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A summary of important health news from the past week.

Texas Abortion Law: What is a Fetal Heartbeat If a Fetus Doesn’t Have a Heart?

By: Julia Ries

The state of Texas recently passed Senate Bill 8, popularly known as the “heartbeat bill.” This bill prohibits abortion at the first detection of a fetal heart which typically occurs around 6 weeks of gestation. Reproductive health specialists say that at 6 weeks, an embryo doesn’t have a fully formed heart, but rather a cluster of cells that emits electrical signals. These signals are read by the ultrasound machine as a ‘heartbeat,’ but the sound it emits is not due to the opening and closing of valves. Specialists say that a fetus’ heart is not fully formed until 16 to 18 weeks of gestation. This is when chambers and valves are visible and it typically when the fetus is examined for heart deformations. According to Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an associate professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, the term “fetal heartbeat” doesn’t accurately represent what is detected at 6 weeks of pregnancy.

To Stop HIV, Researchers Are Investigating an mRNA Vaccine

By: Shawn Radcliffe

Starting this month, an early-stage clinical trial of an mRNA-based HIV vaccine could begin to test the first stage of a potential multistep vaccine regimen. Using mRNA technology that was developed by the biotech company Moderna, researchers hope that this vaccine candidate will target HIV and stimulate the immune system to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies that can target multiple HIV strains. Moderna’s mRNA-based technology vaccines train the immune system to produce antibodies that target the coronavirus spike protein and prevent the virus from infecting cells. HIV also has a spike-shaped protein, but the shape of the protein varies among the different strains of the virus, which makes this HIV vaccine more of a challenge to target with antibodies. Additional clinical trials will be needed before an HIV vaccine is approved and available to the public.

New Study on Covid-19 Vaccinations in the Largest U.S. Cities Finds Stark Inequities

By: Adam Sacarny

A new study from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health finds that the 9 most populous U.S. cities have stark inequities between race and socioeconomic status regarding Covid-19 vaccination rates. Those who live in neighborhoods that are predominately White and above the median income level have, at times, 2 times higher vaccination rates than those in neighborhoods that are predominantly Black and below the median income rate. Researchers also find that in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates, there have been higher death rates from Covid-19 throughout the pandemic. These findings demonstrate inequities in the U.S. healthcare system as a whole, researchers say, and Covid-19 shows that this is an issue that needs urgent attention.