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U.S. COVID Public Health Emergency to Stay in Place
The United States will keep in place the public health emergency status of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing millions of Americans to still receive free tests, vaccines and treatments, two Biden administration officials said on Friday.
The possibility of a winter surge in COVID cases and the need for more time to transition out of the public health emergency to a private market were two factors that contributed to the decision not to end the emergency status in January, one of the officials said.
The public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, and has been renewed each quarter for 90 days. But the government in August began signaling it planned to let it expire in January.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promised to give states 60 days’ notice before letting the emergency expire, which would have been on Friday if it did not plan on renewing it again in January. The agency did not provide such notice, the second official said.
Myocarditis After COVID Vaccination: Research on Possible Long-Term Risks Underway
In October 2021, Da’Vion Miller was found unconscious in the bathroom of his home in Detroit a week after receiving his first dose of Pfizer‘s COVID vaccine. He had known something was wrong: Then 22, he had started experiencing chest pain two days after getting vaccinated, followed by fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Miller was rushed to Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, where he was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, an inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. His doctor advised him not to receive a second dose of either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines.
Now, the first research in the U.S. is underway, tracking adverse health effects — if any — that may appear in the years following a diagnosis of vaccine-associated heart problems. Moderna has already launched two trials, the most recent in September. Pfizer confirmed that at least one of its trials, which will include up to 500 teens and young adults under age 21, is slated to begin in the next couple of months.
The Food and Drug Administration has required that the drugmakers conduct several studies assessing the potential long-term impacts of myocarditis, as part of its approval of the mRNA COVID vaccines in the U.S. Early findings from the research could be published as early as next year, sources told NBC News.
Some of the trials will follow those who developed the condition for as long as five years, according to the FDA’s approval letters. The trials will be monitoring for myocarditis and subclinical myocarditis, which doesn’t cause symptoms.
The Search for COVID’s Origins Is as Important as Ever
The possibility that the COVID pandemic started with a lab accident isn’t a conspiracy theory. Nor has science conclusively proven that it started in a Wuhan wet market. We simply don’t know — because China has set up numerous roadblocks to impede scientists’ ability to understand the origin of a pandemic that’s killed millions and shows no sign of ending.
Americans, however, have been channeling our outrage not at China’s evasiveness, but at each other for disagreeing on what conclusions to draw from the sparse and indirect data that China has made available. Even if there isn’t enough evidence to paint a definitive picture of COVID’s origin, though, there’s something to be learned by stepping away from the fray and looking at whatever clues we have.
Identifying COVID’s origin didn’t have to become so fraught. After two previous coronavirus outbreaks — SARS1 and MERS — definitive data on their origins were available to scientists, said Laura Kahn, a physician who had studied biological threats at Princeton’s program on science and global security before co-founding the One Health initiative, aimed at pandemic prevention.
China stalled for four months after the SARS outbreak, she said, but scientists there collected critical data and eventually allowed international teams in to investigate. The Middle Eastern countries where MERS was spreading allowed similar data collection.
That’s very different from China’s behavior when SARS-CoV-2 broke out. Officials quickly cleared out the Wuhan market where early cases were found before any suspect animals could be tested. Taking blood samples from lab workers and market workers early on could have led to antibody tests that would have given hard evidence one way or another. (If such samples were taken in Wuhan, they were never disclosed to the outside world.)
Moderna Says Its Updated Booster Raises Antibodies Against Omicron Subvariants
Moderna’s updated COVID booster appears to increase the immune response to Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as another subvariant, called BQ.1.1, that’s gaining ground in the United States, the company said in a release Monday.
The results are based on blood samples taken from 511 adults who got the updated booster, which targets BA.4 and BA.5, along with the original coronavirus strain, in a single shot. In people who got the updated booster, neutralizing antibodies against BA.4 and BA.5 were about fivefold higher in those with a previous COVID infection and sixfold higher in those without a documented infection, the company said.
Moderna’s results, announced in a news release, have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal or reviewed by outside scientists.
The data still doesn’t answer key questions: “Do these vaccines bring back durable protection against infection and onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2, and if so, for how long?” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto.
Study Finds ‘Huge’ Increase in Children Going to the Emergency Room With Suicidal Thoughts
There has been a steady increase in the number of children who are seen in emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts, according to a new study — and the increase started even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought record high demand for psychological services for children.
The pandemic’s effects drew renewed attention to suicide in teens and young children. In June, the Biden administration called the recent rise in rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among kids an “unprecedented mental health crisis.”
The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, used data from hospitals in Illinois. The researchers looked at the number of children ages 5 to 19 who sought help for suicide in emergency departments between January 2016 and June 2021.
In that period, there were 81,051 emergency department visits by young people that were coded for suicidal ideation. About a quarter of those visits turned into hospital stays. The study found that visits to the ER with suicidal thoughts increased 59% from 2016-17 to 2019-21. There was a corresponding increase in cases in which suicidal ideation was the principal diagnosis, which rose from 34.6% to 44.3%.
Hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts increased by 57% between the fall of 2019 and fall of 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci Talks Family, Career and What’s Next
Fauci has served under seven different presidents, covering health crises from Ebola to the AIDS epidemic. Over the course of his five-decade career, the physician has faced both criticism and accolades from officials and the public.
“We made major investments in science for decades prior to COVID, and within 11 months [to] have a vaccine that went through massive clinical trials, that is beyond unprecedented,” he said. “We will never be able to prevent the emergence of a new infection. What you can do is prevent that emergence from becoming a pandemic.”
COVID Variants BQ.1/BQ.1.1 Make up 44% of U.S. Cases — CDC
The U.S. national public health agency said on Friday that Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 were estimated to account for about 44.2% of COVID-19 cases in the country for the week ending Nov. 12, compared with 32.6% in the previous week.
The two variants, which are closely related to Omicron’s BA.5 sub-variant that drove COVID-19 cases in the United States earlier in the year, made up less than 10% of total cases in the country last month, but currently have surpassed Omicron’s BA.5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While there is no evidence linked to the increased severity of the new variants compared to BA.4 and BA.5, they have shown an increasing presence in Europe, Singapore and Canada, among other places.
Omicron BQ Variants Resistant to Antibody Treatments Are Quickly Becoming Dominant in U.S.
Omicron subvariants resistant to key antibody treatments will soon make up a majority of new COVID infections in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 now make up 44% of new COVID cases compared to 32% last week, according to CDC data. These subvariants will likely become dominant in the next week.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 pose a special threat to people who have severely compromised immune systems, such as organ transplant patients and people on cancer chemotherapy. Many people with moderate or severely compromised immune systems take an antibody cocktail called Evusheld to protect them from severe disease. It is administered as two injections every six months.
But BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are likely resistant to Evusheld, according to the National Institutes of Health. This leaves people with compromised immune systems increasingly vulnerable as these subvariants become dominant.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are also likely resistant to bebtelovimab, a monoclonal antibody people with compromised immune systems can take to prevent severe disease from COVID after an infection.
Cruise Ship With 800 COVID-Positive Passengers Docks in Sydney
A cruise ship with hundreds of COVID-positive passengers docked in Sydney, Australia, after being hit by a wave of infections. The Majestic Princess cruise ship was about halfway through a 12-day voyage when an outbreak of cases was noticed, Carnival Australia president Marguerite Fitzgerald told reporters in a media briefing on Saturday.
Cruise operators separately escorted those infected off the ship and advised them to complete a five-day isolation period, CNN affiliate Nine News reported. Those who tested negative were permitted to leave the ship, a New South Wales Health statement read.
Fitzgerald said the company has been implementing “the most rigorous and strict measures which go well above current guidelines,” including requiring 95% of guests over the age of 12 to be vaccinated and testing staff and passengers for COVID before they board.
The Majestic Princess isn’t the first Carnival cruise to be hit by a COVID outbreak. At least three other ships within the company’s Princess fleet — the Ruby Princess, Diamond Princess and Grand Princess — experienced outbreaks earlier in the pandemic.
Thousands of Experts Hired to Aid Public Health Departments Are Losing Their Jobs
As COVID-19 raged, roughly 4,000 highly skilled epidemiologists, communication specialists and public health nurses were hired by a nonprofit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plug the holes at battered public health departments on the front lines.
But over the past few months, the majority of the CDC Foundation’s contracts for those public health workers at local and state departments have ended as the group has spent nearly all of its almost $289 million in COVID relief funding. The CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports the CDC’s work, anticipates that no more than about 800 of its 4,000 hires will ultimately staff those jurisdictions, spokesperson Pierce Nelson said.
That has left many local and state health departments facing staffing shortages as the nation eyes a possible winter uptick in COVID cases and grapples with the ongoing threat of monkeypox, exploding caseloads of sexually transmitted infections and other public health issues.