Sources and updates, April 9

  • Second Omicron boosters for high-risk adults: The FDA and CDC are planning to authorize a second round of bivalent, Omicron-specific vaccines for high-risk adults, the Washington Post reported this week. This decision will apply to Americans over age 65 and those who have compromised immune systems, with these groups becoming eligible four months after their initial bivalent boosters. It’s unclear exactly when the decision will become official; the FDA and CDC will make authorizations sometime “in the next few weeks,” according to WaPo.
  • HHS announces (underwhelming) Long COVID progress: This week marks one year since Biden issued a presidential memo kicking off a “whole-of-government response” to Long COVID. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) commemorated the occasion with a fact sheet sharing the federal government’s progress so far. Unfortunately, that progress has been fairly minor, mostly consisting of reports and guidance that largely summarize existing government programs or build on existing systems (such as Veterans Affairs hospitals). Many of the Long COVID programs that Biden previously proposed have not received funding from Congress; meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health’s RECOVER initiative, the one program that has been funded, has faced a lot of criticism.
  • RECOVER PIs recommend action on treatment: Speaking of RECOVER: this week, a group of scientists leading research hubs within the national study called for federal funding that would support treatment. The principal investigators (PIs) of these hubs have developed expertise in Long COVID through recruiting and studying patients, leading them to identify gaps in available medical care for long-haulers. To respond, the PIs recommend that Congress allocate $37.5 million to support Long COVID medical care at the RECOVER research sites. Their proposed budget includes patient outreach, telehealth support, educating healthcare workers on Long COVID, and more.
  • Ventilation improvements in K-12 schools: The CDC released a new study this week in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, sharing results of a survey (conducted last fall) including about 8,400 school districts representing 62% of public school students in the U.S. Research company MCH Strategic Data asked the districts about how they’d improved ventilation in their school buildings, along with other COVID-19 safety measures. About half of the districts reported “maintaining continuous airflow in classrooms,” one-third reported HVAC improvements, 28% reported using HEPA filters, and 8% reported using UV disinfectants. The results indicate that many districts have a long way to go in upgrading their indoor air quality.
  • Flu vs. COVID-19 mortality risk: Ziyad Al-Aly and his colleagues at the VA healthcare system in St. Louis have published another paper analyzing COVID-19 through the VA’s electronic health records. This study, published in JAMA Network, describes the mortality risk of COVID-19 compared to seasonal flu for patients hospitalized during the 2022-2023 winter season. The researchers evaluated about 9,000 COVID-19 patients and 2,400 flu patients, finding that risk of death for COVID-19 patients in the 30 days following hospitalization was about 1.6 times as high as the risk of death for flu patients. Despite great advances in vaccines and treatments, COVID-19 remains more dangerous than other seasonal viruses, the study suggests.
  • Biobot launches mpox dashboard: This week, leading wastewater surveillance company Biobot Analytics launched a new dashboard displaying its mpox (formerly monkeypox) monitoring. Biobot tests for mpox at hundreds of sewage sites across the U.S., largely through its partnership with the CDC, and will continue this monitoring through at least summer 2023. The new dashboard shows mpox detections nationally over time and monitoring sites by state; it also includes some information on how mpox surveillance differs from COVID-19 surveillance.

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