COVID-19: TCTMD’s Dispatch for January 28

We’re curating a list of COVID-19 research and other useful content, and updating it regularly.

COVID-19: TCTMD’s Dispatch for January 28

Since March 2020, TCTMD reporters and editors have been keeping tabs on breaking research and policy news--our COVID-19 Dispatch is now updated three days a week. If you have something to share, tell us. Our in-depth coverage of COVID-19 and the heart can be found on our COVID-19 Hub.

January 28, 2022

New Zealand, a country long hailed for its handling of COVID-19, has been placed under the highest level of restrictions to date, including a cap on events of more than 100 people, leading Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to cancel her own wedding. But the small nation remains a pandemic paragon. As the BBC reports, New Zealand has reported just 15,104 COVID-19 cases and 52 deaths.

In the United Kingdom, England has lifted its “Plan B” restrictions as the Omicron surge ebbs. Add to that the last few days of “dry January” and English pubs are hoping to see a surge of a different kind, the Guardian reports.

In Canada, a “freedom” convoy of long-haul truckers that spent the week driving across Canada is converging on the nation’s capital ahead of a weekend rally ostensibly to protest vaccine mandates. Both the US and Canada have imposed mandatory vaccines for big-rig drivers who cross back and forth over the border. A number of far-right and white supremacist groups have “latched onto the protest,” the Globe and Mail notes, leading the hashtag #FluTruxClan to trend on Twitter yesterday. “The Canadian Trucking Alliance has disavowed the protest and said more than 85% of truckers are vaccinated. Many truckers have also posted on social media they continue to do their jobs and that the convoy doesn’t speak for them.”

hamster in a cage headerHong Kong is offering to compensate pet stores after health officials ordered a citywide hamster cull. As Reuters reports, “Last week, Hong Kong authorities enraged pet lovers with an order to cull more than 2,200 hamsters after tracing an outbreak to a worker in a shop where 11 hamsters tested positive.”

In the United States, hospitalizations are gradually leveling off, but five states are conspicuous standouts. As Becker’s Hospital Review summarizes from a range of different sources, Arkansas, West Virginia, Utah, North Carolina, and Oregon are posting some new highs. The Oregon numbers are particularly worrisome because it is hospitalizations for children that broke the previous records.

In JAMA Network Open, researchers using saliva samples from 50 subjects successfully detected COVID-19 in 20 patients using a smartphone-based loop-mediated isothermal amplification assay and ruled out infection in an additional 30 subjects. The smartphone camera is used to identify color changes on the LAMP test, indicating a chemical reaction. “This platform also met the CDC criterion standard for detection of clinically similar influenza A and B viruses in spiked saliva samples (n = 20), and in saliva samples from hospitalized patients (50 of 50 negative),” the authors write, noting that the smartphone-based LAMP assay was rapid (taking just 25 minutes), sensitive, low-cost (less than $7/test), and scalable (testing 96 samples per phone).

In the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers report that both homologous and heterologous booster vaccines using the three products authorized for use in the United States “had an acceptable safety profile and were immunogenic in adults who had completed a primary COVID-19 vaccine regimen at least 12 weeks earlier.” However, the increase in both binding and neutralizing antibodies from prebooster levels was “similar or greater” after heterologous boosting than after homologous boosting.

two children riding bikesA nationwide study from Denmark looking at 37,522 children ages 0 to 17 years with prior COVID-19 confirmed by a PCR test has found that symptoms lasting more than 4 weeks were common but typically mild. The most frequently seen symptoms were fatigue, loss of smell and taste, dizziness, muscle weakness, chest pain, and respiratory problems, but in the vast majority, symptoms resolved within 1 to 5 months. “Despite the high prevalence (12% to 51%) of reported long-lasting symptoms in the SARS-CoV-2 children, the true prevalence of ‘long COVID’ seems a lot lower, maybe as low as 0.8%,” the authors conclude in the European Journal of Pediatrics

From the outset of the pandemic, scientists have struggled to understand why some people get so sick from SARS-CoV-2 and others fare much better. Now, an expedited review article published to Nature online explores some of the human genetic and immunological determinants that might be at play in causing critical COVID-19 pneumonia. According to the authors, at least 15% of critical cases may be explained by specific inborn errors of type I interferon, known to stimulate antiviral genes to prevent virus replication, and preexisting autoantibodies. “In ways that can depend on age and sex, insufficient type I IFN immunity in the respiratory tract during the first few days of infection may account for the spread of the virus, leading to pulmonary and systemic inflammation,” the authors propose.

Also in Nature, a news feature explores Omicron’s origins and the race to understand how its many and unusual mutations evolved, free of some “transparent path of transmission linking Omicron to its predecessors.”

Meanwhile, researchers writing in Nature Communications describe an “immunoglobulin signature” that might help explain the risk of long COVID, also known as postacute coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) syndrome (PACS). As a BMJ news story explains, more than half of the 175 patients with COVID-19 reported long COVID symptoms lasting longer than a month and those who did were found to have lower levels of IgM and IgG3 antibodies than those who recovered without lasting symptoms. “We urgently need to scale up research on how to prevent this happening,” Claire Steves, PhD, is quoted. “Tools such as these predictive models could be used to identify people at higher risk for enrollment into research trials for therapeutics.”

man holding son and video chattingIn the steady flow of papers attempting to understand the real risk of myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination, two of the latest affirm that carditis cases are very rare, with a rapid onset of symptoms and a mild disease course that resolves with pain medication and no adverse outcomes. As TCTMD’s L.A. McKeown reports, both of the studies—one from the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the other a comparison of mRNA and inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccines—highlight the low risk of myocarditis compared with the known benefits of vaccination.


January 26, 2022

A study published in Cell that followed more than 200 people who recovered from acute COVID-19 has identified four biological factors, discernible early in the course of infection, that appear to predict the likelihood of developing long COVID. “Each is biologically plausible, consistent with theories that other people are pursuing, and importantly, each is actionable,” Steven Deeks, MD, who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times. “If these pathways get confirmed, we as clinicians can actually design interventions to make people better. That is the take-home message.”

Also on the long COVID front, an Israeli study published to the medRxiv server—not yet peer-reviewed—shows that protracted symptoms after an acute infection are significantly less common in vaccinated people. “In fact, vaccinated people were no more likely to report symptoms than people who’d never caught SARS-CoV-2,” a Nature article summarizes. “Here is another reason to get vaccinated, if you needed one,” study co-author Michael Edelstein is quoted in the story.

A JAMA Medical News and Perspectives article delves into the possibility that preexisting coronavirus antibodies from the seasonal cold may interfere with the immune system’s response to SARS-CoV-2. The story stems in part from an article published in the January 2022 issue of Cell Host & Microbe showing that while betacoronavirus human common cold CoV antibodies are boosted after SARS-CoV-2 infection, preexisting human common cold CoV antibodies may actually hinder the immune system response to the virus that causes COVID-19. The findings, as Jennifer Abbasi’s story points out, may ultimately shed some light on why some people fare worse with SARS-CoV-2 than others.

couple celebrating pregnancy testAdding to other studies that have offered reassurances on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy, a new study in Obstetrics & Gynecology has found similar findings in women who underwent in vitro fertilization. “Administration of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines was not associated with an adverse effect on stimulation or early pregnancy outcomes after IVF,” the authors conclude. “Our findings contribute to the growing body of evidence regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccination in women who are trying to conceive.”

Amid shortages of monoclonal antibodies and combination antiviral medications, some US hospitals are resorting to lotteries to decide who among their immunocompromised patients should receive their scarce supply, NPR reports. At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, for example, initial deliveries of tixagevimab and cilgavimab covered less than 1% of patients. The federal government, which controls distribution, “has shipped around 300,000 doses to healthcare providers and has ordered 1.2 million doses to date,” the story notes. “Around 7 million people in the US could benefit from the drug.”   

Another analysis, this one from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, confirms that Omicron, which became the predominant strain in the United States by late December, has led to a surge in cases but shorter lengths of stay, fewer ICU admissions, and fewer deaths. Nevertheless, say the authors, “Although disease severity appears lower with the Omicron variant, the high volume of hospitalizations can strain local healthcare systems and the average daily number of deaths remains substantial.” They report their findings in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

A new Omicron subvariant deemed to be a “variant under investigation” has now turned up in 40 countries; so far “BA.2” does not look to cause more-severe illness or to spread more quickly, but it’s a fast-moving story. Becker’s Hospital Review recaps “seven things to know” about the substrain so far.

Dubbed the COMPILE project, a meta-analysis of eight randomized clinical trials, enrolling a total of 2,341 subjects, has found no association between use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma and clinical outcomes. Even so, “the study itself is notable for its differences from a traditional meta-analysis,” the authors write in JAMA Network Open. “COMPILE provided comprehensive results through an international collaboration, sparked by the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic; the methods, however, apply broadly outside of crisis circumstances.” 

chalkboard and weedIt’s probably one of the most-googled, unproven remedies for COVID-19: could marijuana, hemp, and cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives help combat the virus? As STAT reports, “Kimmel and Colbert cracked jokes. The studies received coverage in outlets from Fox News to The Daily Beast,” but only clinical trials can provide solid answers. The scant early-stage findings, however, have “left researchers and consumer advocates scrambling to warn people that patients shouldn’t be turning to over-the-counter products or recreational marijuana in hopes that it might protect them from COVID-19.” The study suggesting that CBD might inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication was published in Science Advances earlier this month.


January 24, 2022

doctor typing on computer with graphsThe Omicron surge will likely peak in “most” states by mid-February, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, MD, told ABC News. “Things are looking good. We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now,” he said, adding that “there may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosters.”

Also expressing some cautious optimism, the World Health Organization (WHO) European Regional Director Hans Kluge, MD, said that given the increasing scope of both prior infections (and the natural immunity they provide) and vaccinations, “Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization,” the New York Times reports. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, however, was more circumspect, noting that Omicron is unlikely to be the last variant to make a mark, and cases are still on an upswing in many parts of the world.

Amidst all the headlines about SARS-CoV-2, researchers writing in JAMA Internal Medicine decided to look back at healthcare workers who survived an outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 in China back in 2003, and whether that offered any protection against COVID-19. As their research letter explains, antibody levels among healthcare workers vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1) vaccine indicate that individuals who survived SARS nearly two decades ago had higher anti–SARS-CoV-2-spike receptor-binding domain antibody levels than those who hadn’t had that earlier infection, and those who’d been vaccinated with either one or two doses, “despite being older and having a longer interval between vaccination and antibody level measurement.” The findings should serve as a reminder that “immunological memory is the key point to gaining insights into the likelihood of the durability of protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infection,” while also making a strong case for vaccines that target both the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoproteins.

covid test lineBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today that the mandatory tests for vaccinated travelers coming to England or those returning home will soon be scrapped. The change—which applies only to England, and not Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where authorities make their own regulations—will “show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated," Johnson is quoted by the Associated Press.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hopes to shift the conversation around vaccination, Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during at a White House press briefing last week. “The agency is working to ‘pivot the language’ to make sure that everybody is as up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines as they personally could be, should be, based on when they got their last vaccine,” Becker’s Hospital Review quotes Walensky. “That means if you recently got your second dose, you’re not eligible for a booster, you’re up to date. If you are eligible for a booster and you haven’t gotten it, you’re not up to date and you need to get your booster in order to be up to date.”

Another study of heterologous vaccine dosing is confirming a better immune response as compared with a homologous vaccine series. The RHH-001 trial in Brazil tested a third jab of Janssen’s recombinant adenoviral-vectored vaccine, Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine, or Oxford/AstraZeneca’s recombinant adenoviral-vectored vaccine following two doses of Sinovac’s inactivated whole-virion SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. For all three combinations, “heterologous boosting resulted in more-robust immune responses than homologous boosting and might enhance protection,” the authors conclude in the Lancet.

An analysis of patients discharged from the ICUs of 11 Dutch hospitals after hospitalization for severe COVID-19 points to a disturbing rate of physical, psychological, and cognitive problems 1 year later. Among survivors who completed the survey at 1 year, 74% reported physical symptoms—especially weakened condition, joint stiffness, joint pain, muscle weakness, and myalgia. In addition, 26% reported mental symptoms and 16% reported cognitive problems. Many survivors also reported “work-related problems as a result of the critical illness episode,” the authors add, publishing their full findings in JAMA.

The number of US adults reporting symptoms of serious psychological distress has remained significantly higher throughout the COVID-19 pandemic than in years prior, with symptoms surveyed at four different phases of the pandemic to date. Of the 1,068 US adults 18 years and older, surveyed at four different time points, 12% to 15% reported serious symptoms, compared with rates in the range of 3% to 4% prior to 2020. “At all four time points, the prevalence of serious distress was highest among young adults aged 18 to 29 years, individuals with a household income of less than $35,000, and Hispanic adults,” authors write in JAMA Network Open.

The American Heart Association has released an update to its CPR guidance in order to address the more-contagious Omicron variant. The document is a collaboration with 19 other organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Respiratory Care, the Society of Critical Care Anesthesiologists, and the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and incorporates recent recommendations by the WHO and CDC. Advice from those agencies, along with best practices for resuscitation and access to personal protective equipment, are part of the update, a press release notes. The full document is published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

olympic mascotsWith less than 2 weeks to go before the Olympic Winter Games kick off in Beijing, Chinese authorities have started testing millions of people in the country’s capital, hoping to halt an outbreak detected in the Fengtai district. “Beijing authorities have also announced that anyone who buys or who has bought fever, cough, or certain other medicines in the past 2 weeks will have to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours,” the AP reports.  


January 21, 2022

COVID-19 cases numbers are dropping across much of the United States, a Reuters analysis shows. In the past week, infections fell in 19 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, with a 40% drop in the Northeast. Nationally, cases fell by a more-modest 7%, as some areas are still experiencing Omicron-driven surges. The Midwest and South saw 11% and 2% increases in cases, respectively, while numbers declined by 3% in the West. Analyses of wastewater support the decline in COVID-19 across the country, CIDRAP News reports.

mask with world on itThe story is different globally, however, with the latest World Health Organization (WHO) update indicating that COVID-19 activity jumped 20% last week compared with the week before, CIDRAP News reports. Cases increased in all regions except for Africa, with the biggest jump in Southeast Asia. Worldwide deaths rose to a smaller degree—a 4% uptick.

Booster doses of the mRNA vaccines provide protection against the Omicron variant, according to new data published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. One study showed that a third dose was highly effective at reducing COVID-19-associated emergency department/urgent care encounters and hospitalizations when either Delta or Omicron were predominant. And in another study, unvaccinated adults were five times more likely to be infected than those who were fully vaccinated with a booster. Likewise, a third study, published in JAMA, indicated that receiving three doses of an mRNA vaccine—compared with being unvaccinated or receiving two doses—protected against both the Omicron and Delta variants (albeit to a lesser extent for Omicron).

International regulators recently met to discuss COVID-19 vaccines in the context of Omicron and released a report Friday: “Reviewing data on the impact of Omicron, the participants concluded that current vaccines offer less protection against infection and mild disease caused by this variant. However, vaccination continues to offer considerable protection from hospitalization and severe COVID-19 with Omicron, especially after a booster dose. It is becoming increasingly clear that a booster dose is needed to extend vaccine protection.” The regulators also discussed the need for a long-term strategy on COVID-19 vaccines, noting that use of multiple boosters at short intervals is not sustainable.

Europe is prepping to distribute fourth vaccine doses if studies show they’re necessary, Reuters reports, although some countries—including Hungary, Denmark, and Sweden—have already decided to go that route. “The EU drugs regulator said this week it would be reasonable to give a fourth dose to people with severely weakened immune systems, but more evidence was needed.”

CBD oilCannabidiol (CBD) inhibits SARS-CoV-2 infection in cells and mice, and in people there is an association between CBD consumption and a lower rate of positive COVID-19 test results, researchers report in Science Advances. But they offer a careful conclusion: “This study highlights CBD as a potential preventative agent for early-stage SARS-CoV-2 infection and merits future clinical trials. We caution against use of nonmedical formulations including edibles, inhalants, or topicals as a preventative or treatment therapy at the present time.”

France is planning to lift most COVID-19 restrictions next month (including capacity limits on large venues, work-from-home requirements, and outdoor mask mandates), while maintaining the need for a vaccine pass and indoor mask-wearing, Politico reports. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the vaccine pass will go into effect on Monday. “People will no longer be allowed to show a negative test to enter restaurants, bars, theaters, museums, and stadiums or travel on trains—only proof of vaccination will be accepted,” the story notes.

A World Health Organization (WHO) advisory panel recommended use of a reduced-dose  version of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (10 µg) for children ages 5 to 11 (Reuters). The full-dose version (30 µg) is currently available for those 12 and older. “This age group (5-11) is in the lowest priority use group for vaccination except for children who have comorbidities,” the chair of the panel said at a briefing. Vaccination in this younger group has already gone ahead in various parts of the world, including the US, Canada, Israel, and the European Union.

The state of Western Australia has canceled plans to reopen its borders on February 5 in response to surging COVID-19 numbers in the Australia’s eastern states (Reuters). “The country reported 86 deaths from the virus on Friday, figures from the state and territory jurisdictions that have reported so far showed, its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.”

A JAMA research letter reveals that the risk of breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infections during the Delta period was lower in people who had received the Moderna vaccine than in those who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. Among infected patients, Moderna recipients had a lower risk of 60-day hospitalizations, with no difference in mortality.

woman at home looking sick smallA viewpoint in Science reviews what is known about the nervous system consequences of COVID-19. Many neurologic complications, including confusion, stroke, and neuromuscular disorders, occur during the acute phase of the disease, the authors note. “Furthermore,” they write, “maladies such as impaired concentration, headache, sensory disturbances, depression, and even psychosis may persist for months after infection, as part of a constellation of symptoms now called long COVID.”


January 19, 2022

rollercoasterSome experts think that after the Omicron-driven wave of cases recedes across the world, “we may get a bit of a break from the COVID roller coaster,” STAT’s Helen Branswell writes. “By the time it crashes, the immunological landscape in this country—and in much of the world—is going to be profoundly altered. Far more people will have some immunity to COVID-19 than was the case before the wave began. Many will have what is effectively hybrid immunity, from vaccination and infection.” With many caveats, most experts said they wouldn’t predict that a potential break could mean the end of the pandemic, “but they generally agreed that the accumulation of population immunity could slow things down, at least for a while.” Some new modeling suggests, however, that 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans will die before the current surge settles in mid-March (Associated Press).

A top official from the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that the COVID-19 health emergency could end in 2022 as long as “huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly,” the AP reports. Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said “that if vaccines and other tools aren’t shared fairly, the tragedy of the virus, which has so far killed more than 5.5 million people worldwide, would continue.”

Following a possible peak in cases in the UK, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has removed COVID-19 measures that had been put in place to control the spread of the Omicron variant, which included recommendations to work at home, increased mask-wearing, and use of vaccine passes, but not more-restrictive curbs (Reuters). “Johnson's pledge to avoid lockdowns and live with the virus contrasts with a zero tolerance approach to COVID-19 in China and Hong Kong, and tougher restrictions in many other European countries.”

Other parts of the world remain consumed with Omicron-driven surges in cases, however, with some Asian and European countries tightening curbs (CIDRAP News). Japan, for example, will expand restrictions in Tokyo and other parts of the country starting Friday (AP).

Three doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may protect against the Omicron variant to a similar degree compared with the protection against earlier variants seen after two doses, according to a study of neutralizing antibodies in serum samples published in Science. CIDRAP News has more.

female doctor giving girl a shotThe WHO’s top scientist said Tuesday that there is no evidence to support the need for COVID-19 vaccine booster doses in healthy children and adolescents, Reuters reports. “Speaking at a media briefing, Soumya Swaminathan said that though there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity against the highly-transmissible Omicron variant over time, more research needs to be done to pin down who needs booster doses.”

Pfizer said Tuesday that its oral COVID-19 pill Paxlovid maintained efficacy against the Omicron variant in in vitro testing. “Taken together, these in vitro studies suggest that Paxlovid has the potential to maintain plasma concentrations many-fold times higher than the amount required to prevent Omicron from replicating in cells,” the company said. Last month, the pill became the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 authorized for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers detail a series of 57 patients who developed the rare complication of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine, mostly the Janssen vaccine (Johnson & Johnson), in the United States. All involved hospitalization, and two-thirds had a stay in the ICU. Most patients (68%) were discharged home, 17% were discharged to postacute care, and 15% died.

After an initial dip at the beginning of the pandemic, use of ambulatory care services rebounded in the United States, although the steepness of that increase differed based on insurance coverage, researchers report in JAMA. The increase was slower in people covered by Medicaid or those with dual Medicaid-Medicare eligibility than in those with commercial insurance or Medicare Advantage or Medicare fee-for-service coverage.

Results of the ACTIV-4a trial showing that adding P2Y12 inhibitors to usual care does not provide a clinical benefit in COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized but not critically ill, previously presented at the virtual American Heart Association (AHA) 2021 Scientific Sessions last November, have been published in JAMA with an accompanying editorial.

covid testThe US government will send four free at-home COVID-19 tests to every residence upon request at COVIDtests.gov, with the website opening up this week for orders. A STAT story discusses whether this move will turn President Joe Biden’s pandemic response around: “Given the complicated distribution logistics, supply chain questions, and uncertainty about where the pandemic will go next, however, there are real questions about whether the push will succeed—or backfire for Biden.”

A news feature published Tuesday in Nature highlights that the true death toll of the pandemic is likely much higher than official tallies: “By January 2022, there had been 5.5 million official COVID-19 deaths worldwide in the pandemic. But models estimate that there have been between two and four times that number of excess deaths—that is, mortality above what was expected—since the start of 2020.”


January 17, 2022

COVID-19 treatments are increasingly available in the United States, but as a study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report makes clear, white patients are getting more than their fair share. “Analysis of data from 41 health care systems participating in the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network found lower use of monoclonal antibody treatment among Black, Asian, and Other race and Hispanic patients with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results, relative to white and non-Hispanic patients,” the authors conclude. While inpatient administration of drugs like remdesivir and dexamethasone appeared to be slightly less imbalanced, they write, “equitable receipt of COVID-19 treatments by race and ethnicity along with vaccines and other prevention practices are essential to reduce inequities in severe COVID-19–associated illness and death.”

Inactivated virus-based vaccines appear to provide little to no protection against the Omicron variant despite being the most widely used vaccines in the world, emerging evidence makes clear. China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, both of which use inactivated virus vectors, “account for nearly 5 billion of the more than 11 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered globally so far,” while products made in India, Iran, and Kazakhstan make up more than 200 million, a Nature news story summarizing the evidence explains. 

As of today, people living in England can stop isolating 5 days, down from 7, after testing positive for COVID-19, so long as they don’t have a fever and have had two negative lateral flow tests on days 5 and 6. But as the BMJ reports, scientists and health professional groups are questioning the advice, saying that this could increase the risk of transmissions to health care workers and colleagues. 

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had already shortened isolation periods to 5 days, back in December, but as a New York Times story notes, that decision—among others—was based on scant data which lacked the rigor usually relied on by the agency. “Because decisions must be made at a breakneck pace, the agency has issued recommendations based on what once would have been considered insufficient evidence, amid growing public concern about how these guidelines affect the economy and education.”

COVID-19 Daily DispatchCosts of hospitalizations for unvaccinated adults in the United States approached $14 billion between June and November 2021, a period in which vaccines were widely available for free, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Costs were at their highest in August 2021, reaching $4 billion, but had dipped to $2 billion by November. “These COVID-19 hospitalizations are devastating for patients, their families, and health care providers,” a KFF summary notes. Moreover, they’ve prompted some insurers to reinstate cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment.

Last week, the US Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled that the Biden administration’s vaccine or test mandate for large businesses amounts to overstepping its authority. The court has allowed a separate mandate requiring healthcare workers nationwide to be vaccinated if they work at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding—a ruling affecting approximately 76,000 health care workers. STAT has the story

Visits to primary care physicians increased among children and adolescents who tested positive for COVID-19 in Norway, as compared with those who tested negative. Visits were up by more than 300% for children age 1 to 5, and by nearly 500% among those aged 6 to 15. Among the youngest children, visits tended to remain higher for several months after their positive test, although the same was not seen in the older children and teens. “For all age groups, the increase in primary care visits was due to respiratory and general or unspecified conditions,” the study, published in the BMJ, concludes. “No increased use of specialist care was observed.”

COVID-19 Daily DispatchOmicron’s spread is continuing to shake up the world of sports, Reuters reports. China has now announced that it will not permit tickets for the Olympic Winter Games to be sold to the general public after already declaring that foreign spectators would be banned. And, after a protracted volley with Australia’s immigration officials over his vaccination exemption, tennis number one Novak Djokovic flew home from Melbourne yesterday after losing his court appeal. 

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Shelley Wood is Managing Editor of TCTMD and the Editorial Director at CRF. She did her undergraduate degree at McGill…

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