Booster shots: What we’ve learned—and what we still don’t know

This week, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee had a two-day meeting to discuss booster shots for Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines. From the outside, these meetings may have appeared fairly straightforward: the committee voted unanimously to recommend booster shots for both vaccines. But in fact, the discussions on both days were wide-reaching and full of questions, touching on the many continued gaps in our knowledge about the need for additional vaccine doses.

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12 Long COVID stats that demonstrate the importance of vaccination

Though it’s now been well over a year since the first Long COVID patients were infected, there is still so much we don’t know about the condition. For example, we don’t know a very rudimentary number: how many people in the U.S. are struggling with Long COVID. We also don’t have a clear, detailed picture of Long COVID symptoms, or how these symptoms arise from a coronavirus infection, or how they impact the daily lives of Long COVID patients.

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The data problem underlying booster shot confusion

Why has the booster shot decision-making process been so confusing? Why don’t the experts agree on whether booster shots are necessary, or on who should get these extra shots? From my (data journalist’s) perspective, the booster shot confusion largely stems from a lack of data on breakthrough cases.

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Booster shots exacerbate global vaccine inequity

At the end of last week’s post on booster shots, I wrote that these additional doses take up airtime in expert discussions and in the media, distracting from discussions of what it will take to vaccinate the world. But these shots do more harm than just taking over the media cycle. When the U.S. and other wealthy nations decide to give many residents third doses, they jump the vaccine supply line again—leaving low-income nations to wait even longer for first doses.

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The challenges of routine COVID-19 testing in schools

At this point in the pandemic, we know that routine COVID-19 testing can be a key tactic for reducing transmission in communal settings. If you identify cases as soon as they occur through asymptomatic testing, you can quickly isolate those cases and quarantine their contacts—preventing the cases from turning into outbreaks. This strategy works everywhere from kindergarten classrooms to the NBA.

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National numbers, October 24

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases continue to go down—slowly but surely. We’re now seeing roughly 70,000 new cases a day, comparable to case counts when the Delta surge started to really pick up at the end of July. It’s worth noting, though, that this is still higher than the peaks of both the spring and summer 2020 surges.

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Another COVID-19 endgame take

Trevor Bedford, computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—and widely regarded expert on coronavirus variants—wrote a useful Twitter thread this week. In the thread, Bedford provides his take on the “COVID-19 endgame.” In other words, what will happen once the virus reaches endemic levels?

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Unreliable population numbers hinder vaccination rate analysis

An excellent article in the Financial Times, published this past Monday, illuminates one major challenge of estimating a vaccine campaign’s success: population data are not always reliable. Health reporter Oliver Barnes and data reporter John Burn-Murdoch explain that, in several countries and smaller regions, inaccurate counts of how many people live in the region have led to vaccination rate estimates that make the area’s vaccine campaign look more successful—or less successful—than it really is.

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National numbers, October 17

COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the U.S., slowly but surely. We’re now reporting about 85,000 new cases a day, down from 97,000 new cases a day last week, down from 108,000 new cases a day the week before last.

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