Moderna, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Boosters Approved

In a follow-up to last week’s update, on Wednesday, October 23, 2021, the FDA authorized the expanded use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters in certain populations under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) authority. The following day, the CDC released a statement aligning with the FDA’s authorization and recommending additional COVID-19 booster shots.

For those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the following groups of people are eligible for a booster shot if it has been at least 6 months after their second dose of the initial series:

For those who received a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, booster shots are recommended for anybody 18 and older who received their initial shot two or more months ago.

For every individual who meets these criteria, you may get any of the three available COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, whether it be Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

What is important to note about the approval and recommendation of COVID-19 booster shots is that now, individuals are able to use what has been termed a “mix and match” approach. Earlier on in the pandemic, this was a point of confusion, particularly when there were severe shortages of COVID-19 vaccines. Mixing and matching vaccines was only allowed in specific and rare cases. In addition, while there was little to no data showing that mixing and matching vaccines would be harmful, there was also minimal data at the time that supported the effectiveness of mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines. Now, with many more people having been vaccinated against COVID-19 and much more data, including data on the efficacy of mixing and matching COVID-19 booster shots, such recommendations have been made. Generally, it is recommended that you get a booster dose of a vaccine that matches your initial series, however the data on mixing and matching vaccine booster shots has suggested that there may be even more protection by mixing and matching, with those getting the Pfizer initial series and the Moderna booster showing the greatest protection. With mixing and matching, it should make it easier for those who are eligible to get a booster shot based on availability or preference. It is important to note that this only applies to booster shots (not the initial series of two shots of Pfizer or Moderna) and that data supporting the COVID-19 vaccines is still specific to each vaccine and thus, if you have not completed your initial series of shots, you should still follow the initial series recommendations with the same vaccine for your first doses.

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Michigan Still Among Worst States in U.S. for COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations

Michigan continues to be one of the worst states in the country for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of Saturday, there were only four states with a higher number of average daily cases, and all have significantly larger overall populations (three of the four have at least twice Michigan's population). While the daily case rate in the state dropped by 8% over the last two weeks, that falls far short of the nationwide change, which is a 25% decrease. Additionally, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state has risen 19% in the last two weeks, the second-worst of any state in the U.S. The only state with a higher increase did so with less than 10% of the number of hospitalizations: Michigan has the 7th most hospitalizations per day, at 2,213, New Hampshire, the country with the greatest increase, is only averaging 196, putting it at 4th fewest in the country.

According to data for the week ending in October 14th, K-12 schools are by far the largest source of COVID-19 outbreaks in Michigan, with 408 current outbreaks, compared to 148 from assisted living facilities, the second largest source. No other type of site has more than 50 current outbreaks in the state.

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Black Individuals May Have Been Undercounted in 2020 Census 

While the full set of data from the 2020 U.S. Census has not been released yet, analyses based on 2020 estimates compared to results from 2010 suggest that undercounting may have been widespread, especially with Black individuals. One analysis showed that undercounting of Black individuals may be three times higher than in 2010, and another one suggests the undercount in Black children may be as much as 10 times as high as in 2010. These results align with concerns last year about undercounting in the 2020 Census. Last year, the Census faced a myriad of challenges, such as the Trump administration's fight to add a citizenship question and ending the count early, as well as issues brought about by the pandemic and natural disasters. While there are usually discrepancies in reporting, these factors might have contributed to even bigger gaps. The problem with undercounting is that Census data is used to allocate funding, as well as determine political representation. With inaccurate counts, this could impact funding for Medicaid & Medicare, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), road improvement and construction, housing vouchers, Head Start programs, and senior programs. Losing funding because of undercounting could further inequities in populations that have been historically under-resourced. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has suggested that the count in Detroit could be off by at least 10% based on race and ethnicity Census data that was released, compared to the current number of residential households with electricity accounts. Duggan is waiting for the results of a University of Michigan study before deciding whether to pursue legal action. The Congressional Black Caucus has formed a committee to look into how to prevent future Census counts from ending early. It is also possible that Congress could adjust formulas on how funding is allocated in order to take errors into account. Undercounting could have major repercussions for communities across the country and that must be attended to. 

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Scientists Receive Death Threats and Threats of Sexual Violence for Commenting About COVID-19

A newly released survey of scientists who have publicly commented about COVID-19, conducted by Nature (one of the premier academic publications in the world), found that they have suffered from significant amounts of harassment and personal attacks. Scientists are being targeted around the world by a growing anti-science movement, fueled by right-wing politicians and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists.

Among respondents who are scientists that have commented about COVID-19 in the media or on social media:

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U.S. to Donate Additional 17 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses to African Union

On October 14th, President Biden announced that the United States would donate 17 million additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to countries in the African Union. The U.S. has already donated 50 million doses to the African Union.

Last month, the World Health Organization stated that shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa need to rise to 150 million per month from the current 20 million per month to fully vaccinate 70% of the population of the continent by September of 2022. Due to supply shortages and export bans, planned deliveries to Africa were cut 25% this year, and while a number of wealthy countries have pledged to send doses, only one-third of what has been promised has actually been received.

While many people in the U.S. may treat other countries, particularly countries that are not wealthy and that are not predominantly White, as irrelevant, dangerous mutations to the virus that causes COVID-19 are more likely to develop any place where a significant percentage of the population is not vaccinated, and those mutated viruses will spread around the world, not only killing people in foreign countries, but also in the U.S. The people of those foreign countries are not to blame for their lack of access to vaccines, either. Wealthy nations have extracted much of their wealth from the nations that now lack financial resources and access to vaccines, by enslaving their populations, stealing their natural resources, and using military and economic measures to keep them under control. The information needed for other countries to produce their own vaccine doses is being withheld, so that the companies that produce the vaccines can maximize their profits, at the cost of human lives.

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WHO Hires South African Company to Try to Replicate Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Many countries around the world are facing a severe lack of COVID-19 vaccine doses because the companies producing them are intent on maximizing profits and want total control of production. As a result, the World Health Organization has hired Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a South African company, to try to replicate the Moderna vaccine. The goal is for Afrigen to figure out how to make and mass-produce Moderna's vaccine and then have them teach other manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries around the world how to do it.

There are two reasons why they are specifically targeting the Moderna vaccine. First, Moderna has stated that they do not plan to enforce their intellectual property during the pandemic (in other words, they are less likely to sue), while Pfizer has made no such statement. Second, while Moderna has not disclosed full details of their process, some information is already publicly available that gives outside researchers a head-start on the process.

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“Delta Plus” Variant Now Under Investigation in the UK

In recent news, a variant of the Delta variant, named “Delta Plus” or AY.4.2, was upgraded to a “variant under investigation” in the United Kingdom. While some variants have made rounds before in the news, this change is of note, as data currently suggests that 6-8% of current cases in the U.K. are due to this variant, and the data suggest that this variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant. Here in the U.S., according to recent data, 99.6% of current cases are still due to the Delta variant, however there have been reports of this Delta Plus variant being detected in Washington, D.C., California, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. It is still too early to tell whether this variant will become a larger issue here in the U.S., but many variants will continue to arise as long as COVID-19 continues to spread. If you have not been vaccinated yet and are medically able to do so, please get vaccinated as soon as possible and reach out to us or a healthcare provider if you have any questions, comments, and concerns. Also continue to practice proper hand hygiene and wear masks indoors and around other people, especially if you are unsure of the vaccination status of others.

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):