Sources and updates, November 6

  • New data on Omicron boosters: This week, we got two major updates on the safety and effectiveness of the bivalent, Omicron-specific booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna. First, a study in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report examined safety, finding that side effects of the new boosters similar to the side effects of previous vaccines, according to the agency’s vaccine surveillance systems. For example, about 60% of vaccine recipients experienced pain, swelling, or itching in the arms where they received the shot. And second, Pfizer and BioNTech shared new data about the companies’ bivalent booster, suggesting that the new booster produces four times more neutralizing antibodies against BA.4 and BA.5 compared to the original booster shot. The study focused on older adults (over age 55) but is still helpful evidence that the new boosters are more effective against currently-circulating variants.
  • NIH RECOVER is preparing its first clinical trial: RECOVER, the National Institutes of Health’s flagship study to understand and eventually treat Long COVID, announced this week that it’s preparing clinical trials to test potential treatments. The first of these trials was recently posted to ClinicalTrials.gov (a site for tracking studies that have received federal funding). This trial will focus on testing Paxlovid for Long COVID patients, and RECOVER anticipates it will begin enrolling patients in early 2023. Patients have previously expressed concerns that RECOVER is moving pretty slowly with trials, considering how many Americans are impacted by Long COVID.
  • Patients Rising Now Congressional Scorecard: Speaking of government action on medical issues: Patients Rising Now, an advocacy organization focused on patients with chronic illnesses, recently published its first scorecard for Congressional representatives. The resource grades every Senator and House member in the 117th Congress based on how their voting record aligns with the organization’s priorities. While COVID-19 is not specifically mentioned in the grades, this scorecard could have implications for future pandemic-related votes.
  • COVID-19 vaccination and race/ethnicity inequities: A new paper from researchers at the University of Minnesota and Boston University examined how vaccination impacted COVID-19 mortality patterns in Minnesota. During the Delta and Omicron surges, the researchers found, mortality among middle-aged people of color was higher than mortality among white people in an age group ten years older. The paper shows that COVID-19 remains “a pandemic of the disadvantaged,” author Elizabeth Wrigley-Field wrote on Twitter. (Disclaimer: through my work at MuckRock, I am collaborating with BU researcher Andrew Stokes, one of the paper’s coauthors.)
  • RSV vaccine(s) could be coming soon: Finally, a bit of good news about another respiratory virus: two potential vaccines for RSV are likely to be under FDA review in the coming months. Pfizer recently reported promising results from a clinical trial of a vaccine for pregnant people, who pass antibodies to their children (thus reducing infant RSV risk). And U.S. pharmaceutical company GSK reported results from a trial testing its RSV vaccine for older adults.

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