Pregnant women have long been advised to avoid alcohol and tobacco and to take folic acid. In the age of the coronavirus, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is also strongly recommended.
Vaccination helps protect not only expectant mothers but also their babies, both in utero and after birth, according to two separate studies whose conclusions run counter to common misinformation about the vaccine and pregnancy.
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health suggests pregnant women with at least moderate COVID-19 symptoms are at greater risk for pregnancy complications — besides the health impacts of the disease — than those not infected or with mild or no symptoms.
The complications included a higher chance of requiring a Cesarean section, to deliver preterm, to die around the time of birth and to experience postpartum hemorrhage and other pregnancy disorders. They also had a higher risk of miscarrying or having an infant die during the newborn period.
Nearly 13,000 expectant mothers were included in the analysis, about 2,400 of them infected with the virus.
“The findings underscore the need for women of child-bearing age and pregnant individuals to be vaccinated and to take other precautions against becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Diana Bianchi of the NIH.
Another report published Monday, based on research from Massachusetts General Hospital, showed vaccination during pregnancy produced higher antibody levels in the mothers and more persistent ones in their infants than so-called natural immunity from coronavirus infection in mothers.
After two months, 48 of 49 infants born to vaccinated mothers had detectable amounts of the most common antibody found in blood. At six months, 16 of 28 (57%) of the babies tracked still had detectable levels. Among the babies born to infected mothers, only 1 out of 12 (8%) had such levels.
“Pregnant women are at extremely high risk for serious complications from COVID,” said Dr. Galit Alter, co-senior author of the study. “And given the lag in development of COVID-19 vaccines for infants, these data should motivate mothers to get vaccinated and even boosted during pregnancy to empower their babies’ defenses against COVID.”
Also in the news:
►Democratic Gov. John Carney is rescinding an order he imposed a month ago requiring Delawareans to wear masks in indoor business settings.
►Germany, which has some of the tightest restrictions in Europe, will begin relaxing rules after the peak in new cases has passed, likely by the end of February.
►The rate of Black Georgians who have been vaccinated with at least one shot is now 52.3%, virtually identical to the 53% of whites, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, citing state numbers.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 76 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 903,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 396 million cases and over 5.7 million deaths. More than 212 million Americans – 64.1% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we’re reading: The United States surpassed 900,000 coronavirus deaths amid positive data indicating the worst could be in the rearview mirror even as statistical warning lights flash on the pandemic dashboard. The omicron variant surge that pushed daily infection numbers to new heights appears to be easing. Daily infections and hospitalizations are edging lower. USA TODAY’s John Bacon explains why the respite could be short-lived.
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Signs point to U.S. death rate from COVID dropping
Daily U.S. deaths from the most recent coronavirus surge may finally be ready to decline.
Most states are now reporting fewer deaths than they had been a week ago, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Twenty states still had more deaths than the previous week, but that’s a decrease of 14 states. The U.S. continues to average about 2,400 to 2,500 deaths per day, a daily human cost about equal to the losses at Pearl Harbor.
The number of fatalities from COVID surpassed 900,000 on Friday. If the pace of American deaths falls at the same rate it increased during the current omicron surge, the nation will reach 1 million in about 55 days, or the beginning of April.
Of course, the emergence of another variant could invalidate any predictions.
“We need to be cautiously optimistic,” said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and director of diversity at the Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “Considering the surrounding circumstances, including the spread of the virus still, it won’t be very useful to the public to expect omicron to be the last variant.”
– Mike Stucka
New Jersey Gov. Murphy to end schools mask mandate
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said Monday his statewide mask mandate in New Jersey schools and daycares will be lifted effective March 7 as COVID hospitalizations and cases plunge. Local school officials and daycare operators will be able to decide whether to keep mask mandates for students, teachers and staff in place, he said. Most young students are still not vaccinated.
“This is a huge step back to normalcy for our kids,” Murphy said.
The governor made the announcement less than a month after renewing a school mask mandate by declaring a public health emergency after the Legislature refused his authority to impose the requirement.
– Scott Fallon, NorthJersey.com
Booster targeting omicron may not be needed
A new pre-print study suggests that an omicron-specific COVID-19 booster may not be necessary at this point. The study, published Friday, found that an omicron-specific version of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and a booster of the original vaccine generated similar immune responses in monkeys. Researchers vaccinated the primates with two shots of the Moderna vaccine, then boosted them either with the original vaccine or with an omicron-specific vaccine nine months later. The omicron-specific shot “provided no advantage” over the regular shot in producing antibodies, they found.
However, the study also noted that if omicron or a genetically related variant remains the dominant COVID strain “for some years to come,” it is possible that a variant-specific booster would be warranted. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech and Moderna both announced plans to test an omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine in adult trials in late January.
Positive test keeps US skater from Olympic medal celebration, event
The U.S. figure skating team posed in front of their flag Monday at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium after winning the Olympic silver medal in the team figure skating event. But one of them was missing – men’s long program skater Vincent Zhou had tested positive for COVID-19. So the on-ice celebration turned into a pick-me-up for Zhou, as the rest of the American team gathered to shoot a video message for Zhou right there on the ice.
“We wish you were here. We love you. Thank you for your contribution,” the team said into the camera.
Zhou, the team’s second-ranked male skater, won’t be able to compete in the men’s short program Tuesday night, he announced via an Instagram post Monday night.
– Christine Brennan
The first COVID-19 whistleblower died 2 years ago today
Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese ophthalmologist who was reprimanded by authorities for trying to warn his country about the emerging virus that would later be dubbed COVID-19, died two years ago today. In December 2019, Li noticed a cluster of deaths at Wuhan Central Hospital and suggested fellow physicians wear protective clothing to avoid infection.
That brought a visit from local authorities who accused him of making false comments that had “severely disturbed the social order.” Weeks later he would draw an apology and become a darling of China’s social media. But he also fell ill, dying at 34. On Monday he was remembered around the world on social media.
Tweeted American author and political analyst Jamie Metzl: “#LiWenliang was a hero & among the first casualties of China’s brutal cover-up which helped spark the pandemic. We can honor his memory by demanding a comprehensive int’l investigation into #COVID19 origins in China to make sure this never happens again.”
Asia faces spike in cases after Lunar New Year holidays
Many Asian countries are facing a spike in COVID-19 infections after the widely celebrated Lunar New Year holidays as health officials grapple with the omicron variant and expectations that numbers will continue to rise in coming weeks. The Lunar New Year, which is China’s biggest holiday, was celebrated across Asia on Feb. 1 even as pandemic restrictions in many countries kept crowds and family outings to a minimum. Hong Kong’s authorities are confronting record cases that are straining its so-called “zero-COVID” policy. On Monday, the city reported a new high of 614 infections.
“We expect there will be more cases coming in a few days. We consider this as some effects after the holiday events and clusters,” said Edwin Tsui, an official with the Centre for Health Protection.
COVID-19 infected deer could pose a health risk to humans
Several studies of free-ranging white-tail deer in the upper Midwest and on the East Coast have found that roughly a third of all animals tested have been infected by COVID-19.
U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers found last August that white-tail deer populations in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania all contained antibodies showing they’d been exposed to the coronavirus. A similar study at Pennsylvania State University yielded comparable results, where 94 of the 283 white-tailed deer tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
Thus far there have been no reports of wild deer being sickened by COVID-19, but researchers are concerned that widespread infections within white-tail deer populations could create a reservoir of the virus that could potentially mutate within the animal and then reinfect humans with a new variant.
The CDC reports that some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to people and then spread among people, but the incidence is rare.
– David Murray, Great Falls Tribune
Contributing: The Associated Press
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