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Health Highlights: Jan. 8, 2021

By HealthDay Reporter

Below are newsworthy items compiled by the Healthday staff:

Capitol Riot May Have Been a Super-Spreader Event

It may never be clear if Wednesday's storming of the U.S. Capitol Building was a COVID-19 super-spreader event, but a large group of mostly unmasked people shouting indoors for long periods is a recipe for just that, The New York Times reported Thursday.

These same concerns were raised during the Black Lives Matter protests and campaign rallies, but those protests were mostly held outdoors and many people seemed to be wearing masks.

At the Capitol Building, violent protesters, the police and members of Congress were together for a long time, and some didn't wear masks or social distance.

Given soaring infection rates and the surfacing of more contagious variants, it's safe to assume that some people were infectious when the riot started, the Times reported.

Experts were concerned about members of Congress after Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican from Kansas, announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the virus. One lawmaker told CBS News that about half of the 400 or so lawmakers and staff members who were huddling together after being taken from the chamber refused to wear masks.

Experts are also worried that rioters would return home and fuel outbreaks across the country. Given their political leanings, experts say, many may be COVID deniers and refuse to get tested.

"We might get an inkling into how bad it might be because of the federal employees," Dr. Joshua Barocas, an infectious diseases physician at Boston University, told the Times. But "I don't think that we're going to know the [full] extent of this super-spreader event."

Moderna COVID Vaccine Protection May Last Years, Company Claims

Moderna's CEO said their COVID-19 vaccine may prevent infection for years, CBS News reported Thursday.

While speaking at a virtual event hosted by Oddo BHF, a financial service group, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the "nightmare scenario" that the vaccine won't work is now in the past.

"We believe there will be protection potentially for a couple of years," Bancel said.The "antibody decay generated by the vaccine in humans goes down very slowly," Reuters reported. Questions about elderly patients remain because their immune system weakens over time, Bancel noted.

The CDC says that because reinfection is possible with COVID-19, even people who have already had the virus should still receive the vaccine. Natural immunity varies from person to person, CBS News reported.

Immunity May Last at Least 8 Months for COVID-19 Survivors

People who have recovered from COVID-19 may have immunity from the virus for eight months or more, the Washington Post reported Friday.

According to a study published in the journal Science, about 90% of the patients showed lingering, stable immunity.

An analysis of blood samples from nearly 200 patients also found that many elements of the immune system - - not just antibodies - - continued to recognize and respond to the virus.

These findings come as new, more contagious variants of the virus are cropping around the world.

However, "there's a lot of different arms of the immune system recognizing the virus. So if you have a mutation, it wouldn't evade all these different arms," researcher Daniela Weiskopf, from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, told the Post.

Immunity is "not decaying any further. Based on that, it might be good for many more months, or years," Weiskopf said.

How long immunity will last, however, remains speculative, because this coronavirus has been circulating in humans for barely a year and there just isn't long-term data. The oldest sample studied by the La Jolla team was from about nine months ago, Weiskopf said.

Stanley Perlman, a University of Iowa virologist who was not part of the research team, said the study is good news given that some early reports suggested that immunity to the coronavirus waned quickly.

"This is more believable, and this is done well. This supports the notion that there's going to be immunity for some period of time," Perlman told the Post.

There is one caveat: About 10% of people infected do see their immune response degrade. There is no clear explanation of why this happens.

"The kind of immunity you get from natural infection is very variable," researcher Alessandro Sette, also with the La Jolla Institute, told the Post.

So, people who have the virus cannot know for sure that they're in the 90 percent who have immunity, Sette said.

"I cannot tell you what it's going to be looking like two years from now, because the virus hasn't been around two years," Sette said. Still, he added, "from the looks of it, I wouldn't be surprised if the immunity would last for years."

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