Sources and updates, February 19

Just a couple of updates today!

  • Test positivity will become less reliable after PHE ends: CBS News COVID-19 reporter Alexander Tin flagged last week that, after the federal public health emergency for COVID-19 ends this spring, private labs that process PCR tests will no longer be required to report their results to state health departments. States will still report any results they get to the CDC, but federal officials expect that this data will become much less reliable, according to a background press briefing from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Case data are already unreliable; soon, we won’t even have consistent test positivity data to tell us how unreliable they are. This may be one of several data sources that get worse after the end of the PHE.
  • HHS is supporting improved healthcare data sharing: The inability to connect different health records systems (or lack of interoperability, to use the technical term) has been a big problem during the pandemic, as researchers and health officials often couldn’t answer questions that require multiple health datasets. HHS has taken some steps to improve this situation, while also making it easier for individual patients to access their personal records. Most recently, HHS announced that it’s chosen six companies and organizations to develop data-sharing platforms, according to POLITICO. It’ll take some time for these organizations to start actually sharing data, but I’m glad to see any movement on this important issue.
  • Yes, vaccination is still the best way to get protected from COVID-19: A new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published in the Lancet this week, has been making the rounds on social media recently. Anti-vax pundits are claiming the study shows that immunity from a prior coronavirus infection is more effective than immunity from vaccination at preventing future severe COVID-19. While the study does show that a prior infection can be helpful, the authors found a significant drop in the value of this type of protection after Omicron variants started circulating in late 2021. And, as some commentators have pointed out, infections can always lead to severe symptoms and Long COVID—the risks from vaccination are much lower. Basically, this XKCD comic remains accurate.

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