Health News

Mom's budget-friendly guide to getting picky eaters to try new foods

Kids Eat in Color

(NEW YORK) -- Getting kids to eat a variety of foods is a struggle that even moms who are nutrition experts know well.

"My first son fell off the growth chart starting when he was 6-months-old," Jennifer Anderson, a registered dietitian and mom of two, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "I was standing in the pediatrician's office thinking but I'm a dietitian. How does this happen to a dietitian?"

The experience prompted Anderson to dive into research on kids and nutrition. The result is her Instagram account, Kids Eat In Color, where she gives her more than 1.3 million followers tips to get kids to try new foods.

"You may be feeding your child only fast food. You may be feeding your child only chicken nuggets. Whoever you are, you will find a place where other parents are there to welcome you and to say, 'Hey, you are doing a great job,'" Anderson said of the community among her social media following.

Anderson is also focused on providing recipes and tips that are budget-friendly for families.

She partnered with a team of experts to create the "Affordable Flavors Meal Plan," a 30-day plan to help children expand their palates while sticking to a budget of $500 a month or less for a family of four.

"We do not believe that you have to eat poorly on a budget," said Anderson. "You do have to be careful. You do have to be creative, but the food can still be flavorful. It can be delicious."

1. Serve children 'micro portions'

This tip will help reduce food waste and stretch your food budget, according to Anderson.

"Micro portions are when you serve your child a very small amount of food and then let them keep asking for more until they are full," she said. "Instead of using [a large] spoon, you would actually use something more like [a small] spoon to help your child eat their meals."

2. Learn how to cook a few basics

Learning how to cook a basic food like chicken can stretch into several meals over the course of a week, according to Anderson.

"You can buy and cook your chicken on the weekend and then you can eat it that day and you can also save the leftovers for the week," she said. "You took one purchase and turned into a resource for the entire week."

3. Don't always splurge on organic foods

Knowing when it's okay to not choose organic foods can help you get more bang for your buck, according to Anderson.

"Organic grown foods and conventionally grown foods look exactly the same when you cut them open, except that conventionally grown foods are a lot less expensive," she said. "And that's going to help your family get more variety and get more food for your dollar."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Woman carries baby for her twin sister who had hysterectomy due to pregnancy-related cancer

Courtesy Sarah Sharp and Cathey Stoner

(NEW YORK) -- When Sarah Sharp was diagnosed in 2018 with a rare gynecological cancer and told unexpectedly that she may need an emergency hysterectomy, her twin sister, Cathey Stoner, was there for her.

"Cathey rushed to the emergency room to be by my side," Sharp, now 33, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "And that was the first time she said to me, 'If you need to have a hysterectomy, I'll have your babies.'"

Just weeks earlier, Sharp, who like Stoner lives in the Nashville, Tennessee area, had been diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, a rare and fast-growing cancer that occurs in a woman's uterus.

It was a shocking diagnosis, not only because doctors told her the cancer likely came from her first and only pregnancy, with her now 4-year-old daughter Charlotte, but also because the cancer was likely to rob her of any future pregnancies.

"The diagnosis pretty much rocked my world," said Sharp, who went to her OBGYN thinking she had a miscarriage because she was experiencing bleeding and had a positive pregnancy test. "My first thought was just survival and getting through treatment."

"But it broke me," she added "because my husband and I wanted to have more kids. My daughter had just turned 1."

Sharp underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy in an attempt to beat the cancer while also saving her uterus. She was declared cancer-free in December 2018, just before her 31st birthday, but by her first checkup, in January, the cancer had returned.

She began a new course of chemotherapy and also underwent a hysterectomy, which successfully removed the cancer but left her without the hope of giving birth to another child.

"It was kind of a déjà vu moment where I found Cathey and my husband by my bedside again," said Sharp, referring to the moment a year before in the emergency room. "And that's when Cathey said, 'I'm serious this time. I will have your babies.'"

"We kind of laughed a little bit again but for me, in the back of my mind, it was something to hold onto," she said. "It was something to help me move myself forward mentally. It was hope and grace and the future all in one."

Now nearly three years after her diagnosis, Sharp is both cancer-free and preparing to become a mom again.

Her sister, Stoner, is due to give birth in August to John Ryder, the biological son of Sharp and her husband.

"From the beginning I've felt differently in this pregnancy because I know it's my nephew and not my son, and I have loved every step of the way," said Stoner, who is the gestational carrier. "I tell people, 'I'm just carrying my nephew.'"

Stoner said she and her husband, parents of a 4-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, had no hesitation about helping her sister expand her family in any way they could, whether it was Stoner as the carrier or someone else.

"We decided to knock on the doors and see if they opened," said Stoner. "There was a lot of waiting, but it went really smooth and, in October, they said we were ready to go."

By the end of last year, the two sisters were celebrating the news that Stoner was pregnant.

"To be able to go to the doctor for such a happy reason is really healing for all of us," said Stoner, who has shared every step of the pregnancy with Sharp, who has been to every doctors' appointment. "It's been an easy pregnancy so we've gotten to soak up the good stuff."

Sharp and her husband will be in the delivery room in August alongside Stoner and her husband as they welcome their son and nephew, respectively.

"We feel so unbelievably honored to be his parents and raise him," said Sharp. "A lot of love brought him here."

Sharp, an artist and architectural design representative, and Stoner, a registered dietitian, said they have learned firsthand through their journey the importance of women listening to their bodies.

They are now the co-hosts of a podcast, "Talk to Me Sister," that's focused on women's health and advocacy through the lens of their own journey.

"I'm lucky I had a twin sister who is educated in women's health and who has had babies in the past and miscarriages in the past, because had I not talked to my sister, I'm not sure I would have gone to the doctor," said Sharp of the doctor's visit that led to her cancer diagnosis. "What I've learned along the way is even if there's a light intuition that this may not be normal for me, I listen to it. it's usually my body telling me that something is off."

Choriocarcinoma, which affects 2 to 7 of every 100,000 pregnancies in the United States, has a low cure rate if it is not caught early and spreads outside of the uterus, according to the American Cancer Society.

"In the U.S., this is just a rare complication of pregnancy that many women don't know anything about unless they are faced with this diagnosis," said Dr. Alpa Nick, a Nashville-based gynecological oncologist who treated Sharp. "The most important thing is continuing your annual care and your well-women care after pregnancy. Keep your postpartum follow-up [appointment] and stay in touch with your doctor."

Nick, like Sharp and Stoner, also stressed the importance of women using their voice when faced with a diagnosis like this that threatens both their lives and their fertility.

"If fertility preservation is important, the first thing they have to do is say it out loud to their oncologist, and the earlier the better," said Nick. "With Sarah, we were able to stay focused on what her goals were and think about her cancer treatment in terms of survival, but also in terms of what she would want down the road after she survived this."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Why honeybees may be key to understanding alcohol addiction

balwan/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- The behavior of honeybees may hold the key to future studies of alcohol addiction, according to new research.

Worker honeybees that were fed alcohol-spiked food, a sucrose solution with about 1% ethanol added, for a long period of time experienced withdrawal symptoms when cut off from the solution, according to a study published Tuesday in the scientific journal Biology Letters.

Researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences observed that when access to the solution was discontinued, the bees exhibited a "marked" increase of consumption of ethanol as well as a slight increase in mortality, according to the study.

The bees would then willingly consume sugar solutions with alcohol concentrations as high as 20% and then display behaviors similar to alcohol-intoxicated humans, including impaired locomotion, foraging and learning, researchers said.

The extent of the behaviors was dependent on how much ethanol was consumed.

The results of the study demonstrated that the worker bees could develop a dependence on alcohol, especially interesting considering that naturally occurring nectar is often contaminated by alcohol that fermented from yeast, the scientists said.

Among the honeybee workers, foragers outside the hive appeared to show the greatest resistance to the detrimental effects of the alcohol, likely due to evolution as the foragers occasionally encounter ethanol in nature, according to the study.

Honeybees not only willingly consume alcohol but are predisposed to alcoholism, according to recent research.

The results of the study provide new evidence of their suitability as a model for studying alcohol addiction, researchers said. Invertebrate model species are widely used to study alcoholism, according to the study.

"To understand alcohol abuse, the utilization of animal models is essential," the researchers said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Grieving COVID-19 widow reflects on keeping her husband's memory alive, finding community

Courtesy of Pamela Addison

(PATERSON, N.J.) -- It has been over a year since Pamela Addison lost her husband, Martin, to COVID-19, but the grief is still as raw as ever.

In late April 2020, the 36-year-old New Jersey teacher found herself a single mother to the couple's two young children, Elsie, 2, and Graeme, 5 months old, at the time of Martin’s death.

“I am still grieving the loss of my husband a year later. We haven't been able to grieve properly because of COVID-19 ... it's the most painful way to lose [someone]. I didn't get to say goodbye, and that will always haunt me,” Addison told ABC News.

Martin, a speech pathologist at St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, was just 44 when he became ill with the virus in late March of 2020.

Although Martin had been otherwise healthy at the time of his infection, he developed a cough following their daughter’s second birthday, and life quickly ceased to be normal. At the time, little was known about the virus that was steadily taking hold of the country, but within a matter of weeks, Martin was hospitalized and on a ventilator.

Despite numerous interventions and efforts, Martin succumbed to the virus just over a month after he developed his first symptoms.

Every night, they kiss their Papa's picture and tell him goodnight.

Martin’s lifelong dream was to be a father, Addison said, and though caring for the couple’s young children is her greatest joy, she said it has been a struggle to be the sole parent and provider.

“My heart aches for them to know that they just have me now,” Addison said, adding that she is doing the most she can to make sure they remember their father and the deep love he had for them.

“Every night, they kiss their Papa's picture and tell him goodnight. My daughter taught my son to do that, and it's an important part of our bedtime routine,” Addison added.

When she first lost her husband, Addison said she not only felt very alone and vulnerable, but she also felt like no one around her truly understood what it was like to be a grieving young widow and a newly single parent.

It was “a very, very lonely place to be,” she said, as she struggled to find her place in a “new normal,” which no longer included her husband.

Thus, in an effort to find a community of others who could be experiencing the same grief as she has over the past year, a few months after the death of her husband, Addison founded the Young Widows and Widowers of COVID-19 on Facebook, which now includes over 600 members.

“In creating this group, I have created a community of people who understand everything we have all been through. We have bonded over our losses ... we have built friendships that are forever because of this common bond that we all share in losing our husbands, and in some cases, our wives to COVID-19.”

An analysis published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which tracks the extent of loss of kin due to COVID-19 with a bereavement multiplier, estimates that 5.4 million family members have grieved the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19 since last year. Further, a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that as of February, 37, 300 children aged 0 to 17 years had lost at least one parent due to COVID-19.

That highlights the critical importance of being embraced and feeling supported by a group of individuals undergoing similar tragic experiences, Addison noted.

“It's just a beautiful community of people that I'm so blessed to have in my life now, because any time I'm having a rough moment, and I can talk to one of them, they totally understand what I'm saying and totally get it. It's just a safe place to share all our struggles and vent and cry and laugh together,” Addison said.

The need for such communities only appears to be becoming more necessary as the country’s death toll continues to increase. On Tuesday, the U.S. marked its most grim milestone yet when it surpassed 600,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths.

We need to remember that there are 600,000 families still grieving.

“When my husband died, it was only 60,000 people, and I could never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that we would be here today. I thought it was going to get better, and clearly people are still dying,” Addison said. “Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we have lost 600,000 people. Six hundred thousand families are going through the pain and heartbreak that my family has endured this past year.”

With virus cases and deaths falling sharply across the country and vaccination rates increasing, life appears to be slowly returning to a new normal, as states move to ease restrictions.

However, Addison said, as the country reopens, the loss is only becoming more real.

"We need to remember that there are 600,000 families still grieving, who will be grieving for the rest of their lives because they've lost a person that they loved more than life itself," she said. "We have to move forward and remember them and cherish all the memories we've had ... but we will never forget what COVID did to our families."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Heat wave safety: What to know about heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion

ABC News Photo Illustration

(NEW YORK) — As a dangerous heat wave hits the West, it's important to know how to keep yourself safe, like learning the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Here are tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Wear sunscreen

Take precautions to prevent sunburn, which can make you dehydrated and affect your ability to cool down.

Use sunscreen that's SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outside. Sunscreens that say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" are best.

Stay hydrated

Drink extra fluids, and don't wait until you're thirsty.

Avoid very sugary drinks and alcohol, which can cause your body to lose more fluid, and be wary of extra-cold drinks that may cause stomach cramps.

Avoiding hot and heavy meals also can reduce your body's overall temperature.

Limit time outside

Cut down on exercise during heat waves and rest often and in shady areas.

Try to limit your time outside to when it is cooler, like in the early morning and evening.

Check the car

Never leave children in a parked car -- even if windows are cracked open.

Monitor high-risk loved ones

Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness at any time, but these people are at greater risk:

-- Babies and young children

-- Overweight people

-- Those 65 years old or older

-- People who overexert during work or exercise

-- Those who suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure and those who take certain medications, including for depression, insomnia or poor circulation

Watch for signs of illness

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

-- Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher

-- Hot, red, dry or damp skin

-- Fast, strong pulse

-- Headache

-- Dizziness

-- Nausea

-- Confusion

-- Passing out

-- No longer sweating

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

-- Heavy sweating

-- Cold, pale, clammy skin

-- Fast, weak pulse

-- Nausea or vomiting

-- Muscle cramps

-- Feeling tired or weak

-- Headache

-- Passing out

If someone shows symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, call 911, move them somewhere cooler and use towels to cool down their body.

Don't forget about your furry friends! Here are some tips from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for how to keep your pets safe in the heat:

-- Provide plenty of fresh water so they don't get dehydrated-- Don't over-exercise pets-- Never leave pets alone in a parked car-- Watch for symptoms of overheating, which include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate and drooling

Animals with flat faces, like pugs, can't pant as well and are more at risk of heat stroke. These pets, as well as older and overweight pets, should be kept inside as much as possible.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Christiane Amanpour reveals ovarian cancer diagnosis: What women should know

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- When Christiane Amanpour, chief international anchor for CNN, announced Monday she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she did so with a message to women.

"I'm telling you this in the interest of transparency but, in truth, really, mostly as a shout-out to early diagnosis," Amanpour said on her nightly show on CNN International. "To urge women to educate themselves on this disease, to get all the regular screenings and scans that you can, to always listen to your bodies and of course to ensure that your legitimate medical concerns are not dismissed or diminished.”

Amanpour, who had been off the air for several weeks, shared with viewers that she had a "successful major surgery" to remove the cancer and is now "undergoing several months of chemotherapy for the very best possible long-term prognosis."

The London-based anchor added that she felt "confident" in her prognosis against ovarian cancer, which is the second most common gynecologic cancer in the United States and the most deadly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What women should know about ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer originates in the ovaries, which make female hormones and produce eggs, or in the nearby areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum, the tissue that lines your abdominal wall, according to the CDC.

A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78, while her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Ovarian cancer can affect females of all ages and races but is most common in women ages 63 and older and is more common in white women than Black women, according to the ACS.

While early signs of ovarian cancer can be vague, the main symptoms are abdominal pain or pelvic pain, bloating and an increase in urination, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OBGYN.

"If these symptoms or others last for more than half the month you want to alert a gynecologist and, again, talk about the fact that it could possibly be ovarian cancer," Ashton said Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America.

It is particularly important for women to pay attention to symptoms of ovarian cancer and speak openly with their doctor because there is currently no reliable way to screen for the disease, according to Ashton.

In some cases, targeted use of pelvic scans and sonograms or a CA-125 blood test may be used to detect ovarian cancer, but additional testing is "not one size fits all and it is not recommended for all women," explained Ashton.

Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, according to the CDC, as was the case with Amanpour.

While there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, there are things associated with lowering the risk of getting ovarian cancer, including using birth control for five or more years, having given birth, breastfeeding, having had a hysterectomy, having had your ovaries removed and having had a tubal litigation, according to the CDC.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Three COVID-19 vaccine doses can improve immunity in solid organ transplant recipients: Study

MarsBars/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- An extra boost of a vaccine may mean more protection for organ transplant recipients in their fight against COVID-19, a new study finds.

Solid organ transplant recipients, including kidney, liver, heart and lungs, are part of a larger group of immunocompromised individuals, or those with weaker immune systems. Unlike the robust immune response and protection found in their immunocompetent counterparts, these individuals have been shown to have a blunted immune response when given COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

These clinical observations are not surprising. Immunocompromised individuals were excluded from studies of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

Due to the administration of immune-modulating medications post-transplant, frequent procedures and multiple interactions with healthcare, transplant patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19. When combined with ineffective vaccination, these patients are further susceptible to breakthrough infections and dangerous complications.

New research from Johns Hopkins University Hospital shows that there may be a way to improve COVID-19 immunity in these patients: give them a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, followed 30 solid organ transplant patients at Johns Hopkins who had received two doses of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, of either Pfizer or Moderna. COVID-19 immunity was estimated via antibody testing and was graded from no immunity to high immunity based on the level of COVID-19 antibodies found in the patients’ blood.

After two doses, 80% of these immunocompromised patients had no immunity, while 20% had “low immunity.” With the addition of a third COVID-19 vaccine, either Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer or Moderna, immunity increased in 33% of those with previously no immunity and in 100% of those with previously “low immunity.”

“This is a [study of] about 30 patients. Not a 200-patient formal trial with standardized timing and endpoints but it’s enough preliminary data to be very encouraging,” Dr. Dorry Segev, the associate vice chair of the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and author of the study, told ABC News.

“It gives me hope that transplant patients have immune systems that ultimately will be able to mount an effective response to the vaccine but might just need some help doing it. Like, for example, a third dose,” Segev said.

While the vaccine response was promising, experts note that immunity varied from patient to patient. This variability is likely dependent on patients’ transplant-associated medications and the time since their transplant.

“Those on antimetabolites,” a class of transplant-associated medications, “have a lower chance of a good antibody response,” said Segev. “Those who are closer to their transplant, and likely on a higher overall level of immunosuppression, are probably going to have a more challenging [response]. The further out from the transplant you are, the better of a chance you have of getting an immune response.”

While COVID-19 antibody testing was utilized in this study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to not recommend its use in the general public. As stated on the CDC website, “antibody testing is not currently recommended to assess for immunity to COVID-19 following COVID-19 vaccination or to assess the need for vaccination in an unvaccinated person.”

“Going to get antibody tested on your own, right now, is going to lead to more chaos than information,” Segev said.

Patients with strong immune systems are more likely to have a robust immune response to vaccines. Therefore, an antibody test that shows “no response” is likely to be a false negative.

There is immunity developed at the cellular level after infection and vaccination that is more challenging to measure. These T and B cell responses may offer protection regardless of what an “antibody test” dictates.

The CDC also warns that each antibody test is different. Some offer binary testing, a simple yes or no result, whereas others indicate a spectrum of immunity. The clinical significance of antibody testing is still up in the air for the general population. However, in specific patient populations and clinical studies, it can be extremely helpful.

“In the context of a physician discussion or a trial, testing is very important. It functions as a reasonable surrogate for what else is going on under the surface,” Segev said.

With nearly 39,000 solid organ transplants in 2020 and 17,286 in this year alone, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a significant number of patients may benefit from an additional COVID-19 vaccine. Due to low immunity, these patients already require additional doses of the hepatitis B and influenza vaccine in order to establish immunity. A third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine series would therefore not be unreasonable.

Further clinical testing is needed to better understand the use of three COVID-19 vaccines in immunocompromised patients.

“These results are too small to recommend three vaccine doses for such patients,” Dr. Vincent Racaniello, Higgins professor and physician in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study, told ABC News. “The results show a larger clinical trial should be done to assess the value of a third dose in this population.”

“My recommendation for any transplant patient today would be to get vaccinated but act unvaccinated,” said Segev. “I would not recommend for transplant patients right now to assume that they have protective immunity."

“Currently, such patients must be carefully monitored for infection and, if positive, should be treated as soon as possible with monoclonal antibodies,” Racaniello said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


During Pride Month, advocates focus on need for inclusive sex education in schools

Oko_SwanOmurphy/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- When Gabby Rodriguez was in high school in Texas, she said the only sexual education she received was about abstinence and referred to sex between a male and a female only.

Four years later, as a senior in college, Rodriguez identifies as bisexual and says she often thinks about how her high school sex education affected her life many years later.

"I think for me, not having sex education and not knowing that it’s okay to explore, really hindered me in knowing who I was," Rodriguez, 23, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "I was so scared to be who I was."

Rodriguez is now part of a growing movement of people working to evolve how children are taught sex education in schools to make it more inclusive and affirming.

As campaign director of #MyLASexEd, an initiative that promotes sex education reform in Louisiana, Rodriguez said she wants to see students taught sexual health, consent, sexualities, sexual preferences and more.

"Once I found myself, I found that I had a voice and it was pretty important, the things that I needed to say," she said. "And I realized I wasn’t alone, that there were a lot more people with me who didn’t have the education."

Only seven states and the District of Columbia have state laws or some kind of regulatory guidance requiring sex education be provided to students that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ+ youth, according to a report released ahead of Pride Month by a coalition of 10 policy and health organizations, including Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign.

Fewer than 8% of LGBTQ+ students have ever received LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education in school, and for LGBTQ youth who are Black, Indigenous and other people of color, inclusive sex education is even less accessible, according to the report, "A Call to Action: LGBTQ+ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education," which analyzed hundreds of sex-education studies.

There are also six states that require only negative information be provided on homosexuality in sex education, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights research organization.

"Many of us have grown up in an environment where we have never been able to be our true selves," said Preston Mitchum, policy director at Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE) and a co-author of the "A Call to Action" report. "For me in particular, growing up as a Black queer boy in poor neighborhoods, I wasn’t talked to about any of this."

Mitchum said he has observed how many of his peers, including himself, came out well after graduating from high school, saying, "The lack of community that many of us were afraid to build out of fear still disheartens me to this day."

What inclusive sex education looks like in classrooms

To be more inclusive, Mitchum notes that sex education needs to include depictions of LGBTQ+ people, not rooted in stereotypes and caricatures, use gender-neutral or expansive language -- like they, them and partner -- and cover everything from healthy relationships to sexual assault prevention.

Brittany McBride, associate director for sex education at Advocates for Youth, a sexual health-focused nonprofit organization, works with school districts across the country in developing inclusive and comprehensive sex education curriculums.

She said much of her work is focused on educating educators about the purpose of sex education as well as what it means to teach it in an inclusive way.

"People think that when we talk about sex education we’re talking about the parts that are covered up by a bathing suit and also pregnancy," said McBride. "Sex education is like a life skills course at this point. It’s so much more than just anatomy and how to prevent an unintended pregnancy."

Sex education teaches students skills like how to communicate effectively, how to end a relationship, how to practice consent and how to practice healthy relationships, according to McBride.

"In the past, what wasn’t prioritized was making sure that things were inclusive for our LGBTQ+ students in all of this because all we talked about was preventing pregnancy and STIs," she said. "It’s important to understand that LGBTQ+ students can also get pregnant and get STIs and they also have a right to this information like every other student in the classroom."

"That is what I’m working towards when I say inclusive sex education. I want it to be affirming. We want our educators to be able to provide a space where all of our students feel seen and reflected," McBride said. "They’re getting the information they actually need versus what is being served as the status quo."

The key to an inclusive curriculum, according to McBride, is making the topics of gender and sexuality differences more than just a single lesson.

"It’s not just, ‘Okay, today is going to be the day when we have LGBTQ+ class,'" she said. "These are essential skills that need to be integrated in everything that we’re doing."

"Instead of saying boyfriend and girlfriend, say partner. Remove gender binary pronouns from the curriculum when you’re using examples. Look to include examples of families of all types throughout the entire curriculum," McBride continued. "It’s about integrating these changes into every single delivery of every class as opposed to having a one-day. This is the day to check off this box."

The push for change

Across the country, 39 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education and/or HIV education. Nearly 30 states require that abstinence be stressed in sex education classes, and 19 states require instruction on the importance of engaging in sexual activity only within marriage to be provided, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The type of sex education that is funded federally can swing with each presidential administration from abstinence-focused, or sexual risk avoidance -- teaching students only to avoid sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) -- to comprehensive sex education that includes evidence-based information about contraception as well as abstinence.

Advocates of inclusive sex education are pushing for Congress to pass the Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act (REAHYA), which was introduced in May and would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants for comprehensive sex education. The bill also mandates instruction that is "Inclusive of young people with varying gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations," according to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Advocates point to data they say shows that accurate and inclusive sex education is important for students' mental and physical health.

Youth ages 15 to 24 account for almost half of new sexually transmitted infections in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. has been continually falling, but remains "substantially higher than in other western industrialized nations," according to the CDC.

When it comes to mental health, LGBTQ+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth, according to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention services to LGBTQ+ youth.

"I see people in my DMs who are like, ‘[My school] didn't teach us anything," said Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an Oregon-based OBGYN who has gone viral for answering sex education questions on social media. "That’s unfortunate that they feel they have to go online and not [learn it] in a curriculum."

"When kids are not getting information or not feeling welcomed at school, they have way worse outcomes," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Vermont relaxes COVID-19 restrictions after crossing major vaccine milestone

Sean Pavone/iStock

(New York) -- Vermont crossed a major vaccine milestone Monday as more than 80% of the state's eligible population has at least one shot, according to state health department data.

As of Monday afternoon, over 444,000 Vermont residents over the age of 12 have received at least one vaccine dose, the Vermont Department of Health said. Vermont is the first state to cross this threshold, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. Phil Scott celebrated the occasion by bringing the Green Mountain State one step closer to its pre-pandemic life. He signed an order that removed the mandate for masks, social distancing and capacity limits for indoor places.

"Our work continues, but Vermonters can be proud of what they've done," Scott tweeted.

Vermont businesses can still issue COVID-19 related restrictions without any penalty from the state if they wish to do so, according to the governor's order.

More than 390,000 residents, roughly 70% of the population, are fully vaccinated, according to the Vermont Health Department.

As of Monday, the national average for vaccinations among Americans 12 and up is 61.4% with at least one dose and 51.1% with both doses, according to the CDC. Seven other states have over 70% of their population above the age of 12 with at least one dose, according to the CDC.

Health experts and the governor credited the high vaccination numbers for greatly reducing the number of Vermont coronavirus cases.

Vermont opened up vaccinations to all eligible residents in April. The seven-day average of new cases has dropped from a peak of 213 at the end of March to just eight on June 13, state data showed.

Scott encouraged all eligible residents to get their shots if they haven't already.

Vermont is following in line with the rest of the nation with declining vaccine demand. The seven-day average of new daily doses administered in the state has shrunk from 8,933 on May 26 to 3,187 on June 14, state data showed.

Three Vermont counties -- Essex, Orleans and Caledonia -- are the only ones where the rates of eligible residents with one shot are below 70%, according to the state data. Essex County is the lowest with 57% as of Monday.

Anyone who needs help scheduling a free vaccine appointment can log onto vaccines.gov.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Novavax COVID-19 vaccine: How it works and other things you should know

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Maryland-based biotech company Novavax said Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine was shown to be highly effective in clinical trials, which puts it on track to become the fourth vaccine available in the United States.

Given the abundance of vaccines in the U.S., Novavax's vaccine may be available first in low- and middle-income countries through COVAX, the global vaccine sharing alliance. "At least in the foreseeable future, we’re going to have a bigger impact" outside the United States, Stanley Erck, president and CEO of Novavax, told the Wall Street Journal.

To date, Novavax has pledged 1.1 billion doses of its vaccine to COVAX.

While the vaccine still needs to be greenlighted by U.S. regulators, Novavax is on track to manufacture 100 million doses per month by the end of the third quarter and 150 million doses per month by the end of the fourth quarter. The company said it intends to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration by this fall and plans to share more details from its Phase 3 trials as that data becomes available.

Here's what we know about Novavax so far.

How does the Novavax vaccine work?
Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine is a two-shot formula that can be stored at refrigerator temperatures and utilizes different technology than the United States' three existing vaccines.

Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA technology that teaches cells to make a protein that prompts an immune response. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a viral vector, or a modified version of a different virus, to prompt cells to produce the protein that triggers an immune response.

In contrast, Novavax is a protein subunit vaccine, meaning it uses a fragment of a harmless protein of the virus that's grown in a cell culture and stimulates an immune response.

How does Novavax compare to the other vaccines available in the US?
The Novavax vaccine was shown to be 90.4% effective overall, with 100% efficacy against moderate and severe cases of COVID-19, according to the company.

That puts Novavax on par with the two-shot Pfizer (95%) and Moderna (94%) vaccines and more effective than the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was 66% effective in clinical trials.

Does the Novavax vaccine work against variants?
Yes. The Novavax vaccine was 93.2% effective against circulating "variants of concern" and "variants of interest," according to the company.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines "variants of concern" as variants showing evidence of being more transmissible, causing more severe disease or causing significant reduction in antibody neutralization, which may make vaccines or treatments less effective. "Variants of interest" is a lower classification. It refers to variants that may have the potential to affect transmission, diagnostics or the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments, according to the CDC's definition.

How do Novavax's side effects compare to other vaccines?
Novavax's side effects are relatively mild and similar to commonly reported side effects for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The most common side effects reported in Novavax's trials were injection site pain and tenderness lasting less than three days, as well as fatigue, headache and muscle pain lasting less than two days.

ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Nature-based or lab leak? Unraveling the debate over the origins of COVID-19

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(NEW YORK) -- An accidental lab leak, or the dark side of mother nature?

That fundamental question -- about the origins of a COVID-19 pandemic that has taken nearly 4 million lives -- has sparked a political firestorm in the U.S. and threatened the already fraught ties between Washington and Beijing.

So far, multiple investigations have yielded few definitive conclusions. And as infection rates and deaths tail off in many developed countries, the Chinese government's perceived lack of cooperation into those investigations has prompted some of the world's leading virologists to reconsider the possibility that this pandemic could have been caused by a lab accident.

In the early days of the pandemic, experts largely felt that the most likely explanation was that the virus jumped directly from animals to humans -- like all other pandemics and epidemics have in the past. Attention turned to a closely quartered wet-market in the central Chinese hub of Wuhan, freshly scrutinized for the exotic wild fare, which offered ample opportunity for an intermediary host. But while environmental samples from the market came back positive for the virus, animal samples that were tested ultimately did not.

Conservative political leaders in the U.S. have long seized on an alternative explanation for the virus' spread, some insinuating that the virus could have been engineered as a weapon at a famous coronavirus research center in Wuhan.

With no proof available, accomplished scientists and public health officials stand on both sides of the debate. But all parties agree on the stakes: Uncovering the truth could help prevent the next global pandemic.

Now, at the behest of President Joe Biden, the U.S. intelligence community is scrambling to deliver answers, prompted by the depth of the potential evidence still untapped -- and despite concerns that the answers may never be found.

Tune into Nightline on Monday, June 14, for an ABC News investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Key clues, a decade in the making

To understand more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, experts look back nearly a decade -- to an abandoned copper mine in southwestern China. In 2012, a team of miners cleaning out bat excrement fell ill with respiratory illnesses. Three ultimately died.

Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology flocked to the site, where they "sampled the viruses that were found in those bat droppings in those caves, and brought them back to their lab," explained David Feith, a former State Department official who helped investigate the origins of COVID-19.

One of the viruses that researchers retrieved from the mines and brought back to their lab in Wuhan is about 96% similar almost identical to SARS-COV-2 -- a point that advocates of the lab-leak theory have highlighted as crucial evidence.

Virologists say that 96% similar virus is a cousin -- not a twin -- of SARS-CoV-2. But its existence reveals that scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology could have been within striking distance of discovering the virus that ultimately caused the pandemic.

"Of all the places in the world where there could be a natural outbreak from transmission, from an intermediary host in the wild, what are the chances that that would ... happen in Wuhan, the town with the only level-4 virology institute in all of China?" said Jamie Metzl, an adviser to the World Health Organization and former national security official in the Clinton administration.

The Chinese government and leaders at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have vehemently denied that the virus came from their lab.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to the rekindled interest in investigating the lab-leak theory in late May, accusing the Biden administration of playing politics and shirking its own responsibility, and saying Biden's order showed that the U.S. "does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing."

Metzl and other lab-leak theory advocates have pushed for further investigation, and the need to determine whether Wuhan scientists working on the coronaviruses may have inadvertently contracted the disease and spread it to the community.

The possibility of such a leak was a distinct possibility, even to Shi Zhengli, a lead researcher in the Wuhan facility who is colloquially known as "Bat Woman" because of her decades-long research of coronaviruses. Shi told Scientific American last year that when the COVID19 virus first emerged in Wuhan, she remembered wondering, "Could they have come from our lab?"

After testing the novel coronavirus' viral genomes, Shi said her team determined that they did not match any samples from the lab, and dismissed the premise.

"That really took a load off my mind," Shi told Scientific American. "I had not slept a wink for days."

Scientific consensus or dangerous groupthink?

Despite some fringe skepticism -- often emanating from voices with a long record of criticizing China -- the idea that COVID-19 jumped from animal to human somewhere in nature became the overwhelming consensus. Political voices in favor of the lab-leak theory, particularly from President Donald Trump, served to polarize the issue further and largely pushed the scientific community away from a willingness to consider the lab-leak theory.

Early in the pandemic, the then-president and his allies sought to shift blame for the poor U.S. response toward China -- seeking to re-brand the coronavirus as the "China Virus" or the "Kung Flu." With Trump weaponizing accusations of a lab leak, even some within his administration recognized it could undermine solid evidence supporting that theory.

"There was so little space, even for Democrats, even for progressives, to ask the questions," said Metzl.

In February 2020, a group of 27 prominent scientists penned a forceful letter in The Lancet condemning any "conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin."

Several leading virologists argued that if the disease had been explicitly engineered in a lab, there would be evidence of that in its genomic sequence. But because there is no such evidence, "the weight of probability would very, very, very strongly indicate that this was a natural event," said Dennis Carroll, chairman of the Global Virome Project and a signatory of The Lancet letter.

A World Health Organization-led team that visited Wuhan in January of this year released their long-awaited findings in March, echoing a similar stance: A lab leak was "extremely unlikely," the report said, and determined that animal-to-human transmission through an intermediary host remained a more plausible explanation. But ultimately, the team ruled nothing out.

"Most likely the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is going to be linked to this large wildlife trade," said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University. "And we know that there are many farms and other sources of these animals that are trapped in the wild and brought to big cities like Wuhan and then distributed to other places."

In fact, newly published data shows just how often wildlife is bought and sold in China, with researchers recently documenting the trafficking of 38 wildlife species and more than 40,000 individual animals in Wuhan's markets from May 2017 to November 2019.

But as Garry readily concedes, scientists haven't yet found that animal host -- a gap in the narrative that has emboldened some lab-leak theorists. Researchers still have yet to identify an animal source, which Garry said "could take years."

Further complicating matters: The director of the Chinese CDC has also said that samples taken from animals at the wet-market tested negative for the virus, meaning finding the natural host could prove more elusive than initially expected.

The void of definitive evidence has prompted calls among some, including former high-ranking members of the Trump administration, to question the virus' natural origins -- and to continue investigating.

"Everybody got into this groupthink," said Metzl, "and that was the story."

New evidence supporting lab-leak theory?

Among the circumstantial evidence that could support the lab-leak theory, some researchers have pointed to the fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology has in the past conducted a controversial type of scientific research called gain-of-function.

"They were doing what some people have called gain-of-function research -- seeing how the world's scariest viruses might infect human cells," Metzl said.

Gain-of-function research is a technique used by scientists to enhance aspects of an organism. It is common in some fields as a means to study genetic variations and better understand biological entities -- but its use in certain settings to enhance the lethality or transmissibility of a virus has become controversial.

"The idea was, 'Let's understand these viruses so we know what we're facing,'" Metzl said. "The counterargument was, we're playing with fire. If it turns out that COVID-19 stems from an accidental lab incident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan CDC, it will turn out that that fear was certainly well-founded."

The fear that researchers' work within the lab could be tied to the pandemic was bolstered in April 2020 when the Washington Post reported that U.S. embassy officials who visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology in recent years sent two cables back to Washington about "inadequate safety at the lab" tied to its gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.

Then, in January 2021, a State Department report revealed that several Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers fell ill in the fall of 2019 with "symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses" -- though it's not clear if they had COVID-19, the flu, or possibly another illness. ABC News confirmed from a separate U.S. intelligence report that three researchers sought hospital treatment in November of 2019.

Shi Zhengli insists that she tested all her workers for COVID-19 antibodies, and all tests came back negative.

David Asher, a former U.S. official who led the State Department's probe into the coronavirus' origins, said China's refusal to allow access to American investigators suggests it had something to hide.

"We're talking lights out. There was no cooperation and there still is no cooperation," Asher said. "So the cover-up could be worse than the crime if the crime wasn't really suspiciously horrible."

ABC News also reported in June 2020 that satellite images showed dramatic spikes in auto traffic around major hospitals in Wuhan in the fall of 2019, suggesting the novel coronavirus may have been present before the outbreak was first reported to the world.

Meanwhile, ABC News reached out to all 27 of the scientists who penned the February 2020 letter "denouncing conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin." Of the 12 who replied, one now believes a lab leak is more likely and five more said a lab leak should not be ignored as a possibility. Four others stood by their stance in the letter, and another called for a complete and thorough investigation.

Dr. Charles Calisher, a Colorado State University virologist and the lone signatory to completely change his position, told ABC News that he now believes that "there is too much coincidence" to ignore the lab-leak theory and that "it is more likely that it came out of that lab."

In addition to the circumstantial evidence pointing to a possible lab leak, allegations that the Chinese government has not been transparent has weighed on the minds of those seeking to examine all possible explanations.

Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who traveled with the WHO to Wuhan for their investigation, said the Chinese government cooperated to an extent, but said "it was not so easy" to gather information.

"Was everything you would wish to see on the table? No," she said.

For U.S. government investigators, "interest spiked considerably in March of 2020 because we were dealing with the very concerning problems of the Chinese government's cover-up of what was happening in Wuhan," said Feith, the former State Department official under President Trump.

"We were concerned that they were not accepting U.S. offers of help that would have involved U.S. scientists and other international scientists getting in on the ground to be able to learn things," Feith said. "We were concerned that the information that the Chinese authorities were giving to the outside world through the press and through the World Health Organization was unreliable-- and might have been deliberately misleading."

After the WHO released its March report casting doubt on the lab-leak theory, the organization's chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said gaps in their probe merited further investigation, and that the team had "expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data."

"I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough," Ghebreyesus said. "Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions."

"As I have said," he added, "all hypotheses remain on the table."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Novavax announces its COVID-19 vaccine is over 90% effective against symptomatic disease

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(LONDON) -- American biotechnology company Novavax announced Monday that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective against symptomatic disease in late-stage clinical trials.

Results from the Phase 3 trial, which enrolled nearly 30,000 participants across 119 sites in the United States and Mexico, show Novavax's recombinant protein-based vaccine, called NVX-CoV2373, provided 100% protection against moderate and severe cases of COVID-19, with an overall efficacy of 90.4%, according to a company press release.

"Today, Novavax is one step closer to addressing the critical and persistent global public health need for additional COVID-19 vaccines," Stanley Erck, president and CEO of Novavax, said in a statement Monday. "These clinical results reinforce that NVX-CoV2373 is extremely effective and offers complete protection against both moderate and severe COVID-19 infection."

Researchers observed a total of 77 cases of COVID-19 in the randomized, placebo-controlled, observer-blinded study. There were 63 cases in the placebo group and 14 in the vaccine group. Ten were moderate and four were severe, all in the placebo group. All cases in the vaccine group were mild, Novavax said.

Sequence data are available for 54 of the 77 cases, showing 35 were coronavirus strains classified as "variants of concern" by the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while nine were "variants of interest" and 10 were other variants not considered "of concern" or "of interest" by the CDC. Novavax's two-shot vaccine demonstrated 93.2% efficacy against the variants of concern and the variants of interest, which collectively made up 82% of the sequenced cases. Thirty-eight of those cases were in the placebo group and five were in the vaccine group, according to the press release.

The vaccine, which can be stored at refrigerator temperatures, also demonstrated 91% efficacy among high-risk populations, including people over the age of 65 as well as those under 65 with certain comorbidities or who have frequent exposure to COVID-19. Sixty-two of those COVID-19 cases were in the placebo group and 13 were in the vaccine group, Novavax said.

Preliminary safety data from the study show the vaccine was generally well-tolerated, with serious and severe adverse events low in number and balanced between the vaccine and placebo groups. No single adverse event occurred in more than 1% of the vaccine group. The most common symptoms in the days after the first and second dose were injection site pain and tenderness, fatigue, headache and muscle pain, according to the press release.

"These data show consistent, high levels of efficacy and reaffirm the ability of the vaccine to prevent COVID-19 amid ongoing genetic evolution of the virus," Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax, said in a statement Monday.

Novavax said it expects to share further details of the Phase 3 trial results as additional data become available. Further analyses of the trial are ongoing and will be submitted to peer-review journals for publication. Meanwhile, the placebo-controlled portion of the study continues in the 12 to 17 age group, which recently completed enrollment with 2,248 participants, according to the press release.

Novavax has not yet requested authorization for NVX-CoV2373 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Maryland-based company said it intends to file for regulatory authorization in the third quarter of 2021. Upon regulatory approvals, the company remains on track to reach manufacturing capacity of 100 million doses per month by the end of the third quarter and 150 million doses per month by the fourth quarter, according to the press release.

"Novavax continues to work with a sense of urgency to complete our regulatory submissions and deliver this vaccine, built on a well understood and proven platform, to a world that is still in great need of vaccines," Erck said.

Last year, as part of the U.S. effort to develop, manufacture and deliver COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government awarded $1.6 billion to Novavax to complete late-stage clinical development.

"Our vaccine will be a critical part of the solution to COVID-19," Glenn said, "and we are grateful to the study participants and trial staff who made this study possible, as well as our supporters, including the U.S. government."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What to know about the Delta COVID-19 variant first detected in India

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(NEW YORK) -- The Delta variant, which was first detected in India and which now makes up 6% of sequenced COVID-19 cases in the United States, has prompted recent calls from President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci for more Americans to get vaccinated.

While prevalence of the variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is still low in the U.S., its prevalence has doubled since last week, rising from 3% to 6%, according to a report from HHS.

In India, where the virus exploded in April and May and sparked a public health crisis, as well as in the United Kingdom, the Delta variant is now the dominant strain. "We cannot let that happen in the United States," Fauci said during a Tuesday news briefing.

"Get vaccinated," he added. "Particularly if you’ve had your first dose, make sure you get that second dose. And for those who have been not vaccinated yet, please get vaccinated."

As of Thursday, 52% of Americans had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 43% were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While experts agree that vaccination is the best defense against all circulating versions of the virus, there are still many unanswered questions about the Delta variant. Here's what we know so far:

Is the Delta variant more transmissible than the original version of the virus?

Most likely, but some virologists say we need more information to be sure.

The World Health Organization classifies the Delta variant as a "variant of concern," meaning it may be associated with increased transmissibility.

Health officials in the U.K. went further, issuing a risk assessment in early June, indicating that they believe the Delta variant is more easily spread from person to person than the Alpha variant, which was first detected in the U.K. and spread rapidly there until the Delta variant took over. According to the assessment, "it is highly likely that Delta is significantly more transmissible than Alpha."

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, doubled down on that message during an interview with ABC News' David Muir on Wednesday, calling the Delta variant "the most contagious variant we've seen so far."

Vincent Racaniello, a microbiology and immunology professor at Columbia University, argued that we should interpret the infectiousness of the Delta variant cautiously. The variant's rapid rise also has to do with human behavior and relaxed restrictions and shouldn't be strictly attributed to the virus being more transmissible.

"Preliminary results say you do see this increased transmissibility, but we still need to collect more information," said Nevan Krogan, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Most of the data we have on the Delta variant is in India, Krogan explained, which isn't tracking variants as closely as the U.K. There should be more data available now that the Delta variant is dominant in there.

"We need more data, and not just tracking and epidemiology data, but we also need molecular data," Krogan said. "The more we understand about this virus and how it mutates, the better off we're going to be in the future."

Krogan and his team are working to make that a reality. On Monday, the team posted their research online about the Alpha variant. Their research, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, suggests that once the Alpha variant gets inside a cell, it suppresses the immune response compared to other variants. That could explain why the Alpha variant spreads so rapidly. Now Krogan's team is doing tests on the Delta variant to see if it has similar immune response suppression.

"We're actually running those experiments as we speak," he said. "We're going all in on all these variants."

Are vaccines effective against the Delta variant?

Yes and for those who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it's important to complete the two-shot regimen.

A study the British government conducted in April and May, which analyzed more than 12,000 sequenced COVID cases, found Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to be highly effective against the Delta variant, although efficacy was lower for the Delta variant than for the Alpha variant of the virus. According to the study, Pfizer vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease two weeks after the second dose and the AstraZeneca vaccine was 60% effective two weeks after the second dose. Since the research was conducted in the U.K., the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine wasn't included.

"For those properly vaccinated, it looks like there isn't an issue," Krogan said.

But for people who only received one dose of the vaccine, "effectiveness was notably lower," the study authors note. Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were about 33% effective against the Delta variant after one dose.

"There’s poor protection after a single dose," Fauci said on Tuesday, and stressed the important of getting the second shot for the two-dose vaccines.

As for the mechanism driving double-dose protection, Racaniello thinks the world has focused too much attention on spike protein mutations and antibody response, and not enough on T-cells, another part of the immune system which also defends the body against infection. "I don't care if you've got Alpha, Beta, Gamma or Delta, those T-cells are still going to be able to prevent serious disease and those T-cells are made by vaccination," he said.

Vaccination is also the key to stopping the virus from circulating and more variants from popping up, according to experts. The longer it takes to get the country and the world vaccinated the more chances the virus has to mutate.

"We're going to be dealing with these other variants in the future that the vaccines may or may not be able to control," Krogan warned. In his view, it's not time to be complacent. "We've got to get everybody vaccinated, but we need to understand how these viruses are mutating and overcoming our defense mechanisms," he said. "The virus has always been a couple of steps ahead of us. We've got to get a step ahead of it."

ABC News' Ivan Pereira, Brian Hartman Eric Strauss, Sony Salzman, Arielle, Mitropoulos, John Brownstein and Nadine Shubailat contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sharp uptick seen in suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls: CDC

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(WASHINGTON) -- After an initial drop in suicide-related emergency department visits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reporting that suspected teenage suicide attempts rose in 2021, with the increase driven by a dramatic uptick among teenage girls.

The CDC said in a report released Friday that there was a 51% rise in suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 from Feb. 21 to March 20, 2021, compared to the same time period in 2019 -- prior to the pandemic.

Among boys, there was a 4% rise in suspected suicide attempts over the same period when comparing this year to 2019. The authors noted that this does not mean there was necessarily an uptick in suicide deaths.

Although Friday's CDC report did not speculate on why this might be the case, experts interviewed by ABC News said it could be due to gender differences in psychiatric manifestations, development and socialized behaviors.

Psychiatrists say it's not clear yet why the pandemic seems to have hit women's mental health harder, but it could be a combination of factors.

"Adolescent females have been spending more time at home due to physical distancing and remote schooling allowing them to express mental health distress and talk more about suicidal thoughts and behaviors than ever before," said Dr. Christine Yu Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "[This has prompted] adult figures in their lives to take them to the [emergency department]."

Those going through puberty, a crucial time in youth, may be particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.

"Before puberty, the rate of depression and anxiety is the same for males and females, but after puberty it increases for females," said Dr. Yalda Safai, a psychiatrist in New York City and contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit. "All the risk factors for depression have been exaggerated by the pandemic."

Further research is needed to understand racial and ethnic trends in this patient population. Race and ethnicity data was not available when the study was conducted, according to the CDC.

"Certain communities and populations (i.e., American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ) have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and may be experiencing different suicide-related trends than the general population," said Moutier. "We need more data to identify and examine trends among these specific populations."

Friday's CDC report catalogued a significant increase in emergency department visits among teenage girls, though some of that could be explained by the fact girls are more likely to disclose suicidal thoughts and seek medical care.

"Females are more likely to self-report self-harm or suicide attempts than are males, which may lead to a reporting bias, and a disproportionate number of females coming to the ED for these events," said Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and adviser to Brightline, a behavioral health platform for youth.

Meanwhile, Chaudhary said, the CDC study included a broad range of self-harm and suicide-related issues that tend to yield emergency department visits -- not all of which are immediately life-threatening or true suicide attempts.

Regardless, psychiatrists agree that teens need more support. Care for at-risk teens should not be limited to the emergency room, Moutier said. Suicide attempts drop 30% when patients get the treatment they need, and health care providers check in on them periodically in the months after being discharged, according to research published in JAMA Psychiatry.

"It is critical to strengthen care transitions so once an individual leaves the ED they don't fall through the cracks," said Moutier.

The CDC is urging parents and families to watch out for the signs of suicide risk, limit access to harmful substances and firearms at home, and enroll youth in programs that increase social connections and teach coping skills.

"Youth across the world have been struggling with their mental health for a long time, with rates of anxiety and depression climbing at a faster pace since the onset of the pandemic," Chaudhary said.

As social connectedness is a key protective factor against suicide, it is important, now more than ever, to reach out to those who may be struggling.

"A simple phone call or text message letting them know you care may be just what they need," said Moutier.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also reach the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or the Crisis Text Line by texting "START" to 741741.

Natalie S. Rosen, M.D., is an internal medicine resident physician at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit. Sony Salzman is the coordinating producer of the Medical Unit.

Dr. Divya Chhabra, a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


These cities have reached Biden's 70% vaccination goal -- and beyond

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(WASHINGTON) -- Seattle has become the first U.S. city to fully vaccinate 70% of eligible residents.

In May, President Joe Biden set a goal for 70% of U.S. adults to receive at lease one dose of the vaccine by July 4 in the sprint to end the coronavirus crisis.

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced Wednesday that Seattle went a step further and became the first “major American city” to hit that percent with fully vaccinated residents, also adding that 78% of Seattle's population aged 12 and older have received their first dose of the shot.

"It would not have been possible without our residents’ commitment to protecting themselves, their loved ones, and our entire community," she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Denver has crossed the milestone of administering at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to 70% of its population.

Denver passed the 70% threshold Wednesday morning, and a total of 61.2% of eligible residents aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment. Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement that thanks to the vaccination rate, "We've been able to responsibly reopen our city."

El Paso, Texas has also passed the milestone, with 72% of the county's eligible population aged 12 and up receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state's vaccine dashboard.

Some of the nation's largest cities, including San Francisco, San Jose and Boston, are also racing toward the threshold.

San Francisco is one of the cities with the most robust vaccination efforts, with 69% of the population 12 and older fully vaccinated and 79% with at least one dose, according to the city's COVID-19 tracker.

Other cities have also surpassed -- or are nearing -- Biden's 70% mark.

In Santa Clara County, California, which includes the city of San Jose, 68% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 79% of residents are partially vaccinated, per county data. San Diego County has partially vaccinated 75% of its population aged 12 and up, and in Los Angeles County 64.9% of residents are partially vaccinated.

In Boston, 62.1% of the population 12 and older is partially vaccinated. In Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, 69.7% of the population 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, per county data.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday the nation's capital is nearing the goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated -- with 68.3% of residents 18 and older inoculated -- as D.C. is set to fully reopen with no restrictions Friday, according to its vaccine tracker.

So far, 13 states have reached 70% of adult residents receiving at least one dose. They are: Pennsylvania, Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Washington, Maryland and California.

When it comes to states, Vermont is leading the nation in getting shots into the arms of its residents, with 54% of the state fully vaccinated, followed by Massachusetts at 53.18%, Connecticut at 51.06% and Maine at 49.83%. Rhode Island and New Hampshire follow behind, according to data from John Hopkins. That data reports Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi ranking the lowest among all states in percentage of fully vaccinated residents.

Nationally, 42.5% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and 51.8% has received at least one dose, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

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