While most of us are trying to enjoy the summer, we can’t forget that the pandemic is still here.
In the U.S., things have gotten somewhat better since the beginning of the year.
There are those constant reminders that we are still in a pandemic: You get a scare that you might have been exposed, masks might still be required some places and every once in a while, you see a new vaccine headline.
For example, the Food and Drug Administration now may recommend that the COVID vaccine be updated to target Omicron. It would be available in the fall and the FDA is hoping this improved vaccine will help boost people’s immunity before the virus comes back stronger in the winter.
Some scientists disagree and think that Omicron will be old news come fall. The other option is to create a vaccine that would target the two subvariants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, since they account for more than a third of infections in the U.S.
But there’s a catch: In order to pull either of these off, vaccine makers would have to step away from the longer human vaccine trials and try a faster process that involves more lab tests and animal trials. Even some of the most recent and quickest human trials took five months, but the virus is changing so quickly that the new vaccines are out of date before scientists even finish them.
Experts say it’s likely that the FDA advisory panel will be split on this decision.
While young children are less likely than adults to experience serious COVID symptoms, some do. CDC data shows that for kids six months to 4 years old, there have been more than 20,000 hospitalizations.
The good news for parents of kids that age is that the CDC approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the youngest Americans last week.
And even two years into the pandemic, we're still working to understand more about the effects of long COVID.
A study published in The Lancet, a medical journal, shows that long COVID can impact even the youngest kids, including infants and toddlers. The study notes that any child can have symptoms that people with long COVID experience due to other health reasons. But out of the kids who did test positive for COVID, they were more likely to experience at least one symptom for two months or more than the kids who never tested positive for COVID.
For children 0 to 3, the most common symptoms were mood swings, rashes and stomach aches. Kids 4 to 11 years old experienced memory and concentration problems, and kids 12 to 14 had memory and concentration issues, mood swings and fatigue.
Researchers say while the chances of kids experiencing long COVID seem to be low, it still must be recognized and treated seriously. It’s still unclear how many kids have it since there isn’t enough research.
Across age groups, British researchers found that the Omicron variant is less likely than Delta to lead to long COVID.
Researchers analyzed data from people who signed up for an app-led project called ZOE COVID Study. The study found that 11% of people who got COVID during the Delta spike were experiencing long COVID and only 4.5% of people who were infected during the Omicron wave were having those same symptoms.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 20% to 30% of all COVID infections lead to long COVID and experts say studies like these help add to the limited research.
For hospitalizations, in mid-January, the CDC reported the 7-day average was about 800,000 cases. Now we’re down to about 100,000, with far fewer hospitalizations.
But hospitals haven’t bounced back from the effects of the pandemic, and most of their beds are still full, even though the Department of Health and Human Services says just 4% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
In Washington for example, about 10% of patients currently in hospital beds no longer need hospital care.
One thing making the average hospital stay longer is nursing homes limiting new patients. According to the American Health Care Association, 60% of nursing homes are dealing with staffing shortages. That has worsened since the pandemic began.
While restrictions have loosened and many things feel back to normal, 1 in 5 Americans live in a county that the CDC considers to have a “High COVID-19 Community Level,” where health care systems are at risk for becoming overwhelmed again. And experts say we need the available capacity if we experience another surge.