THE CORONAVIRUS FILES
By Amber Dance
Biden extends pandemic rescue funds for affordable housing
The Treasury Department released new guidelines that will make it easier for state and local governments to apply COVID relief funds to affordable housing projects, reports Joey Garrison at USA Today.
Cities and states have already spent $12.9 billion from 2021’s $350 billion American Rescue Plan on housing.
Now, there will be fewer restrictions on governments’ use of additional relief dollars for loans to nonprofits and developers building affordable housing.
The move also allows governments to direct relief funds to several federal housing programs, such as low-income housing credits and housing for people who are elderly or disabled.
“This is a major win for increasing housing stock and lowering the cost of housing for thousands of Americans,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), who co-sponsored legislation to allow this change.
Fall booster push moved up to September
Pfizer and Moderna have now promised to deliver millions of improved, ómicron-targeting vaccines to the United States by September, a month earlier than previously expected.
With an expectation of boosters in hand so soon, the Biden administration has scrapped plans to release a summer booster with the original vaccine formula. It wouldn’t be effective to get two boosters in such close proximity, and doing so might even raise the risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, as a side effect.
“Officials agreed on the goal of strengthening everyone’s immunity in the fall with what is hoped will be a more effective booster, ahead of a possible winter surge,” write Noah Weiland and Sharon LaFraniere at The New York Times.
The pair report that all adults will be eligible for the new boosters, and children might be eligible as well.
The Biden administration has purchased 105 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, and 66 million Moderna doses. The U.S. has an option to purchase more — enough for all 330 Americans — but would require additional money from Congress to do so, reports Naomi Thomas at CNN.
The updated boosters would still require FDA authorization and CDC recommendation before use.
Summit plans for future COVID vaccines, but where’s the money?
The first generation of coronavirus vaccines has saved 20 million lives worldwide, but the White House thinks it can be improved upon.
The Biden administration convened an optimistic “Summit on the Future of COVID-19 Vaccines” last Tuesday. It was “likely the largest indoor gathering of U.S. public health leaders since the pandemic began,” quips Lev Facher at STAT.
Next-gen vaccines might be delivered to the nose with an inhaled mist, triggering antibodies that stop the virus right where it attempts to enter the body. Or they might be needle-free, coming via a skin patch covered in tiny, painless micro-spikes.
They might even create immunity against future, unknown variants.
Conference attendees were upbeat about these prospects, Facher reports, but admitted none of it would happen with billions of dollars from a Congress that has been reluctant to release more money to combat the pandemic.
The current vaccines resulted in great part from the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which spent $18 billion on COVID vaccines.
One official told Facher a funding request for as much as $12 billion is being prepared.
“We need vaccines that are durable,” said White House COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “We need vaccines that are broader and offer longer-lasting protection. We need a vaccine that can stand up to multiple variants. Ultimately, we need vaccines that can protect us no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.”
These new vaccines could take three to five years, or longer, to develop, writes Cheyenne Haslett at ABC News. Jha expressed hope that timeline could be cut drastically if a large government investment were made.
Few families choose vaccination for youngest children
Just one month into vaccine eligibility for children younger than 5, the last group to be granted access, interest has already begun to wane, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
By July 20, about 544,000 children under age 5 had started the vaccine series — just 2.8% of the 19 million newly eligible kids. The number of children getting vaccinated has been dropping since the beginning of July.
For comparison, 18.5% of children ages 5 through 11 had received their first dose one month after they became eligible. Eight months in, only 30% have completed a vaccination course.
The District of Columbia has the highest uptake, with 14.4% of young kids starting vaccination, while Mississippi had the lowest share at 0.4%. In Florida, the only state not to pre-order vaccines from the government, 1% of young children have received their first dose.
KFF analysts attributed the low uptake, in part, to fewer locations where young kids can be vaccinated. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg notes that D.C. set up vaccination clinics all over the city, with weekend and late hours, making access easy.
“Public health officials should make sure logistics aren’t keeping kids from getting vaccinated,” she writes.
Another issue is parental caution about trying the shots, especially since many parents perceive the pandemic as less of an emergency now than it was when vaccines arrived for adults and older kids.
KFF’s latest Vaccine Monitor survey found that 53% of parents of kids younger than 5 viewed the vaccine as a greater threat to their child’s health than the virus itself.
Many Black parents reported it would be difficult to take time off work to get the vaccine and deal with potential side effects, notes James Lopilato at MedPage Today. Hispanic parents were concerned about finding a trustworthy vaccination site and the potential cost of the vaccine. (The vaccines are free.)
Health experts were alarmed by the results, reports Jan Hoffman at The New York Times. Patricia A. Stinchfield, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, noted that “some kids get very, very ill from [the virus] and some die.”
Long-lasting symptoms can also occur in children. A recent study found that 5.8% of kids had problems like fatigue or cough 90 days following COVID infection, reports Elizabeth Short at MedPage Today.
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