COVID-19 Roundup: U.S. Vaccination Rate Rising After FDA's Full Approval; Study Looks at ‘Long COVID’ Symptoms at 1-Year Mark; and More

U.S. Vaccination Rate on the Rise Following FDA’s Full Approval of Pfizer Vaccine

In the days following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccination rate nationwide has been increasing, media and government reports say.

U.S. health officials had anticipated that the full approval, announced Aug. 23, would motivate more individuals to get vaccinated with one of the three vaccines currently approved under the FDA’s emergency use authorization, including the those from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Ongoing studies have shown that all three vaccines offer up to 95 percent protection against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19 – even against the dominant Delta variant.

After Pfizer’s full approval, there was a 17 percent increase in people getting vaccinated with their first dose across the U.S., according to an ABC News analysis. The report found that an average of about 404,000 people were initiating vaccination daily about a week before the FDA gave its full approval. This week, nearly 475,000 Americans were getting their first shot each day, the ABC News report said.

White House officials said this week that the daily number of people getting their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine has risen by more than 70 percent since mid-July. The daily average surpasses 450,000 individuals — that’s up from 260,000 a little more than a month ago, the officials said.

“This is critical progress in the face of the delta variant,” said Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 Response Team coordinator, in a recent press briefing. “More and more Americans are stepping up each day to get vaccinated.”

This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) formally agreed with the FDA’s decision to fully approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC did so after its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) endorsed the FDA’s decision.

“We now have a fully approved COVID-19 vaccine and ACIP has added its recommendation,” stated CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D. “If you have been waiting for this approval before getting the vaccine, now is the time to get vaccinated and join the more than 173 million Americans who are already fully vaccinated.”

New Study Details Long COVID Symptoms One Year After Initial Infection

Several studies have looked at “long COVID” — referring to COVID-19 symptoms that linger for months after initial infection. The newest and largest study of long COVID has found that nearly half of patients surveyed were experiencing at least one symptom 12 months later.

The study, published in the journal The Lancet, is considered the largest so far of “long haulers” and the first to look at symptoms at the one-year mark.

Researchers reviewed the outcomes of 1,276 patients admitted to Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, China, who were discharged between Jan. 7 and May 29, 2020. They evaluated the patients at six months after hospitalization, and later at the one-year time table. Many patients reported improving health and nearly 500 of them were able to resume their jobs. But 49 percent of patients still had at least one health problem.

As part of the study, the patients were compared to people in the same community who had not been infected with COVID-19, but experienced similar pre-existing health conditions. The COVID patients at 12 months “had more problems with mobility, pain or discomfort, and anxiety or depression, and had more prevalent symptoms,” the study states. Lung-related issues was also noted in many of the COVID-19 long haulers.”

“For up to 12 months, lung diffusion impairment was observed in about 20–30 percent of moderately ill patients, and as high as 54 percent in critically ill patients,” the study concludes. “One year after acute infection, COVID-19 survivors still had lower health status than did non-COVID-19 controls matched for age, sex, and comorbidities.”

Doctors may suggest lung diffusion testing if you’re having trouble breathing, or to check for certain lung issues.

U.S. Trial to Look at Antibody Response from Extra Vaccine Dose in Those with Autoimmune Disease

U.S. researchers with the National Institutes of Health have launched a clinical trial to assess the antibody response to an extra dose — or booster shot — of an approved COVID-19 vaccine in people with autoimmune disease. The study participants did not respond to an original COVID-19 vaccine regimen.

The NIH said that researchers will also determine whether “pausing immunosuppressive therapy for autoimmune disease improves the antibody response to an extra dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.” The clinical trial is sponsored and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH. It is being undertaken by the NIAID-funded Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence.

“Many people who have an autoimmune disease that requires immunosuppressive therapy have had a poor immune response to the authorized and approved COVID-19 vaccines, placing these individuals at high risk for the disease,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., in a prepared statement. “We are determined to find ways to elicit a protective immune response to the vaccines in this population. This new study is an important step in that direction.”

An estimated 8 percent of Americans have an autoimmune disease, “including a disproportionate number of people in the minority communities most severely impacted by COVID-19, the NIH said. Researchers have reported higher rates of severe COVID-19 and death in people with autoimmune disease than in the general population. It is unclear to researchers at this time whether the higher rates are linked to the autoimmune disease itself, the immunosuppressive medications taken to treat the disease, or both.

Recent studies have indicated that giving an extra dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine to solid organ transplant recipients, who must take immunosuppressive medications, “can improve the immune response to the vaccine in many of these individuals, the NIH states. These findings also suggest that an extra dose of a COVID-19 vaccine may help some with autoimmune disease who take certain immunosuppressive medications.

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