Anna Kern got her second vaccine dose five months ago, but it wasn’t a ticket to normalcy. Kern, a 33-year-old nurse practitioner, tested positive for COVID-19 in April and has been struggling with long COVID ever since.
The post-viral illness is characterized by symptoms that last a minimum of three weeks, but can often drag on for months. Kern said her symptoms have gotten steadily worse. At first, she had chills and felt run-down, so she cut back her work hours – Kern had been doing COVID-19 tests in the Detroit area. Then she started experiencing extreme fatigue after minor activities like a walk or jog.
In May, Kern recorded her heart rate while going about her morning routine – eating breakfast, brushing her teeth, washing the dishes. She was at 130 beats per minute, a rate she’d normally only hit through exercise. Symptoms like racing heart and fatigue are commonly reported among people with long COVID, who are also known as “long-haulers.”
By Memorial Day, Kern could barely move after working a shift.
“I remember waking up and knowing that I needed to drink some water and maybe eat some food, but being so tired that I was trying to figure out if I could actually do that,” she said. “I ended up crawling from my bed to my refrigerator.”
She considered asking for more time off, even though she was working remotely. But around the same time, she learned that her nursing position – her main source of income – had been cut.
With her life upended, Kern turned to a long-haul support group in search of others like her. She found a few people who’d also gotten breakthrough infections – cases of COVID-19 diagnosed at least two weeks after someone is fully vaccinated – and still hadn’t recovered. But not many.
For now, there’s no good data to assess how common long-haul cases are post-vaccination, but the chances of getting any breakthrough infection are rare. A May report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just 1 in 10,000 vaccinated Americans got sick after their shots. And UK researchers estimated last year that long-haul cases can occur in around 10% of people diagnosed with COVID-19.
So the chances of getting long COVID after being fully vaccinated is “a low probability times a low probability,” Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Insider.
Still, he said, “I’m at the stage now where I’m quite confident it can happen. I really doubt it’s going to turn out to be one in a million.”
‘You feel lots of guilt – like, what did I do wrong?’
Kern’s job put her at high risk of a coronavirus infection before her vaccine, so she donned full protective equipment during her shifts.
“Before I went into my apartment, I would like take off my clothes and put my scrubs in a bag and take bleach water and rubbing alcohol and wipe down everything that I was bringing inside,” Kern said. “I wasn’t even taking a coat in April of last year, even though it was kind of chilly, because I didn’t want to have to deal with it afterwards.”
Then she got her first Pfizer shot in December.
“It felt like relief flooding through my body – like, OK, I’ve survived,” Kern said.
But four months later, an unvaccinated coworker got sick. The woman wasn’t diligent about wearing her mask, according to Kern.
Less than a week later, Kern started feeling fatigued. She thinks the vaccine helped prevent a more severe outcome, but she still wonders whether she slipped up somehow.
“You feel lots of guilt – like, what did I do wrong? How could I have been more cautious?” she said.
Of course, no coronavirus vaccine is 100% effective – and even the shots from Moderna and Pfizer appear to be slightly less effective in the face of new variants.
“The chances of a breakthrough infection are real,” Wachter said.
He added that even people who get relatively mild cases post-vaccine can feel crummy for several months – “and maybe for years, we just don’t know.”
Kern said she’s having a hard time trusting that it’s safe to return to normal activities. She worries she won’t be feeling up for work any time soon.
“I have been pretty much working nonstop since COVID started,” she said. “This wouldn’t have been the way that I would have elected to take some time for me to breathe, but it is the way that it’s happening.”
Interim analysis of data from about 40,000 volunteers showed the biotech’s jab is only 47% effective, falling short of the study’s criteria and the minimum 50% effectiveness threshold required by US regulators.
Data for the late-stage clinical trials that were conducted in Latin America and Europe was released after the US close on Wednesday. The company, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attributed its disappointing results to the fact there are at least 29 COVID-19 strains circulating in the 10 countries where its trials took place.
The Gates foundation owns about 1.7% of CureVac, or 3.1 million shares, according to Bloomberg.
CureVac’s US shares are listed on the Nasdaq and plunged after hours from $94.79 at Wednesday’s close to $49.54 at Thursday’s market open.
The 47% efficacy estimate is based on 134 COVID-cases that occurred at least two weeks after the administration of the second dose, the company said in a statement.
“While we were hoping for a stronger interim outcome, we recognize that demonstrating high efficacy in this unprecedented broad diversity of variants is challenging,” CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said.
CureVac said last year that it was working with Tesla on a vaccine printer, which Elon Musk reportedly called “an important product for the world.” Musk said in a tweet about the biotech in April that it “sounds like they’re a few months away from regulatory approval.” This tweet was later deleted.
The company will continue trials of its two-dose messenger RNA vaccine and expects to publish final analysis within the next few weeks.
Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by American businessman Roy Raymond.
Inspired by an uncomfortable trip to a department store to buy underwear for his wife, Raymond set out to create a place where men would feel comfortable shopping for lingerie. He wanted to create a women’s underwear shop that was targeted at men.
He named the brand after the Victorian era in England, wanting to evoke the refinement of this period in his lingerie.
His vision was summed up by Slate’s Naomi Barr in 2013: “Raymond imagined a Victorian boudoir, replete with dark wood, oriental rugs, and silk drapery. He chose the name ‘Victoria’ to evoke the propriety and respectability associated with the Victorian era; outwardly refined, Victoria’s ‘secrets’ were hidden beneath.”
He went on to open a handful of Victoria’s Secret stores and launched its famous catalog.
By 1982, the company was making more than $4 million in annual sales, but according to reports, it was nearing bankruptcy at the time. It was at this point that Les Wexner swooped in.
Wexner, who founded L Brands (formerly Limited Brands) was already making a name for himself in the retail world as he gradually built up an impressive empire.
By June 1982, Limited — which had previously acquired Express and Lane Bryant — was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. One month later, under Wexner’s leadership, the company acquired Victoria’s Secret’s six stores and its catalog for $1 million.
Wexner turned Raymond’s vision on its head, creating a store that was focused on women rather than men.
He was closely following the European lingerie market of that time and wanted to bring this aesthetic to the US. So, he set out to create a more affordable version of European upscale brand “La Perla” — lingerie that looked luxurious and expensive but was affordable.
And it worked. By the early 1990s, Victoria’s Secret had become the largest lingerie retailer in the US, with 350 stores nationally and sales topping $1 billion.
The brand began to cement its image over the next few years. In 1995, its famous annual fashion show was born.
The show, which was run by Ed Razek (longtime chief marketing officer of L Brands), became an iconic part of the brand’s image.
Razek and his team were responsible for hand-picking the models to walk the show. Because of this, he became one of the most important people in the modeling world, helping to launch the careers of Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum.
In 1999, the show aired for the first time online. Time described it as the “internet-breaking moment” of this era after 1.5 million viewers tried to tune in and crashed the site.
Meanwhile, the brand was also launching some of its best-known and most successful products, including its heavily padded Miracle Bra and Body by Victoria.
Body by Victoria was a “blockbuster success” and more than doubled the sales volume of any other bra that Victoria’s Secret had previously launched, Michael Silverstein wrote in his book, “Trading Up.”
Around this time (1997), the idea of the Victoria’s Secret “Angel” came into play after a commercial featuring Helena Christensen, Karen Mulder, Daniela Peštová, Stephanie Seymour, and Tyra Banks ran to promote its “Angels” underwear collection.
From then on, the term “Angel” become synonymous with the brand.
Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, its commercials featured heavily made-up and scantily dressed Angels.
The runway shows became more lavish. In 2000, model Gisele Bündchen walked the runway in what was then the most expensive item of lingerie ever created, a $15 million diamond-and-ruby-encrusted ‘Fantasy Bra.’
Its annual fashion show drew criticism for being outdated, and viewership slipped. In November 2018 Razek sent the internet into a frenzy after he made controversial comments about transgender and plus-size models.
Razek said in an interview with Vogue that he didn’t think the show should feature “transsexuals” because the show is a ‘fantasy.” “It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is,” he said in the interview.
Razek made a formal apology online but some of his critics called for him to step down.
Singer was replaced by John Mehas, who took over the role at the start of 2019.
Mehas had his work cut out for him. Same-store sales at Victoria’s Secret were down 3% in 2018, and was gradually losing market share to new companies.
Plus, he had angry shareholders to deal with. In March 2019, activist shareholder Barington Capital sent a letter to Wexner, laying out recommendations to improve growth at Victoria’s Secret in order to “unlock substantial value.”
In the letter, Barington’s CEO, James A. Mitarotonda, called out the company’s brand image as being “outdated.”
“Victoria’s Secret’s brand image is starting to appear to many as being outdated and even a bit ‘tone deaf’ by failing to be aligned with women’s evolving attitudes towards beauty, diversity, and inclusion,” he wrote.
Barington called out the lack of diversity in its board of directors as being an issue for the brand. At the time, of the 11 board members, nine were men.
It seems Victoria’s Secret took this criticism to heart. After acknowledging the letter in a statement, it appointed two new female board directors — Sarah E. Nash and Anne Sheehan — and made steps to address the comments about the brand image being outdated.
It hired a more body-inclusive model.
While she is not a plus-size model, fans praised the company for its decision to take on Hungarian model Barbara Palvin as one of its newest Angels.
“We will be communicating to customers, but nothing similar in magnitude to the fashion show,” he said.
Wexner previously told employees in May that Victoria’s Secret was “rethinking” the show. And Victoria’s Secret model Shanina Shaik — who has walked in several of its fashion shows — told The Daily Telegraph in Australia in July 2019 that the annual show was off this year.
While these were potentially positive changes, the brand found itself caught up in a new challenge in the summer of 2019: its CEO and the company being linked to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein managed Wexner’s money for several years, and former company executives told the Wall Street Journal that he tried to meddle in Victoria’s Secret’s business, offering input on which women should be models.
“At some point in your life we are all betrayed by friends,” Wexner said. “Being taken advantage of by someone who was so sick, so cunning, so depraved, is something that I’m embarrassed I was even close to. But that is in the past.”
In February 2020, the company announced that Wexner would be stepping down as chairman and CEO of L Brands but would stay on as chairman emeritus and sit on the board of directors. At the same time, it announced that it was selling a 55% stake in Victoria’s Secret to private equity firm Sycamore Partners.
In a statement to the press announcing the news, Wexner said that Sycamore has “deep experience in the retail industry and a superior track record of success,” and that it “will bring a fresh perspective and greater focus to the business.”
In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic swept across the US and Victoria’s Secret was forced to shutter its stores.
L Brands immediately issued a statement saying that a termination of the agreement is “invalid,” and that it would “vigorously defend” the lawsuit and “pursue all legal remedies to enforce its contractual rights.”
On May 4, 2020, L Brands announced that the deal with Sycamore had officially fallen apart.
A COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by the German biotech CureVac failed in a critical late-stage study, the company said Wednesday.
It’s the first failure of a major vaccine candidate in a final-stage trial. CureVac said an interim analysis showed the shot was 47% effective, falling short of the study’s goals and the minimum bar for what US regulators find approvable.
The development is a setback to the world’s immunization efforts, as European officials had previously reached deals to acquire up to 405 million doses of the shot.
Despite the disappointing result, CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said the company plans to go “full speed for the final readout.” The trial is still ongoing and the final vaccine efficacy figure may vary as more COVID-19 cases are tallied.
CureVac, which is backed by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, saw its stock price plummet following Wednesday’s announcement. Shares were down more than 50% in post-market trading. The foundation owns about 3.1 million shares of CureVac, or 1.7% of the company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
An independent biostatistics expert said it will be nearly impossible for CureVac’s study to still produce success. The 47% estimate of efficacy is based on 134 COVID-19 cases among study participants. “It’s not going to change dramatically,” Natalie Dean, a University of Florida biostatistician, told The Times.
CureVac blames variants, even as other vaccines hold up against different strains
In a statement, CureVac leaders said that the abundance of virus variants played a role in the result. Only one of the 134 analyzed cases resulted from the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the company said.
“While we were hoping for a stronger interim outcome, we recognize that demonstrating high efficacy in this unprecedented broad diversity of variants is challenging,” CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said in a statement.
The disappointing result is surprising given some of the similarities CureVac’s experimental vaccine candidate had with other, highly effective immunizations. CureVac’s shot is a messenger RNA vaccine, a new technology platform that’s also used by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Those shots proved to be more than 90% effective in late-stage trials last year. They also appear to protect people against some major virus variants.
Other vaccines have also shown success against variants. Novavax, for instance, announced earlier this week its two-dose shot was 90% effective in a late-stage study. What’s more, Novavax’s vaccine was about 93% effective in preventing illnesses caused by variants of concern or variants of interest, the company said.
A quiet existence, until the pandemic
Since its founding in 2000, CureVac had a largely quiet existence until the pandemic. As one of the first companies trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, CureVac’s CEO was invited to the White House in March 2020. Shortly after, reports circulated that the US had offered a “large sum” for access to its vaccine program. CureVac disputed the reports. The company also cycled through three CEOs in the span of a week.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also drawn attention to CureVac with his tweets. A Tesla subsidiary is working with CureVac in building a “prototype of an automated manufacturing unit,” Insider reported in July.
In its Wednesday press release, CureVac focused attention on its second-generation coronavirus vaccine. Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has partnered with CureVac on that research, paying the company roughly $235 million upfront and investing an additional $180 million in multipledeals over the past year.
CureVac said it hopes this next-generation program could start human testing by the end of September, with the goal of launching in 2022.
Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce contributed reporting.
The ship was supposed to set sail on July 3, but will now set sail on July 31.
“The eight crew members, six of whom are asymptomatic and two with mild symptoms, were quarantined and are being closely monitored by our medical team,” Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley said. “To protect the remaining crew and prevent any further cases, we will have all crew quarantined for 14 days and continue with our routine testing.”
Baley said that all 1,400 crew members aboard the Odyssey were vaccinated by June 4, and are expected to be considered fully vaccinated by June 18.
Doctors in Oman, a small nation on the Arabian Peninsula, have encountered at least three COVID-19 patients with “black fungus,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The fungal infection, known as mucorymycosis, can be fatal. The news comes as Oman faces a surge in coronavirus cases brought about, in part, by the fact that more than 90% of its population has not yet been vaccinated, according to the AP report.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with severe cases of COVID-19 “are particularly vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections.” The use of “high-dose corticosteroids and tocilizumab,” a monoclonal antibody, can also predispose patients to infection from fungal spores.
Signs of infection include black lesions on the nose or inside the mouth, according to the CDC.
The problem of black fungus has been particularly acute in India, where several states have declared it an epidemic amid the spread of a coronavirus variant officially known as B.1.617, but more recently renamed Delta, that appears to be more contagious than the original. As Insider has reported, black fungus has a 50% mortality rate “and requires all infected tissues to be removed for patients to have a fighting chance.”
Despite performing countless procedures that increased his risk of exposure to the coronavirus, Dr. Henry P. Barham has not gotten sick yet.
The ear, nose, and throat doctor, who works at Baton Rouge General in Louisiana, was grateful for his luck but baffled as to how he stayed healthy. He and his colleagues all wore protective gear at work, but some of them still got COVID-19, he told the Washington Post.
The answer, according to his research, may lie close to his area of expertise: the nose.
Barham is studying T2R38, the so-called “supertaster” gene which makes people more sensitive to the bitter notes in broccoli, spinach, and coffee.
The supertaster gene enhances innate immune function
The T2R38 gene arms the body with superior natural defenses against intruders like the coronavirus.
Those who have two copies of the gene typically have extra hairlike filaments, called cilia, in the airway to sweep bugs away. They also produce more mucous membranes to keep invaders out and create nitric oxide to kill the pathogens that get into the body.
All of these layers of immunity help the body fight off infections, so Barham wondered if those who inherit the gene – himself included – might have an innate advantage over COVID-19.
His hunch was supported when his friend got a serious case of COVID-19, but the man’s wife remained healthy. Bahram gave them both a taste test where they rated the bitterness of paper strips from 1 to 10, revealing that his friend was a “nontaster” and his wife was a supertaster.
A person’s supertaster status can predict the severity of COVID-19
He used the same taste test he gave to his friends to classify people as supertasters, tasters, and nontasters. In the second study, a subgroup also submitted spit samples for genetic testing.
The larger study, published in JAMA Network Open last month, revealed that nontasters were more likely to get COVID-19, stay sick for longer, and require hospitalization. Nontasters who got COVID were sick for an average of 23.5 days, compared to 5 days for supertasters.
None of the supertasters who got sick in the study required hospitalization. Overall, the researchers were able to predict how ill a person would get based on their taster status with 94% accuracy.
However, supertasters can get sick too, and the classification system Barham used was inexact. Giving patients a taste test is not a surefire way to determine if the have the T2R38 gene, so more research needs to be done with genetic testing to support the findings.
Still, Barham’s research is a step towards unraveling the mysteries of COVID-19, public health expert Amesh Adalja told the Washington Post, and it could someday be used to help hospital workers make tough decisions about treating patients.
“Immune profiling could be a way to help them make those decisions, but it’s going to take some time to change how people approach this,” Adalja told the Post.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Monday evening publicly apologized for her previous comparisons of COVID-19 mask requirements and vaccination efforts to the horrors suffered by Jews in Nazi Germany.
The Georgia Republican, known for her controversial statements, took a markedly different tone during a solo news conference, starting off by saying: “I always want to remind everyone – I’m very much a normal person.”
“One of the best lessons that my father always taught me was, when you make a mistake, you should own it. And I have made a mistake and it’s really bothered me for a couple of weeks now, and so I definitely want to own it,” she said.
Greene told reporters that she visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, earlier in the day and wanted to make it clear that “there is no comparison to the Holocaust.”
“There are words that I have said, remarks that I’ve made, that I know are offensive. And for that I want to apologize,” she said.
Greene attacked Speaker Nancy Pelosi for keeping the House mask mandate in place although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted mask-wearing guidelines indoors for fully vaccinated individuals. Pelosi said that she was following guidance from the Capitol attending physician as vaccination rates in Congress, especially among Republicans, was unknown.
During an interview on a conservative podcast on May 20, Greene said: “You know, we can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.”
She also tweeted at the time that “vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s forced Jewish people to wear a gold star.”
The “gold star” reference, which historians more commonly refer to as a yellow star, was an identifier that Nazi Germany forced Jews to wear.
Several House Democrats swiftly condemned Greene’s language, followed by House Republican leadership. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy called her statements “wrong” and “appalling.”
Greene did not express any regret over her comments at the time, and instead doubled down on them in a series of tweets in which she described Democrats as “reminiscent of the great tyrants of history.”
Of the over 350,000 new workers it hired between July and October 2020, the report said, many only stayed with the company “just days or weeks.”
Hourly employees had a turnover rate of approximately 150% every year, data reviewed by the Times demonstrated, reportedly leading some Amazon executives to worry about running out of hirable employees in the US.
Amazon went on an extended hiring spree throughout 2020 as it attempted to keep up with a massive spike in demand during coronavirus lockdowns. As Americans increasingly turned to Amazon for everything from toiletries to groceries, the company repeatedly touted major hiring pushes.
One former Amazon manager who oversaw human resources efforts focused on warehouse workers compared the situation with worker churn at Amazon warehouses to the ongoing use of fossil fuels. “We keep using them, even though we know we’re slowly cooking ourselves,” he told the Times.
Amazon representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment as of publishing.
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Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Post produced a quadrant graph that shows the number of COVID-19 cases dropping where most people have been vaccinated, and increasing in many areas where they haven’t been:
Some 43.7% of the US population has been fully vaccinated – meaning they have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot, or both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine – and 52.5% has received at least one dose, the CDC said.
Vaccination rates are lower in southern states, the data shows.
Experts told The Post that they are concerned about what will happen in these areas as people mingle. All US states have loosened or removed their lockdown restrictions over the past few weeks.
The Post’s analysis comes as the US edges near recording 600,000 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.