NIHCM Newsletter / April 2022
The Next Normal
Released: April 7, 2022
Q&A: How Do We Live with COVID Now?
As COVID restrictions become more relaxed, and more people go into offices and states drop mask mandates, questions remain about how careful people need to be, particularly those who are immunocompromised or have unvaccinated children. Here’s the latest news on common concerns:
Q: Who should get a second booster?
A: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a second booster dose of the COVID vaccine for all adults 50 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the additional booster is especially important for people 65 and over and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions. They also recommend that all adults who received a primary and booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID vaccine get a second booster of an mRNA vaccine.
Q: What is the plan for a future with COVID?
A: A new 136-page report written by dozens of experts provides a comprehensive roadmap to the next normal both to address the pandemic and protect against future biosecurity threats. The group identified 12 key areas of focus, including long COVID, equity, and vaccines. The report also addressed concerns about how the end of the pandemic will disrupt the U.S. health care system when policies introduced during the public health emergency come to an end.
Q: What are the current COVID-19 variants?
A: The Omicron subvariant BA.2 is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S. and while experts are seeing a rise in cases, they are hopeful that it won’t cause another surge. There are also reports of infections caused by new subvariants such as ‘Deltacron’ and Omicron XE, which is a hybrid of BA.1 and BA.2 and may be more contagious.
Q Do vaccines and treatments work on the variants?
A: A recent study showed that two doses of mRNA vaccine provide similar protections against BA.2 as BA.1, but the Omicron variants have a higher likelihood of breakthrough infections compared to the Delta variant. There are plans to design variant-specific and pan-variant vaccines to improve protection in the future. In other news, health officials have limited an antibody treatment that is ineffective against the BA.2 variant.
Q: What about COVID-19 for children?
A: During the recent Omicron wave more than 30,000 children were hospitalized, 20% of which needed care in intensive care units. While the majority of these children were unvaccinated, there are also reports of the vaccines’ decreased protection against Omicron in children and adolescents. Over a month ago, the FDA delayed the process for authorizing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children under five but Moderna released data that its vaccine is safe and effective for children ages six months to six years and plans to request emergency use authorization.
Q: What should people who got Johnson & Johnson know?
A: The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine was initially billed as “one and done” and despite concerns about its effectiveness, it has largely been left out of the public guidance on COVID. New data from the CDC suggests that the nearly 17 million Americans who received the J&J vaccine should get at least one booster of one of the mRNA vaccines. While research points to the effectiveness of the J&J shot, the COVID-19 death rate among J&J recipients was more than double that of other vaccinated Americans during the Omicron wave.
Climate Change: What Can We Do?
The head of the United Nations (UN) recently warned that the ongoing pandemic and the war in Ukraine have major implications for the global climate agenda, stating that the climate target is quickly slipping away. Currently, the impacts of the climate crisis on physical, mental, and environmental health are much worse than originally predicted and are harming the planet at a rate faster than countries can adapt. While the UN’s report was the ‘bleakest warning yet’, it also offers solutions for individuals and communities that can help mitigate the disastrous impacts.
- Climate Changes Mental Health: For the first time, the UN highlighted the mental health consequences of climate change, stating that challenges are expected to increase with rising temperatures. This landmark report provides a sweeping image of the psychological effects of extreme weather from climate change, including stress, trauma, grief, anxiety, and suicide - which are only expected to worsen.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Last month, the US Supreme Court heard arguments questioning the scope of the EPA's authority and whether it should be restricted. The verdict reached in this case could potentially impact the EPA’s ability to reduce environmental health hazards as well as restrict federal agencies’ ability to enact regulations, such as workplace safety or hazardous waste.
- Cities Can Take Climate Action Now: Nearly 72% of the world’s emissions in 2020 came from cities. Cities have the opportunity to create more equitable and climate-resilient spaces through energy-efficient buildings, green spaces, increased walkability, or roads that capture rainwater. Some areas that experience dangerous flooding are transitioning into “sponge cities” which can absorb or divert water to protect the surrounding urban areas from damage.
- Youth Climate Action: On March 25th, hundreds of thousands of youth from more than 750 cities around the world marched for climate action and environmental justice, making it the largest climate strike since 2019. According to a report in The Lancet, youth are key to a healthy future, calling for ‘proactive and directed action and implementation’ when it comes to the climate crisis.
NIHCM’s latest infographic shows how climate change is affecting mental health, including steps to build mental health resilience.
Resources & Initiatives
- NIHCM convened a webinar on the mental health impacts of climate change and the importance of climate-resilience, featuring the Florida Blue Foundation.
- The New York Times published a climate change guide for children.
- The Guardian identified six key lifestyle changes to help avert this climate crisis.
- NIHCM held a webinar on environmental health, covering air pollution, COVID-19, and health disparities, featuring the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.
Health in Schools
Schools continue to adapt to the constantly changing COVID-19 pandemic, with some reinstating mask mandates after recent outbreaks. The pandemic’s disruption has increased toxic stress for children and disproportionately impacted low-income, Black, and Latino children's learning. Below, learn about some of the challenges that schools are currently facing.
- Teachers: The pandemic has exacerbated and added to the existing challenges that teachers face as they address the emotional and academic needs of students. During COVID, teachers and school staff experienced physical violence and verbal aggression from students and parents. As teachers demand better support, shortages led to states calling on the National Guard for help.
- Mental Health: According to a new CDC analysis, more than a third of high school students reported poor mental health during the pandemic, with 44% reporting they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. The survey also points to teens’ experiences with racism, abuse at home, and the vulnerability of LGBTQ students.
- Air and Water Quality: COVID highlighted the importance of indoor air quality and people have started paying attention to air quality in schools. The health and academic benefits of improving air quality are substantial and go beyond COVID. In other news, there are reports of lead contamination in school drinking water across the country.
Resources & Initiatives
- Florida Blue Foundation donates $285,000 for the delivery and distribution of school meals to food-insecure students.
- The Children’s Grief Center of New Mexico receives a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico to provide free grief support groups and workshops to grieving youth and families.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina awards $1.54 million to East Carolina University to provide telepsychiatry services over the next five years for students.
- Anthem Blue Cross donates $100,000 to a new scholarship fund to support students with disabilities who are committed to future health care work.
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