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Health News

Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesBy STEPHANIE EBBS and ANNE FLAHERTY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- An independent advisory panel of infectious disease experts, doctors and scientists voted unanimously to recommend the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, a step closer to making a third COVID-19 vaccine available to Americans.

The recommendation paves the way for official emergency authorization by the FDA, allowing the vaccine to be provided to Americans while the company continues to study it. If that happens Friday night or over the weekend, some 4 million doses would be expected to start shipping as early as Monday.

"If the FDA [authorizes] the use of this new vaccine, we would plan to roll out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make the vaccine," President Joe Biden said Thursday.

The federal government will still determine how many doses are delivered to each state and states will determine which populations are eligible to be vaccinated based on available supply.

Anthony Fauci, one of the top infectious disease doctors in the country and a senior advisor to the White House on COVID-19 response, said he’s looking forward to the FDA review of the J&J vaccine but suggested its authorization is a foregone conclusion.

“We now have three highly effective vaccines. Importantly, each of them are very effective against severe disease and virtually all have them say that you look at the data and it's clear that you get essentially no hospitalizations, or deaths. And this is very good news,” he said in a briefing with reporters on Friday.

Here's what to know:


The vaccine requires only one shot, with 20 million doses due before April.

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, only requires one shot for the recipient to be considered fully immunized. The vaccine also can be stored in a refrigerator, making it relatively easy to handle.

While 4 million doses would ship out initially, the company says it's on track to produce 20 million doses by the end of March. Along with Pfizer and Moderna doses, that means the U.S. would have enough vaccine doses for 130 million adults -- about half the adult population -- to be vaccinated.

By the end of June, J&J is expected to have produced 100 million vaccine doses. That would put the U.S. in a position of having a surplus by mid-summer, when Pfizer and Moderna are expected to have delivered enough vaccine to immunize 300 million people.

Officials caution, though, that it will take time to get shots in arms.

The J&J vaccine is for adults only, at least initially.

Vaccine makers are looking at whether their products would be safe and effective in children, but that will take some time. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, predicts vaccines could be offered to teens as early as fall and younger children in early 2022 after clinical trials are done.

For now, since J&J's clinical trial involving more than 44,000 people looked only at adults, the vaccine would be restricted to people 18 and older. While the vaccine was found to be slightly less effective than others at preventing any symptoms, it was 85% effective at preventing severe illness and 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths 28 days after individuals were vaccinated.

The other good news is that J&J was tested in countries known to have potentially more dangerous variants, including Brazil and South Africa. The data found the vaccine worked against all variants at preventing severe disease.

J&J reported that in cases of breakthrough infection, when someone who has been vaccinated still becomes infected with the virus, symptoms of COVID-19 were more mild than in participants who received the placebo.

On Wednesday, the company published a preliminary analysis suggesting its vaccine can help prevent asymptomatic infections, but the FDA concluded there is not yet enough data to say for sure if the J&J vaccine protects against asymptomatic infection.

The agency also said it's not yet clear how long protection lasts.

No serious safety concerns were reported in the clinical trials.

Participants in the clinical trial who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine showed similar side effects to other vaccines, including pain at the injection site and some people with reports of fatigue, headache, or fever. Fevers were reported the day of or the day after receiving the injection and lasted one day for most people who experienced them.

There were no cases of anaphylaxis reported in the clinical trial but Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development for the vaccine group at Janssen, said the company received preliminary reports of two cases of severe allergic reactions, including one with anaphylaxis.

Douoguih said the company will continue to monitor those events and any other reactions closely.

Overall, allergic reactions have not been common and are usually temporary.

It could show up at your local pharmacy.

The J&J vaccine is expected to be distributed much as the other vaccines -- spread out evenly across the states, major cities and other "jurisdictions" like federal agencies. States will still determine who is eligible to be vaccinated and when the process will be opened to additional groups.

But if authorized, this vaccine would be the first to likely target the more general population. When Pfizer and Moderna were authorized in December, the focus was still on health care workers and nursing homes.

The J&J vaccine will likely be used to expand supply for local pharmacies and mass vaccination sites. In most states, priority is now being given to older Americans living independently, people with severe health risks and essential workers, like teachers.

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MarsBars/iStockBy DR. RAEHANNAH JAMSHIDI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, predicted a COVID-19 vaccine may not be available for high schoolers until the fall and for younger kids until early next year, scientists and vaccine makers say studies are moving as quickly as possible to ensure the vaccines are safe and effective for the nation's children.

Pfizer and Moderna are in the midst of testing their vaccines in children and teen ages 12 to 15 and 12 to 17, respectively, and both companies expect to have data by June. Next, the companies will start testing their vaccines in progressively younger age groups. Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for persons 16 and older, and Moderna's vaccine is authorized for those 18 and older.

Experts say it's crucial to test vaccines in children through carefully designed studies. Children are not simply smaller adults, meaning it's not safe to assume that any drug or vaccine that works well for adults will also be highly safe and effective in children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 3.1 million children have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 240 have died.

Studies for children look similar to those for adults, but with some key differences. Like adult studies, half of the children participants receive an injection with the vaccine, and the second half of the participants receive a saline placebo injection.

However, unlike adult vaccine trials, researchers won't have to enroll tens of thousands of volunteers and wait for some to become infected as they go about their daily lives. Instead, they enroll a few thousand volunteers and analyze their blood to ensure the vaccine is doing its job of provoking an appropriate immune system response.

That means experts predict the trials will progress faster than those for adults. It likely take a few weeks, rather than months, to see results.

"We are looking mostly for safety and immune responses generated, which correlates with vaccine effectiveness over large numbers," said Dr. Todd Ellerin, an ABC News contributor and infectious disease specialist at South Shore Health.

The immune responses in children will be compared to the immune responses generated in adults following vaccination.

"In general, kids have an equal or greater immune response compared to adults," Ellerin said.

The way COVID-19 vaccines are being tested in children mirrors the way other vaccines have been tested in children in the past, with researchers monitoring for any new safety concerns in children.

"Clinical outcome data will still be collected, but these trials are primarily concerned with adverse events and immune (or antibody) responses," said Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston.

Although children need parental consent to volunteer, they can leave the study any time they wish, just like adults, according to Dr. Robert Frenck, lead investigator of the COVID-19 vaccine trials at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Experts say it is crucial to vaccinate children not just to protect them, but to stop the spread of disease. Children tend to have mild or no symptoms but could transfer the virus to their older loved ones at home.

"If you wipe out the infection in the younger children, they don't spread it to the adults, and so then, you can get a big handle on disease just by targeting the younger children and getting the infection out of that age group," Frenck said.

Because children comprise nearly a quarter of the overall U.S. population, experts say vaccinating children will be crucial to reaching herd immunity -- that is, the moment when so many Americans are immune that the virus has nowhere left to go.

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Inside Creative House/iStockBy MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News

(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Health care provider One Medical has been cut off from the vaccine rollout in five California counties after ineligible patients jumped the line to get the coveted shot.

Vaccine allocations were stopped in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Marin and Alameda counties for the San Francisco-based national health care provider following complaints that people younger than the state's vaccine eligibility cutoff age of 65, jumped ahead in line for the scarce shots.

One Medical confirmed to ABC News Wednesday that they terminated several clinical staffers for their "intentional disregard" of eligibility requirements.

With vaccine eligibility requirements varying state to state, loose reinforcement and a limited number of vaccines shipped out to states, skipping the COVID-19 vaccine line has become a national issue.

One Medical is a membership-based primary care provider with locations across the country and charges a $199 annual fee. The company offers a tech-focused medical experience with virtual video visits and a mobile app to schedule appointments.

In San Mateo County, 70 ineligible people were vaccinated at One Medical locations, an investigation found following a Feb. 5 complaint, officials told ABC News. The county subsequently terminated its contract with One Medical, calling the actions "disappointing."

Marin, Santa Clara, and Alameda County officials didn't say how many ineligible patients may have been inoculated at One Medical centers in their counties, but all have stopped sending out further dose allocations.

San Francisco officials have not disclosed how many ineligible people received the vaccine, but said in a statement that "a number of doses" were administered to people younger than 65 who falsely self-identified as "Phase 1a health care workers."

The San Francisco Department of Public Health said they'll allow One Medical to administer second doses to pre-scheduled patients, but the remaining 1,600 doses sent to the provider must be returned. One Medical told ABC News those doses were asked to be returned because other regions had a higher priority for the doses, not due to "eligibility enforcement procedures."

A One Medical spokesperson told ABC News they have "numerous checkpoints in place" and "routinely turn people away who do not meet eligibility criteria" and they have a "zero-tolerance policy" for preferential vaccine treatment to ineligible people.

"We stand behind our policy that no ineligible employees, members, or business affiliates will intentionally be given an opportunity to jump the line," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said their data shows that less than 1% of doses were administered to people outside of current eligible groups and they were inoculated to use extra doses at the end of the day.

The issue has sparked backlash among locals.

"It's really disheartening to hear," Andrew Levy, a current One Medical member, said to KGO-TV. "I have elderly parents that are struggling to get the vaccine … I think it is unfortunate when they try and cheat."

One Medical said the issue of people skipping the line is not unique to their company and there's no current known pending investigations into the matter.

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Phil Feyerabend/iStockBy MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News

(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Texas will deploy more than 1,100 National Guardsmen to help administer COVID-19 vaccines to homebound seniors in rural and isolated areas.

"We are announcing today a statewide program to save our seniors," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press conference Thursday.

The "Save Our Seniors" program, which will launch Monday, will expand upon a model already rolling out in the Texas city Corpus Christi.

"By implementing a similar model throughout the state, and with the support of the Texas National Guard, we will reach more homebound seniors in communities across Texas and provide them with these life-saving vaccines," Abbott said.

Officials will identify seniors through programs like Meal on Wheels, which provides meals to the homebound elderly, and nursing home groups.

The goal is to inoculate all seniors who want a vaccine dose by the end of March.

As of Wednesday about 40% of those 65 and older in the state have received at least one vaccine, Abbott said. He wants to boost that number to 50% by the end next week.

A total of 8,000 vaccines have been allotted for the effort for the first week.

The National Guard will be broken up into teams deployed across the region that will identify and register homebound seniors for the program.

Abbott said that once the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is approved, he'll amp up the process of inoculating the entire state beyond phase 1A and 1B.

Currently in Texas the vaccine is only available to front-line and vulnerable populations, including those aged 65 and older.

On Friday, the governor announced the state has administered more than 5 million vaccines.

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Sezeryadigar/iStockBy DR. STEPHANIE WIDMER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Since the beginning of the pandemic, toxicologists across the country have reported an uptick in poisonings as more people have begun trying at-home coronavirus remedies -- to both prevent catching the virus and to attempt to cure it.

It's been months since former President Donald Trump hyped unproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, and social media companies have since taken steps to curb the spread of medical misinformation, but doctors say some people are still trying unproven, dangerous methods.

"Poison centers are still responding to events related to COVID-19," said Julie Weber, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers and director of the Missouri Poison Center. "On average, we are getting over 40 to 50 calls per day in addition to what we would normally get pre-pandemic."

According to Weber, the threats keep changing. Recently, there's been an increase in the number of calls for ivermectin -- a drug used to treat parasite infections that people began trying as a COVID-19 remedy.

She said there's limited information available about using the drug to treat COVID-19, but consumers aren't waiting to get medications through the proper channels, adding: "We just had a case of someone using a veterinary source of ivermectin, a horse medication, that contains a significantly larger dose of the drug."

Health experts continue to warn members of the public to think carefully about where they get medical information and to rely only on proven treatments and therapies recommended by doctors and federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts also warn against trusting companies that are offering dubious cures. Since January, the FDA has delivered warning letters to at least four companies for allegedly peddling unproven COVID-19 therapies -- from tea to tinctures.

Since March 2020, the daily number of calls to poison centers for exposure to cleaners or disinfectants have increased by about 20%, mostly because of bleach exposure, according to the CDC.

Weber said calls linked to bleaches, hand sanitizers and cleaning products are still up, and sanitizers continue to be of particular concern.

"People are drinking hand sanitizer" and "taking almost any kind of cleaner or sterilant and using it on their skin because they think it will kill the virus, but these substances can be harmful to people as well," said Dr. Joshua Nogar, the medical toxicology fellowship director at Northwell Health and an emergency medicine physician.

The FDA issued a strong warning last month about toxic, imported hand sanitizers that are especially dangerous if consumed.

"There have been some notable, very unfortunate occurrences of people who have fatally ingested pool cleaner because they were told it could kill COVID-19," Nogar told ABC News.

In an effort to curb the spread of harmful misinformation pertaining to the virus, the World Health Organization and the FDA have launched campaigns to investigate fraudulent claims and to help people identify and report potentially false information.​

The World Health Organization has an entire webpage dedicated to debunking at-home remedies.

"There is so much information available to us, and no accountability for 'facts' that are being put out there," Nogar said. "We should take all of the information that we consume on the internet with a grain of salt."

"Everyone is desperate for a cure," explained Dr. Nima Majlesi, the director of medical toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital and an emergency medicine physician, but "there is no such thing as completely eliminating our risk of severe illness from COVID-19."

Majlesi added that it's important for people to understand exactly what they are exposing their bodies to, weighing risk and reward, and discussing all potential options with a doctor.

"There are things that have been scientifically proven to substantially decrease our risk of illness from COVID-19," Majlesi added, "such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting a vaccination when it becomes available."

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222 or usePoisonHelp.org. Services are free, confidential, available 24/7.

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zoranm/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO and ARIELLE MITROPOULOS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 50,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Massachusetts were snatched up in 90 minutes Thursday morning, as residents were told they could be waiting hours, or even days, to schedule one of the limited slots.

Massachusetts releases appointments every Thursday for one of its seven mass vaccination sites, including Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

Registration for the approximately 50,000 appointments at the sites opened at 7 a.m. on the state's vaccine finder website. Shortly before 9:30 a.m., the state warned that they were "nearly all filled," pointing to a "severely limited" vaccine supply and the large number of people eligible to get it.

"If you have not been able to schedule an appointment yet, please try again next week -- it may take several attempts over the course of a few weeks to get an open slot," the state said.

Some placed in a new "digital waiting room" due to high website traffic were told that they could be waiting for hours, or even days. One wait time was as high as 125,255 minutes -- or 87 days -- according to ABC Boston affiliate WCVB-TV.

"It's just been an exercise in futility," Patty Lieber of Boston, who was informed she had 6,866 minutes in the wait line and ultimately wasn't able to make an appointment, told WCVB.

The pace of the vaccine rollout seems to be picking up across the country, though Americans continue to be frustrated by the inability to secure an appointment to be inoculated.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker placed the blame for the rollout frustrations on the state's limited supplies from the federal government and very high demand for appointments.

"I continue to believe that our biggest problem, under any scenario here, is we don't have enough supply to meet demand," Baker said during a press briefing Thursday. "If the feds increase supply, we will increase, gladly, the number of appointments, and people will book those based on the availability of additional appointments. But you can't just magically create 1,000 random appointments."

The state receives about 130,000 first doses of vaccine weekly from the federal government, Baker said.

A week ago, both the state's online directory of vaccine sites and scheduling website for mass vaccination sites crashed due to demand, as about one million additional residents became newly eligible for vaccinations. After that, the state worked to improve website capacity and added the digital waiting room to help prevent crashes.

The governor stressed Thursday that the website "weathered a very significant surge of interested people" that morning, but despite the influx of users, there were "no widespread outages."

During a virtual oversight hearing Thursday with state lawmakers, Baker said that the state "expect[s] to continue to improve the user experience."

State legislators called the vaccine rollout a "failure" over website concerns.

"My constituents, and all of our constituents, are justifiably asking why the governor of Massachusetts, in the health care and technology capital of the country, cannot figure out how to operate a website," State Sen. Eric Lesser said.

Baker noted during the hearing that Massachusetts has ranked in the "top 10" for vaccines administered for the past three weeks.

As of Wednesday, the state has administered 1.5 million total doses, or 22,249 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, the state expanded eligibility to people ages 65 and up and those who have two or more qualifying medical conditions, including cancer, heart disease, asthma, obesity and pregnancy.

People ages 75 and older, health care workers, first responders, affordable housing staff and residents and those in congregate care and long-term care facilities are also eligible.

Caregivers who accompany residents over the age of 75 to appointments at the state's mass vaccination sites can also receive the vaccine.

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Courtesy VaccineFinder.orgBy ARIELLE MITROPOULUS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Although the pace of the coronavirus vaccine rollout seems to be picking up across the country, many Americans have been left frustrated by their inability to secure an appointment. With limited vaccine supplies, and very high demand, state-run websites have been overwhelmed, even crashing at times, as millions attempted to log on at the same time.

In Massachusetts, 50,000 new COVID-19 vaccination appointments that became available Thursday were "nearly filled" within 90 minutes of their release, the state reported. Meanwhile, many queued up in a "digital waiting room," some being told that they could be waiting for hours.

Seniors in Illinois have reported spending hours on the phone trying to find an appointment, and in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser reported that the Capitol's vaccine site was experiencing delays on Thursday, after all new vaccination appointments were booked, following an eligibility expansion to include people with preexisting conditions such as severe obesity.

However, an online tool launched earlier this week is hoping to ease some of the burden of finding an available vaccine appointment.

The online portal, called VaccineFinder, which has won the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the brainchild of Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor, who runs the site in partnership with Boston Children's and Castlight Health.

The goal of the online portal is to assist an already taxed and underfunded public health system in the drive to inoculate.

"The idea here is to provide, at the national scale, a source of truth, in terms of where the vaccine is in communities, and create a jumping off point for people to figure out where to go, when to go, to figure out specific details of hours of operation, and therefore, at least reduce one step in people's search for vaccines," Brownstein said.

The website was initially created by Brownstein and his team nine years ago, following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, when people were eager to be vaccinated against the disease.

"Of course, everyone wanted it, and there was a need to help bring clarity to consumers about where the vaccine was in the community," Brownstein said.

Although initially built for the flu, the platform began to include the availability of a range of vaccines, such as shingles, HPV or travel vaccines.

When coronavirus emerged and it became clear that a vaccine would be available, VaccineFinder's technology was updated and rebuilt to create a COVID-19 vaccine website.

"Essentially, since December, we've been operating where vaccine providers register with our system, and also put in their daily inventory information, so we have clarity on where all the supply is at the provider level for the country," Brownstein said.

The website is not a one-stop shop for people to find and book appointments, but rather an intermediate step that allows users to see all the vaccine providers in their area, and see which ones have slots available for appointments.

The site works in conjunction with the national pharmacy program to display pharmacy and drugstore chains that are receiving vaccines from the federal government. It currently includes vaccine availability statuses at 20,000 locations across the country.

However, in Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee and Alaska the platform is already offering information on where residents can locate vaccines at their local hospitals, clinics and public health sites.

New York and Illinois will be added to the mix in the very near future, Brownstein said, and eventually, all 50 states.

If the website is successful, Brownstein and his fellow developers hope to expand its capability to reach vaccine providers across the country.

To date, states have administered over 66 million coronavirus doses.

As of Wednesday, 17.3% of adults have received one or more doses, and 7.9% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Nearly 50 million total coronavirus doses have been administered since Jan. 20, marking the halfway point of President Joe Biden's goal of administering 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office.

Although Brownstein said the site will not solve all the issues encountered by states, he hopes the tool will at least improve users' experiences in their quest to find a vaccination appointment.

"What we're hoping to do is to remove at least one or two steps in people's really painful journeys in finding vaccines. And over time, we are going to keep adding features to provide the best possible experience," Brownstein explained. "By improving convenience, you can drive uptake. Anything we can do to make it as simple as possible, the greater the chance that someone will get this vaccine."

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jenifoto/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Getting protein from plant-based sources like beans and nuts instead of animal proteins like red meat and dairy is linked to fewer deaths related to dementia and heart disease, according to a new study.

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), studied more than 100,000 post-menopausal women for nearly 20 years.

The women in the study who ate more protein from plant-based sources had an associated lower risk of deaths related to heart disease and dementia and a lower risk of all-cause mortality, or death from all causes, in comparison to women who ate more red meat, dairy and eggs.

Why a plant-based diet could impact health factors like dementia and heart disease is the subject of two working theories in medical and nutritional science literature, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OB-GYN.

"One of them has to do with inflammatory metabolites, so these are by-products of animal protein that can then affect the heart and the brain and our blood vessels," said Ashton, who also has a master's degree in human nutrition. "Another [theory] has to do with the gut microbiome, that good bacteria, and obviously what we eat is related to that."

Ashton said on ABC News' Good Morning America Thursday that she has followed a plant-based diet for the past three weeks and has seen her bad cholesterol level, or LDL, and her body fat decrease.

"My weight stayed the same and I lost one point off that dangerous internal visceral fat, so even someone doing this just one or two days a week could potentially have some health benefits," she said. "My advice is dip your toe in the water."

"It doesn't have to be all or none," she said. "You could start with just one day of plant-based eating then maybe that will lead to two but, listen, if I can do it, anyone can do it."

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is a way of eating that consists mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits.

Thomas Colin Campbell, a Cornell University biochemist, claims responsibility for giving the plant-based way of eating its name. He said he coined the term in 1980 to "help present his research on diet to skeptical colleagues at the National Institutes of Health," according to The New York Times.

"I wanted to emphasize that my work and ideas were coming totally from science and not any sort of ethical or philosophical consideration," he told the newspaper.

Is a plant-based diet different from a vegan diet?

Yes, a plant-based diet consists of eating few to no animal foods, while a vegan diet eliminates all animal foods and products -- everything from meat and leather products to eggs and cheese, according to Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., an obesity medicine physician scientist at Harvard Medical School.

Plant-based diets are also different from vegetarian diets, which eliminate all meat, fish and poultry, according to Stanford.

While religious, cultural, or ethical reasons often motivate veganism and vegetarianism, plant-based diets are often done for health and environmental reasons.

Plant-based diets also often place an emphasis on whole foods.

"There is a way to be healthy in any of those," Stanford told GMA last year. "What I say to my patients is to find the best right thing for them because everyone’s body is different and everyone’s body responds differently."

Why is there so much interest in plant-based diets?

Plant-based diets have been steadily gaining acclaim for the last several years, often landing atop the annual best diet rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

The 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives also really put plant-based diets into the mainstream. The documentary was made by Brian Wendel, who attended a conference on nutrition in 2001, began to follow a plant-based diet and then brought the idea to the masses with the documentary and a best-selling book.

"The information has been there for a long time, at least from a health perspective, and we’ve just helped bring it to a mass audience," Wendel told GMA last year. "I became convinced of the health argument back in 2001 and just did it overnight. Up until that point, I had been eating animal products every day."

More recently, another documentary, The Game Changers, has pushed plant-based diets into the spotlight. The 2019 documentary, produced by James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger, shows the journey of a former MMA fighter who gives up meat.

Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West have also been public about embracing a plant-based diet, increasing interest in the way of eating.

Another factor is the argument that eating plant-based is better for the environment, according to Deirdre K. Tobias, assistant professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.

"We see how much land it takes to supply and grow a single hamburger, for example," she said. "I think that awareness has been really eye-opening for a lot of people who may have disregarded the dietary advice for health reasons."

What are good things to eat on a plant-based diet?

Wendel, of Forks Over Knives, places an emphasis on eating whole, minimally processed foods within a plant-based diet.

"For me the best guide is does the food still look somewhat like it does when you take it out of the ground? When you cook a potato, it still looks like a potato," he said. "The more a food is like that the more you can lean on that in your diet and lifestyle, for health benefits."

Of course fresh vegetables and fruits are a big part of a plant-based diet, as well as nuts, whole grains and legumes. Seafood and meat products can also, on occasion, be part of a plant-based diet.

Wendel emphasizes eating more than just vegetables on a plant-based diet to ensure you are taking in enough calories.

"Make starchy foods -- beans, rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, chickpeas –- the center of the plate because that has the energy to sustain you," he said. "And then surround it with vegetables."

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Brianna Mancini/iStockBy SONY SALZMAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Scientists are now studying a new "home-grown" COVID-19 variant that has been identified and is circulating in the New York City area.

The variant, which scientists are calling B.1.526, was identified separately by two research groups. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology and at Columbia University published their separate findings this week, ahead of a formal scientific peer review process.

While analyzing over 1,100 samples for mutations found in the South Africa and Brazil variants, Columbia researchers didn't detect high numbers of those specific variants.

"Instead we found high numbers of this home-grown lineage," Dr. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, associate professor of medicine in Columbia University's division of infectious diseases, said in a statement.

So far, Columbia researchers say they have identified at least 80 cases of the new variant across the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, indicating the variant isn't confined to a single outbreak.

Looking back through a database of COVID-19 genetic samples, researchers found traces of B.1.526 dating back to November. According to the CalTech study, this new variant accounted for approximately 25% of New York coronavirus genomes that were sequenced and deposited into the variant database in February.

Scientists say they're seeing more cases of the variant now than they first did months ago, but it's not clear yet if this variant is more transmissible.

Although it shares a mutation in common with the variants that originated in South Africa and Brazil, the B.1.526 variant is unique and will need to be studied further to understand its impact on transmissibility, lethality or the vaccine.

Researchers from Columbia said they are planning to step up their efforts to track this new variant by sequencing 100 samples per day.

“Increasing our genomic sequencing effort will help us better understand the impact of the new variant and keep our eyes open for new variants that may pop up in our area," Uhlemann said.

Nationally, New York City has one of the highest case rates per 100,000 people over the last seven days, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

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narvikk/iStockBy ARIELLE MITROPOULOS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation's health inequalities have become even more glaring, with millions of Americans of color, Black and Latino in particular, experiencing more severe illness and death due to COVID-19, than white Americans.

New data now reveals that the same racial and ethnic disparities which have affected adults throughout the pandemic, also extend to children of color. Black and Latino children have been affected by more illness and death than other children, during the pandemic.

More than 3.1 million children have tested positive for coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic, accounting for approximately 13.1% of all cases in states reporting cases by age, according to a weekly report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

At this time, severe illness due to COVID-19 remains rare among children. Between 0.1%-2.2% of all child COVID-19 cases have resulted in hospitalization, and children currently account for 0.00%-0.25% of all COVID-19 deaths.

However, new demographic data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the first comprehensive racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths in children.

In children between the ages of 5 and 17, Latino children currently represent 26.9% of cases, and Black, non-Hispanic children, represent 11.2% of cases.

Similarly, Latino children currently represent 25.3% of coronavirus-related deaths in children, and Black, non-Hispanic children, represent 15.9% of deaths.

"These data clearly highlight that the incredible disparities we have witnessed throughout this pandemic are consistent across all age groups," said Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor. "The impact of COVID in pediatric populations mirror racial disparities in the adult population, with both cases and deaths seen more frequently among Black and Latino children."

Additionally, at least 2,060 U.S. children also have been diagnosed with MIS-C, which is short for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. The rare and extreme immune system response is linked to COVID-19 and has killed at least 30 people through Feb. 8, according to the CDC.

At least 69% of reported MIS-C cases have occurred in children who are Hispanic or Latino or Black, non-Hispanic.

A wide range of factors are driving the racial-ethnic disparities in COVID-19 impact among children.

The majority of cases in children of color come from exposure to the virus within their household or their communities, according to Dr. Kristin Moffitt, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Children's Hospital.

Thus, "the disproportionately high case rates in Black and Latino children largely reflect how the adults in their lives have been impacted. Affected families are more likely to include essential workers who have had to risk exposures in order to do their jobs. They are also more likely to live in multigenerational homes or more crowded conditions that make distancing or isolating difficult," Moffitt told ABC News.

Further, communities of color are more likely to experience barriers to high-quality health care and testing, or to face cultural or language challenges in having access to this health care, experts say.

Underlying chronic health conditions that occur in minority youths can worsen the course of COVID-19 infection, added Brownstein.

Experts are still struggling to understand the extent of this problem, with race data only available for 74% of the country's confirmed COVID-19-related deaths, and 52% of the U.S.' coronavirus-related cases.

"We have a lot of work to do in reducing health disparities across a number of factors; these include race (and) ethnicity, but also geographic factor(s), rural versus urban, access to medical care, and socioeconomic status," said C. Buddy Creech, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program and associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases.

"While these descriptive data help highlight uneven COVID burden on certain populations, significant work remains to determine how race, ethnicity and underlying socioeconomic status play into the trends we are seeing in children," Brownstein added.

Although 71,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported last week, this week marked the fifth consecutive week of declining new cases for children, reflecting the overall national decline in COVID-19 cases.

However, both American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association warn that there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways that the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.

Experts are also reporting that it is increasingly urgent to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for children, in an effort to curb the infection rate.

"If you wipe out the infection in the younger children, they don't spread it to the adults, and so then, you can get a big handle on disease just by targeting the younger children and getting the infection out of that age group," Dr. Robert Frenck, lead investigator of the COVID-19 vaccine trials at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, explained during a briefing earlier this month.

According to White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, children as young as 6 years old are expected to participate in coronavirus vaccine trials this year, in an effort to have vaccines ready for some age groups by the time school starts in September.

However, experts remain deeply concerned by the racial and socioeconomic differences among children affected by the pandemic, and its consequences for the future.

"So many of the factors driving these disparities are the result of chronic inequities in the determinants of health such as access to secure income, housing, education and health care. There is cause for serious concern that the disproportionate impacts of this pandemic on minority communities will only widen these gaps," Moffit said. "Equitable vaccine distribution, improvements in health care access, funding of public schools in these communities to allow safe return to in-class learning will all help to narrow this gap."

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Anatoliy Sizov/iStockBy JADE LAWSON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As the U.S. crossed the 500,000 COVID-19 death milestone earlier this week, Generation Z's minority TikTok influencers switched up their dance routines and comedy skits to bring awareness around the pandemic with a "See Friends Again" campaign.

"Sometimes you laugh and brush things off. We need not to laugh," TikTok user Kymon Palau told ABC News. "But we need to have that uncomfortable conversation of what's really wrong, why and then educate people. And I do it through humor."

Palau is one of the 18 minority influencers in the campaign, which educates young people of color about the importance of COVID-19 and vaccination. Grassroots organizations including BigTent, Fellow Americans, Swayable and The Cooperative Impact Lab will roll out the campaign in partnership with popular content creators to provide reliable vaccine resources during a time when social platforms are fighting misinformation about COVID-19.

More than 60% of TikTok users are Gen Zers. This racially and ethnically diverse group could bridge the gap between COVID-19 and minority communities.

The new initiative comes just months after Gen Z, a demographic between the ages of 18 and 24, helped shape the 2020 presidential election. According to ABC News' exit polls, at least 65% of Gen Zers voted for President Joseph Biden in the election.

Palau said he hopes to make a similar impact with the "See Your Friends" campaign, but the first step as an influencer is leading by example.

"I just want people to know that they should wear masks and wash their hands and stay at home as best as they can," Palau said. "I do that by promoting mask wearing. I know there's a lot of influencers out there that do the opposite of what they preach."

Laysie Brandy, who led social protests at her university in 2017, educates her 1.5 million TikTok followers on Black history daily. The 22-year-old said she hopes her online presence will ease some of her Black followers' apprehension regarding the vaccine.

"I understand the hesitation from Black and brown communities when it comes to anything the government is trying to put in our faces because we've been wronged in the past," Brandy told ABC News.

Forty-eight percent of the Black community and 52% of Latinx community say they know someone who was hospitalized or died from COVID-19, according to studies by the COVID Collaborative, a coalition of health experts and organizations including the NAACP and Rockefeller Foundation.

Despite having some of the highest infection rates, Black and LatinX communities are still receiving vaccines at disproportionately low numbers compared to their white counterparts. Only 14% of the Black community trusts the safety of the vaccine versus 34% of Latinx Americans, according to COVID Collaborative.

The campaign organizers believe these social platforms provide a safe space for those concerned about the vaccine or who have family members who are still hesitant about getting vaccinated.

“Many of us have been told from a young age that our voices and our opinions don't matter. And by seeing firsthand that they do matter, because people are listening, they're commenting, they're engaging," Ysiad Ferreiras, CEO of BigTent, told ABC News. "The more that happens and the more people talk about this thing, the more real, it becomes.”

In order to create change, influencers recognize their tactics may also need to be adjusted. Some say they plan on spreading awareness through humor.

"Our generation is about fast information and people on TikTok usually like TikTok for the funny videos, but I have a following of people that love what I have to say," Palau said. "I'm happy that it touches other people, and I just hope that it continues to do that in the future."

Added Ferreiras: “We're showing young folks that they can use their platforms in a pro social manner by doing stuff that is aligned with their values.”

Grassroots organizers expect more GenZ content creators to join the campaign in the coming weeks, for a total of 1,000 micro-influencers.

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simon2579/iStockBy DR. ERIC SILBERMAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Some have raised concerns that one of Johnson & Johnson's previously reported vaccine data points -- a 66% global efficacy in preventing moderately symptomatic disease -- doesn't seem as impressive as figures reported by Pfizer and Moderna, which exceeded 90% efficacy at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. But experts are quick to note that it may not be the best comparison: The Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials didn't take into account new variants and still had 100% effectiveness against hospitalizations and deaths.

"This is a very different trial than the trials that were done last fall," said Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a lead researcher for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. "We live in a much more complicated pandemic today."

While Pfizer and Moderna are conducting further research on their vaccines' efficacy against variants -- or if a booster will be required -- Barouch emphasized that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a leg-up in terms of its data, because it's the only one so far that's been tested against variant strains.

"Overall, the vaccine provides very robust protection throughout the world, including against the worrisome viral variants that we've been hearing so much about," Barouch added.

For many clinicians, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine performs best in what are the most important cases: severe illness that otherwise could lead to hospitalization -- or even death. So while protection from moderate cases may be less robust, a newly reported 100% protection against deaths and hospitalizations is "huge," said Dr. Darien Sutton, an emergency medicine physician and ABC News contributor.

"Knowing that this will help decrease the stress on hospital health care systems is, really, really great," he added.

Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic, also emphasized the nuances in dissecting the data, underscoring the reduction in severe cases as key.

"Severe COVID and death are the main things you want to protect against," he said, "because that's most important in terms of helping people and keeping hospitalization rates down -- and getting us back to normal."

In addition to limiting severe cases of COVID-19, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is showing, according to the preliminary analysis, 74% protection against asymptomatic disease, which could help mitigate transmission. More research in this area is needed, but the data so far, according to Barouch, is "very promising."

Beyond the numbers, experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has some significant advantages over the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines -- and not only because it requires a single dose, boosting convenience. Another advantage is its storage, as the vaccine can be kept for at least three months in normal refrigerators.

"That gives us the opportunity to put it in our primary care offices, pharmacies and community health centers, which translates into getting more people vaccinated," said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious diseases specialist at South Shore Health outside of Boston.

The Food and Drug Administration independent advisory committee plans to meet on Friday to review the Johnson & Johnson data and conduct a non-binding vote on whether to recommend it for emergency use. If endorsed by the FDA, the vaccine could be granted authorization as early as Friday evening, after which Johnson & Johnson forecasts 20 million doses could ready by the end of March, and 100 million by the end of June.

"It's definitely one more weapon in our arsenal to fight against COVID," said Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer for the Boston Children's Hospital and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard Medical School. "These are all incredible vaccines. When it's your turn, you should take whichever one is offered."

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Kristyn Watkins, left, poses with her grandmother in this undated family photo. (Courtesy Kristyn Watkins)By KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Kristyn Watkins got her first menstrual cycle when she was 10 years old and then suffered from what she describes as debilitating, heavy periods for nearly the next three decades.

"As a young child, I thought it was normal to have an extremely heavy flow and it continued my entire life," Watkins, 37, told ABC News' Good Morning America, adding that she often felt embarrassed about her heavy periods. "I never talked about it with anyone my whole life because it's a private thing."

Watkins said her mother had experienced the same complications, as had Watkins's grandmother, whom she said underwent a hysterectomy at age 32 because of her excessive bleeding.

"I remember my mom saying, 'Oh, I know honey, Nanny and I are going through the same thing and know it's hard,'" said Watkins, a school principal in Indiana. "I don't think they realized that it wasn't normal either."

Watkins lived with her heavy periods -- which would often force her to stay home or stay near a restroom -- without knowing any better or having any relief until the age of 33, when she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Georgia.

"I thought my cycle was heavy before I had children, and after I had her, it was even worse," said Watkins, who finally spoke about her menstrual bleeding with her OBGYN, Dr. Todd Rumsey, chief medical officer of the Cameron Memorial Community Hospital in Angola, Indiana.

"I realized in talking to him that, 'Oh my gosh, this isn't normal,'" said Watkins. "I was suffering when I didn't have to be."

Menstrual bleeding that lasts more than seven days or is very heavy is called menorrhagia. It affects more than 10 million American women each year, or one out of every five women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Non-surgical treatments for menorrhagia include treatments like iron supplements, birth control pills, hormone therapy and over-the-counter painkillers like Advil, according to the CDC.

Watkins, now a mom of three, chose a more invasive treatment for menorrhagia, undergoing an endometrial ablation last December.

Watkins's procedure was performed by Rumsey using the Cerene Cryotherapy Device, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019. Rumsey is the first doctor in the U.S. to perform a commercial Cerene cryoablation.

"The procedure itself is designed to decrease heavy menstrual flow and reduce the need for hysterectomy in treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding," Rumsey told GMA. "I caution my patients that there isn't a device [to stop periods] but what they all are designed to do is to decrease your need for hysterectomy."

While traditional endometrial ablations use heat and therefore require anesthesia, the Cerene cryoablation allows for patients to undergo the procedure in a doctor's office because it does not require general anesthesia, according to Rumsey.

The procedure takes less than seven minutes and works by freezing the endometrial lining of the uterus, Rumsey said.

"This is a non-hormonal way of managing the menses," he said, adding that the recovery from the procedure is just a few days compared to possibly weeks for a hysterectomy, which is still an option for women.

"I believe that hysterectomy may be very appropriate for some women, and when that's the case, allowing that woman to proceed is very important," he said. "If we can offer medical or surgical options that do not pose significant downtime or significant long-term risks, I think that is of advantage to a woman."

Watkins had to wait until after she had her final child to undergo the procedure, because while it does not cause infertility, it does make future pregnancy risky. An included criterion for the procedure is that the patient agrees to use contraceptives afterwards.

Women also have to undergo screenings prior to the procedure to make sure their heavy bleeding is not due to underlying causes like cancer or fibroids, according to Rumsey.

He said when women think about whether they have a heavy period or not, they should think about whether their period is a disruption to their daily lives.

"When the menstrual flow is disruptive to a woman's day, her ability to interact with others, when it gets into the way of her being the employee or the boss, the wife, the best friend, the mom, the sister, when it gets in the way of doing those things, then we need to have a discussion as to how can we make this less disruptive," said Rumsey. "For it to take away from your ability to do those things is not OK."

Watkins said she has noticed a marked difference in her periods since undergoing the procedure, saying she feels like a "new woman."

"This is something that's been in my family for a long time and I feel sad thinking about my mom and my grandmother and my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother," she said. "Think about how many people are going through the same thing and have never told anyone or they just thought that was normal."

While Watkins was once extremely private about the subject, she is speaking out now in hopes of helping other women.

"I want people reading this to know that it's not normal to have to stay close to a restroom for close to one week out of the month for fear of what may happen," she said. "We know our body better than anyone. If you feel as though something isn't right, say something."

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KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStockBy HAYLEY FITZPATRICK, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The #MeToo movement, National Women’s Law Center and Time’s Up Foundation have launched a new campaign designed to support Black survivors of sexual violence.

The new initiative, called "We, As Ourselves," launched Wednesday and was created "to change the conversation about sexual violence and its impact on Black communities," the organizations said in a press release.

The campaign revolves around three main components: reshaping narratives that have the potential to negatively impact or silence Black survivors of sexual violence, creating new support structures where Black survivors can be "believed, heard, and supported" and building "safe spaces where Black survivors can confront their stories."

The "We, As Ourselves" initiative will include a "week of action" during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, which will specifically focus on supporting Black survivors.

The campaign released a video, titled "Love Letter to Survivors," in which several notable Black woman, including Jurnee Smollett, Gabrielle Union-Wade, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, Valerie Jarrett, Tamron Hall and many more, share words of support for Black women affected by sexual violence.

"Dear survivor, I believe you. Even when the world seems to cut you down for showing up. I see you," several woman share during the nearly two-minute video.

"Thank you for risking it all to come forward and share your truth, even when it meant doing it alone," they continue.

"We promise to get refocused around how the realities of sexual violence plagues our communities, and we give the bonds that we have with each other," several women vow. "We are committed to raising our voices in love and solidarity, even when it's hard, even when it's complicated."

In a statement to ABC News' Good Morning America, Monifa Bandele, chief operating officer of Time's Up, shared more about the goal of the newly released "We, As Ourselves" initiative.

"Black survivors have been on the frontlines of the fight to address sexual violence, but society and the media have continued to shut us out of the conversation," Badele said.

"We created We, As Ourselves to take back the narrative and affirm our commitment to creating safe spaces where Black women, girls, gender nonconforming, and trans survivors can speak on our own terms and in our own words," her statement continued.

Black women who report sexual assault crimes are less likely to be believed than white women who report, according to the organizations.

The groups cite a Brandeis University study examining how the race of survivors impacted the outcome of sexual assault cases. In the study, researchers found that prosecutors in one locality filed charges in 75% of the cases when the survivor was white, but prosecutors filed charges 34% of the time when the survivor was Black.

More than 1 in 5 Black women (22.0%) and white non-Hispanic women (18.8%) and 1 in 7 Hispanic women (14.6%) in the U.S. are survivors of rape, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

The new "We, As Ourselves" campaign follows #MeToo and Time's Up's joint open letter to Black survivors released in early February. Read the letter in full here.

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pinkomelet/iStockBy IVAN PEREIRA and SONY SALZMAN, ABC News

(ATLANTA) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging people to stop ignoring face covering and social distancing rules when they hit the gym after two new studies confirmed they are strong spreader locations.

The agency released findings Wednesday on research it undertook at gyms located in Chicago and Hawaii that saw a high "attack rate" associated with outbreaks last summer.

In Hawaii, 21 people contracted the virus in July from a cycling fitness instructor who had the disease and taught classes for three days. In the Chicago location, 55 out of 81 people who attended high-intensity fitness classes during the last week of August contracted COVID-19, the studies said.

The common factor in both outbreaks was the lack of mask use, according to the CDC report.

The Hawaii cycling class did not mandate mask use among its patrons, while gym users in Chicago rarely used face coverings, according to the report.

"Among 58 exercise class attendees who provided information on in-class behaviors, 44 (76%) reported infrequent mask use, including 32 of 38 (84%) attendees with COVID-19 and 12 of 20 (60%) without COVID-19," the report on the Chicago outbreak said.

The report added that the Hawaii cycling facility kept its doors and windows closed during the classes with the infected instructor, increasing the chances of transmission.

Two people were hospitalized in the Hawaii outbreak and one in Chicago, according to the report. Two of the Chicago patients visited the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms, according to the CDC.

There were no reported deaths linked to the outbreaks, the CDC reports said.

The agency urged gym facilities to make sure they have proper ventilation standards, decrease capacity and enforce mask-wearing and social distancing rules among its patrons to prevent future incidents. If possible, patrons should stick to outdoor gym activities, the CDC said.

"This outbreak reinforces the need for combined COVID-19 prevention strategies, including universal mask use in public settings when persons are with others who do not live in the same household, especially indoors," the CDC said in its Chicago report.

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