NIHCM Newsletter / October 2020
COVID-19 & Vaccines
We are now more than 8 months into the COVID-19 pandemic with over 1 million COVID-19 deaths world-wide, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID tracker. The United States makes up 4% of the world's population yet accounts for over 20% of confirmed coronavirus deaths.
- Within the US, smaller cities and towns account for a growing share of these deaths. According to an NPR analysis, one fifth of the first 100,000 deaths were outside of large metro areas, compared with nearly half of deaths in the second 100,000 deaths.
Several states are behind in efforts to scale up COVID-19 testing before flu season because the US is facing a shortage of reagents (chemicals used to process tests). Shortages in personal protective equipment, like N95 masks, also still exist despite significant efforts to increase production.
- Blue Cross NC has teamed up with North Carolina providers and experts to manufacture N95 respirators for frontline health care workers.
As COVID-19 vaccine development continues, many are concerned about safety and the best way to distribute vaccines once available.
- Recent surveys found that a growing number of Americans are hesitant to try an early vaccine and that the willingness to take a vaccine varies based on who is saying it is safe, the cost and where it is offered.
- Children are unlikely to receive an early vaccine, as none of the vaccine trials in the US include children.
- A group of Black physicians created their own expert task force to independently vet COVID-19 vaccines and counter mistrust and misinformation in Black communities.
- Journalist’s Resource has compiled answers to three key questions around safety, distribution and adoption and outlined tips for journalists to factually report on the vaccine.
- In response to a request from the NIH and CDC, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have released a Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine.
Studies have shown that routine immunizations, particularly childhood vaccines, have declined during the pandemic. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation has addressed some of these challenges by partnering with The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to launch a new immunization information system that helps providers order vaccines, manage inventory, and ensure more children and adults receive immunizations.
Flu vaccines are effective and can protect the most at-risk members of society, while reducing flu-related hospitalizations, and possibly saving lives. This is particularly important during the pandemic. A recent poll found that one in three parents don’t plan to vaccinate their children against the flu this year, citing concerns about side effects and the belief that it is unnecessary.
- Florida Blue has partnered with Walgreens to offer free flu shots at its Florida Blue Centers throughout the fall, available to anyone age 18 and over regardless of insurance coverage.
- BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation has launched a statewide flu vaccine education campaign and offered free flu shots to anyone attending an East Tennessee charitable event.
- America’s Health Insurance Plans released an infographic on the increased importance of the flu vaccine this year.
Racism, COVID-19, Health & Well-being
The coronavirus pandemic has called attention to racism as a public health crisis. Leaders’ recognition of racism as a public health issue is a first step in advancing racial equity and justice, which will require resource allocation and action.
Recent data on the pandemic’s toll highlights the extent to which systemic racism continues to harm underserved communities:
- Black and Hispanic people are twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as White people.
- Hispanic and Black COVID-19 patients are hospitalized at more than four and three times the rate of White patients, respectively.
- A new report from the CDC found that 78% of children dying from COVID-19 are Hispanic, Black or Native American.
Beyond COVID-19 cases and deaths, the pandemic has brought additional challenges to the health and well-being of Black and Latino Americans.
- A Commonwealth Fund analysis shows how Black and Latino Americans are facing greater economic challenges and mental health concerns due to the pandemic than their White counterparts.
- A new analysis predicts loss of employer-sponsored health insurance due to the pandemic will disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic people.
- NIHCM’s most recent webinar and infographic highlighted effective strategies to address the impact that systemic racism and other factors have on the health of Latinos.
- In August, a NIHCM webinar and infographic addressed the impact of systemic racism on the health of Black Americans.
Black women are turning to midwives and home births both to avoid COVID-19 and to ‘feel cared for.’ Black women are three to four times more likely to die of childbirth-related causes than White women. The Black midwifery movement has grown in recent years with many practices doubling and tripling in size during the pandemic.
Evolving Challenges for Older Adults during the Pandemic
Given the risks that COVID-19 poses to older adults and the outbreaks in long-term care facilities, many people are choosing to live independently in the years ahead, but it can be difficult for people who are frail or have cognitive impairments to live alone.
- CMS recently announced new guidance on ways to safely visit nursing homes during COVID-19 in recognition of the toll that physical separation from families and loved ones can have on residents.
- While older Black adults are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, there is insufficient attention given to how race and age disparities interact. Black adults ages 65 to 74 died of COVID-19 five times as often as their White counterparts.
- Under a NIHCM grant, The Conversation has produced a series of articles on aging such as the impact of loneliness on your brain and dementia risk and how the economic hardship of COVID-19 is hitting older Black and Hispanic adults.
- While isolation protects older adults from COVID-19, it has also taken the lives of thousands of Alzheimer’s patients. People have lost the social and mental stimulation necessary to slow dementia progression and many are suddenly struggling with severe depression.
Environment & Health
Environmental pollution is a major driver of health disparities and has significantly worsened health problems linked to COVID-19.
- Toxic air poses additional challenges to the 78 million people confronting historic West Coast wildfires and has long-term public health implications.
- NIHCM’s recent webinar and infographic addressed air pollution in America and the unequal impact it has on Black and Latino communities.
- In recognition of the combination of health and financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for disaster relief, Blue Cross NC has invested $400,000 in American Red Cross Programs.
- Asthma is linked with air pollution. Anthem, Inc. recently announced a study with Apple to help individuals with asthma manage their condition using everyday devices.