Research

Roundup: CDC on Benefits of a Later 2nd Vaccine Dose; Long COVID’s Link to Mental Health; and More

CDC: Some Can Benefit from Extended Time Between 1st and 2nd COVID Vaccine Doses

Some people can safely increase the time interval between first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines — from three weeks to as long as eight weeks, according to new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC officials said the reason for extending the time between first and second doses is based on research indicating that the longer interval can provide more lasting protection against illness from COVID. They stated that data shows 12- to 64-year-olds — especially males, ages 12 to 39 — can benefit from the longer interval, the CDC said.

Moreover, the CDC states that the longer wait may decrease the risk of an already rare vaccination side effect: a form of heart muscle inflammation — myocarditis — seen in some young men.

About 65 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to U.S. health officials.

The “mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (from Pfizer and Moderna) are safe and effective at the FDA-approved or FDA-authorized intervals, but a longer interval may be considered for some populations,” states the CDC. “While absolute risk remains small, the relative risk for myocarditis is higher for males ages 12-39 years, and this risk might be reduced by extending the interval between the first and second dose.”

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is approved in people ages 5 years and older as a 2-dose primary series, with an interval of 3 weeks between doses. The new guidance extends the time interval to as long as 8 weeks for those 12 years of age and older.

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is approved in people ages 18 years and older as a 2-dose primary series, with an interval of 4 weeks between doses. The new guidance extends the time interval to as long as eight weeks for those 18 years of age and older.

There’s more detailed guidance from the CDC here.


Long COVID Health Issues Include High Risk of Mental Disorders, Research Finds

The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled mental health issues involving social isolation, economic hardship and caring for loved ones fighting serious illness from the coronavirus. But can being infected with COVID-19 itself cause mental health issues — yet another symptom category of “long COVID”?

A study published in the journal, The BMJ, concludes that COVID can lead to a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and sleep disorders following initial infections. Researchers reviewed records of nearly 154,000 COVID patients in the Veterans Health Administration system, and compared their experience in the 12 months after initial infections with that of a separate group of individuals who did not contract COVID.

Those who were infected with COVID were 39 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety over the year following their initial recovery, compared to those without COVID during the same period, the study indicated. Those who went through COVID were 38 percent more likely to be diagnosed with stress and adjustment disorders, and 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with sleep disorders, compared to the uninfected group.

“The body of evidence on long covid—from our work and others—suggests the need to reframe our thinking about COVID-19,” wrote the senior author of the study, Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., chief of research and development at the V.A. St. Louis Health Care System, and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis.  “It is not only a respiratory virus; it is a systemic virus that may provoke damage and clinical consequences in nearly every organ system—including mental health disorders and neurocognitive decline.”

Researchers also concluded that COVID patients were 80 percent more likely to develop cognitive problems, such as brain fog, confusion and forgetfulness, compared to the non-infected group. Such symptoms have been noted in other studies looking into “long COVID” — or lingering health issues months after recovering from the initial infection.

For the study, researchers analyzed electronic medical records of 153,848 adults who tested positive for COVID between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 15, 2021. During that time, vaccines against COVID had not yet become widely available.


Study: Diets Rich in Plant-Based Foods, Less Processed Meats Can Add Years to Your Life

A healthy diet is shown to help prevent chronic diseases, especially when combined with regular exercise, weight management and avoiding habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol. A new study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, indicates that healthier eating, with a focus on plant-based diets, could extend a lifespan by as much as ten years.

The researchers reviewed many previous studies that looked at diet and longevity, alongside data from the Global Burden of Disease study, which provides data on population health from many countries.

The research team found that eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods may add a decade to life expectancy, compared to a standard American diet which contains added sugar, refined grains, and processed meat. Eating healthier could extend lifespan by six to seven years in middle-aged age adults, and by about ten years in young adults.

The researchers found that sticking to plant-based nutrition is optimal. That includes more legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), whole grains (oats, barley, and brown rice) and nuts, and less red and processed meat.

Their findings fall in line with the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, which spotlights meals low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat, while recommending significant portions of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also promotes the “good” fats from olive oil or fish. Plant-based food provide high levels of fiber, a nutrient that is key for digestive health, the cardiovascular health, and maintaining a stable blood sugar. Nuts and fish provide healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, which can help manage inflammation and control blood pressure.

“A sustained dietary change may give substantial health gains for people of all ages, both for optimized and feasible changes,” the study’s authors conclude. “Gains are predicted to be larger the earlier the dietary changes are initiated in life.”

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