NIHCM Newsletter / September 2021
Children & COVID, Boosters, & Climate Change
Back to School: Children and COVID-19
As students return to in-person learning this year, schools continue to grapple with reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the evolving state of the pandemic. The recent surges in cases and hospitalizations among children and the Delta variant are particularly concerning for children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. The ongoing health, economic, and social consequences of the pandemic continue to impact children.
- Cases and hospitalizations: Cases have jumped as the Delta variant spreads among unvaccinated populations and has led to a record high in children’s hospitalizations. Doctors predict COVID-19 cases will continue to rise among children and children’s hospitals are preparing for an uptick in multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).
- Back to school: Across the country, students and teachers are quarantined for coronavirus exposure and some schools have already switched back to remote learning. While districts begin announcing vaccine mandates for teachers, some states are challenging mask mandates in schools.
- Vaccine: The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available for children ages 5 to 11 in late fall or early winter. More parents are considering vaccinations as more children are infected by the Delta variant. Currently, over 50% of adolescents ages 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Initiatives & Resources:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance to young children and parents for the transition back to school.
- Dr. Steven Jacobson from Premera answers questions about the Delta variant and keeping kids safe for the upcoming school year.
- Under a NIHCM grant, The Journalist’s Resource released a research roundup on COVID-19’s impact on students’ mental health.
- In an effort to support children and families in foster care Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina formed a new council to ensure trauma-informed care and treatment.
Boosters and the State of the Pandemic
A new study estimates that the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rollout prevented up to 140,000 deaths as of early May. Since the FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine, vaccine hesitancy is declining and more Americans are getting vaccinated. Additionally, the Biden administration announced its plan to begin rolling out booster shots to fully vaccinated adults and 77% of vaccinated adults say they would get a booster if it’s recommended.
- Booster strategy: Since the FDA has authorized booster shots for people with weakened immune systems, about 1 million boosters have been administered. The administration’s plan includes people who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and a plan for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be announced.
- Breakthrough cases and variants: Early data suggests that the Delta variant has contributed to COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Reports of the debilitating symptoms of even a mild breakthrough case reinforce the importance of vaccinated people to continue taking precautions.
- Health care workers: In the latest COVID-19 surge, health care workers on the frontlines are suffering from burnout and considering leaving the profession. As COVID-19 fills hospitals again, health care workers are exhausted and reporting the impact of the strained system on their mental health.
Initiatives & Resources:
- NIHCM grantee, the Center for Health Journalism, hosted a webinar on booster shots and how reporters can report the story.
- Independence Blue Cross and its foundation are working to improve access to vaccines and provide mental health support to nurses and frontline workers.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is working with partners to provide COVID-19 vaccines in underserved communities through mobile health units.
- See the CDC’s information on booster shots and their new data that shows that COVID-19 vaccination is safe for pregnant people.
Leading medical and health journals call the rise in global temperatures the “greatest threat to global public health,” requiring the same urgent action used to confront COVID-19.
Climate Change and Health
The Department of Health and Humans Services launched the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, the first to treat climate change as a public health issue. With the United Nations’ recent prediction of increasingly extreme weather events, from droughts and flooding to temperature highs and fires, the impact on human health is a growing burden. Leading medical and health journals call the 1.5-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures the “greatest threat to global public health,” requiring the same urgent action used to confront COVID-19.
- Health equity: Evidence shows that environmental, social, and demographic factors are causing some individuals and communities to be disproportionately impacted by excess pollutants and contaminated environments. CalEPA takes a historical perspective by exploring the connection between redlining and environmental injustice in California.
- Worker health: In the last decade, at least 384 workers have died from heat exposure. In response, federal safety regulators have not issued any standards to protect employees. Some states are now stepping in to ensure the safety of their workers.
- Impact on health systems: Climate change also impacts the health care system, medical supply chain, and access to care. These events not only further the stress endured as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but also compromise healthcare delivery.
Initiatives & Resources:
- Research finds that income and exposure to toxic pollutants are inversely related.
- Ambient air pollution is impacting children’s academic performance, read more about the study here.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota invested $5 million in racial and health equity initiatives in the past year and integrated this work into environmental sustainability.
- BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation donated $25,000 to aid American Red Cross efforts following the extensive flooding in Middle Tennessee.
- Anthem Blue Cross is providing special relief to members impacted by fires across California.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts expedited access to care for members in the Northeast impacted by Tropical Storm Henri.
Disabilities and Long-COVID
While the pandemic has highlighted the barriers and challenges facing individuals with disabilities, it has also prompted a conversation around disability resulting from the virus. Limited data suggest that between 10 and 25 percent of adults infected with COVID-19 develop longer-term complications, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath and dizziness. Recognizing the debilitating effects of long-COVID for some individuals, new guidance from the Biden administration says that long COVID can be considered a disability under civil rights law, if it substantially limits one or more major life activities.
- Returning to the workplace: Disability advocates are calling for accommodations that were commonplace during the pandemic to remain in place and be embraced by workplaces.
- Surviving COVID: NIHCM grantee, Tradeoffs, hosted a podcast episode featuring one woman’s story of living with a disability during the pandemic.
Initiatives & Resources:
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s mobile vaccine buses are helping Minnesotans with disabilities get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- The Disability Equality Index named BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion, recognizing its employee benefits and human resources policies, the accessibility of its customer-facing digital content and an internship program to support high school students who have intellectual and learning disabilities.
- NIHCM hosted a webinar on disabilities and the pandemic, including Anthem’s efforts to expand telehealth and increased care options, and address comorbidities and the needs of COVID-19 longhaulers.
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