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Coronavirus Files: Seniors bear the brunt of brewing surge; misinformation runs rampant

Coronavirus Files: Seniors bear the brunt of brewing surge; misinformation runs rampant

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Community organizations partnered with New York’s Department of Health to vaccinate children against COVID in the fall of 2021.
Community organizations partnered with New York’s Department of Health to vaccinate children against COVID in the fall of 2021.
(Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

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Grassroots health organizations left out of COVID funding

The CDC is distributing almost $4 billion in public health grants, but community organizations that work in underserved areas say they’re being left out, despite their contributions to fighting the pandemic in the past, report Elizabeth Cohen and Lauren Mascarenhas at CNN Health.

According to the CDC, the new funds are meant to support government health departments and intended to remedy a “historic underinvestment” in communities that are marginalized, rural, or contain ethnic or racial minorities.

“The funding often goes to states and doesn’t end up helping at a grassroots level,” said Denise Smith, executive director of the National Association of Community Health Workers. But those local groups, she said, are the ones best suited to ensure interventions are appropriate for the local culture.

Grassroots groups often assist larger organizations, but go unpaid for the work, added Venus Ginés, president of Texas health advocacy group Día de la Muher Latina. Her group failed to obtain a government grant from a Health Resources and Services Administration program in the fall, when more than $225 million went primarily to government health departments and other large organizations.

“There is no actual requirement that any of the (CDC) grant money trickle down to grassroots organizations,” write Cohen and Mascarenhas.

Infections on the rise as winter approaches

The omicron variant family that has dominated the globe for more than a year could drive yet another winter wave, writes Laura Ungar at AP News.

Nationally, COVID cases are up more than 20% over the last two weeks, though many infections go uncounted.

“It’s making a clear comeback,” said Dr. Nicholas Vasquez, an emergency physician in Phoenix, who said his hospital has reintroduced COVID-specific wards.

Just 12.7% of the eligible population has received the latest, omicron-specific booster shot.

In response, the Department of Health and Human Services is in the beginnings of a $475 million, six-week vaccination campaign, reports Annie Burky at Fierce Healthcare. The new effort will bring the vaccine to more parts of the country, including remote and rural areas.

The variant’s ongoing evolution is thwarting certain treatment options. Antibody therapies that could boost immunity in people at high risk are no longer a good match for the circulating variants and the FDA ended authorization for the last remaining antibody option on Nov. 29.

“Various companies are working on updated antibody therapies, but none appears close to being authorized,” writes Andrew Joseph at STAT.

Evusheld, an antibody treatment that helps protect people with compromised immune systems, remains authorized but has reduced efficacy against many current variants.

Holiday gatherings could further increase cases, as could international surges. In China, where strict lockdown policies have led to protests, “COVID-19 seems to be on the verge of exploding,” writes epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina on her blog. A surge there would provide the virus with more opportunities to mutate and evolve, and with global surveillance significantly diminished, “we won’t have a lot of warning” about novel variants, writes Jetelina.

White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who intends to retire this month, told CBS’ Face the Nation that the U.S. pandemic situation is “much, much better than it was.” But, he added, daily death counts still number in the hundreds. “It’s still not a great place to be.”

COVID death rates highest among elderly

Nine out of 10 COVID deaths are now occurring in seniors — the highest proportion since the pandemic started, report Ariana Eunjung Cha and Dan Keating at The Washington Post.

“Now, more than ever, it is a plague of the elderly,” they write.

Some experts predict COVID will continue to be most deadly for older people, as well as those who are already ill or poor, raising questions about what level of loss is acceptable in the pursuit of normalcy.

The U.S. government is not pursuing the booster campaign and masking in health care settings as aggressively as it could, which smacks of ageism, said bioethics professor S. Matthew Liao of New York University.

Just under one-third of people over 65 have received the latest booster. That fact plus the vulnerability of older individuals to COVID underlies the death rates, reports Mary Kekatos at ABC News.

Death data also indicate the nation is no longer in a pandemic of the unvaccinated, according to an analysis by Cynthia Cox and colleagues at the Kaiser Family Foundation. As of August, 58% of deaths were in people who had received either a primary vaccine series or that plus a booster.

In part, that’s because much of the population is now vaccinated. However, vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time, and many people have yet to receive booster shots. At the same time, many unvaccinated people have built up immunity through previous infections.

The research “underscores the importance of staying up-to-date on boosters,” write the KFF authors.

Twitter stops policing COVID misinformation

COVID misinformation is running rampant at Twitter after the social media giant stopped policing it, apparently in accordance with new owner Elon Musk’s free speech policies, Donie O’Sullivan reported for CNN Business on Nov. 29.

Twitter’s previous policy of labeling or removing false or misleading content had received praise from physicians and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. The platform has removed nearly 100,000 items of content and suspended more than 11,000 accounts over COVID misinformation since January 2020.

Misinformation has continued to thrive on far-right social media platforms, such as Gab, that are not monitored like more mainstream social media networks, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times reported last month.

A purported documentary espousing vaccine myths, called “Died Suddenly,” was released on Twitter and Rumble on November 21, and has been viewed more than 12 million times, reports Michael DePeau-Wilson at MedPage Today.

The change at Twitter is “certain to get many more people killed from COVID than otherwise would,” health sociologist Jon Shaffer of Johns Hopkins told Taylor Lorenz at The Washington Post.

Reports oversold the danger of a second COVID infection

An article in the journal Nature Medicine, published Nov. 10, was widely reported as suggesting that a repeat coronavirus infection was more risky than a first bout with the disease, but this is an erroneous interpretation, writes MedPage Today’s editor-in-chief Dr. Jeremy Faust.

“Second infections are far less dangerous than first infections,” writes Faust. “This is true regardless of vaccination status.”

He points to a 2021 study that found that among 1,304 reinfections, only four people had severe disease the second time around, and no one died.

That said, a repeat infection is not without its risks. The Nature Medicine paper indicates that for certain patients who sought medical attention after reinfection, they had more health consequences compared to people who did not get a reinfection, or who did get infected again but did not seek medical attention.

What we’re reading

  • “There’s no such thing as a good cold,” by Keren Landman, Vox
  • “The pandemic exposed the inequality of American motherhood,” by Stephanie H. Murray, The Atlantic
  • “Overcrowding, lack of healthcare access help increase COVID mortality in prisons,” by Joyce Friedan, MedPage Today
  • “‘The more you submit, the more we get paid’: How fintech fueled COVID aid fraud,” by Tony Romm, The Washington Post
  • “How China’s zero-COVID policy threatens the US economy,” by Max Zahn, ABC News
  • “Editor’s note: A review of criticisms of a ProPublica-Vanity Fair story on a COVID origins report,” by Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica

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