Roundup: ‘20 Years of Aging’ -- Cognitive Issues from Severe COVID; Latest on Vaccines for Kids Under 5; and More

Researchers: Cognitive Effects from Severe COVID May Equate to 20 Years of Aging

The lingering effect of severe COVID-19 on cognition, such as memory, attention, or problem solving, may be equivalent to 20 years of aging, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London

Their findings suggest that cognitive impairment as a result of severe COVID-19 illness is similar to that sustained between 50 and 70 years of age, and it’s also the equivalent to losing 10 IQ points.

The research, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, indicates that these effects are detectable more than six months after severe illness. Recovery from cognitive impairments is noted, but progress is gradual.

“Tens of thousands of people have been through intensive care with COVID-19 in England alone and many more will have been very sick, but not admitted to hospital,” said Adam Hampshire, professor from the Department of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London, and first author of the study. “This means there are a large number of people out there still experiencing problems with cognition many months later. We urgently need to look at what can be done to help these people.”

Other studies globally have found evidence that COVID-19 can cause lasting cognitive and mental health issues among recovered patients reporting, including fatigue, ‘brain fog’, problems recalling words, sleep disturbances, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) several months after infection.

Researchers reviewed on 46 people who received in-hospital care for COVID-19 — 16 of them were required mechanical ventilation during their hospital stay. The Patients took cognitive tests an average of six months after their illness. Different aspects of mental faculties such as memory, attention and reasoning were evaluated. Scales measuring anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder were also assessed. Their data were compared against a matched controlled population — 66,008 members of the general public.

“We followed some patients up as late as ten months after their acute infection, so were able to see a very slow improvement,” said David Menon, professor from the Division of Anaesthesia at the University of Cambridge, and the study’s senior author. “While this was not statistically significant, it is at least heading in the right direction, but it is very possible that some of these individuals will never fully recover.”

Vaccines for Children Under 5 to be Considered in June by FDA’s Advisory Panel

An advisory panel of experts to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will meet throughout June to consider authorizing COVID-19 vaccinations for children under 5 years of age,

Currently, only children ages 5 or older can be vaccinated in the U.S. with Pfizer’s vaccine, leaving an estimated 18 million of the nation’s youngest unprotected.

The FDA has tentatively announced meeting dates of June 8, 21 and 22 for its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) to discuss updates to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech applications for their COVID-19 vaccines.

The FDA states: “The agency understands the urgency to authorize a vaccine for age groups who are not currently eligible for vaccination and will work diligently to complete our evaluation of the data.” The agency also said that if the data submitted by Pfizer and Moderna “support a clear path forward following our evaluation, the FDA will act quickly.”

COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 hit a delay in February when a VRBPAC meeting to discuss the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was postponed so that additional data from clinical studies could be reviewed.

“The agency is committed to a thorough and transparent process that considers the input of our independent advisors and provides insight into our review of the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a news release.

FDA to Ban Sales of Menthol Cigarettes to ‘Significantly Reduce Disease, Death’ from Tobacco Use

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is planning to ban sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes in the United States, one of the most significant actions by public health officials in years against tobacco products.

The ban would have the potential to “significantly reduce disease and death from combusted tobacco product use,” the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., the FDA said. Prohibiting menthol-flavored cigarettes would also reduce “youth experimentation and addiction, and increasing the number of smokers that quit.”

Menthol is a flavor additive, providing a minty taste and aroma that reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking. Menthol makes smoking more appealing, particularly for youth and young adults.

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a news release. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”

In 2019, the FDA said there were more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers ages 12 and older in the U.S., “with particularly high rates of use by youth, young adults, and African American and other racial and ethnic groups.”

The ban would also apply to “all characterizing flavors (other than tobacco) in cigars.” These flavors in cigars, such as strawberry, grape, cocoa and fruit punch, make cigars easier to use, particularly among youth and young adults. More than a half million youth in the U.S. use flavored cigars. “And, in recent years more young people tried a cigar every day than tried a cigarette,” says the FDA. 

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