Sources and updates, August 27

  • Project Next Gen announces first grants: Project Next Gen, the federal government’s effort to support next-generation COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, announced its first round of scientific funding this week. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has now allocated $1.4 billion of a total $5 billion in the program, with funding going to set up clinical trials for new vaccines and a new monoclonal antibody developed by Regeneron. HHS hasn’t actually selected vaccine candidates yet; that will come in a later announcement. Notably, as I reported on Twitter, HHS officials said during a press conference that they do not anticipate future Project Next Gen funding going towards Long COVID research.
  • Biobot Analytics expands to other respiratory viruses: Biobot Analytics, one of the leading COVID-19 wastewater surveillance companies, launched a new testing panel this week for a broader range of respiratory pathogens. The panel will allow health agencies to monitor their local sewersheds for COVID-19, flu, and RSV at the same time. Biobot is rolling this testing option out in time for this year’s respiratory virus season. While the company hasn’t announced this yet, I suspect Biobot will make some data from the respiratory virus testing available online, similar to its current COVID-19 and mpox dashboards.
  • KFF launches health misinformation tracker: The Kaiser Family Foundation has announced a new polling effort focused on health misinformation, and released the first round of data from this initiative. This release includes data about COVID-19 and vaccines, as well as other key areas of misinformation like reproductive health and firearms. According to KFF’s surveys, a majority of Americans have heard false claims about COVID-19, such as that the vaccines caused many sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people; smaller but still significant shares of people (around 20% to 30% depending on the statement) say these false claims are true.
  • Excess deaths in China after ending restrictions: Last winter, China abruptly ended its “zero COVID” policy (which had included strict quarantines, testing, and other measures), leading the coronavirus to spread widely—but with limited official data tracking its impacts. A new study from researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington state examines excess deaths in China, or deaths above historical norms, following that policy change. About 1.87 million excess deaths occurred among Chinese adults over age 30 in just two months after the end of the zero COVID policy, the researchers estimated. These deaths mainly impacted older residents, many of whom weren’t vaccinated against newer variants.
  • Long COVID without a positive test: Another notable study from this week: researchers at Northwestern Medicine’s Long COVID clinic compared immune responses and symptoms among patients who did and did not have proof of their initial coronavirus infections. While this was a small study (including just 29 patients), the researchers found that the majority of those without proof of infection had COVID-related immune system signals similar to those patients who did have initial proof. The study offers further evidence to a trend that I’ve long heard in interviews with people with Long COVID: many patients weren’t able to get positive tests during their initial infections but still clearly have Long COVID, and they should not be excluded from research.
  • COVID-19 risk for essential workers: One more new study: researchers at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, used available occupational data to examine how people in specific jobs were at higher risk for COVID-19 cases. The study included 550,000 cases from October 2020 through December 2021. People working in public-facing jobs such as bus drivers, school staff, and nurses were at higher risk for getting COVID-19—and developing severe symptoms that required hospitalization—than those in less public-facing professions, the researchers found. Essential workers receive less attention now than they did early in the pandemic, but they still need protections to stay safe, the study suggests.

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