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The amount of information available is staggering. It’s hard to keep track of what’s known, what a myth is, and tips to follow. That’s why we’ve rounded up five of the most important new things we learned about COVID-19 in February:

1. A new vaccine is available – and it is working very well.

In February, Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine was granted emergency use authorization, which was great news for several reasons.

On the one hand, it is a single injection vaccine, eliminating the need for two appointments spaced over several weeks.

Also, it can be stored in regular refrigerators for months – unlike Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both of which require injections and have very specific handling and storage protocols. As one vaccine expert said in a recent interview with The Associated Press: “Simple is beautiful.”

In addition, it is very effective – a message that has been somewhat lost in the media coverage of the vaccine. It falls short of the effectiveness rates of Pfizer and Moderna (90 to 95% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19). But it appears to be 72% effective in preventing moderate to severe disease in the United States, which means people who get the vaccine are far less likely to become seriously ill or die from the virus.

The Biden administration is hoping the new vaccine could dramatically speed up the immunization schedule for all Americans, as Merck & Co is now partnering with Johnson & Johnson to make their new vaccine. The president has now suggested that there could be enough vaccines for every adult in the United States by the end of May.

2. New variants are circulating in the United States

While February brought good news on the vaccination front, researchers also found that several new variants are circulating in the United States. They may be more transmissible, and our current vaccines may not target them as well. (That’s not to say they’re unnecessary, however.)

The so-called California variant (known as B.1.427 / B.1.429 or CAL.20C) is possibly more infectious and may also be more deadly, researchers warn, although at this point it is Too early to say. It has been observed in 45 states and a few other countries, according to experts.

Then there is also the so-called New York variant (B.1.526), ​​which is also potentially more transmissible. Preliminary evidence suggests that it may be less easily targeted by our existing vaccines, but again, everything is fairly new.

Ultimately, while these newer variants certainly deserve attention, infectious disease experts and public health experts say there’s a crucial balance to be struck between worrying too much about them (especially because ‘they were expected from the start), while acknowledging that we are very then running against them. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible and to stick to proven preventative measures that prevent the virus from spreading and evolving – like wearing a mask. , social distancing and the vaccine when it’s your turn and available. yours.

3. Travel bans don’t really work.

Travel bans have been an important part of many countries’ efforts to curb the spread of the virus at various times over the past year, including in the U.S. But research published in February reinforces the idea that they are not particularly effective.

The researchers concluded that limiting movement only really makes a difference in the early stages of an outbreak, but doesn’t necessarily reduce infection beyond that point. The new study joins a growing consensus of experts who have been warning for nearly a year that travel bans are fundamentally too few, too late, and testing requirements before travel may be a more useful approach to curb the spread. .

4. Glasses can provide additional protection.

Wearing glasses may offer some protection against COVID-19, according to a small study published in February. Researchers found that eyeglass wearers were three times less likely to contract the virus. (While the study is preliminary and has not been peer reviewed, its findings should therefore be viewed with a very fair amount of skepticism.)

Yet infectious disease experts like Anthony Fauci have been saying for months that covering your eyes with goggles or a face shield probably offers better protection than just covering your mouth and nose with a mask.

And, of course, goggles or a face shield are an essential part of PPE for anyone caring for people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

5. Vaccination can cause enlarged lymph nodes.

At this point, the more common side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are fairly well known, such as pain at the injection site, fever and, in very rare cases, allergic reactions.

Now, experts are trying to spread the word about another side effect that is common in people recently vaccinated: swollen lymph nodes.

As The New York Times reports: “The swelling is a normal reaction of the immune system to the vaccine and occurs on the same side as the arm where the vaccine was given.”

But this “normal” reaction is important to know because it can otherwise be taken as a sign of cancer. This could be of particular concern for patients who are tested and screened after successful cancer treatment.

“It could really impact a lot of people if we don’t start recording immunization status immediately at imaging centers,” an expert told The New York Times.

And that’s why groups like the Society of Breast Imaging have issued recommendations suggesting that all women wait four weeks between the COVID-19 vaccine and routine mammograms. Experts say swollen lymph nodes after vaccination usually last about a week, but the exact time varies, so anyone with questions about when to schedule routine cancer screening should see their doctor.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but directions may change as scientists find out more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent recommendations.

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