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Biden to Unveil Plan for Next Pandemic While Seeking $88 Billion in Funds
The Biden administration is preparing a new defense strategy against pandemics and other biological threats that applies lessons from COVID-19 and puts the White House at the center of any future U.S. response.
Research suggests there’s a 50/50 chance of another COVID-like pandemic — or one that is more deadly — over the next 25 years, according to a senior administration official who spoke under the condition of anonymity as the strategy isn’t yet public, and the administration’s plan is the result of more than a year of work by U.S. national security and public health experts to improve the nation’s framework for preparedness, response and recovery.
As soon as this month, the administration is expected to release a National Biodefense Strategy that will outline its approach to facing biological threats to humans, animals, environments and crops, according to people familiar with the matter.
The plan, along with $88.2 billion in funding the president is seeking, would shift how the government handles pandemic preparedness by more clearly describing responsibilities, goals and deadlines — an attempt to avoid the confusion and agency infighting that plagued the U.S. pandemic response.
Florida Surgeon General Ladapo Opposes COVID Vaccine for Young Children
As the federal Food and Drug Administration weighs approval of COVID-19 vaccinations for children under age 5, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo is opposed to the potential change.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is slated to meet Wednesday to discuss amending emergency-use authorizations for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for children as young as 6 months old.
FDA Advisers Vote in Favor of Authorizing Moderna COVID Vaccine for Ages 6-17
Vaccine advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided unanimously Tuesday in favor of expanding the emergency use authorization of Moderna‘s COVID-19 vaccine to include older children and teens, ages 6 to 17, saying it would offer more benefits than risks.
All 22 members of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted “yes” in response to two questions of whether the benefits of the vaccine — when given as two 100-microgram doses for ages 12 to 17 and two 50-microgram doses for ages 6 to 11 — outweigh its risks, based on the available scientific evidence.
The FDA, which typically follows the committee’s decisions, will now decide whether to authorize the vaccine for emergency use in these age groups. The Moderna vaccine is already authorized for adults.
However, shots can’t be given until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own vaccine advisers have voted on whether to recommend them and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has signed off on the recommendation.
Study on Child Hepatitis Cases Points to Prior COVID Infection, but Experts Say Too Soon to Know
Researchers in Israel added evidence for the theory in a small study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, suggesting some children might develop liver inflammation in the weeks after recovering from a mild COVID-19 infection.
While the root cause of the pediatric hepatitis outbreak is still unknown, experts say the leading theories include COVID-19 infection, infection with a common cold virus or an interplay between the two infections, according to Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatric hospitalist at Stanford Health and an ABC News medical contributor.
In a new twist, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis published Tuesday found that there may not be a spike in cases at all — at least not in the United States. CDC scientists said the number of severe hepatitis cases observed in recent weeks is relatively consistent with pre-pandemic levels, but urged public health authorities to continue to monitor the situation.
Pfizer Stops Enrollment in Paxlovid Trial in Standard-Risk Population
Pfizer Inc. (PFE.N) said on Tuesday it would halt enrollment in a trial for its COVID-19 antiviral drug, Paxlovid, in standard-risk patients after a study revealed the treatment was not effective in reducing symptoms in that group.
The new data, however, showed a 51% relative risk reduction in standard-risk groups, which the company said was not statistically significant. The standard-risk population usually includes people who do not have health conditions that put them at risk of severe disease and who can recover without the drug.
Pfizer said it will include the new data in the company’s upcoming application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seeking full approval for the drug’s use in high-risk groups.
Data from a study in Israel earlier this month showed the drug reduces COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates in vaccinated and unvaccinated patients 65 years and older, but was not found to prevent severe illness among younger adults.
‘Something Has to Change’: Healthcare Workers Who Cared for Us During COVID Are Burning Out
One of my greatest sources of inspiration and hope during the pandemic has been the courage and dedication of health workers. Their fierce commitment to care for us, despite the dangers to themselves and their loved ones, deserves our lasting appreciation and support.
This is why it is so troubling that these days when I visit a hospital, clinic or health department and ask staff how they’re doing, they use words like exhausted, traumatized, helpless and heartbroken. Even before the pandemic, more than half of nurses and physicians, including trainees, reported feeling burned out.
COVID-19 has been a fully and uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families. Burnout has reached crisis proportions among front-line clinical staff in hospitals and clinics. More than 50% of public health workers have reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition, like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation.
Why so Many Long COVID Patients Are Reporting Suicidal Thoughts
Last year, Diana Berrent — the founder of Survivor Corps, a Long COVID support group — asked the group’s members if they’d ever had thoughts of suicide since developing Long COVID. About 18% of people who responded said they had, a number much higher than the 4% of the general U.S. adult population that has experienced recent suicidal thoughts.
A few weeks ago, Berrent posed the same question to current members of her group. This time, of the nearly 200 people who responded, 45% said they’d contemplated suicide.
While her poll was small and informal, the results point to a serious problem. “People are suffering in a way that I don’t think the general public understands,” Berrent says. “Not only are people mourning the life that they thought they were going to have, but they are also in excruciating pain with no answers.”
The statistics around Long COVID and mental health are striking. A report published in eClinical Medicine last year found that about 88% of Long COVID patients experienced some form of mood or emotional issue during the first seven months of their illnesses.
Newest Omicron COVID Lineages Gaining Ground in United States
We’re still in the Age of Omicron, but the face of it keeps changing.
The United States appears to be in the midst of another biological baton pass between COVID-19 variants. The Omicron lineage BA.2 and its spinoff, BA.2.12.1, drove cases this spring, building into waves of infections in places like the Northeast and parts of California. Now, two other forms of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, are eating into the BA.2 group’s dominance.
More than 1 in 5 COVID-19 infections last week were caused by BA.4 and BA.5, according to updated estimates posted Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 13% the week prior. The rest of the cases are from the BA.2 lineages.
BA.4 and BA.5 are picking up speed because they’re able to evade the body’s antibody response even more so than other variants, meaning they’re very good at establishing infections in people who have some level of protection.
How Months-Long COVID Infections Could Seed Dangerous New Variants
Virologist Sissy Sonnleitner tracks nearly every COVID-19 case in Austria’s rugged eastern Tyrol region. So, when one woman there kept testing positive for months on end, Sonnleitner was determined to work out what was going on.
Before becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 in late 2020, the woman, who was in her 60s, had been taking immune-suppressing drugs to treat a lymphoma relapse. The COVID-19 infection lingered for more than seven months, causing relatively mild symptoms, including fatigue and a cough.
Sonnleitner, who is based at a microbiology facility in Außervillgraten, Austria, and her colleagues collected more than two dozen viral samples from the woman over time and found through genetic sequencing that it had picked up about 22 mutations (see ‘Tracking spike’s evolution’).
Roughly half of them would be seen again in the heavily mutated Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2 that surged around the globe months later. “When Omicron was found, we had a great moment of surprise,” Sonnleitner says. “We already had those mutations in our variant.”
Great Plains Zoo Vaccinating Animals for the Coronavirus
The Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls is in the process of vaccinating its most susceptible animals against the coronavirus.
A global animal health company, Zoetis, has developed an experimental vaccine for COVID-19 and is working with zoos across the country to distribute its limited supply to vaccinate the most at-risk species as soon as possible.
Great Plains veterinary staff worked closely with zookeepers to deliver the first dose of the vaccine to many of the species considered at risk, including primates and large cats. Zoo officials have administered 57 vaccine shots in just over a week. All animals that received the first dose, will get a second dose in about three weeks, KSFY-TV reported.