Sources and updates, January 8

  • NIH launches at-home testing telehealth program: This week, the National Institutes of Health announced the first location for “Home Test to Treat,” a new program that will make it easier for people in vulnerable communities to receive Paxlovid after testing positive on at-home, rapid tests. The Biden administration first announced this program in September, but it’s formally launching now with Berks County, Pennsylvania as the first participating community. As Paxlovid shifts to a drug that must be privately purchased instead of provided for free by the federal government, more programs like this one will be needed to fill access gaps.
  • Study estimates global Long COVID prevalence: A large team of researchers, led by population health scientists at the University of Washington, conducted an extensive review of Long COVID symptoms. The analysis used 54 prior studies and two medical record databases, incorporating data from 1.2 million people in total. Overall, about 6% of patients reported at least one class of Long COVID symptoms three months after their initial infections, with the vast majority of cases occurring in people who had mild acute cases. The study was published in JAMA in October, but gained attention this week thanks to an article that its leading authors wrote in The Conversation.
  • China’s COVID-19 data are unreliable: It’s been about a month since China loosened its COVID-19 protocols in the wake of protests and contagious Omicron subvariants, and the country is now facing a massive surge—with as many as one million new cases a day according to some modeling estimates. Yet COVID-19 deaths reported in the country have been very low, fewer than five a day. This discrepancy suggests that China’s authorities are not correctly counting their COVID-19 deaths, while the country’s dismantled testing infrastructure has also led to less reliable case numbers. Officials from the World Health Organization have formally called on the country to “be more forthcoming with information” about its COVID-19 surge, reports Helen Branswell at STAT News.
  • CDC testing airplane wastewater on flights from China: In response to surveillance concerns, the CDC is working to test wastewater on flights arriving from China in select U.S. airports. This method is, of course, more efficient than testing every single traveler from the country in the interest of identifying any new variants that might arise. (Though it’s worth noting that some experts are skeptical about the potential of new variants arising in China.) Scientists from Concentric, a company that works with the CDC on traveler surveillance, previously talked about plane wastewater testing during our interview in November.
  • Race/ethnicity differences among child vaccination rates: Finally, a notable study in this week’s CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: researchers at the CDC and collaborators examined vaccination rates among children ages five to 17 using data from the National Immunization Survey. They found vaccination coverage (with at least one dose) was highest among Asian children (at about 75%), followed by Hispanic or Latino children (49%), white children (45%), and Black children (43%). The researchers also noted differences among vaccination rates by other socioeconomic factors, and by parents’ mask-wearing habits.

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