This week, the Biden administration formed a new task force to plan for future variants and made COVID-19 tests available for free through the mail, while medical leaders continue to sound the alarm about increasingly dire medical staff shortages.
New Task Force Charged To Plan for Future Variants
The Biden administration formed the Pandemic Innovation Task Force under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). This group of experts has been convened to plan for emerging COVID-19 variants and other future pandemic threats. The White House Coronavirus Task Force, created in the beginning of the pandemic, will continue to deal with the ongoing day-to-day pandemic response. The new group will complement the COVID-19 response team by thinking of long-term strategies.
Free COVID-19 Home At-Home Test Kits Available on USPS Website
This week, the U.S. Postal Services started taking orders for free at-home coronavirus test kits on their website covidtest.gov. Each household will only receive four rapid tests which will start being shipped in late January. Per the administration, orders from zip codes with high rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths will be prioritized.
NIH Updates Guidance for Monoclonal Antibody Treatments
This NIH released a statement this week updating their recommendations for treating high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19. In the update, the panel recommended against use of two of the three currently available monoclonal antibody treatments due to their greatly reduced efficacy against the Omicron variant. The remaining antibody therapy has shown to be effective against Omicron and is now the only monoclonal antibody therapy recommended for treating COVID-19.
Herd Immunity Is An Illusion
In epidemiology, “herd immunity” describes a situation where a sufficiently large proportion of the population becomes immunized against a given pathogen (through an infection or vaccination) so that the germ cannot reach a susceptible person before disappearing, and its circulation ceases. As a result, the few individuals who had had no immunity would nevertheless remain free of infection. With SARS-CoV-2, unfortunately, such a scenario is unattainable. This is because COVID-19 survivors and the currently vaccinated can still get infected — and therefore keep transmitting the virus to those lacking immunity despite being protected from serious disease themselves. In addition, SARS-CoV-2 is known to infect both humans and animals and, as such, can continue to circulate in the animal reservoir with a potential to infect susceptible humans.
Medical Staff Shortages Worsen
As described in a JAMA Health Forum article, the gap between supply and demand for trained nursing staff and physicians continues to widen, with no solution in sight for this growing problem that will have repercussions for everyone’s health. A MedPage Today piece urged policymakers to act to remedy this shortage.
Federal Health Centers Help Vaccination Equity
A study of the Federally Qualified Health Centers demonstrated their positive impact on improving equity in the access to life-saving vaccines in most vulnerable populations, such as low-income, medically under-served, and ethically and racially diverse groups.
Viral Shedding Peaks Rapidly in Symptomatic Patients
A study of the time course of viral RNA in COVID-19 patients showed that the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material reached its highest level within one day of symptom onset, and then slowly decreased.
Role of T-Cells Getting Wider Recognition
From the start of the pandemic, a small number of immunologists and virologists have been reminding their audiences that antibodies are only one part of the immune system’s arsenal. These experts have emphasized that memory B-cells and especially T-cells likely play an important role in the immune response and should be studied more closely in the context of COVID-19 disease and vaccinations. Most of the communications, however, have focused on antibodies, which are custom-made proteins circulating in the blood. Compared to this humoral (antibodies-based) protection, the cellular immunity takes longer to develop in response to an infection, and is more difficult to measure, which might explain why B-cells and T-cells have largely stayed on the margins of research and media reporting of the past two years. Yet it is these cells that confer longer-term immunity, whereas antibodies ramp up relatively quickly but then fade away. With the ongoing challenges of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, the attention may now be finally shifting to this longer-term, cell-based immunity. Furthermore, a new study of T-cells’ cross-reactivity points a way to the creation of a “second-generation” T-cell inducing vaccines, which would solve the problem of new variants’ potentially evading immunity established by the current spike-focused vaccines.
Vaccine Protects Against Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children
New data from CDC shows that an mRNA vaccine for children not only prevents severe COVID-19 disease but is also highly effective in preventing the worrisome multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
Those Recovered from COVID-19 Considered Immune for 90 Days
The updated CDC guidelines put those who have recovered from COVID-19 within the past 90 days in the same category as vaccinated, for the purposes of isolation and quarantine generally required after exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
Study Provides Evidence That COVID-19 Vaccines Do Not Inhibit Fertility
A recent study has found that there is no significant difference in conception rates among SARS CoV2 unvaccinated couples and vaccinated couples in which at least one partner received at least one vaccine dose. The study included over 2000 self-identified females who provided data from questionnaires on demographic information such as age, income, lifestyle and medical histories. Male partners also were invited to complete the questionnaires. Female subjects filled out the surveys every eight weeks until becoming pregnant or a period of twelve months has lapsed. The study produced similar results when potential impacting factors such as number of vaccine doses, type of vaccine and history of infertility were considered. The study provides strong evidence suggesting that vaccination against COVID-19 does not have detrimental effects on fertility. The study did find, however, that male fertility experiences a short-term decrease if the male partner tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.