Vax-Teen: Teenagers Now Eligible for Covid Vaccine

Vax-Teen: Teenagers Now Eligible for Covid Vaccine

by Havann Brown, staff writer

May 2021 – Vaccine eligibility has expanded across the United States. All Ohioans ages 16 and older can receive the COVID vaccine. The Ohio Department of Health said those aged 16 and 17 must have parental consent for any vaccine and must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, shortly after, former President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, prompting states to issue stay-at-home orders and mask mandates. Scientific teams around the world immediately went to work to develop successful vaccines. Nine months later, on Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed in the U.S.

Three COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for emergency use.

Since Pfizer, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have been authorized for emergency use. According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the time of writing, over 213 million vaccines have been administered in the United States. The J&J and Moderna vaccines are recommended for individuals over the age of 18 and the companies have begun testing the vaccine in adolescents.

The Pfizer vaccine is recommended for anyone 16 and older. The company announced it submitted clinical trial data for adolescents 12 to 15 years old to the FDA for emergency use authorization. The results show the vaccine is 100% effective in preventing all symptoms of the virus after completing the trial with 2,300 adolescent participants. KHOU reported that Pfizer aims to offer the COVID vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds by next school year.

Some students at Bio-Med Science Academy are currently eligible to receive the COVID vaccine. While some individuals shared their plans to get the vaccine, others shared their concerns and feelings of apprehension.

When asked about his opinions on the vaccine, Junior Josh Mudd stated plainly, “It’s a waste. Covid is not scary and it’s not that bad in my opinion, because I’ve had it.”

Sophomore Tessa Wood stated, “I have received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I decided to get vaccinated so I can help protect my family and feel safer at school!”

Juniors Kelsea Cooper and Dennis Bunner shared their vaccination plans.

Bunner intends to get the vaccine soon. He clarified, “My reason for wanting the vaccine is probably less for me and more for my grandma. I am the only one in my family who has not gotten the vaccine and I have not been able to visit her. I think she would feel more comfortable if I were vaccinated.”

Cooper received her first dose of the vaccine on April 14. “It seemed like the most logical thing to do,” she said. “There was no scientific or religious reason as to why I should not get it.

“I see why some people are wary of getting the vaccine because it’s so new but at the same time, other vaccines were also very new when people got them. I can also see how some people are misinformed because they do not understand the science behind it, but if you just take the time to research it for yourself, you could find a website that explains it to you in layman’s terms,” she added.

Juniors Codi Goldsboro and Brian Crum decided against getting the vaccine.

Goldsboro explained, “I am not really planning on getting it. It is nothing against the system. I just believe that it is too soon to get it. I am still young so if I do get Covid, I know my body can break it down easier than some elderly. I would rather not get it to save that vaccine for someone my age that has health issues because they are at a higher risk.”

Crum stated, “The reason that I don’t want to get it is because I’ve seen my grandpa get blood clots and I heard on the news that some of the vaccines were causing blood clots so that pushed me away from getting vaccinated…I also don’t really like needles so if I don’t have to get it, I’m not going to.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was recently put on pause when a rare blood-clotting disorder emerged in six recipients after 6.8 million doses were administered in the U.S. Officials launched an investigation into the clotting issue during the 10-day hold. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accepted an advisory panel’s decision that the benefits of the shots outweighed the risks, which will put the vaccine back into circulation in the coming days.

Two current seniors offered their views on the vaccine.

Emily Richmond wrote, “I might get the vaccine eventually, but at this point, no, I do not want to get it. My family and I have already gotten the virus. We have absolutely no idea how we got it because we were following all of the health and safety recommendations (mask-wearing, hand sanitizer, et cetera). Whether or not I have the antibodies to help protect me from potential reinfection, I don’t know. This virus is new and we are learning more and more about it each and every day and I have heard that if you get the virus you may or may not have lasting immunity. I try my best to make an informed factual decision about things like this.

“In addition to that, this vaccine, although it has gone through extensive testing, is very new and I am just concerned with what the effects will be in the years to come, whereas with other vaccines that have been around for a long time, we know how they affect us in the long run and what their potential side effects are,” she added.

Mario Frisone plans on receiving the vaccine. He noted, “I think the general consensus of both the public as well as health officials is that the COVID-19 shot, whether from any of the large distributors, is the best tool to fight in the direction of a more normalized world.

“It would be reasonable to say that I and many others have felt the pressure of some degree to get the vaccine. It has seemingly been a topic at the forefront of all informative and social media platforms. Now that we have arrived at the stage of COVID relief where young adults and more of the populace are able to be vaccinated, the expectation is that everyone who is able should be getting it. I personally agree that this pressure is generally positive and helpful. That being said, I will always maintain the position that everyone has the right to deny whatever medical treatment they participate in, for whatever reason they see fit. It is important to understand that although you may protest vaccines to any level, the repercussions will likely affect more people than yourself,” he continued.

Bio-Med offered a student vaccination clinic through Akron Children’s Hospital on April 30, with the second dose scheduled for May 21.

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Preparing for the Inevitable

Preparing for the Inevitable

by Christine Whyde, staff writer

MARCH 2021 – Millions of Americans are noticing an alarming trend as funeral costs continue to rise. According to a 2017 article by Business Insider, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the funeral costs and burial casket prices had increased by more than 230% since 1986 while all other commodities only rose 93% in comparison. This jump has caused many to choose cremation as a cost effective alternative, but there is not much of a difference in price. As of 2019 the National Funeral Directors Association found the average cost of a funeral to be $7,640 while a funeral with cremation was priced at $5,150. 

To combat these rising fees, many are choosing to pre-plan their services many years before their passing. This allows them to potentially pay for the entirety of their funerary care years in advance while locking in prices that will not increase. Although the costs may be comparable to that of a normal service, many are also beginning to seek out alternatives to traditional disposition (burial or cremation). 

One such option is an eternal reef. According to the official Eternal Reef website, “An Eternal Reef combines a cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial at sea into one meaningful, permanent environmental tribute to life.”

Cremated remains are mixed with ocean-safe cement to create artificial reef formations. These memorial formations are then placed onto the ocean floor to create habitats for marine life. 

People are able to give this company all or only a portion of the cremated remains of a loved one as well as remains of pets or additional family members. Families are able to participate in the creation of the formations if they wish and they may add personal touches such as a handprint. 

Prices depend on the size of the structure and attendance of loved ones, ranging from $2,995 to $7,495. Note that this does not include the initial cost of cremation that would be handled at a crematory or funeral home outside of the organization or any transportation of the family to witness when the formation is placed. Costs do include the presence of an inscribed plaque, transportation of the formation to the reef site, placement and dedication of the formation, and a specific GPS location of the reef. 

Another disposition alternative, similar to cremation, is called alkaline hydrolysis. The Cremation Association website describes the process: “Alkaline hydrolysis uses water, alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes pressure and agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition, leaving bone fragments and a neutral liquid called effluent.” By the end of the process, the body has decomposed in a way similar to burial with the aid of chemicals. The effluent is discharged along with the other waste products. 

Many people choose alkaline hydrolysis over cremation because it is considered to be a gentler process on the body. It is also seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation and burial.

Just like cremation, the body of the deceased will be transported to the facility by funerary professionals and the cremated remains will be delivered to the designated recipient. The main difference is the type of machine used and the process itself. It has also been found that alkaline hydrolysis results in 32% more cremated remains than those produced through traditional cremation. The price varies depending on the funeral home and state in which you are provided the service, but is generally at a similar price point to cremation. 

Unfortunately, those interested in this form of disposition may need to look outside of their home state. Currently, only 15 states allow alkaline hydrolysis and not all of them have trained professionals. This is largely due to confusion over the waste products, as many assume that toxic chemicals are being haphazardly released into the water treatment system. Only 5% of the solution in the machine contains chemicals and the waste product left over is heavily regulated before disposal.

Those seeking a more environmentally friendly form of disposition may also be interested in a green burial. 

A biodegradable casket offers a greener way to bury your loved ones.

For a burial to be officially considered a green burial, a number of guidelines must be followed. The deceased must be cared for with little impact on the environment unless in a way that aids conservation, reducing the emission of carbon, protecting the health of workers, or restoration/preservation of the habitat in which the body is to be buried. Typically this means that the body is not embalmed or goes through the process of cremation. 

The container in which the body is contained, whether that be a casket or urn, must be biodegradable. Green burial caskets can be made from everything from wicker to cardboard. 

Due to the criteria, lawn cemeteries are usually not acceptable for this type of burial as they may require vaults, concrete grave markers, or other disruptions to the environment. Designated “green” cemeteries do exist, such as the Foxfield Preserve located in Stark County, Ohio. 

Green cemeteries provide services like ash spreading and biodegradable burials.

To be buried at the Foxfield Preserve, an interment fee of at least $4000 must be paid. Each site allows for one full casket, one full casket with a set of cremated remains, or two sets of cremated remains. If burial is not required, cremated remains can be scattered onsite for a $250 fee. Other fees will be required depending on the desired service. 

Additionally, an individual seeking this type of disposition must work alongside a funeral home that offers such services. One such facility is local Bissler & Sons Funeral Home and Crematory located in Kent, Ohio. 

There are many other alternatives and things that may be added to traditional funerary services that may be more accessible. Some of these include incorporating cremated remains into jewelry, tattoo ink, a toy, or even a vinyl record. Others may choose to scatter the remains in one or more areas of significance. As far as burial, some may be interested in burial at sea or, if legally permitted, having a loved one buried on private property rather than a cemetery. Regardless of the disposition or how young one may be, it is imperative that Americans start planning ahead of time. Afterall, death and deathcare is inevitable and they have a cost. 

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A Change in Weather and Mental Health

A Change in Weather and Mental Health

by Christine Whyde, staff writer

Roughly 10 million Americans are impacted by seasonal affective disorder.

FEBRUARY 2021- As we endure the winter months, many Northeast Ohioans will find themselves experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also referred to as seasonal depression. But we are not alone. Boston University estimates that roughly 10 million Americans are impacted by SAD. Although the condition is prevalent, it is not widely discussed or understood by the general public. 

When asked to define SAD, Nichole Ammon stated, “Seasonal affective disorder isn’t really its own disorder. When you classify it, it would be considered depression with a recurrent seasonal pattern.” 

Ammon has been with the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) for around eight years now. Her background in community mental health counseling has helped in her position with the university. Her work primarily focuses on bridging the gap between primary care and mental health care, helping to treat patients more holistically. Given her experience within the mental health field, Ammon is very familiar with SAD. 

Although those who suffer from SAD might experience typical depression symptoms, Ammon noted that there are some symptoms specific to the condition that will also vary depending on the time of year that a person is affected. With winter SAD, the most common type of the condition, it is typical to see oversleeping, changes in appetite, potentially leading to weight gain, and overall tiredness. 

During this time of the year, most people will find themselves experiencing SAD symptoms and some may even come to the conclusion that they are suffering from seasonal depression. To some degree this is warranted. Ammon believes that, “To some degree, lots of people experience a low-grade seasonal affective disorder. We tend to be a little bit more blue [in the winter].” However, she also asserts that the number of people who reach a diagnosable level of the disorder is considerably lower than those who say that they have SAD.  

Although the exact cause of SAD is currently unknown, there are a few possibilities. Like Vitamin D, sunlight is actually responsible for regulating some of the molecules necessary for serotonin production. As we lose what little sunlight we have as Ohioans, some will be affected by this change in serotonin levels. Additionally, during this time we often see an overproduction of melatonin. Because melatonin helps to regulate our sleep, an increased amount has the potential to disrupt an individual’s daily rhythm and can lead to SAD symptoms. In some cases, simply taking a supplement can lessen symptoms greatly. 

The lack of sunlight in the winter could be a contributing factor to SAD

The likely role of sunlight exposure, on its own, is what makes the condition so unique. Dr. Randon Welton of NEOMED has had personal experience with this element of SAD. 

In August 2020, Dr. Welton joined NEOMED as the Margaret Clark Morgan Endowed Chair of Psychiatry. With this position, he oversees the department of psychiatry and their contribution to the college of medicine and residency training. Dr. Welton has been involved in training residences and medical students for around 20 years and served as a U.S. Air Force psychiatrist for 24 years. 

During his time in the military, Dr. Welton witnessed the impacts of SAD, while stationed in England. He recalled his time there: “It would be completely dark by four and not light until 10 [in the morning]. There were a lot of people, especially from southern places in the United States, that really struggled with how dark and dreary the winter was.” To combat this, a mental health clinic lent out light boxes for the service members to use. 

Light boxes are a common treatment for SAD. When describing the devices, Ammon explained, “Light boxes filter out UV light but offer anywhere from 2,500 to 10,000 lux. Sitting in front of the light for 10 to 15 [minutes] a day seems to help a lot of people.” 

Dr. Welton touched on the efficiency of this treatment, stating, “Folks who find this effective will generally need to use the box daily from late October through March.” He also added that he regularly uses a light box himself and people can benefit from the treatment regardless of whether they have SAD. 

While it may seem that the solution for SAD is as simple as using a device, this is unfortunately not always the case. Although sunlight may have an impact on those with the disorder, some find themselves derailed by the social aspects of winter time. 

Dr. Welton explained, “While we usually think of the holidays as a fun time to get together, which really won’t be happening this year like it used to, for some they are full of sadness and depression. The holidays often remind people of those that they have lost. You see an increase in depressive symptoms and suicides around the holidays because of that. We are not really blaming the winter for that; it is really just the family connections. Lots of people may have terrible families. I’ve had patients who have told me that they hate this time of year because when they turn on the television all they see are happy families and people getting together and having a great time, when they didn’t experience anything close to that.”

These patterns of negative thinking, sometimes leading to depressive symptoms, can be addressed through talking therapy and even through a low-dose antidepressant. Ammon clarified, “If it is seasonal, it obviously would not need to be taken all year, but if a person knows that every year they are going to hit a pattern of depression then their primary care physician or psychiatrist could prescribe a low dose antidepressant and remove that in the spring.” This also would apply for the less-common spring-summer pattern of SAD. 

Even if someone does not believe they are suffering from SAD, or any other mental illness for that matter, talking therapy can still be beneficial. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service states that, “Talking therapy is for anyone who’s going through a bad time or has emotional problems they need help with.” In this way, therapy can be considered a form of support and self care. Ammon stressed that regular routines and preventative self care, such as exercise and a healthy diet can make all the difference on our mental health. She pointed out, “Exercise has been proven to be very helpful for depression.” 

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 50% of people will be formally diagnosed with some type of mental illness during their lifetime, a social stigma remains about the topic. This discourages people from reaching out to others for the help that they need. 

Nichole Ammon stressed the importance of talking about mental health: “Seasonal affective disorder, whether it has reached a diagnosable level of depression…or if you have something that you know doesn’t quite meet that level but you know that you experience some of these symptoms, is extremely common, particularly in this region of Ohio and of the country. One of the reasons that the military base was built in Ravenna was very specifically because of the number of cloudy days and trying to prevent satellites from observing what was going on there. That by itself is going to lead many people in Ohio to experience [SAD]. It is important to reduce the stigma around it, so that people can talk about it and actively seek treatment without feeling like an ‘other’ or as if something is wrong with them. That I think is the most important thing.” 

If someone finds themself or someone they know experiencing symptoms, it is important to take action. There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help, as it could save a life.

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The Ancient and Bizzare Biochemistry of the Platypus

By Colleen Bungard, staff writer

Most people know them for their peculiar appearances, but the platypus has more than just looks: a 2018 study conducted by the University of Adelaide revealed the presence of a protein in their venom and gut that could revolutionize the way we treat type 2 diabetes. It’s a fairly recent discovery, so even though further research is funded, clinical trials and a marketable drug are still a thing of the somewhat distant future. 

The protein, called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), is a slightly different version of a hormone found in the human intestinal tract. In the digestive systems of both people and platypuses, GLP-1 is part of a complex system of chemicals that regulates blood sugar. It’s released when glucose passes through the digestive tract and stimulates the pancreas to release insulin and lower blood sugar. However, male platypuses also use the hormone as a component of the venom they secrete during mating season. They use this venom and the spurs on their hind limbs that deliver it to fight for mates. Among other unsavory effects such as extreme pain, hyperventilation, and convulsions, the GLP-1 in platypus venom serves the same function as in the gut and lowers the blood sugar of the unfortunate creature on the receiving end of a sting. 

So if GLP-1 serves the same function in human stomachs as it does in platypus venom, why is platypus GLP-1 so much better for treating diabetes than human GLP-1? The answer lies in the differing lifespans of the two kinds of hormones. Human GLP-1 is very short-lived, mostly because we also produce an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) that rapidly denatures GLP-1. Current diabetes treatments based around the blood sugar lowering properties of GLP-1 focus on inhibiting the production DPP-4 rather than increasing GLP-1. 

However, platypus GLP-1 isn’t affected by DPP-4. This resistance to human enzyme stems from the massive biochemical differences platypuses have due to the sheer age of the species. The subgroup they belong to, monotremes, diverged from the main mammalian phylogenetic line over 160 million years ago. In comparison, primates split off only 55 million years ago. They’re still mammals, but they’ve been evolving separately from most mammals for a long time. Consequently, most of their organs work roughly the same way mammals’ do, but many of the biochemical systems used by their organs have evolved to be identical in function but composed of differently structured molecules. Platypus GLP-1 is no exception: it totally lacks the cleavage point that DPP-4 latches onto in human GLP-1. Platypuses developed a structurally different version of DDP-4 to denature their GLP-1, thus human DDP-4 does nothing to it. Yet, the platypus hormone is similar enough to its human counterpart that (at least according to preliminary testing) it activates the same receptors in the pancreas as normal human GLP-1 

Platypuses are unique: they are similar enough to mammals that their biochemistry and features are mostly comparable to that of humans, yet they contain a multitude of key differences. GLP-1 structure is one such example, but there are others that are useful to humans. Platypuses and humans both produce milk to nurture their young, but only humans have nipples. Platypuses diverged from mammals before they evolved nipples to prevent bacterial contamination by reducing the surface area involved in feeding. As a result, platypuses developed an alternative way of preventing infection: a unique protein discovered in 2010 with highly antibacterial properties that could potentially help us fight bacterial resistance. Keep in mind, these two compounds are just the discoveries we’ve made since the platypus genome was sequenced in 2008. Who knows how many more amazing and unique compounds platypuses contain?

Unfortunately, we may never get the chance to explore this question. Playpuses are threatened by land development and predation by feral dogs and cats. They are especially vulnerable to droughts and bushfires like those recently plaguing Australia because of their water-dwelling nature. They have already disappeared from 40% of their former range, and a joint study conducted by the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne estimated that climate change could cause up to a 73% decline in the platypus population in the next 50 years. 

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Cows!

By Colleen Bungard

During fair week this year, students had to figure out how they would address the fictional scenario of a federal law limiting cattle numbers being passed. In a study conducted by Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast in 2005, a genus of seaweed called Asparagopsis has been shown to reduce the amount of methane produced by cattle by an astounding 98.2%. The seaweed has other potential benefits as well, but there’s just one problem: we haven’t done anything to utilize its unique properties. 

The authors of the study suspect that some kind of secondary metabolite is what gives the seaweed its remarkable property. Secondary metabolites are small molecules that plants release as a defense mechanism, like the toxins that milkweed plants produce to deter insects from eating the plant’s leaves.  

A variety of other compounds have been studied for their gas-inhibiting effects, including other varieties of seaweed, zinc, and garlic, but none so promising as Asparagopsis. In addition to practically eliminating bovine methane emissions, this seaweed has the potential to improve diet digestibility and the overall efficiency of cattle. Cattle lose 12% of their gross energy intake to producing methane, so eliminating preventing methane production also prevents that energy loss, which in turn results in more efficient cattle. The USC study and other more recent studies also analyzed the impact of the seaweed on the production of volatile fatty acids, or VFAs, which are what the cow uses to create energy. Decreased VFA levels are an indicator of inhibited digestion, but all the studies have shown that quantities of seaweed that inhibit methane do not impact VFA levels.

Many countries like New Zealand are trying to reduce methane emissions by proposing legislation to reduce the number of cattle in the country. However, they are facing massive backlash, because farmers (understandably) don’t want to lose profits or their jobs. This seaweed could be a solution that lets us eliminate methane while allowing farmers to maintain herd sizes and profits.

It’s pretty clear that this seaweed has remarkable potential, so why isn’t it already being used in cattle feed? After all, the Sunshine Coast study that revealed Asparagopsis ‘s potential was published in 2005. It’s been 14 years since then, but the seaweed is yet to be made commercially available. Part of that time has been devoted to further research confirming and expanding our knowledge of the seaweed’s effects, but the main obstacle to actually using it is that we don’t have the funding to develop the methods and equipment needed to mass produce it. Not a single politician or entrepreneur has taken the initiative to use this amazing discovery to solve our methane problem.

That’s where we come in. It’s important that we, as students, learn about things like this so that in the not-so-far-off future, when our generation is the one doing research and creating laws, we can use ideas like this one to create real change. We will be the engineers that develop ways to sustainably produce enough seaweed to feed cows everywhere, the politicians that support its implementation in the farming industry, and the farmers that choose to feed it to their cows. We will have to be the ones to take responsibility for the damage we are doing to our planet. That’s why what we do here in school is important: we need to acquire the skills and knowledge to accomplish what the current generation hasn’t.

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