Health News

jfmdesign/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Clorox wipes are still in short supply due to increased demand as Americans continue to clean off frequently used surfaces to combat the spread of coronavirus, but another household cleaner has been added to the list of effective products.

Pine-Sol Original Multi-Surface Cleaner received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "for kill claims against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on hard non-porous surfaces," the Clorox Company announced in a press release about its cleaning product.

After testing from a third-party laboratory, the disinfectant was proven effective against the virus with a "10-minute contact time on hard non-porous surfaces."

The EPA advises that when using any of the registered disinfectants on its list to follow all label directions "for safe, effective use," which includes the amount of time the surface should be visibly wet with the product.

Chris Hyder, vice president and general manager of the cleaning division at The Clorox Company said in a statement that they hope the new approval will "increase access to disinfectants that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19."

Check out the full list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against the COVID-19 virus here.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bill Oxford/iStockBy PRIYA AMIN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Nine months into the global pandemic, scientists are still piecing together the mystery of the first crossover event, in which the coronavirus moved from bats to an intermediary animal and, eventually, to humans.

By comparing the patterns of mutations from the new coronavirus to other known viruses, researchers have been able to create an evolutionary history of the related viruses, and found a "single lineage responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic." Surprisingly, they also found that the closest known ancestor of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has actually been living in bats for 40-70 years.

"While the new virus looks like coronaviruses that circulate naturally, it's unique in ways we didn't know about before the pandemic," said Dr. David Robertson, head of viral genomics and bioinformatics at the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow.

Robertson and his team study how coronaviruses recombine in identifiable ways, which allows them to study the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Scientists still aren't sure what happened in between bats and humans, but they say it's likely the virus circulated for a while in a pangolin or another intermediary animal.

Despite some lingering questions about how and when the virus made its journey from bats to humans, Robertson said his research on the virus' genetic code proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virus came from nature, and that by studying the virus' origin, we can better prepare for the next pandemic.

According to their recent study, which is awaiting peer review, humans are almost the perfect hosts for SARS-CoV-2, as the virus has "apparently required no significant adaptation to humans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic." As a result, the virus naturally evolved in bats and was almost immediately ready to be spread through human contact.

"As part of our understanding of how this virus emerged, where it emerged from and what took place, this study adds an important component to an evolving story," said Dr. John Brownstein, the chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

"It shows it wasn't some big recombination of viruses that led to the pandemic -- it was actually a virus that had been circulating for a long while in bat populations that had properties that were conducive to human infection," he added.

"If it had been made in a lab, it would have looked like viruses we already knew about, more closely related to the SARS virus," he said.

Yet, conspiracy theories about the virus' origins persist. In the most recent example, an anti-Chinese government group linked to Steve Bannon published a swiftly rebuked paper alleging that "laboratory manipulation is part of the history of SARS-CoV-2." The paper makes a number of bold accusations, including that the virus was made in a lab controlled by the Chinese government. Virology experts widely agree, however, that none of the authors' claims can be supported.

"There is nothing in this document that supports the idea that it is man-made," said Stanley Perlman, M.D., Ph. D., a professor at the department of microbiology and immunology, and the department of pediatrics at the University of Iowa.

"In addition, no one would have known how to construct a pathogenic virus, and too little is known to predict pathogenicity," Perlman said.

"There is a great deal of experimental support, from multiple groups, on the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2," said Vincent Racaniello, Ph. D., a Higgins professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Animal-to-human transmission of viruses has been responsible for many diseases, like the bubonic plague or the West Nile virus, and have caused other recent outbreaks, such as the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

"This is a story that you have over and over again, where you have these viruses circulating in animal populations, and there is some moment where these viruses were able to infect someone," said Brownstein.

To prevent a future pandemic, scientists say our best bet is to better understand the link between animal populations and human populations.

"Landscape, fragmentation, climate change, transportation or illegal wildlife trade: All these factors are creating new interfaces for humans and animals. That probably was part of the reason for this pandemic," said Brownstein.

Having those scientific conversations will likely be the key to stopping a future pandemic -- next time, before it starts.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Meyer & Meyer/iStockBy DR. ALEXANDRIA LAMBERT, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A growing chorus of experts is calling on Russian scientists to explain potential discrepancies in the data supporting the country's COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V.

Russia was the first country to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine, but it did so before completing proper scientific studies to show it is safe and effective.

Now, with questions about Russia's vaccine swirling, experts interviewed by ABC News expressed concern about the country's swift action to disseminate the unproven vaccine to low and middle-income countries, noting that if the vaccine were to prove a failure, it could fuel vaccine skepticism globally.

Russian scientists from the Gamaleya National Research Center published their findings of an early-stage study in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, on Sept. 4, showing that the vaccine was safe.

But molecular biologist Dr. Enrico Bucci said he quickly developed "several concerns" upon looking at the data. Bucci, who heads a science integrity company called Resis, in Italy, published an open letter on his blog about Russian's vaccine study. The letter quickly gained additional signatories, and on Sept. 7, the scientists submitted their formal complaint to The Lancet.

The letter highlighted data irregularities in the study that appear to be duplicated. It has now been signed by a total of 38 experts.

"We do not allege misconduct, we just want them to provide additional data," said Dr. Konstantin Andreev, one of the signatories and a microbiologist and biophysicist affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Northwestern University.

Another researcher who signed the open letter, Dr. Donald Thea, the director of the Center for Global Health & Development at the Boston University School of Public Health, said, "What we need to see is the data. Science is based on transparency and accuracy and precision -- even more when it comes to a global vaccine effort of such huge proportions and importance."

The Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Sputnik V has also not completed the large Phase 3 randomized control trials that are required in the United States and many other countries prior to vaccine approval. These studies traditionally compare the vaccine to a placebo in thousands of people to determine whether it works in preventing disease, and to further assess its safety profile.

"The thing is that they try to start distributing the vaccine even before completing Phase 3 clinical trials, and the Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials described contain only a very, very small number of patients, only 76 patients, [an] enormously small [amount] for such an important topic," said Andreev.

Russia was able to initially skip the Phase 3 clinical trials due to differences in international regulatory agencies.

As Russia prepares mass production of Sputnik V, there are significant global health implications to be considered. Although international scientists have warned that no one truly knows yet if the vaccine works, Russia is already accepting purchase orders from low and middle-income countries eager to obtain a coronavirus vaccine.

In a recent article in The Lancet, Kirill Dmitreiv, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, confirmed that Russia has received international requests for one billion doses of its vaccine.

Russia is talking to at least 20 countries about exporting the vaccine, including Brazil, Cuba, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. If the vaccine is given to people before it's properly tested, however, the consequences could be catastrophic.

"If what we end up with is people in poor countries getting untested vaccines, first of all, ethically, that's a disaster," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's School of Public Health. "Second, it will have very long implications for the health of those people and their confidence in vaccines. So, I think it's critically important that we don't do this anywhere, but particularly we don't do it in low-income countries."

Other experts cautioned that the global distribution of an ineffective vaccine could promote vaccine hesitancy and create a false sense of security that could further propagate COVID-19 transmission.

"I'm hopeful that it will work, but if it doesn't, it will send huge mixed signals to the global community," Jha said.

"People will be very, very hesitant to take the COVID vaccine," he said, if the Russian vaccine ends up not working.

"If we are lucky, it will be, you know 70-80% effective," Jha said.

"They are going to think they are protected and they very well might get sick and then die from it," he added. "So, it is absolutely essential to figure out how effective it is and then communicate that to people. But the problem is, if you haven't tested it, you don't know how effective it is. And if you don't know how effective it is, you don't know what to tell people, and you're going to create this huge false sense of confidence that could be very, very dangerous."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


hermosawave/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- With less than two months to go before the U.S. presidential election, many Americans are worried about voting safely during the pandemic.

"As the pandemic continues to spread, it’s vital that we balance the right for citizens to vote along with the importance to maintain their health and safety in doing so," said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, vice chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s (IDSA) global health committee and emerging leader in biosecurity fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, during a media briefing held on Sept. 2 by IDSA, a community of doctors and public health experts who specialize in infectious disease.

Public health leaders agree that voting by mail is the safest method for minimizing the risk of COVID-19 infection. But it may not be feasible for all voters to use mail-in ballots, according to Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

At the IDSA media briefing, Pérez noted that some voters' need for certain services that are best-provided at polling places, like language translation or aid for the visually or physically impaired, represents one drawback of mail-in voting.

"In this time of crisis, we need to make sure that voters have options," Pérez said.

In-person voting remains an important option for countless Americans who may not be able to vote by mail.

Although many people are concerned about the safety of in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts say that with the proper precautions, risks can be minimized. The IDSA developed safety guidelines for those who need to vote in person, which can be accessed here.

It will be especially important to focus on controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to the elections.

"Our best chance of having a safe election is that all citizens play a role in helping to reduce community transmission," said Kuppalli.

That means practicing good hand hygiene, wearing masks, maintaining physical distances of at least six feet from others and abstaining from social gatherings.

Below are answers to some common questions about voting safely during the COVID-19 pandemic:

How dangerous is it to vote in person?

"When it comes to COVID-19, there is no activity that is zero risk," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, FIDSA, infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, in an email to ABC News.

"The riskiest aspect is likely if there is a line where people cannot social distance," he added.

Can in-person voting be safe?

"Voting in person can be relatively safe if people are able to social distance, wear face coverings, and avoid congregation," said Adalja.

What can voters do to minimize their risk of getting COVID-19 at the polls?

Our experts offered these tips:

  • Be prepared to come early and to wait outside as long as possible.
  • Maintain six feet of distance between yourself and other voters or poll workers.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Refrain from touching your face.
  • Ask poll workers any questions you have about safety measures that are in place.
  • Any sick, disabled, or high-risk voter should engage in curbside voting if available.

What about voters who have COVID-19 or COVID-19 positive members of their households?

Individuals with known COVID-19 or who have been exposed to COVID-19 should continue self-quarantining. In many states, these individuals may qualify for exemptions for mail-in ballots, according to Pérez. She encouraged those with COVID-19 to apply for a vote-by-mail exemption, even if they live in a state with strict voting guidelines.

Should I consider volunteering to be a poll worker?

There is a push for new volunteers as most of the country’s poll workers are in high-risk categories because of their age. Consider volunteering if you are young and healthy, but Kuppalli suggests speaking to your health care provider first regarding whether it is safe for you to volunteer.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(ATLANTA) -- Public health officials working to make a potential COVID-19 vaccine available to all Americans said they need more than $25 billion to make it happen, but the continued impasse between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats on another coronavirus relief package has stalled that much-needed funding.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Bob Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, raised the alarm Wednesday, saying that the agencies have depleted $600 million in previously appropriated COVID relief aid and added they still don't have enough funding to fulfill the goals of getting a free COVID-19 vaccine to everyone in the country.

Redfield said at this point the CDC does not have the resources to distribute a vaccine across the country, including infrastructure to accommodate transporting and storing doses at cold temperatures.

"We need substantial resources and the time is now to get those resources out to the states, and we currently don't have those resources," he told members of a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday.

But President Donald Trump painted a different picture at a White House news conference Wednesday evening.

Asked by a reporter about Redfield saying earlier, under oath as he testified before the Senate, that a vaccine will be "generally available to the American public" in the "late second quarter, third quarter 2021," Trump deemed it "incorrect information."

"I don't think he means that," Trump said. "I don't think he -- when he said it, I believe he was confused."

"I saw the statement," he added. "I called him and I said what did you mean by that? And I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question probably."

The White House hopes to begin distributing doses of a coronavirus vaccine within 24 hours of emergency approval, and states have been told to be prepared by November. But Redfield told lawmakers earlier Wednesday not to expect widespread distribution so soon -- before clarifying his comments later, following Trump's press briefing.

"If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021," Redfield told senators.

Trump also contradicted Redfield at his briefing when he said the CDC director "made a mistake" and misunderstood the question when he said that masks are more effective than a vaccine.

"Face masks are the single most important public health tool we have," Redfield said during his testimony to the Senate while holding up his surgical mask.

"Number 1 it's not more effective than a vaccine," Trump said during his briefing from the White House hours later. "I called him about it. Those were the two things I discussed with him. If you asked him, he would probably say that he didn't understand the question because I said to him. I asked him two questions. The one we covered and the mask question."

The president added, "It's not more effective. I think there's a lot of problems with masks. Vaccines are much more effective."

Asked about these contradictions, Redfield said in a statement through his spokesman to ABC News that he was not referring to the time period in which COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans but that the timeline was really his estimate for when Americans would have their vaccinations completed.

"I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a COVID-19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life. The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds," Redfield said.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have insisted on a sweeping fifth stimulus package -- at least $2.2 trillion -- but Senate Republicans and the White House have demanded that the number be far lower. Trump threw a curve ball to his party leaders on Wednesday though, tweeting, "Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."

Redfield said in his testimony it will take somewhere between $5.5 billion and $6 billion "to get all 64 jurisdictions ready to implement" his agency's distribution plan.

And Kadlec, who works with the efforts to manufacture vaccines ahead of potential authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, said they need an additional $20 billion to have 300 million doses of a vaccine available.

"We have basically worked to basically do simultaneously the clinical trials, as well as doing the manufacturing of vaccines. So, if and when -- whether that's two weeks, three weeks, two months or four months -- once a clinical trial is complete and that scientific data is reviewed by the FDA and approved, then we have vaccine potentially available immediately to us," Kadlec said of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's plan to expedite vaccine allocation.

"We need to figure out a way to do this. ... Now is the time," Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told ABC News Wednesday. Blunt suggested that perhaps Congress could agree to some piecemeal approach, but so far, Democratic leaders have refused.

Lawmakers on the subcommittee that oversees HHS funding also raised concerns that money they appropriated for COVID-19 response was being used for other things, including concerns from Democrats about reports that the agency is soliciting a $250 million contract for a communications firm to convey a hopeful message to the American public about the end of the pandemic.

"We have two deputy secretaries of HHS before us today and neither one of them can testify as to whether that contract was awarded, why it was awarded, what the reasons for it were," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said during the hearing.

"It's increasingly impossible for any of us to know who's in charge," he added. "We've got two people at the highest echelon of HHS that can't answer questions about a massive contract that's been awarded."

Redfield said the CDC was not involved in that contract or working to develop its message, just that the agency was told to transfer money to HHS.

"CDC received the direction from HHS and OMB (the Office of Management and Budget) to transfer $300 million to HHS," Redfield told Murray.

"We haven't been involved in this, other than the extent that the funds were transferred to HHS and so I assume that they're going to come back to the different subject matter experts, but again we haven't been involved in that," he said. "You know if given the opportunity that CDC would obviously want to put forth the accurate messaging for the American public."

ABC News' Anne Flaherty and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Elle Fanning recently made light of a skin condition many of her fans can relate to.

The Maleficent star embraced her eczema on Monday by showing off her most recent flare-up in an unedited photo.

"Eczema but make it eye shadow," Fanning captioned the image.

The 22-year-old actress allowed fans to see an uncensored look at her skin which earned her praise from her 4.8 million followers.

Fanning's post has also garnered more than 700,00 likes with many people chiming in on how they related to her.

"I have the same problem," wrote Ali Corbin. "I'm allergic to certain ingredients in eye shadow! Gives me eczema."

Other famous faces came forward to commiserate with her about their struggles with eczema, such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan, who commented, "I feel seen."

"I am the itchiest person in the world," Fanning laughed back in response.

Eczema, also know as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that causes red and itchy rashes, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is no cure but there are preventative measures people can take, such as moisturizing daily or using gentle soaps, to prevent future flares.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


artisteer/iStockBy CHRIS CIRILLO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When Robert and Janice Beecham were married on April 15, 1974, they vowed to stick together through sickness and health.

It was a promise twice tested: Robert suffered a stroke and was in the hospital on two of their wedding anniversaries, in 2014 and again 2016.

And he was on the verge of missing a third: In late February, Robert said he started feeling chills, lost his sense of taste and was dealing with phlegm "as thick as paint." He was hospitalized again as their 46th anniversary approached, this time with COVID-19.

"The night [before I was diagnosed], I prayed because I was so sick," Robert said. "I told God I was ready to come home."

Janice was dealing with her own health issues. She had just had surgery for breast cancer and was about to undergo her first chemotherapy treatment when she got the text that her husband had tested positive for COVID-19.

"I started crying hysterically because I was like, 'I got to get to this man,'" she said.

But Janice said the staff at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas wouldn't let her see Robert.

"I was trying to explain to them, 'I've always been there for him through everything,'" she said. "I didn't want him alone."

Fortunately, Robert wasn't alone. After he transferred to the floor with COVID-19 patients, he met Dr. Satyam Nayak, a hospitalist at Parkland Health & Hospital System. Nayak is also an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The two went for multiple walks around the tactical care unit and developed a friendship.

"I told him, 'It's not fair,'" Robert said. "'My anniversary is coming up and I'm in the hospital again.'"

Robert told Nayak that he wanted to get home to his wife in time for his anniversary.

"You could close your eyes," Nayak said. "And the way they talk about each other, you could feel the love."

Robert's condition began improving after a week in the hospital. Nayak spoke with his team, and they came up with a plan that could potentially get Robert home in time for his anniversary.

First, Nayak asked Robert to draw him a picture of his house floor plan.

Robert started drawing and Nayak mapped out where in the house he could go. The Beechams had a spare bedroom and bathroom, which allowed him to quarantine from his wife for 14 days.

They also had a window that faced the outdoor patio, where Janice could sit and to talk to Robert.

Robert agreed to the plan. After a week in the hospital, Robert was home in time for his 46th anniversary.

"I was so glad to see him. My heart was happy," Janice said. "When you're together all the time, it's hard when someone is not there."

Although the Beechams usually celebrate by taking road trips, this year's anniversary was still special, as Robert and Janice were able to speak on the phone and through a crack in the bedroom door.

On their anniversary, Robert called Nayak to thank him.

"My wife and I were sitting in the car," Nayak said. "We go into tears because, especially as a physician, we always see patients at their worst times, and it was one of those moments where I got to hear him at his best times with his wife celebrating his anniversary."

Robert has fully recovered from COVID-19 and Janice is now receiving radiation treatment for her breast cancer.

"Tomorrow is not promised," Janice said. "But I thank God that our tomorrow is a promise for us."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Prostock-Studio/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Pregnant Black and Pacific Islander women in San Francisco will get a $1,000 monthly supplement during and after their pregnancy in a first of its kind initiative meant to help improve health outcomes for both the mom and the baby.

Starting next year, 150 women will receive the supplement for the duration of their pregnancy and the first six months of their baby's life. The new initiative, called the Abundant Birth Project, has the goal of eventually providing the supplement to women for up to two years after pregnancy.

"We're really trying to reduce stress at a critical moment in a mom's life and a child's life," said Dr. Zea Malawa, a board-certified pediatrician who leads San Francisco's Expecting Justice initiative and who shepherded the project through two years of development. "Because we know that if we intervene in that window, the potential benefits can last a lifetime for that child."

In San Francisco, Black infants are almost twice as likely as white infants to be born prematurely, and Pacific Islander infants have the city's second-highest preterm birth rate. Black families also account for half of the city's maternal deaths and over 15% of infant deaths, according to the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, which announced the Abundant Birth Project on Monday.

Nationwide, Black women die during pregnancy or in the months after giving birth two-and-a-half times more often than white women and three times more often than Hispanic women, according to data released in January by the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is often because Black and Pacific Islander women lack access to quality health care, experience income inequality issues and are victims of systemic racism, experts say.

"When we see these disparities in birth outcomes, a lot of times people attribute that to Black and Pacific Islander people not caring about their health or being generally in poorer health or engaging in behaviors like drinking and smoking, but the data simply doesn't back that up," said Malawa. "We see in a lot of studies over the last several decades that when you control for those factors, we still see that Black women have adverse birth outcomes in comparison to their white counterparts, and frankly any of their race counterparts."

"One of the things that was clear to me was that strictly medical interventions were not going to be adequate for closing the gap," Malawa said of developing the Abundant Birth Project.

The idea to help pregnant women in San Francisco through cash, as opposed to additional programs or different medical care, came from both looking at the data and from putting Black and Pacific Islander women at the center of decision-making.

"We learned from the [Black and Pacific Islander] mamas in our steering committee, and for those of us that identify as Black what we know from our personal lives as well, that financial issues can be very stressful in a city of such great income inequality in particular," said Malawa. "The median income among Black families in San Francisco is less than the national median income, and we live in an extraordinarily expensive city."

"Pacific Islander families are also overwhelmingly concentrated in the lowest income neighborhoods of San Francisco, so it's not surprising at all that these are the kinds of [poor health] outcomes that we see," she said.

The monthly supplements, which will be paid for through private donations and some public funding, will come without any restrictions on how the women spend the money, a condition meant to empower the women, according to Malawa.

"There is a lot of stigma unfairly assigned to low-income women of color and in particular low-income Black women around receiving benefits," she said. "When we invest in low-income families, we need to remove the stigma, because that is also an investment in our economy and in our future well-being," she said.

"Everyone can benefit from a generation of kids who are born healthy and happy," added Malawa.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


narvikk/iStockBy DR. DAVE HARRISON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As the possibility of a widely available COVID-19 vaccine steadily approaches, initial limitations in supply have left experts worldwide asking: Who gets the vaccine first?

The World Health Organization and its appointed Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, have released a worldwide vaccine distribution plan -- it pushes back on so-called vaccine nationalism, the idea that each country should prioritize its own citizens.

Instead, the WHO touts a global approach, prioritizing vaccination among the most vulnerable people everywhere.

"The first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all the countries, rather than all the people in some countries," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva on Friday. "Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it."

The WHO's proposed vaccine distribution framework ensures all countries access to the novel coronavirus vaccine once it becomes available. Participating upper- and middle-income countries, also called "self-financing" countries, will provide funding for the vaccine accelerator program, abbreviated COVAX, knowing that the long-term goal is global prosperity.

Seventy-eight wealthier countries have endorsed the program, with Germany, Japan, Norway and the European Commission this week expressing an interest in participating in the COVAX facility as self-financing countries. So far, a total of 170 nations intend to participate in COVAX, representing about 70% of the world's population. The United States is not among them.

"The idea behind the COVAX facility is that the world community unite in an enlightened and self-interested way to both incentivize and then distribute the vaccine so that there's no country in the world where no vaccines are available right from the beginning," said Dr. Ruth Faden, Ph.D., M.P.H., founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute for Bioethics. "The countries that come in who are self-financing are essentially helping themselves by helping the world."

In addition to strategizing an equitable distribution strategy among countries, the WHO's framework also examines vaccination priorities within each country.

By comparison, last week a committee that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed four sequential phases of vaccine prioritization within the U.S., beginning with high-risk health care workers, people with serious medical conditions and seniors living in crowded facilities.

The WHO guidelines don't include the order in which certain groups would receive the vaccine, but the plan does highlight certain vulnerable groups as a higher priority for global impact, with some flexibility based on each country's unique needs.

"We specifically did not say which groups should be prioritized first, second and third. That will come later. Not too long from now, but that will come later," continued Faden, who consults as a member of the working group that helped draft the framework but does not represent the international agency.

Local transmission patterns, the general quantity of vaccine supplies and a nation's infrastructure all will influence distribution tactics, Faden added. These will likely change between now and when a vaccine is approved, so as more information becomes available, the SAGE group will then begin prioritizing specific groups.

The framework's flexible approach is perhaps exemplified in the way children will be considered for vaccination.

"There's tremendous focus in our values structure around the negative impact that the pandemic has had on the well-being of children -- there's 1.5 billion kids out of school," Faden said. "It's just staggering, globally, the number of children whose lives have been disrupted. The goal is to get kids in school, full time, as quickly as possible.

"As the vaccine becomes available, it may be that the first-line strategy is to vaccinate teachers and school staff and not children, if only because the data will come first in adults."

In the United States, Pfizer/Biontech recently announced plans to expand testing to adolescents as young as 16.

"The WHO framework is particularly notable for its emphasis on global equity," Faden explained, "with specific objectives aimed at wealthy countries. ... The framework considers not only the public health impact of vaccine allocation, but also the social and economic impacts."

Dr. Dave Harrison is a pediatric cardiology fellow in Boston and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit. Sony Salzman, the unit's coordinating producer, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


deepblue4you/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As the California wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic rage on in tandem, they may pose a serious double threat.

"Now we're battling two public health crises," Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S., a pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, told ABC News.

And it gets worse: The two forces of nature may interact with each other.

"When we have public health concerns from wildfires to hurricanes, we worry about worsening spread of the virus," said Galiatsatos.

Wildfire smoke causes air pollution by creating particulate matter, microscopically small particles that may bypass filters in the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs. These particles can cause airway inflammation, leading to increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, aggravation of underlying respiratory conditions and increased risks for hospitalization and death from pneumonia.

"Ongoing studies will give us more information on wildfire smoke and COVID-19, but we do know that air pollution makes COVID-19 worse, especially if you have underlying conditions," said Simone Wildes, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Health and ABC News Medical Unit contributor.

The combination of airway inflammation caused by irritants in smoke plus underlying conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease create a "perfect storm" for poor COVID-19 outcomes, she added.

"Even if you have great working lungs, if you breathe in remnants from fires, your lungs may be impaired and ill-prepared to fight off the virus," said Galiatsatos.

Previous studies have shown that during wildfires, affected areas see a substantial increase in emergency room visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses (like asthma or emphysema) and cardiovascular conditions (such as heart attacks and strokes). Now, experts are concerned that the wildfires may add to the pandemic's strain on California's hospitals.

"Hospitals are going to have to treat a lot of breathing problems as a result of damage from fire exposure. Capacity will be stretched," said Wildes.

As people are forced to flee from the fires and take refuge together, social distancing efforts may be compromised. Shelter crowding is a major concern, she said, but so are the effects of inhaling toxins from wildfire smoke.

"The big thing is social distancing is going to be hard, but you have to balance immediate danger, like needing to get people to safety from a fire, with the overall danger of spreading infection. The important thing is to get back to social distancing as soon as you are able," she said.

Similarly, Wildes explained, "Staying indoors is a double-edged sword now."

"If your house is too close to the fire, then you have to evacuate, but if you're not so close, it's safer to stay indoors and protect yourself from the smoke," she said.

Unfortunately, if you do have to go outdoors, the cloth masks that are recommended for reducing COVID-19 transmission won't keep you safe from the effects of air pollution.

"N95 masks work best in fires, but because of the pandemic, we have a shortage, which is another double-edged sword," Wildes said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines for staying safe while the COVID-19 pandemic overlaps with devastating wildfires. Checking air quality reports frequently is essential. The CDC recommends creating a cleaner air space at home, if possible, as well as adhering to social distancing and respiratory and hand hygiene practices as best as you can if you do have to go to a public disaster shelter.

Because COVID-19 and smoke inhalation can result in similar symptoms -- shortness of breath, sore throat, cough -- Dr. Wildes recommends discussing any concerning symptoms with your health care provider to see if COVID-19 testing is recommended.

"The major thing to remember is that if people don't catch the virus, they can't spread it. Now is the time to do everything you can," said Galiatsatos.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s engineering department showed ABC News' GMA Investigates how fit and placement influence the effectiveness of face masks.

“We tried to see how different ways of wearing the mask would affect the amount of droplets that escape,” said Dr. Sid Verma, an assistant professor of ocean and mechanical engineering.

To conduct the demonstrations, researchers retrofitted a mannequin to release droplets through the nose and mouth, simulating a cough, sneeze or speaking. The droplets, made from a water and glycerin mixture, were then highlighted by a green laser beam.

The popular blue surgical, non-medical mask was placed loosely on the mannequin’s face. The researchers purposely did not press down on the internal nose clip.

“There were no droplets that were able to pass through the material,” said Verma. ”But we noticed that there were droplets escaping, primarily from the gap along the top edge of the mask.”

When researchers pressed down on the internal clip, contouring the mask to the curves of the mannequin’s face, they reported fewer particles escaping, although they saw an increase in particles that leaked from the sides of the mask, by the cheeks.

“The main thing to keep in mind is make sure it fits snugly on the face and any metallic wires or strips that are present, you should always try to press it down so it contours well to your face,” according to Verma.

Researchers also demonstrated the “half-mask” trend, when the mask is worn below the nose, only covering the mouth.

“We see droplets escaping, everywhere,” said Verma during the demonstration.

“When you’re half-masking, you’re keeping your nose exposed, which makes it easier for the virus particles to enter and begin its infection,” according to Dr. Jay Bhatt, an ABC News medical contributor.

Bhatt explained that half masking is a risk to both the person doing it and those around them, because virus particles can be released through the nose as well, and if a mask is not worn over the nose to block them, the particles can be released freely into the air.

From their observations of the demonstrations, researchers reported that particles escaping from the top of the mask usually start moving backwards, behind the mannequin. The particles can easily be carried to the right, left or behind a person, said Verma, depending on the ambient air flow conditions in the room.

“That’s why it’s so important to keep practicing social distancing even when everybody’s using a mask,” he said.

The homemade mask, made with multiple layers of cotton quilting, was also included in the series of demonstrations.

Researchers had previously tested this type of homemade mask in an earlier study, published in the journal Physics of Fluids. In that study, which compared different styles of face coverings, the homemade mask with two-layers of cotton quilting blocked the most droplets in comparison to the bandanna, a loosely folded handkerchief and a cone style mask.

In this demonstration, particles were visibly streaming from the top of the homemade mask, which did not have an internal nose clip.

“When quality masks restrict the flow of droplets through the material, these droplets tend to get redirected to wherever there’s small gaps or openings in the mask,” said Verma.

The mask that showed the least amount of escaping particles and droplets was the N95 mask. Researchers attributed a multitude of reasons for this, including a heavy metal clip that closes the gap very effectively, two straps over the head to secure the mask as opposed to ear loops and a rigorous custom-fitting process. But they also cautioned that this type of mask is not for general public consumption because it should be reserved for health care workers and that the mask itself is very uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.

“We've come to regard masks as part of our daily life. And so it's ultimately really important to balance the issue of effectiveness versus comfort when we're wearing masks,” said Bhatt, who was the former chief medical officer of the American Hospital Association.

He stressed that these types of resources, such a N95 masks, should be reserved “for colleagues of mine on the front line.”

According to a recent model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the widespread use of masks could prevent 100,000 COVID-19 deaths by the end of the year.

“The most important takeaway is masks do restrict the spread of droplets, but they are not perfect. They don't reduce the risk of transmission to zero,” said Verma. “This is why it's so important to still keep practicing social distancing.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Courtesy Abe PenaBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Before Abe, Gus and Rudy Penas' beloved mother died of complications due to diabetes and kidney failure, she made her sons promise her that they would lead healthier lives.

Nearly five years later, all three brothers have each lost at least 100 pounds and started their own business delivering healthy food to people in their hometown of Houston.

"That really opened my eyes, that I needed to get it together," Abe Pena, 35, the oldest brother, told ABC News' Good Morning America of his mother's death. "She always told me to take care of myself and I couldn’t let her down."

Abe Pena took the lead of caring for his brothers, who were in their early 20s and late teens when their mom died. Their father had left the family a few years earlier, so the brothers were on their own after their mother's death when it came to taking care of themselves financially as well as physically and emotionally.

"We lost our family house about a year after our mom died," he said. "We slept on friends’ couches and in our car until we could get back on our feet again."

The brothers were helped by a complete stranger who heard about their situation and gave them $4,000 to put toward a house.

From there, they each worked through the depression and shock of losing their mom to start to fulfill the promises they'd made to her.

"My mom was in her early 50s when she passed away, and I thought I didn’t want to be in my mom’s predicament," said Gus Pena. "If I have kids, I want to see them grow. I want to know my grandchildren. I want to live life to the fullest."

The brothers motivated each other to exercise and to eat healthy, along with supporting Abe Pena's dream to open a healthy food delivery business, an idea he first put in action when he started cooking healthier meals for their ailing mother.

"She gave me a list of what she was supposed to eat and I would cook for her and try to make her healthy foods taste better," said Abe Pena. "I started reading labels and getting into macronutrition and then I started meal prepping."

He started a business, Abe's Fitty Foods, that offers homemade, pre-packaged meals. As he and his brothers continued to lose weight, they also continued to grow the business, which their mom encouraged before her death.

"She told me, ‘Don’t give up. Keep at it in life. Take care of your brothers for me. Your idea of Abe’s Fitty Foods is going somewhere,'" recalled Abe Pena. "She made me promise, and I did."

Rudy Pena, 24, the youngest brother, said his memory of his mom always encouraging him is what continues to push him to be his best today. He went from around 320 pounds at the time of her death to 215 pounds today.

"I think most people don’t understand a weight loss journey is a journey," he said. "You go up and down, not straight down."

"My piece of advice is to keep trying," he added.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Bexar County, Texas, has over 40,000 people who have survived COVID-19 infections -- but only a few hundred of those patients have donated plasma, according to health officials.

Now, authorities are looking to entice those patients with some cash.

Justin Rodriguez, the Precinct 2 county commissioner, said the county has secured $150,000 from the federal government to fund a new stipend system to encourage residents to make plasma donations.

"It’ll be somewhere between $50 and $100 per donation," Rodriguez told reporters.

The county, which includes San Antonio, has had nearly 49,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 992 related deaths, according to its health department. The plasma has been used in treatment for COVID-19 patients but it is not a cure for the virus.

Rodriguez said the stipend program is still being worked out, but plans are to roll it out by the end of the month. He added that patients who hold onto their proof of donations could get back pay.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — As doctors and scientists continue their real-time pursuit of information surrounding COVID-19 and its effect on the heart, a new set of findings may influence how college athletes who contracted the virus approach sports and exercise -- even after their symptoms have long disappeared.

Now, researchers from Ohio State are publishing new data that suggests up to 15% of healthy college athletes show signs of heart inflammation as they recover from COVID-19.

The connection between COVID-19 infection and heart problems was established early on in the pandemic, but the majority of information so far comes from the most vulnerable populations: hospitalized patients and those with chronic conditions.

Some weeks ago, as some colleges pressed onward with their seasons and others paused their athletic programs entirely due to spikes in cases, researchers at Ohio State University decided to take a closer look at the MRI scans of 26 college athletes who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

They were looking for signs of a type of heart inflammation called myocarditis, which can be caused by infections and is thought to be responsible for 7-20% of sudden cardiac deaths in sports. These events are exceedingly rare, but have tragic consequences.

"We were getting this information early on in the COVID crisis about cardiac involvement in hospitalized patients," said Dr. Saurabh Rajpal, an assistant professor of cardiology at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children's Hospital, a cardiac MRI specialist and one of the authors of the study.

"Athletes perform exercise at a much higher level and have higher incidence of sudden cardiac death than the general population," he said. "We just thought: What would be the best test to find out if some of these athletes had inflammation in their heart?"

The athletes included in the study represented football, soccer, lacrosse, basketball and track. Twelve of the athletes reported mild symptoms while others were asymptomatic. Those who were symptomatic had fully recovered at the time of their cardiac MRI, which was performed anywhere from 11 to 53 days after a positive COVID test.

Four of the athletes -- about 15% -- had signs of inflammation to the heart muscle. However, experts caution these results don't necessarily mean athletes who have recovered from COVID-19 are in grave danger.

The MRI findings described in the study are only one factor in a very complex process of diagnosing serious heart problems such as myocarditis. Doctors also use blood tests, symptoms and echocardiograms to guide their decisions. And in the study of these 26 college athletes, every one of these other findings were normal with the exception of mild viral symptoms in some athletes.

As pressure mounts to resume college athletics, all eyes are on the experts with one simple question: How will we know when it's safe for competitive athletes to return to sports?

"The athletes [in the study] had already recovered or had no symptoms," said Dr. Eugene Chung, a cardiac electrophysiologist at University of Michigan and author of A Game Plan for the Resumption of Sport and Exercise After Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Infection, also published in JAMA Cardiology earlier this year.

"But with those MRI findings and the uncertainty about what they mean, at this time, I would recommend at least three months of exercise limitation," said Dr. Chung, who was not involved in the Ohio State study.

Chung said coaches and doctors should lean on existing return-to-play guidelines for myocarditis to guide their decisions about athletes who have recovered from COVID-19 and have inflammation detected with an MRI. The myocarditis guidelines in both the U.S. and Europe also recommend a minimum of three months away from strenuous competition.

Although a three-month hiatus from sports might disappoint athletes, all of these recommendations are in the interest of their safety. Before returning to full activity, repeat MRI tests and a number of other tests may help illuminate whether there are long-term concerns.

"We do have expectations for improvement and we do plan to re-scan them anywhere between a six-week and three-month window," said Rajpal.

For patients with suspected COVID-myocarditis, Chung also recommends additional testing prior to returning to play including an exercise test and a home rhythm monitor.

Many college football teams across the nation will kick off their season this weekend, but the Big 10 Conference -- which includes Ohio State -- will not be among them, as the conference leadership cited unknown health risks associated with the pandemic.

Will the findings in these 26 athletes influence any upcoming recommendations with regards to a safe return to sports practices?

"Not yet," said Chung. "But it does underscore the need to study the effects of COVID-19 on the heart, short term and long term, with proper control groups. That will put us in the best position to modify guidelines."

"This can be considered a call for more information and more data," said Rajpal.

Cardiologists interviewed by ABC News emphasized that this study and all of the discussions surrounding it apply only to high-level competitive college athletes.

"The last thing we want is for people to not exercise. We want them to go back to exercise, but in a cautious, slow and graduated manner," said Rajpal, referring to people who have recovered from COVID-19 and might be worried about their heart health. "Be aware of their bodies and their symptoms and seek consultation."

Dr. Dave Harrison is a pediatric cardiology fellow in Boston and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alena Kravchenko/iStockBY: KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — As restaurants attempt to keep their kitchens open amid the pandemic, a new study has linked a possible increased risk of infection to dining out.

The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined close-contact exposures contributing to the spread of the virus, and it found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have reported eating at a restaurant within 14 days of infection compared with those who tested negative.

Dr. Kiva Fisher, lead author of the study, which looked at symptomatic outpatients from 11 U.S. health care facilities, told ABC News that "exposures and activities that make it difficult to wear masks and maintain social distancing, including going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking, may be a risk factor for COVID-19."

Fisher suggested that both customers and employees implement "protective steps to reduce potential exposures to COVID-19 during on-site eating and drinking" such as "encouraging employees who are sick to stay home, requiring frequent employee hand-washing, requiring masks and offering options for delivery and pick-up.”

"It's also important for customers to take prevention steps when dining out, such as wearing a mask when not eating or drinking, staying at least 6 feet apart from others and washing hands frequently," she added.

Dr. Jake Deutsch, founder and clinical director of Cure Urgent Care in New York City, told ABC News that proceeding with caution when dining out is still important -- he advised not mingling with other customers, for example -- but to remain optimistic when following COVID-19 safety recommendations.

"Specific protocol should continue including social distancing, using barriers between tables and having staff wearing masks at all times," he explained. "To some degree we should be confident that we're doing what we should, given the risk.”

Dr. Alexandra Lambert, a contributor the ABC News Medical Unit, added that because the study's results were based on self-reported behaviors the data may not be telling the whole story. Lambert also noted that those in the study also may have engaged in other activities that exposed them to COVID-19 before or after dining out, and that different establishments may have been enforcing safety measures better than others.

Deutsch also said that people going out to eateries without symptoms is "the No. 1 issue" because people are asymptomatic and "75% of the patients I see with COVID don't have symptoms, and those with symptoms are typically very mild."

Ultimately, Fisher explained, the study shows that restaurant-goers need to continue being cautious and aware of their surroundings.

"We assessed other activities," she added, "such as shopping, gatherings in a home, using public transportation, or going to an office setting, salon, gym, or church or religious gathering, and did not find differences between adults with and without COVID-19."

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