Coronavirus: Must-Know Info

Coronavirus Alert: One-Fifth of People Infected Have Long COVID Symptoms, Subvariants More Likely to Elude Antibody Production, and More

Here is the latest news, data, and expert insight on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, June 24, 2022, 3:57 P.M. EDT

More Than 1 in 5 Who Were Infected Have Long COVID

As reported by Time magazine, the Household Pulse Survey, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in partnership with the Census Bureau, shared poll results on Wednesday showing that about 1 in 5 adults who got COVID-19 now have long COVID, where health problems after infection last weeks, months, or even years. The survey found that individuals ages 50 to 59 who had COVID-19 were 3 times more likely to say they had long-lasting symptoms than adults 80 and older. The study noted that long haulers were most prevalent in Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Dakota.

Biden Administration Launches PSAs to Promote Vaccines for Youngest Americans

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a series of new public service announcements on Thursday encouraging parents with children under 5 to get their kids vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to CNN. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently gave the okay for immunizations in this age group, shots have begun this week. “These new public service announcements are part of the expanded HHS "We Can Do This" effort encouraging parents to reach out to their family’s pediatrician and begin the process of vaccinating their kids under five,” said Sarah Lovenheim, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs.

Publix Will Not Give Vaccine to Young Kids

Fox Business confirmed that the supermarket chain Publix, which has about two-thirds of its locations in Florida, will not offer the vaccine for young kids. Florida was the only state in the country not to pre-order the vaccines, and they will not be made available through county health departments in the state. Still, many private healthcare providers in Florida are offering the shots to some children younger than 5.

BA.4 and BA.5 Are More Able to Elude Antibody Protection, Study Finds

According to Becker Hospital Review, a study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron can substantially escape neutralizing antibody responses from both vaccination and prior infection. The research team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston observed threefold reductions of neutralizing antibody titers induced by vaccination and infection against BA.4 and BA.5 compared with BA.1 and BA.2. They said that their results show that the omicron variant “has continued to evolve with increasing neutralization escape.” The BA.4 and BA.5 variants have swiftly been gaining ground in the United States and now account for more than one-third of new infections, according to the CDC.

U.S. COVID-19 Numbers Stabilizing or Declining

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) this week said that coronavirus activity in America appears to be decreasing or at least flattening, with the seven-day average for new cases now below 100,000. Latest analysis from the Washington Post indicates that the average is at 94,437, down almost 12 percent from a week ago. CIDRAP warns, however, that it's difficult to get a a true gauge on what is happening in the country since recorded testing results have now drastically dropped as at-home tests have become more widely used. Nationwide, hospitalizations appear to be stable, as are deaths, which are averaging about 300 per day.

Cases in Alaska Jumped by Almost One-Quarter This Week

The Anchorage Daily News reported on Wednesday that the number of newly reported COVID-19 infections in Alaska rose by 23 percent this week compared to last week as hospitalizations decreased slightly. The state also recorded no new deaths linked to the virus.

Trump’s COVID-19 Coordinator Was Told to Underplay the Pandemic

Testifying before a House committee on Thursday, former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, told representatives that the White House asked her to change or delete parts of the weekly guidance she sent state and local health officials, according to The Hill. She added that that the Trump administration failed to communicate the seriousness of COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, leading to inaction and a false sense of security throughout the government. She emphasized that the Trump administration did not want to conduct testing. “You cannot contain a virus that cannot be seen. And it wasn’t being seen because we weren’t testing,” said Dr. Birx.

Thursday, June 23, 2022, 6:37 P.M. EDT

Vaccinations for Children Under 5 Start Slowly

The New York Times reported Tuesday that parents don’t appear to be in any hurry to get their young children vaccinated, as immunizations for those under the age of 5 began this week. The Times said reasons are varied. Many families have become resigned to living with the virus, and a majority of American children have already been infected, mostly experiencing mild symptoms. Most shots will be given in pediatrician offices, which can be more involved than walking into a pharmacy for a vaccination. Some parents are also adopting a “wait and see” attitude, especially with increasing reports that vaccines have become less effective at preventing infection as the virus has mutated.

Moderna Vaccine Targeting Variants Shows Promising Results

Moderna revealed on Wednesday that an updated version of its COVID-19 vaccine designed to target the omicron variant also generated a strong immune response against the fast-spreading omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, according to Reuters. The data suggest that the new shot could produce lasting protection against the whole family of omicron variants.

Chief executive Stephane Bancel told Reuters that Moderna's COVID-19 variant vaccine would be ready to ship in August as the company has been making the shots ahead of approval.

Doctors’ Group Says Emergency Is Over, Calls for Kid Rules to Be Ended

An organization of doctors and scientists who are concerned that COVID-19 mitigation measures for children are doing more harm than good is calling for an end to the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines regarding testing, isolation, and vaccine recommendations for children. The Urgency of Normal group sent a letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, advocating that because “the emergency phase of COVID-19 is over,” rules that cause significant disruption to a child’s education should now be discarded.

Broadway Theaters Will Drop Mask Mandate Early July

As reported by the Associated Press, the Broadway League announced Tuesday that mask-wearing will be optional beginning in July — another sign that the entertainment industry is inching back to a pre-pandemic normal. In May, most Broadway theaters lifted the requirement that audience members provide proof of vaccination to enter venues.

Research Demonstrates Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir Effectiveness Against Severe Illness

A study of 5,287 persons age 12 and up who received nirmatrelvir and ritonavir (Paxlovid) during the first five months of 2022 indicated that less than 1 percent of treated patients had to be hospitalized or taken to an emergency department. Published this week in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the investigation noted that among the 45 people who did need such attention, almost half were over the age of 65 and 78 percent had at least one underlying medication condition.

A second report also published in the MMWR this week found that the rates of dispensing oral antiviral treatments — such as nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, and molnupiravir (Lagevrio) — were lowest in high–social vulnerability ZIP codes, despite those ZIP codes having the largest number of dispensing sites. These areas are known to have disproportionate death, injury, loss, or disruption of livelihood. “Oral antivirals can provide a critical intervention that can mitigate COVID-associated morbidity and mortality,” wrote the researchers. “Additional public health, regulatory, and policy efforts might help to decrease barriers to oral antiviral access, particularly in communities with high social vulnerability.”

2 More Politicians Test Positive

Earlier this week, North Carolina Roy Cooper, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. On Wednesday, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed revealed that they had contracted COVID-19. Both are vaccinated and boosted.

Denmark Will Offer Fourth Shot to Some

The Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, said Wednesday that a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose will be offered to nursing home residents and people age 50 later this year, according to the Associated Press. “The infection has been on the rise for the past three weeks,” said Frederiksen. “That is why we are acting now.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2022, 4:51 P.M. EDT

Biden Promotes Vaccine Rollout for Youngsters

As CNN reported, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden met with people at a vaccination clinic in Washington, DC, on Tuesday where children under the age of 5 were getting immunized against COVID-19. The visit by the Bidens was to promote the availability vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years, who just became eligible to receive shots following a recommendation from the CDC on Saturday. “The United States is now the first country in the world to offer safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months old,” said President Biden. Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, told CNN that the government has a lot of work ahead to convince many parents of the value and safety of the vaccine.

BA.4 and BA.5 Cases Surpass ‘Stealth’ Omicron

In April, BA.2 (nicknamed “stealth” omicron) accounted for 85 percent of all new cases. On Tuesday, the CDC released new figures showing that the new sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 have overtaken BA.2. While BA.2.12.1 accounts for 56 percent of new infections, BA.5 makes up 23.5 percent of current cases and BA.4 makes up 11.4 percent of new cases. Meanwhile, just 9.1 percent of infections are now attributable to BA.2. Eric Topol, MD, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research and founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted Tuesday, “BA.4/5, the omicron subvariants with the most immune escape (and highest transmissibility) since the pandemic began, now account for 35 percent of new cases in the United States. The BA.4/5 impact is just starting to take hold, with no region of the United States at a dominant level yet. It is also on a path to dominance in multiple countries in Europe, and Australia, with some attributable increases in hospitalizations.”

COVID-19 Surges Across Europe

The Guardian said on Tuesday that several European countries are experiencing a significant surge in new COVID-19 infections. With almost all restrictions lifted and booster take-up often low, health authorities caution that cases could soar throughout the summer leading to more deaths. The rolling seven-day average of confirmed new cases per million is rising in Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Outbreak in Macau Forces Businesses to Close

The world’s biggest gambling hub, the Chinese city of Macau with a population of 600,000, shut most businesses as mass testing began Monday after dozens of locally transmitted cases were discovered over the weekend. Reuters said that Macau health officials locked down a hotel and casino resort with 700 people inside on Tuesday due to a coronavirus infection outbreak, according to Reuters.

Women More Likely to Have Long COVID

Published in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion, new research based on a review of 35 previous studies has found that women are 22 percent more likely to have long COVID compared with men. Long COVID is a condition in which health problems continue more than four weeks after the initial infection, sometimes for many months. Females presented with a variety of symptoms, including ear, nose, and throat problems and mood disorders, as well as neurological, skin, gastrointestinal and rheumatologic, and fatigue symptoms. Males patients were more likely to experience endocrinological disorders such as diabetes and kidney disease. “Differences in immune system function between females and males could be an important driver of sex differences in long COVID syndrome. Females mount more rapid and robust innate and adaptive immune responses, which can protect them from initial infection and severity. However, this same difference can render females more vulnerable to prolonged autoimmune-related diseases,” wrote the authors.

Kawasaki Disease Rates Dropped During Pandemic

A scientific investigation published June 17 in JAMA Network Open Pediatrics found that cases of Kawasaki disease (a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of some blood vessels in the body and is most common in infants and young children) fell by 28 percent in 2020 and remained low during the peak pandemic period. The drop was associated with school closures, masking mandates, decreased ambient air pollution, and reduced circulation of respiratory viruses. Cases rebounded in the spring of 2021, coinciding with the lifting of masking mandates and the return of in-person schooling. Kawasaki disease is the most common acquired heart disease in children, and when untreated, one-fourth of patients develop coronary artery aneurysms that can lead to heart attacks, congestive heart failure or sudden death. Study authors said that the patterns suggest that social behavior affects exposure to the agent(s) that trigger the disease and are consistent with a respiratory portal of entry.

Jeopardy’s Host and Several Government Officials Test Positive

On Instagram this week, Mayim Bialik, the host of Jeopardy!, revealed that she has the coronavirus. “I have COVID, and it's no joke over here,” said the 46-year-old actress, who is vaccinated and boosted. “It’s very exhausting.” As NBC News reported, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also tested positive this week. A government spokesperson said that he is asymptomatic and has not been in close contact with the President. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper contracted the virus this week as well. The 65-year-old said on Twitter that he has mild symptoms and is taking the antiviral treatment of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. Dallas mayor Eric Johnson has tested positive a second time, according to the Dallas Morning NewsHe is fully vaccinated and experiencing mild symptoms.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022, 4:58 P.M. EDT

Vaccines Set to Begin Tuesday for Those 6 Months and Older

Following a recommendation from the CDC on Saturday that all children 6 months through 5 years old should receive a COVID-19 vaccine, shots for this youngest population are set to begin in earnest on Tuesday, according to CNBC. The CDC’s committee of independent vaccine experts voted unanimously to recommend the shots for infants through preschoolers after two days of public meetings.

The CDC decision came just a day after the FDA granted emergency use authorization for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations for use in children down to 6 months old. “I encourage parents and caregivers with questions to talk to their doctor, nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the benefits of vaccinations and the importance of protecting their children by getting them vaccinated,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH.

States Set Up Programs to Help Connect Parents With Vaccines for Kids

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said that a number of states have established vaccine clinics or have issued guidance for parents on how to find a vaccine appointment for their young children. For example, the South Nevada Health District, which includes Las Vegas, announced on Sunday that it will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to children 6 months to 5 years old beginning Wednesday this week. In Louisiana, the health department said on Monday that the state continues to experience an increase in positive infections, so it is critical that all eligible Louisianans get the COVID-19 vaccine and pediatric vaccine deliveries for this newly eligible group have begun.

Florida was the only state that didn't allow providers to preorder vaccine doses for the age group from the federal government. Following public pressure, however, Florida is allowing pediatricians to order the vaccine for the very young, according to The New York Times.

Deaths Stay Low During Latest COVID-19 Surge

An investigation from The New York Times on Monday detailed how deaths have ticked up slowly during the latest surge of omicron variants in the United States. From the onset of the pandemic, if cases soared, deaths soon followed. But with more Americans having protection from vaccines, prior infection, or both, severe illness has been kept to a minimum. The Times noted, however, that older Americans are still very vulnerable and make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths than they did last year. While the death toll is one-tenth what it was in January 2021, 314 Americans are still dying every day from COVID-19, and many who survive are suffering from long-term health problems.

Subvariants Evolving to Target the Lungs

With hospital admissions beginning to grow again in the United Kingdom, health authorities there fear that the latest subvariants of omicron may have evolved to target the lungs, according to The IndependentThe World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the strains of BA.4 and BA.5 to determine whether the are more transmissible and dangerous that their predecessors. A study out of Tokyo recently found that the variants are more apt to infect lung cells rather than upper respiratory tract tissue.

U.K. Cases Rose Following Queen’s Jubilee Weekend

As the BBC reported, infections in the United Kingdom increased after millions gathered to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee between June 2 and 5. Following events honoring Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne, about 1 in 45 has the virus — up from 1 in 65 the week before. That's a rise of 43 percent.

Israel Sees Highest Daily Numbers Since April

The Times of Israel said that the country diagnosed more than 10,000 new cases on Sunday — its highest level since April 4. Israel has seen infection numbers climb for a few weeks — an increase in seriously ill patients presents a real concern as the country deals with the spread of the new variant BA.5.

Omicron Appears Less Likely to Lead to Long COVID

In a new study published in The Lancet, scientists found a reduction in odds of long COVID-19 with the omicron variant versus the delta variant. The research from King’s College London involving about 56,000 adults in the United Kingdom estimated that those infected with omicron were 20 to 50 percent less likely to have long-lasting health issues related to the infection compared with those infected with the delta variant.

Typical long COVID symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of concentration, and joint pain. The analysis showed 4.4 percent of omicron cases were long COVID compared with 10.8 percent of delta cases. “The omicron variant appears substantially less likely to cause long-COVID than previous variants but still 1 in 23 people who catch COVID-19 go on to have symptoms for more than four weeks,” said lead author, Claire Steves, MD, in a statement.

Friday, June 17, 2022, 1:51 P.M. EDT

FDA Authorizes COVID-19 Vaccine for Kids as Young as 6 Months 

On Friday, the FDA granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months of age. The FDA also gave Moderna the go-ahead to use its vaccine in kids ages 6 months through 17 years old — the Moderna shots only had been authorized for use in adults 18 and older up to this point.

After 21 members of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted in support of the vaccine earlier this week, the agency determined that the known and potential benefits of the vaccines for toddlers and infants outweigh the known and potential risks.

The CDC still has to give its okay on the decision, but it is expected to do so within days — possibly as early as Saturday, according to CNN.

If all goes as anticipated, the White House said shots for toddlers could begin as early as next week. About 17 million children who are in this age group would become eligible for immunization against COVID-19. FDA official Peter Marks, MD, PhD, has highlighted the need for vaccination among this youngest population, saying that the number of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths in children is concerning and much higher when compared with influenza-related deaths and hospitalizations.

“As we have seen with older age groups, we expect that the vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, in a statement. “Those trusted with the care of children can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines and can be assured that the agency was thorough in its evaluation of the data.”

Moderna is considering an immunization for those who are even younger. As detailed in The Wall Street Journal, the pharmaceutical company is planning to test its coronavirus vaccine in babies 3 to 6 months old, the youngest age group studied to date. Moderna expects to begin enrolling as many as 700 babies in September.

Florida Is Only State Not to Order Vaccines for Young Children

Politico reported that Florida is the only state in the nation that has not placed an order with the federal government for doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for young children. All other states have met the deadline to preorder shots for toddlers and infants. The Florida Department of Health said that it did not request vaccines in part because it doesn’t advise all children get vaccinated. The state’s health department is led by Joe Ladapo, an outspoken skeptic of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Governor Ron DeSantis this week said, “I would say we are affirmatively against the COVID vaccine for young kids.” Children in Florida can still get the vaccine once it’s made available through pharmacies that partner with the federal government, such as CVS.

In California, Fewer Seek Antivirals at Test-to-Treat Sites

An investigation by Kaiser Health News (KHN) this week revealed that fewer people in California than expected are taking advantage of antiviral treatments that can help at-risk individuals avoid developing severe illness from the coronavirus. Although the Biden administration launched its “test-to-treat” program in March, sites have been slow to get Pfizer’s nirmatrelvir and ritonavir (Paxlovid) and Merck’s molnupiravir to patients. KHN estimated that fewer than 800 people statewide have received prescriptions at sites managed by the healthcare company OptumServe, despite new infections in California reaching an average of nearly 14,000 a day in early June.

Study Finds Rebound After Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir to Be Low

Recently, there have been anecdotal reports of people taking the antiviral treatment of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir to ward off severe COVID-related illness only to rid themselves of the virus and then find themselves testing positive again a short time later. Published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, an analysis of 483 high-risk patients who received the drug at the Mayo Clinic found that just four patients (0.8 percent) experienced a “rebound” of symptoms, which were generally mild, at median of nine days after treatment. All symptoms resolved without additional COVID-directed therapy. The researchers noted that patients were treated treated from February 2022 through April 2022 when the omicron variant was dominant.

COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy May Be Influencing Flu Shot Uptake

Findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine this week indicated that after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in the second pandemic year, adult influenza vaccine uptake decreased by 4.5 percent in states that had the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates compared with the first pandemic year. On the other hand, flu vaccination rates in states that had strong COVID-19 vaccine uptake saw an increase in flu shots averaging 3.8 percent. “Given the divided national landscape and anecdotal evidence from our own patients, we hypothesized that low COVID-19 vaccination rates would be associated with decreases in influenza vaccination rates,” wrote the researchers who affiliated with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles.

NBA Commissioner Will Miss Game 6 After Testing Positive

The National Basketball Association tweeted that Commissioner Adam Silver will not attend Game 6 of the Finals on Thursday due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Silver also missed Game 5 after testing positive and experiencing mild symptoms.

A few other people of note tested positive this week, including Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and his wife, New Jersey congresswoman Bonnie Watson (for a second time) and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

Boosters Plus Previous Infection Give Most Protection Against Omicron

In an investigation conducted among the resident population of Qatar, scientists discovered that prior infection with COVID-19 combined with booster vaccine doses provided the most protection against omicron. The study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine compared immunity in people who were vaccinated, those who had natural protection due to previous infection with variants other than omicron, and individuals with hybrid immunity (previous infection and vaccination). “Hybrid immunity from previous infection and recent booster vaccination conferred the strongest protection against infection, at approximately 80 percent,” concluded the authors.

Thursday, June 16, 2022, 4:38 P.M. EDT

FDA Panel Endorse COVID-19 Vaccine for Kids Under Age 5

As reported by CNN, a committee of advisers to the FDA on Wednesday voted in favor of authorizing the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 6 months old. Moderna’s vaccine for younger children is for those ages 6 months to 5 years, while Pfizer’s is for children ages 6 months to 4 years. FDA is expected to approve the committee’s decision, and then vaccine advisers for the CDC are expected to vote Saturday. If all goes as anticipated, the White House said shots for toddlers could begin as early as next week. About 17 million children who are in this age group would become eligible for immunization against COVID-19.

FDA official Peter Marks, MD, PhD, highlighted the need for vaccination among this youngest population, saying that the number of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths in children is concerning and much higher when compared with influenza-related deaths and hospitalizations.

Fauci Tests Positive for COVID-19 for the First Time

On Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Biden, tested positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test. He is fully vaccinated and has been boosted twice. The National Institutes of Health said that the 81-year-old Fauci is currently experiencing mild symptoms, and will isolate and continue to work from his home.

Infections Dip Globally But Deaths Inch Up

In its weekly COVID update on Wednesday, the WHO said that new weekly cases have continued to decline since a peak in January 2022, although the 3.2 million cases reported last week were almost at the same level compared with the previous week. After five weeks of decline, however, the number of new weekly deaths has risen again, with over 8,700 fatalities reported, a 4 percent increase as compared with the previous week. Most deaths were in the Americas and Western Pacific regions.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy noted that the omicron variant continues to dominate, making up 97 percent of sequenced samples. The proportions of three more transmissible omicron subvariants continued to rise. Over the past week, BA.2 subvariant levels declined 4 percent, but levels for BA.5, BA.2.12.1, and BA.4 increased 4 percent, 3 percent, and 2 percent, respectively.

Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir Not Effective for Standard-Risk Patients

In adult patients who are at high risk of progressing to severe coronavirus illness, the antiviral treatment of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir was found to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization or death by 89 percent compared with those taking a placebo. Pfizer released study results this week, however, showing that for standard-risk patients, the treatment provided little benefit. The company said it would halt enrolling participants for research exploring nirmatrelvir and ritonavir for those who are at standard risk and usually are able to recover from the virus without the treatment. “With up to 40 to 50 percent of people around the world estimated to be high risk, we believe there remains a significant unmet need for treatment options to help combat this disease, and we will continue to prioritize efforts to advance the development of Paxlovid,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer.

Truckers Crossing Canadian-U.S. Border Must Still Be Vaccinated

Although Canada is dropping its vaccine mandate for domestic and outbound international travel as of June 20, truckers looking to cross the Canada-U.S. border will still need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Global News. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the mandate remains an “important tool” to protect Canadians against the virus, and noted that the United States also has a reciprocal policy in place mandating vaccinations for Canadian truckers entering the country. The cross-border vaccine mandate for truckers led to a series of demonstrations across Canada, including a weeks-long occupation in Ottawa.

Dolly Parton Gives Another $1 Million to Infectious Disease Research

Dolly Parton is donating $1 million to pediatric infectious disease research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), according to a report from the university on Wednesday. Parton made a previous $1 million gift to VUMC in April 2020. “I love all children. No child should ever have to suffer, and I’m willing to do my part to try and keep as many of them as I can as healthy and safe as possible,” Parton said.

Babies Born to Infected Mothers Have Higher Risk of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Preliminary findings from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, published this month in JAMA Network Open, show that infants born to mothers who have the coronavirus are more likely to have a neurodevelopmental abnormality, such as delayed speech, language, or motor function, during their first year of life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022, 4:58 P.M. EDT

The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee agreed that the agency should grant emergency use authorization (EUA) to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months to 5 years.

As CNN reported on Tuesday, all 22 members of the panel recommended Moderna’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 through 17, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. The primary series of the vaccine is intended to be given in two standard 100-microgram doses for those ages 12 to 17, and in two 50-microgram doses for those ages 6 to 11. In clinical trials, side effects were described as “mostly mild to moderate in severity, generally of short duration.” No cases of myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation, were reported.

Although clinical trials in this age group were conducted before omicron became dominant, advisers suggested the vaccine would likely protect against severe illness with a third dose. Moderna intends to soon supply the agency with data regarding results from younger individuals who have received a third shot.

Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5 and up has already been authorized. The FDA, which typically follows the committee’s decisions, will now decide whether to authorize Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use in these age groups. Then the CDC will vote on whether to recommend it before the shot becomes available to the public.

As BA.4 and BA.5 Variants Rise, More Americans Are at Risk

The CDC’s weekly update on Tuesday showed that infections due to the new BA.4 and BA.5 variants continue to creep up in the United States. BA.5 now makes up 13.3 percent of new sequenced samples, up from 7.7 percent last week, and BA.4 makes up 8.3 percent of new cases, up from 5.4 percent the week before. The impact of these omicron subvariants is being especially felt in a southern region of the country that includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico, where more than 30 percent of new cases are now either BA.4 or BA.5.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, tweeted on Monday that 67 percent of population is now in an area with medium or high COVID-19 risk, up from 55 percent last week.

A New Wave May Be Starting in the United Kingdom

Although BA.2 continues to account for the bulk of U.K. infections, latest data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that COVID-19 cases may be starting to rise again in England and Northern Ireland, driven by an increase in BA.4 and BA.5 infections, according to The Guardian on Tuesday. Preliminary research suggests that these variants may have evolved to favor infecting lung tissue rather than upper respiratory tract tissue, which could make them more dangerous than most recent strains of the virus.

U.S. Health Secretary Tests Positive Second Time in Less Than a Month

Less than a month after having the coronavirus, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra tested positive for COVID-19 after taking an antigen test on Monday. In a statement, the Department of HHS said the Becerra is fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, and is experiencing mild symptoms. “He will continue to perform his duties as HHS Secretary, working in isolation,” read the announcement. “Secretary Becerra has not been considered a close contact of President Biden or Vice President Harris, as defined by the CDC.”

Flu and Other Common Viruses Are Acting in Unfamiliar Ways

An investigation published this week in the Washington Post revealed that doctors are increasingly seeing the flu and other familiar viruses acting unpredictably. Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, usually surge in the winter, but hospitals have been seeing an increase in these infections in May and June. The flu, which usually disappears by now, also seems to be making an out-of-season reappearance. Richard Martinello, MD, a specialist in respiratory viruses at Yale School of Medicine, told the Post that even the common cold is acting unexpectedly. “When people are getting colds, they do seem to be a little worse,” he said.

Mexico and 2 Other Destinations Join CDC’s High-Risk List

In an update to its travel warnings, the CDC added Mexico, New Caledonia, and the United Arab Emirates to those destinations that pose a level 3 high risk when it comes to the coronavirus. Many popular spots remain at this high-risk level, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and Israel, to name a few. If traveling to these countries, the health agency advises that you make sure to be vaccinated and up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines.

Some Students in Los Angeles Can’t Attend Graduation as COVID-19 Spreads

With COVID-19 infections continuing to rise in Los Angeles County, and hospitalization numbers increasing over the past several weeks, some local high school students in the Los Angeles area won't be able to attend their graduations because they have recently tested positive, according to CBS News.

Texting May Help Increase Vaccinations

A study published this week in JAMA Network Open found that automated text messaging was as effective as direct phone calls in getting unvaccinated patients to seek out a COVID-19 shot. Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania based their results on more than 16,000 patients who were separated into three groups: one receiving just phone calls from the health system to set up a vaccine appointment, another receiving an automated text later followed up by a phone call, and the last receiving only an automated text that urged them to call in for an appointment. “The take-away is that the text arms of our study were comparable to the phone-only arm, but the text messaging is less resource-intensive since a live call center only needs to talk to those who are already interested instead of making cold calls to everyone on the list,” said the study’s lead author, Shivan Mehta, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and the associate chief innovation officer at Penn Medicine.