Biden moves on combating long COVID

Exhausted woman draped in blanket

Yesterday President Joe Biden issued a presidential memorandum directing the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a national action plan on long COVID.

The move signals an effort to study and fund research for the 7 million to 23 million Americans who suffer from COVID-19 symptoms for months and years after initial infection. Some estimates suggest as many as 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 will develop symptoms that last longer than 4 weeks, with some resulting in significant disability.

"As a complex condition that can affect multiple organ systems, Long COVID may require care and coordination across multiple medical specialties," the White House said. "The Administration recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new members of the disability community and has had a tremendous impact on people with disabilities."

The plan includes increasing funds to study the origins of long COVID, promoting clinician education, strengthening healthcare coverage for long COVID care, and expanding long COVID clinics. Most prominently, Biden's new agenda builds on the $1 billion research study already under way at the National Institutes for Heath, called the RECOVER Initiative.

The United States reported 29,521 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 477 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

The 7-day average of new daily cases is 29,286, with 593 daily deaths, according to the Washington Post tracker.

VRBPAC meets after FDA clears 4th dose

Today the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, or VRBPAC, met to discuss the current science on fourth vaccine doses, after the FDA already authorized use of a fourth dose in Americans ages 50 and older last week.

Traditionally, a VRBPAC meeting would precede such a decision, but today's meeting instead focused on the current science of booster doses, most of which comes from Israeli data. That country has widely administered a fourth mRNA dose to about half of people 60 and older. 

Though there were few adverse outcomes recorded in Israel with a fourth dose, protection against mortality was only slightly better with a fourth dose than with a third (76% vs. 71%), Israeli researcher said.

In another presentation, Robert Johnson, PhD, a deputy assistant secretary at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), discussed the future of booster doses. Johnson said mRNA vaccine platforms were more suited to developing an annual booster, but he warned that strain selection would need to be under way in May for a booster available by September.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker shows that 65.6% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 77.1% have received at least one dose, and 45% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.

Americans split on masks on planes, trains

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a new vaccine monitor, which polls American attitudes on the pandemic, now entering its third year.

The poll found that 57% of participants said they are returning to some, but not all, pre-pandemic activities, but attitudes toward mask use are still split.

Fifty-nine percent said people should continue to wear masks in some public places to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and avoid another surge in cases, while 40% say people should stop wearing masks in public so life can get back to "normal."

The federal government has mandated masks on public transportation and airplanes until Apr 18.

BA.2 negates monoclonal antibody

The FDA announced yesterday that the monoclonal antibody drug sotrovimab is no longer authorized to treat COVID-19 in any region of the country owing to increases in the proportion of US COVID-19 cases caused by BA.2. The subvariant now accounts for more than 72% of cases in the United States.

In other news, the Biden administration still owes Pfizer nearly $5 billion for Paxlovid pills it's already ordered, Bloomberg reports. The money would have to come from the $10 billion funding package being debated by the Senate.

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