NIHCM Newsletter / July 2021
Long COVID, the Delta Variant, & Violence
The persistent and mysterious symptoms that impact people after a COVID-19 infection are known as long COVID and officially referred to by the National Institutes of Health as PASC — post-acute sequelae of COVID-19. ‘Long-haulers’ are getting more attention as the medical community gains understanding about the condition.
- New Study: A recently released study using the health insurance records of nearly two million COVID-19 patients explains that 23.2% of patients have a post-COVID health condition. The report illustrates that long COVID can affect every organ in the body and asymptomatic patients.
- Brain and Lungs: A recent study from Oxford found that long COVID affected the grey matter of the brain in areas related to smell and taste, even in mild cases. Long COVID can also cause permanent lung damage. Lung transplants have increased during the pandemic, impacting the transplant community.
- Medical Community: Long COVID exposed medicine’s blind spot to symptoms that have no validated and objective biomarkers. To provide expert care and support to long haulers, the American Academy of Medicine called for a new policy that would improve diagnosing and treating long COVID.
- Independence Blue Cross provides an expert’s answers to FAQs about COVID-19 “long-haulers.”
- The CDC released interim guidance for health care professionals treating post-COVID conditions.
- Under a NIHCM grant, the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism hosted a webinar to guide journalists in covering long COVID.
Vaccination and the Variant
The COVID-19 news in the United States continues to improve. The New York Times reported on a new study showing that the Pfizer and Moderna shots likely confer lasting immunity, protecting people from the virus for years, rather than months and alleviating the need for booster shots. The new research suggests the immunity should hold as long as the variants do not evolve too much. Here is the latest on the Delta variant and vaccine uptake.
- Vaccine Effectiveness: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approximately 90% effective against Delta variant-induced infections and the development of severe COVID-19. The vaccines are holding the line against other current variants as well.
- Delta Increasing: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that the Delta variant will soon be the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. Fortune reports that early data from an Israeli study shows the Delta variant can infect fully vaccinated adults.
- Variants Mostly Target Unvaccinated: In a recent CNN report, NIHCM Advisory Board member Scott Gottlieb, MD, says Delta variant induced COVID-19 cases will likely “produce dense outbreaks” in five states, primarily among the unvaccinated.
- Lagging Vaccination Rate: A Washington Post report shows COVID-19 cases dropping where vaccine rates are high and rising where vaccine rates are low. Young people, ages 18 to 39, are the least likely to get vaccinated, followed by residents of rural areas. Both trends are limiting progress toward the Biden Administration’s national vaccination goal.
Resources and Initiatives:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Foundation is holding Get Vaccinated Chattanooga block parties and community events.
- Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield helps dispel myths and answers questions about COVID-19 vaccines in a new video.
- The Vaccine Equity Cooperative brings together community health organizations to address barriers to vaccine uptake.
More than 180 people lost their lives over the holiday weekend
As the country works to tame COVID-19, an epidemic of gun violence is threatening public health. While we are only six months into 2021, it is slated to be the most violent year in two decades. Criminologists, according to The New York Times, report an increase of 24% in homicides for the beginning of the year. Many experts attribute the spike in incidents to the anger and despair so many people faced during the pandemic, as well as income inequality. Policymakers and experts are working to understand the issue and offer solutions.
- July 4th Tragedies: More than 180 people lost their lives over the holiday weekend, underscoring the impact of gun violence on many communities.
- Rates Increasing Rapidly: More than 8,200 people have died due to homicide or unintentional shootings across America, according to June 3rd data from the Gun Violence Archive.
- Why Now?: The Washington Post reports on factors contributing to the 2020/2021 increase in violence.
- Impact on Children: A new report in Health Affairs charts the effects of pediatric gun violence on young people and calls for advocacy from pediatricians.
Resources and Initiatives:
- The Biden Administration launches a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to gun violence and protect public safety.
- WBUR explores the surge in gun violence, the most vulnerable communities, and possible solutions.
- The Guardian attempts to explain the uneven growth in the crime rate and the concentration of incidents in disadvantaged communities.
Mental Health and Substance Use
The impact of the pandemic on mental health and substance use has been of growing concern, especially as data indicate increased rates of depression and death from drug overdoses. Read more about what we know about these challenges and the resources available to support people and communities during the pandemic and moving forward.
- Physicians: A recent article from Vox, funded in part through a NIHCM journalism grant, highlights the mental health challenges impacting doctors and the barriers they face when trying to access much-needed care.
- Children: This WBUR piece, funded in part by a NIHCM journalism grant, highlights the role of counselors in navigating the rising mental health needs in schools. Learn more about the mental health challenges facing children in this recent NIHCM webinar.
- Caregivers: NPR showcases how the impact of the pandemic has been particularly devastating for parents and unpaid caregivers, featuring new data from the CDC.
Substance Use Disorders Resources & Initiatives:
- Florida Blue and Horizon BCBSNJ recently announced partnerships with Shatterproof to help increase access to high-quality addiction treatment options in their states through easy-to-use databases.
- In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation legalizing test strips that can detect the presence of the potent opiate fentanyl and potentially help avoid deadly overdoses.
- SAMHSA recently released a new evidence-based resource guide titled, Telehealth for the Treatment of Serious Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders.
Mental Health Resources & Initiatives:
- NEHI released a report summarizing an expert discussion, “Integrating Behavioral Health and Primary Care: Persistent Challenges and Potential Solutions.”
- BCBS Michigan shared its funding efforts to support the mental health of students in Detroit public schools.
- Independence Blue Cross created Know Your Mind, a new mental health public awareness campaign aimed to educate the community about symptoms of depression and anxiety. Learn more in this radio feature.
The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated vast disparities in health and well-being across racial and ethnic groups. A new study estimates that life expectancy in the United States decreased by nearly two years between 2018 and 2020, a larger decrease than other high-income countries, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Racial and ethnic minority groups experienced the most pronounced declines in life expectancy.
- Colorectal Cancer: A STAT special report looks at the loss of Chadwick Boseman to colorectal cancer and at the hot spots where young, often Black, men are dying at higher rates from the disease.
- Inferior Hospitals: A new study in JAMA found that Black patients were more likely to die of COVID-19 largely due to the differences in the quality of the hospitals where patients accessed care.
- Racial Bias: A new report from the Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence at the Chicago Booth School of Business released the Algorithm Bias Playbook, which can help organizations define, measure, and mitigate racial bias in live algorithms.
Resources & Initiatives:
- Anthem Foundation, in partnership with the CDC Foundation, is providing tools and resources for community-based organizations’ pandemic response efforts in at-risk communities.
- Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Nevada’s Medicaid health plan announced funding to support the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine’s ‘See It To Be It’ initiative, which seeks to create a more diverse medical workforce.
- NIHCM recently hosted a webinar on what’s next in health equity and released infographics focused on the impact on Black, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans.
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