New booster works against dominant Covid strain

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/25/bivalent-covid-booster-xbb-1-5-00079451?mkt_tok=ODUwLVRBQS01MTEAAAGJjU7308C9Y8wCxfUFTmF9l2n7GDK3ejZuigdebwgFj9OOr5ffXWyONZ2UpDkMVbgp0t6zGmmGbBdM0Vd7yn0Wf61hb_mHhXcbSfFlK5F-tKyN

A new CDC study has found that the Covid-19 bivalent booster reduces the risk of symptomatic infection from the most common subvariant circulating in the U.S. right now by about half.

Additional new data, set to be published on the CDC website on Wednesday, also shows that individuals who received an updated vaccine reduced their risk of death by nearly 13 fold, when compared to the unvaccinated, and by two fold when compared to those with at least one monovalent vaccine but no updated booster.

CDC officials said during a briefing on Wednesday that the new findings were “reassuring.” But only 15.3 percent of eligible Americans — or about 50 million people — have received the new shot, which was rolled out in September.

Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 — nicknamed “the Kraken” by some — is now the dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain in the U.S., projected by the CDC to make up just over 49 percent of cases in the country as of last week.

Earlier this month, the WHO said XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible variant to date, and is circulating in dozens of countries. Though a catastrophic wave has not emerged in the U.S. yet, there has nevertheless been a spike in deaths this month, with an average of 564 people dying of Covid-19 each day as of Jan. 18, compared with an average of 384 around the same time in December.

The new vaccine efficacy study, which used data from the national pharmacy program for Covid testing, found that the bivalent booster provided 48 percent greater protection against symptomatic infection from the XBB and XBB.1.5 subvariants among people who had the booster in the previous two to three months, compared with people who had only previously received two to four monovalent doses.

It also provided 52 percent greater protection against symptomatic infection from the BA.5 subvariant, though according to CDC estimates, BA.5 only accounted for about 2 percent of U.S. cases last week.

CDC officials cautioned that the findings reflected a population-level rate of protection, and that individual risk of infection varies.

“It’s hard to interpret it as an individual’s risk, because every individual is different,” said Ruth Link-Gelles, the author of the vaccine effectiveness study published in MMWR Wednesday. “Their immune system is different, their past history of prior infection is different. They may have underlying conditions that put them at more or less risk of COVID-19 disease.”

She also said it was unclear, given the limitations of the study, how long the bivalent booster protection will last.

“It’s too early to know how waning will happen with the bivalent vaccine,” she said. “What we’ve seen in the past is that your protection lasts longer for more severe illness. So even though you may have diminished protection over time against symptomatic infection, you’re likely still protected against more severe disease for a longer period of time.”

How bad is China’s covid outbreak?

China is in the middle of what may be the world’s largest covid-19 outbreak after authorities abruptly loosened almost three years of strict pandemic restrictions in December following nationwide protests against the measures.

The sudden dismantling of China’s “zero covid” regime — enforced through mass lockdowns, testing and contact tracing — has left the country’s health system unprepared and overwhelmed. It has alarmed international health experts concerned about Beijing’s transparency and caused diplomatic friction as countries enforce travel restrictions on arrivals from China.

How many people have been infected?

So far, there are no reliable national figures for the number of people among China’s 1.4 billion population who have been infected in the current outbreak. After admitting the difficulty of tracking infections, China’s National Health Commission stopped reporting daily tallies in December.

The data is still maintained by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, based on counts from hospitals and local health commissions. But because mandatory mass testing has been dropped, the official figure is believed to massively underestimate the rate of infection. As of Jan. 8, there have been a little more than 500,000 confirmed covid cases since the pandemic began, according to the CDC.

Statements from local governments indicate that the true number of infections is exponentially higher. Officials in Henan province estimated this week that 89 percent of the province’s 99 million residents have been infected. In Zhejiang province, officials said the province was seeing over a million new infections a day in late December. As of Jan. 8, all 31 provinces, municipalities and regions had reported covid infections, according to the CDC.

How serious is the outbreak?

The number of deaths remains unknown, even as evidence is mounting that the true death count is much higher than what has been reported — a little more than 5,200 deaths since the pandemic began and fewer than 40 since zero-covid restrictions were lifted on Dec. 7.

As of Dec. 25, the takeup of intensive care beds in secondary and tertiary hospitals across the country was about 54 percent, but that figure has since increased to 80 percent, Jiao Yahui, director of the Department of Medical Affairs of the National Health Commission, said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday.

Officials reassured the public by noting that the fatality rate of the coronavirus’s omicron variant is 0.1 percent. The current outbreak has mostly consisted of the omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7, the State Council Information Office said in a news conference Monday.

The lack of testing combined with the narrow definition of what counts as a covid death — positive patients who die of respiratory failure — continue to skew the statistics. Officials have said they will investigate fatalities and release the results in the future.

What is the government saying?

Authorities say the worst of the outbreak is over for Chinese cities where infections spread quickly in December. Now, they are preparing for a new surge in rural areas around the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday that begins Jan. 21.

State media has reported that cases in most major cities have started to decline. Yin Yong, acting mayor of Beijing, told CCTV on Monday that the city had reached its peak and that authorities were turning their focus to monitoring potential new coronavirus variants or subvariants of omicron, and to mitigating the impact of covid on the elderly and other vulnerable groups.

Officials also said the peak had been reached in the province of Jiangsu in late December, while in Zhejiang, authorities said, “the first wave of infections has passed smoothly,” according to Health Times, a publication managed by People’s Daily. The state-run Farmers’ Daily said that visits to 51 villages across 31 provinces showed that most residents had been infected and had recovered.

Data released by Baidu, the main search engine in China, showed that the number of searches related to covid symptoms and medical supplies had dropped since peaking in mid-December.

Yet in Henan, officials said hospitals remain overcrowded because of a rise in critical cases in the past week. Researchers at the Institute of Public Health at Nankai University in Tianjin, using data from fever clinics, project that the nationwide peak will be between Dec. 20 and Jan. 15, with two smaller peaks in the first half of this year.

Officials have predicted a second wave over the Lunar New Year holiday, when the total number of passenger trips by residents is expected to reach 2.1 billion as pent-up demand for travel is unleashed. At this point, more contagion could spread to rural areas, where severe shortages of anti-fever drugs and medical staff have been reported.

How did zero covid affect the outbreak?

China’s pursuit of zero covid, eliminating the spread of the virus through lockdowns, mandatory quarantines, travel restrictions and mass testing, has proved to be a double-edged sword. While the approach kept infections and death rates low throughout most of the pandemic, it left the Chinese population with little natural immunity to the virus.

Many elderly residents — already skeptical of vaccines, which have had a troubled past in China — did not get vaccinated, feeling that they would be protected by the zero-covid strategy. Only 40 percent of residents above the age of 80 have had booster shots.

Under China’s covid policy, the population was immunized with domestically made vaccines that are not as effective against the omicron variant as mRNA vaccines. China has yet to approve foreign mRNA vaccines, and a domestically made one is still under production.

What does this mean for the rest of the world?

Concerns about the possibility of a new variant emerging in China have prompted countries including the United States, Japan and South Korea, and many European countries, to require extra screening for arrivals from China.

Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the CDC, told CCTV in a report published Sunday that no new variants have emerged and that new strains are being collected every day to monitor changes.

“All the strains we found so far have already been shared with international sharing platforms,” he said. “They are the ones either reported abroad, or have been introduced to China after spreading overseas. So far, no newly emerged mutated strains have been found in China.”

The World Health Organization has called on China to share more real-time data on the outbreak. Michael Ryan, the health emergencies director, said at a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday that the WHO “still believes that deaths are heavily underreported from China.” He added: “We still do not have adequate information to make a full comprehensive risk assessment.”

Beijing has criticized travel restrictions on people arriving from China imposed by other countries as “ridiculous” and politically motivated. It has threatened countermeasures and this week suspended short-term visas for Japanese and South Korean citizens.

The current “tripledemic” is putting pressure on hospitals  

https://mailchi.mp/e44630c5c8c0/the-weekly-gist-december-16-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Hospitals across the country are being hit with a spike in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza cases, while still dealing with a steady flow of COVID admissions, in what’s been dubbed a tripledemic. The graphic above uses hospitalization data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to show that each disease has been sending similar shares of the population to hospitals across late fall, with flu hospitalizations having just overtaken COVID admissions after Thanksgiving.

These numbers reflect that we’re experiencing the worst RSV season in at least five years, and we’re set to endure the worst flu season since 2009-10. As RSV is most severe in very young children, its recent surge has revealed another capacity shortage in our nation’s hospitals: pediatric beds. From 2008 to 2018, pediatric inpatient bed counts fell by 19 percent, as hospitals shifted resources to higher revenue services. 

This strategy has now come to a head in many parts of the country, as RSV has driven pediatric bed usage rates to a recent high. (The Department of Health and Human Services’ pediatric capacity data only dates back to August 2020.) With three straight weeks of declining RSV hospitalizations, there is reason to hope that pediatric care units will soon feel a reprieve. However, flu season has yet to reach its peak, prompting calls for a return to widespread mask-wearing and a renewed emphasis on flu shots, given that more than half of Americans have not yet gotten vaccinated this season. 

Twitter no longer policing COVID misinformation

https://mailchi.mp/0622acf09daa/the-weekly-gist-december-2-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Amid a flurry of policy changes initiated by Elon Musk since his takeover of the social media company last month, Twitter has ceased its formal efforts to combat COVID misinformation. To date, Twitter had removed over 100K posts for violating its COVID policy. The company will now rely on its users to combat disinformation through its “Birdwatch” program, which lets users rate the accuracy of tweets and submit corrections. Many of the 11K accounts suspended for spreading COVID misinformation, including those of politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have also been reinstated. 

The Gist: We’ve seen the damage caused by inaccurate or deliberately misleading COVID information, which has likely played a role in the US’s lower vaccination rates compared to other high-income countries. Around one in five Americans use Twitter, far fewer than Facebook or YouTube, but the platform is seen as highly influential, both for the reach of its content and also its moderation decisions. 

This policy change is worrisome, not only because COVID is still taking the lives of hundreds of Americans daily, but also because COVID misinformation catalyzes broader healthcare misinformation, including antivax sentiments and an overall mistrust of medical experts.

Can updated boosters prevent another Covid-19 surge? Why some experts are skeptical.

Most experts agree that updated bivalent Covid-19 boosters provide additional protection against serious illness and death among vulnerable populations—but evidence suggests that increased booster uptake may not prevent a “wave of Covid” infections this winter, Apoorva Mandavilli writes for the New York Times.

Can bivalent boosters prevent another surge of infections?

While the Biden administration’s plan to prevent another surge of Covid-19 infections relies on increasing Americans’ uptake of the updated booster doses of the PfizerBioNTech and Moderna vaccines, some experts doubt the strategy.

According to John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, boosters provide additional protection to vulnerable populations—including older adults, immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant people—who should get boosted to prevent severe illness and death.

However, the benefit is not as clear for healthy, younger Americans who “are rarely at risk of severe illness or death from Covid, and at this point most have built immunity through multiple vaccine doses, infections or both,” Mandavilli writes.

“If you’re at medical risk, you should get boosted, or if you’re at psychological risk and worrying yourself to death, go and get boosted,” Moore said. “But don’t believe that will give you some kind of amazing protection against infection, and then go out and party like there’s no tomorrow.”

Separately, Peter Marks, FDA‘s top vaccine regulator, noted the limited data available data for the updated boosters.

“It’s true, we’re not sure how well these vaccines will do yet against preventing symptomatic disease,” he said, especially as the newer variants spread.

However, Marks added, “even modest improvements in vaccine response to the bivalent boosters could have important positive consequences on public health. Given the downside is pretty low here, I think the answer is we really advocate people going out and consider getting that booster.”

How much additional protection do updated shots provide?

While Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna recently reported that their bivalent boosters produced antibody levels that were four to six times higher than the original vaccine, their results were based on BA.4 and BA.5 antibodies, instead of the more prevalent BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants.

According to Mandavilli, “[a] spate of preliminary research suggests that the updated boosters, introduced in September, are only marginally better than the original vaccines at protecting against the newer variants — if at all.”

These small studies have not been reviewed for publication in a journal—but they all came to similar conclusions.

“It’s not likely that any of the vaccines or boosters, no matter how many you get, will provide substantial and sustained protection against acquisition of infection,” said Dan Barouch, head of Beth Israel Deaconess Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, who helped develop Johnson & Johnson‘s vaccine.

Notably, Barouch’s team recently discovered that BQ.1.1 is around seven times more resistant to the body’s immune defenses than BA.5, and 175 times more resistant than the original strain of the coronavirus. “It has the most striking immune escape, and it’s also growing the most rapidly,” he said. BQ.1 will likely follow a similar pattern.

“By now, most Americans have some degree of immunity to the coronavirus, and it does not surprise scientists that the variant that best evades the body’s immune response is likely to outrun its rivals,” Mandavilli writes.

The new vaccine increases antibodies, but the fact it is bivalent may not be significant. In August, a study by Australian immunologists suggested that any kind of booster would offer extra protection. In addition, the study noted that a variant-specific booster would likely not be more effective than the original vaccine.

“The bulk of the benefit is from the provision of a booster dose, irrespective of whether it is a monovalent or bivalent vaccine,” according to the World Health Organization.

Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, noted that despite recent research, which evaluated immune response soon after vaccination, immune response may improve over time.

“We will see with larger studies and studies at a later time point if there is a good or a significant benefit, but I think it’s certainly not worse,” he added. “I don’t see much risk when you get the vaccine, so you might as well get the benefit.”

“What we need to do right now to get us through the next few months when I think we are in yet another wave of incipient wave of Covid,” Marks added. “And then we need to look forward, and lean into how we’re going to do things differently moving forward.”

Will we see an increase in vaccine uptake?

Currently, FDA allows the booster dose at least two months after a Covid-19 infection or previous does. However, some studies suggest boosting too early could have negative consequences. “Lengthening the interval between boosts to five or six months may be more effective, giving the immune system more time to refine its response,” Mandavilli writes.

Still, “adding yet another shot to the regimen seems unlikely to motivate Americans to opt for the immunization,” no matter the schedule, she adds.

“Each new booster we roll out is going to have a lower and lower uptake, and we’re already pretty close to the floor,” said Gretchen Chapman, an expert in health behavior at Carnegie Mellon University.

Ultimately, “[w]e should not spend a lot of political capital trying to get people to get this bivalent booster, because the benefits are limited,” Chapman added. “It’s more important to get folks who never got the initial vaccine series vaccinated than to get people like me to get their fifth shot.” 

Who is still dying of COVID?

https://mailchi.mp/46ca38d3d25e/the-weekly-gist-november-4-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

While we have mercifully moved beyond the crisis phase of the pandemic, COVID remains a leading cause of US deaths, taking the lives of hundreds of Americans each day.

In the graphic above, we analyzed COVID mortality data, finding the defining characteristic of Americans still dying of COVID is age. As death rates have dropped, the percentage of COVID deaths accounted for by individuals 65 years or older has risen to an all-time high of 88 percent. 

Notably, a majority of people dying of COVID today are vaccinated, due to the high rate of vaccination in the 65+ population. While the near-universal vaccination of seniors, including the fact that one in five have received the most recent bivalent booster, is not sufficient to save all of their lives, unvaccinated seniors are still dying at higher rates than vaccinated ones.

In August 2022, vaccinated individuals over age 80, who represent about four percent of the total US population, made up 31 percent of COVID deaths, while unvaccinated individuals in the same age group, who represent less than one percent of the total population, made up 19 percent of COVID deaths. 

We entered 2020 with about 55M Americans ages 65 and older, and have since lost 790K, or nearly 1.5 percent of the senior population, to COVID. Meanwhile, reports of the new, immune-evasive BQ variant sweeping New York and California remind us that COVID’s not done with us yet, even if we think we’re done with it. 

Covid-19 is surging in Europe. Is America next?

https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2022/10/10/covid-resurgence

While infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from Covid-19 have been steadily declining in the United States in recent months, experts warn that rising cases in Europe may be “a harbinger for what’s about to happen in the United States,” Rob Stein writes for NPR’s “Shots.”

Will the US see a ‘winter resurgence’ of Covid-19?

Currently, several models project that U.S. Covid-19 infections will continue to decline at least until the end of 2022. However, researchers caution that there are multiple variables that could change current projections, including whether more infectious strains start circulating around the nation.

According to Stein, “[t]he first hint of what could be in store is what’s happening in Europe.” Recently, many European countries, including the U.K., France, and Italy, have seen an increase in Covid-19 infections.

“In the past, what’s happened in Europe often has been a harbinger for what’s about to happen in the United States,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “So I think the bottom line message for us in this country is: We have to be prepared for what they are beginning to see in Europe.”

“We look around the world and see countries such as Germany and France are seeing increases as we speak,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin. “That gives me pause. It adds uncertainty about what we can expect in the coming weeks and the coming months.”

However, Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who helps run the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, noted that the United States may not have the same experience as Europe, largely because it is unclear whether Europe’s increase is related to individuals’ vulnerability to new strains.

“If it is mostly just behavioral changes and climate, we might be able to avoid similar upticks if there is broad uptake of the bivalent vaccine,” Lessler added. “If it is immune escape across several variants with convergent evolution, the outlook for the U.S. may be more concerning.”

Some researchers believe the United States is already experiencing early signs of this. “For example, the levels of virus being detected in wastewater is up in some parts of the country, such in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont and other parts of Northeast,” Stein writes. “That could an early-warning sign of what’s coming, though overall the virus is declining nationally.”

It’s really too early to say something big is happening, but it’s something that we’re keeping an eye on,” said Amy Kirby, national wastewater surveillance program lead at CDC.

According to David Rubin, the director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which tracks the pandemic, Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations are already rising in some parts of New England, and other northern regions, including the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re seeing the northern rim of the country beginning to show some evidence of increasing transmission,” Rubin said. “The winter resurgence is beginning.”

How likely is a severe Covid-19 surge?

Unless a “dramatically different new variant emerges,” it is “highly unlikely this year’s surge would get as severe as the last two years in terms of severe disease and deaths,” Stein writes.

“We have a lot more immunity in the population than we did last winter,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, who leads the Pandemic Center at the Brown University School of Public Health.

“Not only have people gotten vaccinated, but a lot of people have now gotten this virus. In fact, some people have gotten it multiple times. And that does build up [immunity] in the population and reduce overall over risk of severe illness,” Nuzzo said.

Another factor that could affect the severity of the impact of rising infections is the number of people who receive updated Covid-19 vaccines, which help boost waning immunity from previous infections or shots.

However, the United States’ booster uptake has been slow. “Nearly 50% of people who are eligible for a booster have not gotten one,” said William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s wild. It’s really crazy.”

Since updated boosters became available in September, less than 8 million of the over 200 million people who are eligible have received one.

According to Nuzzo, it is critical for people to stay up to date on their vaccines, especially with the high likelihood of another Covid-19 surge. “The most important thing that we could do is to take off the table that this virus can cause severe illness and death,” Nuzzo said.

“There are a lot of people who could really benefit from getting boosted but have not done so,” she added.

The strategic importance of finding a place to park

https://mailchi.mp/6a3812741768/the-weekly-gist-september-9-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

We’re fortunate to be privy to many of the big, complex strategic issues being discussed in health system boardrooms and executive meetings these days: care model innovations, new investments in technology, the digital revolution in care, market-shaping partnerships, the future of the healthcare workforce, and on and on. It’s a precarious and strategically critical moment for incumbent systems in many ways. But we’re often reminded that the nuts and bolts of running hospital facilities still demands attention, even at a board level. 

Case in point: the perennial discussion about what otherwise seems like a minor issue—parking. You’d be shocked how often parking comes up in board-level discussions (partly because many board members are older, active users of hospital services, who spend significant time looking for a place to park). We’ve been witness to knock-down, drag-out arguments about whether to charge for parking, and why more parking isn’t available for patients, physicians, and others.

At first it seems like a trivial issue, but of course it isn’t. In reality, it’s a tangible example of how much patient experience matters in the design and operation of healthcare delivery. We’ve also found it’s a useful analogy in explaining to leaders why “frictionless access” should be at the heart of digital patient experience as well—a poorly-designed digital “front door” can be just as frustrating as not being able to find an inexpensive and convenient place to park before a medical appointment. 

Delivering reliable, affordable, high-quality care is critical, but getting the small experiential details (like parking) right can be incredibly impactful. Next time you visit a medical facility, think about what the parking experience is telling you about how “patient-centered” your provider really is.

How Long Has Polio Been Circulating in the U.S.?

 The virus has likely been circulating in U.S. cities intermittently for years, experts say.

The fact that poliovirus was detected in New York City wastewater samples as far back as April of this year shouldn’t be surprising, as the virus likely has been circulating for longer and more widely than previously believed, several experts told MedPage Today.

“I think you’re gonna see over the next weeks more and more reports of poliovirus in wastewater elsewhere,” said Vincent Racaniello, PhD, a virologist at Columbia University in New York City.

Poliovirus probably still circulated in the U.S. after 2000, when officials stopped giving the oral polio vaccine, he said. That version protects against paralysis and provides short-term protection against intestinal infection from poliovirus.

The transition to injectable polio vaccine, which is equally as effective against paralysis but not against intestinal infection, meant that the U.S. population was more susceptible to transmitting vaccine-associated poliovirus, he explained.

This circulation is likely occasional and sporadic, he said, but the threat to vulnerable populations is still high.

“Here’s the thing: polio is here in the U.S. It’s not gone,” Racaniello said. “It’s in the wastewater. It could contaminate you, so if you’re not vaccinated, that could be a problem.”

Calls for Nationwide Surveillance

Racaniello said there’s value in learning more about the circulation of the virus, especially for communities with low vaccination rates.

The first step to understanding how long and how broadly poliovirus is circulating, he said, is to start testing wastewater everywhere. The CDC used stored wastewater from April to confirm that the virus had been circulating then, but it is just as possible to conduct nationwide surveillance for poliovirus now, he noted.

In fact, Racaniello said, he has long believed that this kind of surveillance should be done routinely to provide an early detection system for poliovirus.

“Ten years ago, I said to the CDC, you should really be looking in the sewage for poliovirus because of this issue where it could come in from overseas and be in our sewage,” he said. “If someone is unvaccinated, that would be a threat to them, but [the CDC] never did it.”

Davida Smyth, PhD, of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, pointed out that the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) was established to detect COVID-19 in 2020, so the infrastructure to conduct a wide search for the spread of polio is available.

The primary issue, she said, is that the collaboration that academic researchers have enjoyed with the CDC in surveillance of COVID-19 is so far absent with poliovirus.

“I imagine the CDC is testing those samples for polio, even as we speak, given the nature of what has happened,” Smyth said.

Better coordination with academia and better surveillance, she said, is crucial for finding any potential pockets of poliovirus circulating in other communities around the U.S.

In fact, she said, she is “absolutely convinced” that more polio will be found in the coming weeks.

MedPage Today contacted the CDC to ask whether there are plans to use the NWSS to look for polio around the U.S., but as of press time had not received a response.

Smyth noted that most areas in the country have high rates of polio vaccination, but she is concerned about pockets of rural America where vaccination has dipped in recent years. Most states boast polio vaccination rates over 90%, but Smyth said in some regions, the percentages may be as low as the mid-30s.

“[In] the vast majority of the United States, the vaccination rates are quite high, but the COVID pandemic has led to a decrease in vaccination rates,” Smyth told MedPage Today. “The rates are going down. They’re dipping below 90%, which is shocking, frankly.”

Smyth said the decline is largely due to a lack of opportunity or access to healthcare in some areas, but vaccine hesitancy around the COVID-19 vaccine might be affecting polio vaccinations as well.

“There’s a variety of reasons why people don’t get vaccinated,” she said. “The problem is children are very vulnerable. So if you have a population where the vaccination rates drop, those are exactly the kinds of areas where we need to do this surveillance.”

Racaniello echoed the importance of polio vaccination in adults as well. If patients don’t have a record of their shot, “just vaccinate them,” he said, “because there’s no downside to getting vaccinated again.”

Re-evaluating the Polio Endgame

The recent case of paralytic polio infection and concerns over the wider circulation of poliovirus have also altered some of the thinking around the goal of polio eradication.

In fact, William Schaffner, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, highlighted the unique difficulty of preventing the spread of poliovirus.

“As you can imagine, we’ve gotten into polio endgame,” he told MedPage Today. “I think the notion has now been modified. Eradication isn’t going to be as neat and clean and quick as we once thought. Once we get rid of all paralytic disease, we will have to keep vaccinating for a long time, because there will still be circulating vaccine-associated viruses — some of which will mutate back.”

Schaffner compared the final push to eradicate polio with the successful eradication of smallpox. When the last case of smallpox ended, he explained, public health officials were able to end smallpox vaccination campaigns. For polio, however, he said, it will likely not be that simple, and it will be necessary “to keep vaccinating for quite a long time.”

He said that as public health officials in the U.S. and globally continue to grapple with the nuances of eradicating poliovirus, healthcare providers and their patients will have to come to terms with the simple fact that polio is a real health concern.

“[It’s] the reverse of the old saying, ‘it’s gone, but not forgotten,'” Schaffner said. “Polio is forgotten, but it’s not gone.”

U.S. declares public health emergency over monkeypox

The Biden administration has declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency — a move that gives officials more flexibility to tackle the virus’ spread.

Why it matters: New YorkCalifornia and Illinois all declared public health emergencies related to monkeypox in the last two weeks. The World Health Organization has already declared monkeypox a global emergency.

Details: Department of Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra made the announcement Thursday in a briefing on monkeypox.

  • Federal health officials can now expedite preventative measures to treat monkeypox without going through a full federal review, the Washington Post reports.

What they’re saying: “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus,” Becerra said Thursday. “We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the declaration will help “exploit the outbreak” and potentially increase access to care for those at risk.
  • Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator, said “today’s actions will allow us to meet the needs of communities impacted by the virus … and aggressively work to stop this outbreak.”

State of play: Dr. Robert Califf, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the U.S. is “at a critical inflection point” in the monkeypox outbreak, requiring “additional solutions to address the rise in infection rates.”

  • There are 6,600 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. as of Thursday, Becerra said.
  • There were less than 5,000 cases of monkeypox last week, he added.

The big picture: Biden’s decision to declare monkeypox a public emergency allows him to raise awareness of the virus and unlock more flexibility for spending on ways to treat and tackle the virus.

  • About 20% of Americans are worried they’ll contract monkeypox, Axios previously reported. But there are still some gaps in Americans’ knowledge of the virus and how it impacts our population.

What’s next: U.S. health officials said that 800,000 monkeypox vaccine doses will be made available for distribution. But in hotspot states for the monkeypox outbreak, there’s a drastic disconnect between the number of doses that local health officials say they need versus what they have been allotted.

  • The U.S. will receive another 150,000 monkeypox vaccine doses in the strategic national stockpile in September, Dawn O’Connell, administrator at HHS’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response, told reporters Thursday. These were previously scheduled to arrive in October.