In the news / Viruses

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According to the Centers For Disease Control, common side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine include tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. Dr. Elizabeth Connick, UArizona Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and BIO5 member, weighs in on factors such as genetics, age, and sex as contributing factors behind a person’s response to receiving a vaccine. Dr. Connick explains the double-edged sword that women have more robust antibody responses than men, are more likely to have reactions to the vaccine, but are also less likely to get hospitalized and succumb to COVID than men.
 
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If you got the Pfizer vaccine, will you really need to get a third shot within a year? The CEO of Pfizer said that’s likely the case, however, a local expert says not so fast. Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, BIO5 member and expert immunologist with the UArizona College of Medicine says that Pfizer and Moderna each released data showing no drop-off in efficacy. The wildcard then becomes whether or not there’s a new variant that appears, that more substantially evades the immune response than the ones that we know about right now.
 
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At the most recent UArizona COVID-19 status briefing President Robert C. Robbins urged students to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by April 16 to reach full vaccination before summer travel. Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology in the College of Medicine – Tucson and BIO5 member, joined President Robbins to explain the basics of COVID-19 antibodies and the testing program. Dr. Bhattacharya said the study will help scientists determine how long immunity – either from infection or vaccination – can last, how many antibodies are required to protect from the virus, how age affects the immune response to infection or vaccination, and whether symptoms after infection or vaccination correlate with antibody levels.
 
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Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines provide good protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. But how long does that last? Will you need a booster shot? Researchers including Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, BIO5 member and associate professor of immunobiology at the University of Arizona explains that the vaccines will likely provide at least some degree of protection for a long time because there are so many layers of immunity. The first shots of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide reasonable protection. Then the second shot bumps up the level of antibodies and T cells produced by the body, he says.
 
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With millions more Americans getting vaccinated every day, some have complained about fever, fatigue and other ailments they weren't expecting. Though vaccines are still very effective even without side effects, experiencing side effects are short-lived and are actually proof that your immune system is working the way it's supposed to. BIO5 associate director and UArizona EEB department head Dr. Michael Worobey says, with the first dose, you are having to generate an immune response from the ground up. The body produces antibodies, but also begins generating B cells to make targeted antibodies. The second time you give a person the shot, those cells are sitting around like a clone army and can immediately start producing a very big immune response.
 
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The university plans to move to Stage 3 the week of March 29, which will allow classes of up to 100 students to meet face to face, President Robert C. Robbins said Monday in his weekly virtual update on the university's COVID-19 status. It was announced that beginning Wednesday, March 24, at 8 a.m., any Arizonan age 16 or older will be able to register for a vaccination appointment at state sites, including the UArizona POD. New appointments at the state PODs will be released every Friday for the following week. Dr. Robbins also applauded recent research co-authored by Dr. Michael Worobey, head of the UArizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, on the origins of the novel coronavirus, likely circulating undetected for up to two months before the first human cases of COVID-19 were described in Wuhan, China.
 
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A new study dates emergence of the virus that causes COVID-19 to as early as October 2019. Simulations also suggest that in most cases, zoonotic viruses die out naturally before causing a pandemic.
 
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UArizona sleep researchers are working to tackle insomnia, sleep apnea and pandemic-induced "coronasomnia."
 
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Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy leads the Arizona team tackling the pandemic’s outsize effect on racial and ethnic minority communities across the country.
 
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To better understand the complexities of the immune response to the novel coronavirus and evaluate the viral immunity of essential workers in the state, scientists at the University of Arizona created the AZ HEROES research study. The team led by Dr. Jeff Burgess, associate dean for research in the UArizona College of Public Health and BIO5 member, recently expanded efforts to look at how well COVID-19 vaccines are working to provide lasting immunity for high-risk populations.
 
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Receiving the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 comes with a deep sense of relief. The U.S. has administered nearly 58 million doses since the COVID-19 vaccines became available in December 2020. The vaccine was developed in record time, less than a year from identification of the virus, making the vaccine a marvel of clinical and basic science. It is our best defense to end a pandemic that has claimed nearly half a million lives in the U.S. As thousands of vaccines are given each day, we have taken an important step toward the goal of ending the pandemic. Researchers discuss the steps remaining to attain this goal.
 
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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of countries have deployed digital apps attempting to identify people exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and stop onward transmission. Evidence that these ‘contact tracing’ apps work has been hard to come by. Now, studies from a handful of nations show mounting evidence that apps can help prevent infections and are a valuable public-health tool. One way apps could improve is in how they measure exposure risk, says Dr. Joanna Masel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, who is leading a pilot study of the COVID Watch app at the university.
 
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In early March 2020, the messages coming out at the time about the new COVID-19 disease were confusing. Public health officials decided not to recommend the use of masks to ensure that medical workers received sufficient PPE, which was in short supply. Dr. Purnima Madhivanan, University of Arizona epidemiologist and BIO5 member says that we are still paying for that decision. Dr. Madhivanan goes on to describe how things have changed and the lessons we’ve learned in navigating the pandemic.
 
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During the weekly virtual briefing on the university's COVID-19 status, it was announced that University of Arizona will become a high-capacity state vaccination site, and appointments are required and can be made through the Arizona Department of Health Services website by those eligible in Priority Phase 1B. As more people become eligible for vaccination and variants continue to spread, more questions arise. Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor in the Department of Immunobiology and member of the university's BIO5 Institute, provided some insight on common questions related to the vaccine.
 
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An eight-minute documentary, produced last fall by University of Arizona students, chronicles the university's efforts to track campus spread of coronavirus by testing wastewater from student dorms. The testing effort led by Dr. Ian Pepper, WEST Center. Director and BIO5 member, helped stop at least one COVID-19 outbreak during the first week of fall classes, and the success widely covered in national media. The documentary is part of the larger “What’s Up, Docs?” screening event, available to view for free through Feb. 17.
 
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During the weekly virtual briefing on the university's COVID-19 status, Dr. Robert C. Robbins noted that the state of Arizona no longer leads the nation in virus cases. UArizona immunobiologist and BIO5 member Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, joined President Robbins to discuss the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines on new variants of the virus. Dr. Bhattacharya discussed four variants – one first identified in the United Kingdom, one in South Africa, one in Brazil and the other in California.
 
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Doctors have been warning people that first COVID-19 immunization can have a kick to it. And now, people are starting to report that second dose can cause more side-effects than the first dose. It's not an unexpected finding. Moderna and Pfizer both said in their submissions to the US Food and Drug Administration that there was a noticeable difference in the reactions to the doses when they were testing their vaccines in volunteers. Researchers like UArizona Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department head and BIO5 associate director Dr. Michael Worbey, discuss how the body's immune response contributes to the reactions seen in some of the population.
 
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Researchers at the University of Arizona are developing a COVID-19 testing method that uses a smartphone microscope to analyze saliva samples and deliver results in about 10 minutes. The UArizona research team, led by biomedical engineering professor and BIO5 member Dr. Jeong-Yeol Yoon, aims to combine the speed of existing nasal swab antigen tests with the high accuracy of nasal swab PCR. The method will be used in conjunction with the saline swish-gargle test developed by Dr. Michael Worobey, head of the UArizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and associate director of the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute.