Sources and updates, October 8

  • Vaccination disparities in long-term care facilities: A new study in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shares vaccination patterns from about 1,800 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities across the U.S., focusing on the bivalent booster (or, last fall’s vaccine). The CDC researchers found significant disparities in these vaccinations: vaccine coverage was lowest among Black and Hispanic residents compared to other demographics, and was lowest in the South and Southeast compared to other regions. Future vaccination campaigns need to make it easy for these groups to get their shots, the authors suggest; but based on how the 2023 rollout has gone so far, this trend seems likely to continue.
  • Reasons for poor bivalent booster uptake: Speaking of last fall’s boosters, a study from researchers at the University of Arizona suggests reasons why people didn’t get the shots last year. Researchers surveyed about 2,200 Arizona residents who had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Among the survey respondents who didn’t get last year’s booster, the most common reason for not doing so was a belief that a prior infection made the shot unnecessary (40%), concerns about vaccine side effects (32%), believing the booster wouldn’t provide additional protection over prior shots (29%), and safety concerns (23%). As with the study above, this paper shows weaknesses in the U.S.’s recent vaccine promotion strategies.
  • At-home tests are useful but far from perfect: Researchers at Nagoya University and the University of Oxford used mathematical models to study how different safety measures impact chances of COVID-19 outbreaks. The researchers developed models based on contact tracing data reflecting how Omicron spreads through groups. Rapid, at-home, antigen tests are a useful but imperfect method for reducing outbreak risk, the study found, with daily testing reducing the risk of a school or workplace outbreak by 45% compared to a scenario in which new cases are identified by symptoms only. “In high-contact settings, or when a new variant emerges, mitigations other than antigen tests will be necessary,” one of the scientists said in a statement.
  • Long-term symptoms from non-COVID infections: The prevalence of Long COVID has led many scientists to develop new interest in chronic conditions that may arise after other common infections, such as the flu and other respiratory viruses. One recent study from Queen Mary University of London identifies a potential pattern, using data from COVIDENCE UK, a long-term study tracking about 20,000 people through monthly surveys. Researchers compared symptoms between people who had a COVID-19 diagnosis and those with other respiratory infections, looking at the month following infection. They found similar risks of health issues in the one-month timeframe for both groups, though specific symptoms (loss of taste and smell, dizziness) were more specific to Long COVID. Of course, some people in the “non-COVID” group could have had COVID-19 without a positive test; still, the data indicate more, longer-term research is needed.
  • Autoimmune disorders following COVID-19: In another Long COVID-related paper, researchers at Yonsei University and St. Vincent’s Hospital in South Korea found that patients had increased risks of autoimmune and autoinflammatory disorders following COVID-19 cases. The study used patient records from South Korea’s national public health system, comparing about 354,000 people who had COVID-19 diagnoses to 6.1 million controls. COVID-19 patients had a significant risk of new autoimmune issues within several months after infection; new diagnoses included alopecia (or hair loss), Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel issues), sarcoidosis (overactive immune system), and more. These conditions should be considered by doctors evaluating potential Long COVID patients, the researchers wrote in their paper.
  • New climate vulnerability index: This last item isn’t directly COVID-19 related, but may be useful in evaluating community risks for public health threats. The Environmental Defense Fund, Texas A&M University, and other partners have launched the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index, a database providing Census tract-level information about how our changing climate will impact different communities. Communities are ranked from low to high climate vulnerability, with detailed data available on sociodemographic characteristics as well as potential extreme weather events and health trends.

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