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Second Booster Authorized and Recommended by FDA and CDC for Certain Populations
On March 29, 2022, the FDA authorized a second COVID-19 booster for Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines for certain populations, with the CDC soon following this authorization and recommending an additional booster shot for certain individuals.
Those who are now eligible and are recommended to get an additional booster are people 50 years of age and older as well as individuals 12 and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. For these individuals, the second booster should be given at least 4 months after the first booster. For immunocompromised individuals, this means 3 doses of the initial series, followed by a booster shot at least 3 months after their third dose and a second booster at least 4 months later. For older individuals 50 and up, this may be their 4th shot.
This comes as the BA.2 variant of the Omicron variant, which has been shown to be more transmissible than the original BA.1 Omicron variant, has now become the dominant variant in the United States. In addition to staying up to date on vaccinations, continue to wear N95, KN95, or KF94 masks and socially distance when possible to protect yourself and others to the best of your ability.
Pregnant and Immunocompromised People at Significantly Increased Risk for Breakthrough COVID-19 Infection
Recent research out of Epic Systems, the software company that makes the widely used electronic health record Epic, shows that pregnant people are nearly two times more likely to experience a breakthrough infection compared to fully vaccinated people who are not pregnant. The study, which analyzed the electronic health record of almost 14 million vaccinated patients across the United States, also found that patients who are immunocompromised and/or have a solid organ transplant, like a kidney or liver transplant, are also at increased risk, although slightly less so than pregnant people. So far, all existing evidence shows that vaccination significantly reduces the risk for severe illness, but more research needs to be done to understand whether boosters last as long for pregnant people, if they might benefit from increased dosages in their vaccines, or if there are benefits to giving the vaccine before pregnancy, when possible. The best way for pregnant people to protect themselves and their babies is to be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, wear masks, and socially distance. The same is true for people who have an organ transplant or are immunocompromised, and moderately and severely immunocompromised people should now also receive an additional booster to help protect them from breakthrough infection.
New Report Shows Racial COVID-19 Disparities
The Black Coalition Against COVID released a report this week about the racial disparities that have persisted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While there were disproportionate rates of COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic in Black Americans, new data shows that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to be higher in Black people in the U.S. than white people. The data also show higher rates of “long COVID,” due to higher rates of primary infection and continual barriers in diagnosis and access to treatment. The rate of hospitalization for Black Americans has increased - in January the hospitalization rate for Black Americans was the highest weekly rate for any race and ethnic group at any point in the pandemic. This occurred even though vaccination rates for Black Americans are comparable to the vaccination rates for white Americans.The severity of COVID-19 among Black Americans is related to structural and systemic barriers and not because Black Americans have a genetic predisposition to coronavirus. Black Americans have also faced significant behavioral health challenges during the pandemic. The stress of job loss and economic insecurity is linked to increases in anxiety, depression, and substance use. One study showed that opioid overdoses in Black Americans increased by roughly 52.1 percent while overdoses in white Americans decreased 24 percent. While there have been plenty of negative impacts of the pandemic on Black Americans, efforts and partnerships led by Black Americans have led to more equitable access to COVID-19 resources. Data is still being collected about the impacts of the pandemic, but there are lessons to be found in what has already been experienced. Targeted efforts to attend to the most impacted groups will be beneficial for everyone. Continuing to dismantle systemic and societal racism that perpetuates inequities and barriers to necessary access is a must. Without acknowledging historical racism and how that impacts current conditions, we will continue to see harm disproportionately impact Black Americans.
Lynching Now a Federal Hate Crime in the U.S.
On Tuesday, President Biden signed into law a bill that makes lynching illegal at the federal level. The bill was passed by the Senate in early March, and had passed the House a month earlier. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act classifies lynching as a hate crime that results in injury or death, and makes it punishable by up to 30 years in prison. While the legislation is an important step forward, the fact that it took until 2022 for an anti-lynching bill to become law is staggering. The first anti-lynching legislation was introduced 120 years ago, in 1900, and even in 2020, legislators were objecting to the wording of bills that would criminalize it.
"Lynching is now a federal hate crime after a century of blocked efforts"
Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests at Some Michigan Libraries
Free at-home COVID-19 tests will be available in 70 libraries across 38 counties in Michigan, including East Lansing Public Library and Delta Township District Library in the Lansing area. Kits are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and people can take one per person and up to five per household. The free tests are especially important now, since federal government funding for COVID-19 testing has run out, and Congress has not approved any new funding.
"Free at-home virus tests will be available at 70 Michigan libraries"
Omicron BA.2 Now Dominant Variant in United States
The omicron BA.2 variant is now responsible for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, accounting for just under 55% of all cases in the country. While the majority of BA.2 cases are currently in New England, the variant has also been found in every state as well as Washington, D.C.. Per Becker’s Hospital Review, Michigan has had 229 documented cases of the variant so far. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that this number is likely much higher, because case counts are dependent on testing. Since the variant, like the original omicron, typically produces mild symptoms, many people may not be getting tested, and a large percentage of testing is being done via at-home tests, which are rarely reported to local, state, or federal agencies. So far, research has shown that the omicron BA.2 variant is more infectious than the original omicron, but it has not shown to make people more sick. Vaccines still offer protection. As the omicron BA.2 variant spreads, the best way for people to protect themselves is to be fully vaccinated if they are able, including booster shots, and to wash their hands, socially distance, and wear masks — especially in indoor and/or large gatherings.
New Official U.S. Website for COVID-19 Information and Resources
The White House launched a new website, COVID.gov, which acts as a central location to access information about COVID-19 masks, vaccines, treatments (including where to get antiviral pills), testing, symptoms, and travel restrictions in the United States. The site is available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, and a phone line is available for those who would like to access it in that way (1-800-232-0233, TTY: 1-888-720-7489).
"A new federal website aims to solve a key COVID problem: where to get antiviral pills"
Another Study Shows Ivermectin Ineffective at Preventing COVID-19
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine continues to show what healthcare workers, scientists, and public health workers have been saying throughout the pandemic: ivermectin does not reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19. The randomized, double-blind study out of Brazil had 3,515 participants, with 679 individuals receiving ivermectin, 679 receiving a placebo, and 2,157 receiving some other form of treatment. Researchers then looked at hospitalization within 28 days and whether these individuals got worse and needed to go to the emergency room. They found that ivermectin did not decrease the chances that an individual would require admission to a hospital due to COVID-19. In addition to not working to combat COVID-19, ivermectin can have adverse side effects if taken outside of how it is directed and should not be used without proper guidance from a healthcare professional.