Today’s Headlines: February 18, 2022

Editors: Divya Hosangadi, MSPH; Natasha Kaushal, MSPH; Marc Trotochaud, MSPH; Prarthana Vasudevan, MS, MSPH; and, Rachel Vahey, MHS with comment from Michael Lerner

State of the art reviews of pandemic developments.  Large study shows 60% increase in mental health issues in Covid survivors, Omicron spreads in hospitals, African nations begin making vaccines, more.

Michael Lerner

Clinical Practice
Large Study Reveals Clearer Links Between Covid-19, Mental Health Risks (CIDRAP) In a large US study that tracked people for as long as a year, COVID-19 patients had a 60% higher risk of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse compared with those who weren’t sickened by the virus. Given the large number of people infected with COVID-19, the findings suggest that nations should take more steps to tackle the growing challenge of managing mental health conditions in survivors. Researchers based at the Veterans Administration (VA) and Washington University in St. Louis published their findings yesterday in The BMJ.
As Omicron Surged, Covid-19 Spread Through Patients in Hospitals (Wall Street Journal) As the Omicron variant surged through communities across the U.S., it also spread inside hospitals and infected non-Covid-19 patients, reaching a record number, a Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. government data found. The daily total of patients with Covid-19 that they caught in hospitals reached a record of about 4,700 during the Omicron wave in January, according to the analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.

Public & Global Health
The U.S. Is Ramping Up Vaccination Assistance To 11 African Countries.(New York Times) The United States will increase coronavirus vaccine assistance to 11 African nations, officials said on Thursday, in an effort to prevent future variants and bolster inoculation efforts in the least vaccinated continent. Through the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, or Global Vax, the Biden administration will provide “intensive financial, technical and diplomatic support” to African countries that have recently shown the capacity to hasten vaccine uptake, according to a statement from Rebecca Chalif, a spokeswoman for the United States Agency for International Development. The agency said it selected a group of countries in sub-Saharan Africa — Angola, Eswatini, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia — based on the burden of Covid-19 on their populations, the capacity of their health systems, their readiness to quickly administer vaccine doses in the absence of supply constraints and their ability to effectively deploy additional U.S. investments. The agency had allocated $510 million to support global vaccination programs, and more than half of that funding will be allocated to the first group of African countries.

Science & Technology
Six African Countries to Begin Making mRNA Vaccines as Part of WHO Scheme(The Guardian) Six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – will be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce their own mRNA vaccines from a scheme headed by the World Health Organization. The groundbreaking project aims to assist low- and middle-income countries in manufacturing mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards, with the aim of ending much of the reliance of African countries on vaccine manufacturers outside the continent. 
Covid-19: Antibodies After Astrazeneca And Pfizer Vaccines Decrease With Age And Are Higher In Women, Data Show (BMJ) SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels after receiving the AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine decrease with age and are higher in females and people with prior infection, show data from the Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (React-2) study.1 The study, led by Imperial College London, analysed self-reported results from Fortress lateral flow tests to detect antibodies in a drop of blood from a finger prick. Data were collected from 212 102 adults from January to May 2021, of whom 71 923 (33.9%) had received at least one dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and 139 067 (65.6%) at least one dose of AstraZeneca. Results published in Nature Communications showed that, after either of the vaccines, antibody positivity peaked four to five weeks after the first dose and then declined until after second doses were given.1 “For both vaccines, there was a clear increase in the proportion of individuals testing positive after second doses,” the researchers said.

Biological Agents & Infectious Diseases
Malawi Finds Wild Polio Case; First in Africa in Five Years(Al Jazeera) Malawi has declared an outbreak of polio after a young child in the country’s capital, Lilongwe, developed the disease in the first case of the wild polio virus in Africa in more than five years. The strain found in the child in Lilongwe has been linked to one circulating in Pakistan where the virus remains endemic, the World Health Organization said in a statement on Thursday.

Domestic Preparedness & Response
Other States Have Announced Plans To Relax Mask Requirements, But Not Hawaii.(New York Times) There will soon be no statewide mask mandates on the mainland United States, if all goes according to plan. Two of the last states with mandates announced Thursday that they would be dropped. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a Democrat, said in a surprise announcement that the state would immediately lift its indoor mask mandate, including for schools. Ms. Lujan Grisham cited declining rates of hospitalizations and the success of vaccine mandates. “Having the vaccine mandates work,” she said. “That’s putting us in a position to lift the mask mandate.” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State, a Democrat, also said he would eliminate the state’s mask mandates, including for schools, at the end of March.
California Unveils Plan To Become First State To Treat Coronavirus As ‘Endemic’ Risk (Washington Post) “We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a news conference. “People are looking forward to turning the page,” he added. “They also need to know we have their back, we’re going to keep them safe, and we’re going to stay on top of this.” California’s plan, he said, shifts from a “crisis mentality” to emphasize prevention and adaptability, allowing officials to step up measures to detect and contain fresh outbreaks, as well as to look out for new variants. It also includes more public campaigns against misinformation and the stockpiling of tests and equipment rather than mask mandates and business shutdowns.

Government Affairs & National Security
Three Urgent Priorities for the National Security Council to Strengthen Global Health Security and Biodefense(STAT News) The National Security Council and, by extension, its senior director for global health security and biodefense, plays a key role in mounting a coordinated response to these complex challenges. Panjabi has an unprecedented opportunity to redefine how the U.S. addresses Covid-19 today and the public health threats of tomorrow. Here are three urgent priorities he should focus on.
NIH’s Top Vaccine Director Retires, Adding to the Exodus of Government Vaccine Expertise (Endpoints News) After more than 20 years of working at NIH, John Mascola, director of NIAID’s vaccine research center and lead on vaccines for Operation Warp Speed, said Wednesday that he will retire at the end of March.

Other 21st Century Threats
Report Highlights ‘Fragile And Failing’ Antibiotic Pipeline (CIDRAP) A new analysis of the pipeline for antibiotics uses an analogy that some sports fans may be familiar with to describe the relative lack of candidates in clinical development: Not enough shots on goal. The report on antibacterial innovation from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), released earlier this week, concludes that the breadth and the novelty of the clinical antibacterial pipeline is insufficient to meet the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, with only 64 new chemical entities (NCEs) in clinical trials—44 when candidates for tuberculosis and Clostridioides difficile are removed. Forty-four drug candidates might seem like a fair number. But a comparison to COVID-19 and oncology drugs provides a stark example of how thin the clinical pipeline for new antibiotics really is. In 2020-21, there were 260 COVID-19 antivirals in clinical development. For breast cancer alone, the number was 158.

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