Sources and updates, November 12

  • New vaccination data from the CDC: The CDC has started publishing vaccination data reflecting how many Americans have received COVID-19, flu, and RSV shots in fall 2023. These numbers are estimates, based on the CDC’s National Immunization Survey, as the agency is no longer directly compiling COVID-19 vaccinations from state and local health agencies. (See this post from last month for more details.) According to the estimates, about 28% of American adults have received a 2023 flu shot, compared to 10% who have received a 2023 COVID-19 shot. The numbers reflect poor communication about and accessibility challenges with this year’s COVID-19 vaccines.
  • FDA approves a rapid COVID-19 test: Following the end of the federal public health emergency this spring, the FDA has advised companies that produce COVID-19 tests to submit their products for full approval, transitioning out of the emergency use authorizations that these tests received earlier in the pandemic. The FDA has now fully approved an at-home COVID-19 test: Flowflex’s rapid, antigen test. This is the second at-home test to receive approval, following a molecular test a few months ago. The Floxflex test “correctly identified 89.8% of positive and 99.3% of negative samples” from people with COVID-like respiratory symptoms, according to a study that the FDA reviewed for this approval.
  • WHO updates COVID-19 treatment guidance: This week, the World Health Organization updated its guidance on drugs and other treatment options for severe COVID-19 symptoms. A group of WHO experts has regularly reviewed the latest evidence and updated this guidance since fall 2020. The update includes guidelines on classifying COVID-19 patients based on their risk of potential hospitalization, recommendations for drugs such as nirmatrelvir and corticosteroids, and recommendations against other drugs such as invermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Clinicians can explore the guidance through an interactive tool that summarizes the expert group’s findings.
  • Gargling with salt water to reduce symptoms: Speaking of COVID-19 treatments: gargling with salt water may help people with milder COVID-19 symptoms recover more quickly, according to a new study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s annual conference. The researchers compared COVID-19 outcomes among people who did and did not use salt water for 14 days while sick; those who used the treatment had lower risks of hospitalization and reported shorter periods of symptoms. This study has not yet been peer-reviewed and more research will be needed, but it’s still helpful evidence to back up salt water as a potential treatment (something I’ve personally seen recommended anecdotally in the last couple of years).
  • Allergies as potential Long COVID risk factors: Another study that caught my attention this week: researchers at the University of Magdeburg in Germany conducted a review of connections between allergies and Long COVID. The researchers compiled data from 13 past papers, including a total of about 10,000 study participants. Based on these studies, people who have asthma or rhinitis (i.e. runny nose, congestion, and similar symptoms, usually caused by seasonal allergies) are at higher risk for developing Long COVID after a COVID-19 case. The researchers note that this evidence is “very uncertain” and more investigation is needed; however, the study aligns with reports of people with Long COVID getting diagnosed with mast cell activation syndrome (or MCAS, an allergy-related condition).
  • Dropping childhood vaccination rates: One more notable study, from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): vaccination rates for common childhood vaccines are declining among American kindergarteners, according to CDC research. CDC scientists reviewed data reflecting the childhood vaccinations that are required by 49 states and D.C. for the 2022-23 school year, and compared those numbers to past years. Overall, 93% of kindergarteners had completed their state-required vaccinations last school year, down from 95% in the 2019-20 school year, while vaccine exemptions increased to 3%. In 10 states, more than 5% of kindergarteners had exemptions to their required vaccines—signifying increased risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in schools, according to the CDC.

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