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COVID-19 and smoking: Tobacco not a protector

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A woman smokes at the Kinari Bazaar in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Raising the cost of smoking has been advocated by experts to encourage people to kick the habit. Image credit: donyanedomam / 123rf. Used to illustrate COVID-19 and smoking
A woman smokes at the Kinari Bazaar in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Image credit: donyanedomam / 123rf

Research into interplay between COVID-19 and smoking conducted by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been questioned by scientists. The CSIR serosurvey reportedly suggested that smokers are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 – but experts responded with doubts.

The CSIR conducted a seroprevalence survey of 10,427 Indians, consisting of those working in CSIR laboratories or institutions and their relatives. As explained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “serology tests look for antibodies in blood. If antibodies are found, that means there has been a previous infection. Antibodies are proteins that can fight off infections. Investigations using serology testing are called seroprevalence surveys.” 

Seroprevalence surveys are used in the context of COVID-19, the CDC explains, “to identify people in a population who have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 [severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19]. Antibody test results can provide information about previous infections in people who had many, few, or no symptoms.” 

The CSIR’s seroprevalence survey found, it said, that smokers are less likely to be seropositive than non-smokers. This, it said, “is the first report from the general population and part of growing evidence that despite Covid-19 being a respiratory disease, smoking may be protective.” 

However, scientists have repudiated the findings in comments to The Print. “We have not found such evidence in our hospital of smokers having any protection from COVID as this serosurvey suggests,” said Dr B. L. Sherwal, medical director of the Rajiv Gandhi Superspecialty Hospital. “But we have seen that smokers have higher susceptibility to COVID infection. This is because their immune system is compromised and their lungs are already affected by smoking. Seroprevalence may have been lower because antibodies may disappear due to slow immune response among smokers.”

In concurring sentiments expressed to The Print, Public Health Foundation of India president Dr K. Srinath Reddy said “there are several explanations for why smokers haven’t shown presence of antibodies against Covid. Antibody levels may disappear faster among smokers compared to non-smokers. Presence of antibodies is also dependent on multiple factors like nutrition and age.” 

As The Print noted, “in July last year, the Union Health Ministry had said smokers were likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as smoking increases possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth, and warned that use of tobacco products could increase severity of respiratory infections and make people susceptible to coronavirus.” 

Last year, Health Issues India reported on the interplay between COVID-19 and smoking and other forms of tobacco use. We cited comments made by interventional pulmonologist Dr Prem Ananth P., who said “though there is no direct evidence showing those who consume tobacco are more prone to COVID-19, poor respiratory health due to tobacco-caused chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can in turn aggravate if infected by COVID-19.” We also cited the World Health Organization (WHO), who said “smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases. 

“Tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19. Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death.”

Indeed, the WHO in December used COVID-19 as a linchpin of its bid to urge tobacco users to kick the habit. Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time “smoking kills eight million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive.” The WHO observed that “when evidence was released this year that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers, it triggered millions of smokers to want to quit tobacco. Quitting can be challenging, especially with the added social and economic stress that have come as a result of the pandemic, but there are a lot of reasons to quit.”

India is no stranger to the detrimental effects of tobacco use among the population. According to the Tobacco Atlas, “every year, more than 932,600 of [India’s] people are killed by tobacco-caused disease. Still, more than 625,000 children (ten to fourteen years old) and 89,486,000 adults (fifteen+ years old) continue to use tobacco each day.” As noted by Health Issues India, “tobacco use fuels the country’s crisis of noncommunicable diseases, which result in 5.2 million lives lost a year. And, as the WHO points out, a high rate of tobacco use stands to exacerbate India’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis as well as other diseases prevalent in India such as tuberculosis.” 

As far as the CSIR study regarding COVID-19 and smoking goes, the evidence simply isn’t there to support the notion that smoking has a protective effect against COVID-19 – and, in many cases, research points to the conclusion that the opposite is plausibly true. “Smoking always impacts health because it inhibits antibody response and suppresses immunity,” Dr Lalit Kant, the former head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research, told The Print. “We cannot derive conclusions from such studies and a detailed epidemiological study is required to establish cause and effect relations instead of a cross-sectional study such as this.” 

Source: https://www.healthissuesindia.com/2021/01/20/covid-19-and-smoking-tobacco-not-a-protector/

Covid19

Biden Praises Senate Passage Of ‘Desperately Needed’ COVID-19 Relief Bill

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President Biden speaks from the State Dining Room of the White House on Saturday, following the Senate’s passage of his COVID-19 relief package by a 50-49 vote. Samuel Corum/Getty Images hide caption

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Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In remarks after a divided Senate approved his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, President Biden praised lawmakers for securing the additional round of aid and thanked the American people for making it possible through their “overwhelming bipartisan support.”

The American Rescue Plan has been a priority of the Biden administration, and is poised to deliver a fresh round of financial assistance to individuals, families, schools and businesses hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Measures include $1,400 direct payments, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits, an increase to the child tax credit and financial support for state and local governments, schools and public health efforts.

“When we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people that help was on the way,” Biden said. “Today, I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise.”

The Senate approved the package on Saturday afternoon by a 50-49 party-line vote that did not include Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who was absent for a family funeral. Its passage there followed more than 24 hours of debate, and was met with applause by Democratic lawmakers.

The House will need to approve the final version of the bill before it can head to Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The House will meet to vote on an identical measure on Tuesday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Saturday.

“It obviously wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed,” Biden said in his remarks.

Biden stressed the urgency, noting the more than 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19, hundreds of small businesses closed, millions of people out of work and families struggling to afford food and rent.

He said stimulus checks will get out the door “this month,” with more resources on the way for vaccine manufacturing and distribution as well as schools, local governments and unemployed individuals. Calling the plan “historic,” he also said it could potentially cut child poverty in half.

Biden acknowledged the effort and compromise needed to eke out Senate approval, and thanked a number of people including Vice President Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats. He also credited broad public support, saying, “your elected officials heard you.”

The measure passed with a simple majority using the budget reconciliation process and despite all present Senate Republicans voting against it.

Responding to a question on the lack of Republican backing, Biden reiterated that the support of the American people is “the key.”

“And that’s going to continue to seep down through the public including from our Republican friends,” he said. “There’s a lot of Republicans that came very close, they’ve got a lot of pressure on them and I still haven’t given up on getting their support.”

Biden also denied that progressives are frustrated with the series of compromises that led to the bill’s approval. Notably, House Democrats’ original version of the bill included a since-scrapped provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, while Senate Democrats agreed to lower the income cutoff for stimulus checks to meet the demands of moderate members of the party.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont called it “the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country.”

Biden referenced Sanders’ statement in defending the bill’s compromises, which Biden said did not substantially affect its substance.

“I don’t think any of the compromises have in any way fundamentally altered the essence of what I put in the bill in the first place,” he said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday accused Democrats of “exploit[ing] the crisis by jamming through unrelated liberal policies they couldn’t pass honestly.” Among other criticisms, he said it does not include not enough money for vaccinations and “ignores the science on reopening schools.”

Senate Democrats took to social media to hail the monumental legislation on Saturday.

“The American Rescue Plan is one of the most popular bills in decades for a reason,” wrote Schumer. “It’s one of the most significant anti-poverty bills in modern American history that will help millions and millions who are struggling just to get by.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock, one of two Georgia Democrats elected in a runoff election earlier this year, wrote that “this bold legislation was exactly what Georgians had in mind when they sent me to the Senate.” Many social media users are applauding Stacey Abrams, who is widely credited with helping turn the state blue.

Former President Barack Obama congratulated the Biden administration and the American people on the relief package, which he said represents “the kind of progress that’s possible when we elect leaders across government who are devoted to making people’s lives better—and a reminder of why it’s so important to vote.”

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Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/06/974409402/biden-praises-senate-passage-of-desperately-needed-covid-19-relief-bill

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Senate Passes $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Package

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to the press Saturday at the Capitol, after the Senate passed COVID-19 relief legislation on a party-line vote. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images hide caption

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Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Updated at 12:56 p.m. ET

The Senate approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan Saturday, securing additional aid for American families, workers and businesses — and a legislative victory for the Biden administration.

After more than 24 hours of debate, the evenly divided Senate voted 50-49 to approve the measure. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska was absent because he was in Alaska for a family funeral.

The package would deliver a new round of financial assistance to Americans grappling with the impact of the pandemic, including $1,400 direct payments, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits and an increase to the child tax credit.

Individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive the full direct payments of $1,400 per person. But those payments would phase out for individuals and couples who make more than $80,000 and $160,000, respectively.

The income cutoff was lowered after moderate Democrats demanded that the latest round of checks target lower-income families.

Federal unemployment benefits would be extended through Sept. 6 at the current rate of $300 per week, and the first $10,200 of those benefits would be tax-free for households that earn $150,000 or less. That provision followed a lengthy debate Friday among Democratic senators.

Democrats were under pressure to get the bill to Biden’s desk before current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

The budget reconciliation process allowed them to act without Republican backing, requiring only a simple majority to pass the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled Tuesday that Democrats had the support they needed to move forward with the vote. But debate on the Senate floor was delayed when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., indicated Wednesday that he’d require Senate clerks to read the more than 600 page bill on the floor, pushing the vote by several hours.

“We need to highlight the abuse,” Johnson said in a tweet. “This is not a COVID relief bill. It’s a boondoggle for Democrats.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday accused the Biden administration of trying to “jam” Republicans on the legislation.

“It is my hope that in the end Senate Republicans will unanimously oppose it, just like House Republicans did,” McConnell said to reporters.

House Democrats’ version of the bill originally included a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, but the Senate parliamentarian decided the provision did not fit the rules that govern budget bills in the Senate.

The House will need to revote on the final version of the bill before it can be signed into law. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement Saturday that the House will vote on an identical measure on Tuesday.

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Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/06/973126199/senate-passes-1-9-trillion-coronavirus-relief-package

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The Dalai Lama Gets A COVID-19 Shot And Urges Others To Get Vaccinated

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The Dalai Lama leaves the Zonal Hospital in Dharmsala, India, on Saturday after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Ashwini Bhatia/AP hide caption

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Ashwini Bhatia/AP

Updated at 2:12 p.m. ET

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, left his home on Saturday to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and promote vaccination against the coronavirus, in what was his first public appearance in over a year.

The 85-year-old scrapped plans to receive the injection at home, opting instead to travel to a clinic in Dharamsala, India, where he’s lived since fleeing China after a failed uprising in 1959.

He was photographed exposing his right shoulder to receive a vaccine known as Covishield in India, which was developed by the University of Oxford and drug firm AstraZeneca. In a video message afterward, the Dalai Lama said, “I took [the vaccine] so I want to share [that] more people should have courage to take this injection.”

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This comes as India and other countries try to ramp up vaccination distribution to outrun the coronavirus and its variant forms. India currently has the world’s second-highest COVID-19 caseload, with over 11 million confirmed cases. To date, more than 157,000 people have died of the disease in India.

Globally, there are more than 116 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. A quarter of those cases are in the U.S., where more than 522,000 have died of the disease since the pandemic began.

On Monday, high-ranking government Indian officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, publicly touted receiving their vaccines. Afterward, Modi tweeted: “I appeal to all those who are eligible to take the vaccine. Together, let us make India Covid-19 free.”

India, like the U.S. and other parts of the world, has seen its share of vaccine-related controversy, some of which relates to the speed with which the medicines have rolled out. Unlike the Dalai Lama, Modi and others received shots of a homegrown vaccine called COVAXIN, which the Indian government approved for use in January, even before clinical trial data on its efficacy was released. The decision to authorize early prompted concern from scientists and public health experts.

Some of that debate was put to rest on Wednesday, when Bharat Biotech, the company making the COVAXIN vaccine, released preliminary analysis of phase 3 clinical trials showing its doses 81% effective in preventing infection.

Globally, vaccination efforts are moving slowly. The U.S. has fully vaccinated the greatest number of people, at 28.7 million, which amounts to 8.6% of its population. In raw numbers, India ranks third, having fully vaccinated 3.5 million, but that’s a miniscule fraction of its population of 1.36 billion.

Still, India could eventually become a powerhouse in the world’s fight against COVID-19. It already makes most of the world’s vaccines, and companies are already ramping up manufacturing capacity. India is expected to make 3.5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine, second only to the U.S., which is expected to make 4 billion, according to Deloitte.

“India is in a much different position than most lower- to middle-income countries, in that they have the capacity to develop and manufacture vaccines,” said Andrea Taylor, an associate professor at Duke’s Global Health Innovation Center. Whether that will result in faster rollout within the country isn’t clear, she says.

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Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/06/974356954/the-dalai-lama-gets-a-covid-19-shot-urges-others-to-get-vaccinated

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Benefits of eating spinach

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