were also 73% less likely to be hospitalized with the disease once infected and 31% less likely to develop symptoms compared to unvaccinated people.

Here’s what else the study found.

COVID-19 hospitalization rates 10 times higher in unvaccinated kids

The highly contagious delta coronavirus variant has been sending thousands of people to the hospital in recent weeks, and new data show children are also suffering serious consequences from its wrath.

A CDC study found that weekly COVID-19 hospitalization rates among kids 0-4 years old in mid-August were 10 times higher than the rates seven weeks earlier — a jump that coincides with the delta variant’s rise to dominance in the U.S.

What’s more, hospitalization rates among unvaccinated kids and teens between 12 and 17 years old were also 10 times higher than those among the fully vaccinated, suggesting COVID-19 vaccines are highly protective against severe illness even in delta’s presence.

How many Americans have coronavirus antibodies? Blood donations show vast majority do

More than 80% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies acquired through infection or vaccination, according to a new study of over 1.4 million blood donations across the U.S.

The study included blood samples of Americans 16 and older collected by 17 different organizations from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Donations represent 74% of the U.S. population.

Estimates show that from July to December 2020 — before vaccines were available — the percentage of Americans 16 years or older with coronavirus antibodies from infection jumped from 3.5% to 11.5%. By May 2021, the percentage of Americans with infection-derived antibodies increased to about 20%.

There’s another health perk to getting a COVID-19 vaccine — and it takes just one dose

There’s another health benefit to getting vaccinated against COVID-19 — and it takes effect after a single dose.

People who received the first dose of any coronavirus vaccine between December 2020 and March 2021 were less prone to developing mild or severe depression than those who had not been vaccinated, according to a new study.

Although study authors can’t pinpoint exactly why there was an increase in happiness levels, there may be a few key reasons.

Follow more of our reporting on Full coverage of coronavirus in Washington

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Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time Science reporter. She’s an alumna of Boston University and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.