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News Scan for Oct 18, 2022

Study: Early state lockdowns not tied to worse mental health

New research from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that various state restrictions and lockdowns imposed during the first 6 months of the pandemic were not related to worsening mental health. The study is published in Health Psychology.

The research was based on data collected from a survey of more than 6,500 participants at the start of the pandemic from Mar 18 to Apr 18, 2020, and answers were compared with the same survey given to 5,600 of the same participants about 6 months later: from Sep 26 to Oct 16, 2020.

The survey contained questions about symptoms of distress, loneliness, and traumatic stress (acute and post-traumatic stress) that respondents experienced in the prior week. Participants were also asked if they knew anyone with COVID-19, and how much news and social media they consumed about the pandemic.

Though loneliness and symptoms of distress increased for participants during the first 6 months of the pandemic, those feelings were not related to state lockdowns, and instead were correlated with knowing someone who had the virus, and consuming a lot of pandemic-related media.

“There were robust significant relationships between personal direct experiences with the pandemic—that is, knowing someone who got very sick or died or getting sick oneself—and increased global distress, loneliness, and traumatic stress symptoms,” the authors concluded.

“Personal experiences may be more strongly and uniquely associated with psychological symptomatology than are state-level restrictions.”

First author Rebecca Thompson, PhD, said in an APA news release, “Because a strong predictor of distress in our study was personal bereavement—knowing someone who had been very sick or died was far more stressful than the presence of state-level restrictions—future waves of COVID-19 and other potential pandemics should be met by targeted interventions to prevent loss of life.”

Regarding consuming a lot of bad pandemic news, senior author Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, said, “One can stay informed without becoming overwhelmed with a constant onslaught of bad news.”
Oct 17 Health Psychol study

COVID vaccine side effects similar to non-COVID vaccines in preschoolers

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has a similar safety profile as non-COVID vaccines in children younger than 5 years, according to a study published today in JAMA Network Open.

German researchers surveyed the parents or caregivers of 7,806 1- to 4-year-old children given one to three 3- to 10-microgram (μg) doses of Pfizer’s BNT162b2 vaccine off-label from Apr 14 to May 9, 2022, to assess rates of adverse effects and compare them to those of non-COVID vaccines.

Of the 7,806 children, 7,102 also received a second dose, and 846 received three doses. Their side effects were compared with those of 1,491 children who received non-COVID vaccines. Median participant age was 3 years, 49.0% were girls, and average follow-up was 91.4 days after the first dose.

In Germany, giving off-label COVID-19 vaccines to children younger than 5 years is permitted if the guardian or healthcare provider agrees to be liable for any adverse events.

The 10-μg COVID-19 vaccine dose was tied to injection-site symptoms more often than lower doses. Compared with non-COVID vaccines, the odds ratios (ORs) for the Pfizer vaccine were 1.62 for any symptom, 1.68 for local symptoms, 2.55 for musculoskeletal symptoms, 2.18 for dermatologic symptoms, 6.37 for otolaryngologic symptoms, 0.77 for general symptoms, and 0.42 for fever.

Most adverse effects were minor and didn’t lead to missing days in school or childcare, but 10 children were hospitalized after receiving Pfizer doses higher than 3 μg.

Pfizer’s vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine granted emergency use authorization for children younger than 5 years by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“In this cohort study, the symptoms reported after BNT162b2 administration were comparable overall to those for on-label non–SARS-CoV-2 vaccines,” the study authors wrote. “The present data may be used together with prospective licensure studies of BNT162b2 efficacy and safety and could help guide expert recommendations.”
Oct 18 JAMA Netw Open study

Biden signs off on new biodefense strategy, pandemic readiness plan

President Joe Biden today signed a memorandum that implements a new biodefense strategy and a plan to for countering a range of biological threats, including future pandemics.

The National Biodefense Strategy builds on a 2018 framework established during the Trump administration, incorporates lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and spells out a comprehensive implementation plan, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said today in a press release.

HHS said it is already executing the plan with existing funding, but it added that fully achieving the objectives will require support from Congress, including Biden’s $82 billion budget request to fund HHS pandemic preparedness and biodefense work over the next 5 years.

For example, the National Biodefense Strategy covers boosting early warning and awareness of pandemics and biological threats through better disease detection and reporting, speeding the development of biodetection capabilities, and enhancing hospital data collection.

Also, the plan enhances diagnostic capacity, including several specifics such as deploying at least one authorized pathogen-agnostic test within 12 hours for thousands of samples on the first day that a national or internationally significant event has been determined. The plan also has a specific timeline for vaccine development.

Other topics include expanding personal protective equipment  surge capacity, strengthening the public health workforce, and building an innovative clinical trial infrastructure. The plan also addresses HHS participation in global health efforts, such as participating in a pandemic accord and a World Bank pandemic fund.
Oct 18 HHS press release

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