KFF Medicaid Unwinding tracker: The Kaiser Family Foundation just published a new tracker detailing Medicaid enrollment by state. Enrollment rose to record levels during the pandemic, as a federal measure tied to the public health emergency forbid states from taking people off the insurance program. Now, states are going through the slow process of evaluating people’s eligibility and taking some off the program, in a process called “unwinding.” The KFF tracker is following this process, presenting both Medicaid enrollment data by state and information on each state’s timeline for evaluation.
Biden administration ends vaccine mandates: In time with the federal public health emergency’s end, the Biden administration has announced that it will lift its COVID-19 vaccine rules for federal workers and contractors. International travelers to the U.S. also will no longer need to provide proof of their vaccination status, and the administration is working to end requirements for other groups of workers and travelers. This change is, essentially, another signal of the administration giving up on mass vaccination campaigns; after all, most of the people who got their shots under these rules haven’t received an Omicron booster.
Vaccine protection wanes over time: A new review paper from researchers in Trento, Italy, published this week in JAMA, shows the importance of booster shots for maintaining protection from COVID-19. The researchers compiled and analyzed findings from 40 studies that evaluated vaccine effectiveness. Overall, they found, the protection that both primary series and booster shots provide against an Omicron infection drops significantly by six months and nine months after vaccination. Remember: Americans over 65 and/or immunocompromised, you’re now eligible for another bivalent/Omicron-specific booster.
Disparities in COVID-19 deaths persist: Two new studies this week examine COVID-19 deaths by race and ethnicity. The first study, from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, examined deaths of all causes during the pandemic, finding that Black and Native Ameircans had higher death rates than other racial/ethnic groups. COVID-19 was the fourth highest cause of death in 2022, after heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injury. The second study, from Andrew Stokes and collaborators, examined COVID-19 deaths during the U.S.’s first Omicron wave compared to earlier surges, finding that disparities decreased—but only because white deaths went up during the second year of the pandemic.
Characterizing Long COVID neurological symptoms: Another new study from this week: researchers at the NIH performed detailed examinations of 12 Long COVID patients to better understand their neurological symptoms. The researchers used an approach called “deep phenotyping,” which involves a variety of tests that aren’t typically used in clinical settings. They found that the patients had a number of abnormalities in their immune systems and autonomic nervous systems compared to healthy controls, pointing to different potential drivers of symptoms.
FDA approves RSV vaccine: Finally, a bit of non-COVID good news: for the first time, the FDA has approved a vaccine for RSV, the seasonal respiratory virus that can cause severe symptoms in older adults and young children. This vaccine, made by GSK, was approved for adults ages 60 and up and will likely get distributed during the next cold/flu season. Scientists have been working on RSV vaccines for decades, making this a major milestone for reducing the disease’s impact. Helen Branswell at STAT has more details.