First Edition: April 29, 2022

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

LA Mayoral Hopefuls Agree Addressing Homelessness Is Crucial But Disagree On How

As encampments multiply from Echo Park to Venice, homelessness has been the top issue in the L.A. mayoral race. And although Angelenos express broad support for building more housing for the homeless, the contenders say that can be only part of the solution. Several top candidates say the city must also expand services for people struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. Although city officials have said 29% of homeless people have behavioral or substance use disorders, that number is likely far too low. (Marsa, 4/29)

At US Hospitals, A Drug Mix-Up Is Just A Few Keystrokes Away

More than four years ago, Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught typed two letters into a hospital’s computerized medication cabinet, selected the wrong drug from the search results, and gave a patient a fatal dose. Vaught was prosecuted this year in an extremely rare criminal trial for a medical mistake, but the drug mix-up at the center of her case is anything but rare. Computerized cabinets have become nearly ubiquitous in modern health care, and the technological vulnerability that made Vaught’s error possible persists in many U.S. hospitals. (Kelman, 4/29)

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: More Covid Complications For Congress

Congress is back in session, but covid diagnoses for Vice President Kamala Harris and two Democratic senators have temporarily left the Senate without a working majority to approve continued covid funding. Meanwhile, opponents of the Affordable Care Act have filed yet another lawsuit challenging a portion of the law, and we say goodbye to the late Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who left a long legacy of health laws. Rachel Cohrs of STAT News, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News, and Rebecca Adams of KHN join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. (4/28)

Moderna Seeks To Be 1st With COVID Shots For Littlest Kids

Moderna submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration that it hopes will prove two low-dose shots can protect children younger than 6 — although the effectiveness wasn’t nearly as high in kids tested during the omicron surge as earlier in the pandemic. “There is an important unmet medical need here with these youngest kids,” Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told The Associated Press. Two kid-size shots “will safely protect them. I think it is likely that over time they will need additional doses. But we’re working on that.” (Neergaard, 4/28)

The Washington Post:
Moderna Seeks Authorization Of A Coronavirus Vaccine For Young Children

Vaccine maker Moderna requested emergency use authorization Thursday of its coronavirus vaccine for babies, toddlers and young children — a highly anticipated step toward making shots available to the last group in U.S. society lacking access. The path to a vaccine for the youngest children has been tortuous, marked by disappointing results, delays and confusing communication — and in the meantime, as many as 75 percent of children have been infected with the virus since the dawn of the pandemic, according to a new study. (Johnson, 4/28)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. Coronavirus Cases Up 40% In One Week; Hospitalizations Rising, Too

Coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County rose by 40% over the past week and hospitalizations have started to creep up as well, underscoring how important it is for people to be up-to-date on their vaccines and boosters, as well as wear masks in indoor public settings, officials said. Although neither the number of infections nor the patient census are setting off alarm bells just yet, the trendlines illustrate that the county is contending with reinvigorated coronavirus transmission. And for county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, who called the increase in cases “pretty significant,” they reinforce the importance of taking individual actions to thwart the spread. (Money and Lin II, 4/28)

The Washington Post:
Gallaudet University Pivots To Virtual Classes As Covid Cases Rise

Gallaudet University moved classes and exams online for the remainder of the semester, an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus after a spike in cases, school officials announced. Classes switched to virtual format Thursday morning, and most students were encouraged to move out of dorms this weekend. Final exams, which will also be held remotely, end May 7. Because of the increased transmissibility of the BA.2 variant, N95 or KN95 masks are now required on campus and cloth or surgical masks will no longer be allowed, school leaders wrote in a message to the campus community. Weekly testing is still required. (Svrluga, 4/28)

Racial Split On COVID-19 Endures As Restrictions Ease In US

Black and Hispanic Americans remain far more cautious in their approach to COVID-19 than white Americans, recent polls show, reflecting diverging preferences on how to deal with the pandemic as federal, state and local restrictions fall by the wayside. Despite majority favorability among U.S. adults overall for measures like mask mandates, public health experts said divided opinions among racial groups reflect not only the unequal impact of the pandemic on people of color but also apathy among some white Americans. Black Americans (63%) and Hispanic Americans (68%) continue to be more likely than white Americans (45%) to say they are at least somewhat worried about themselves or a family member being infected with COVID-19, according to an April poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (Ma and Fingerhut, 4/29)

Awareness And Use Of COVID Treatments Is Low

Fewer than 2% of nonhospitalized high-risk patients with COVID-19 are receiving drugs that can limit the extent of their illness, survey results suggest. In March 2022, researchers recruited 1,159 people from 37 states who were positive for SARS-CoV-2 on PCR tests and asked whether they knew about or had taken effective treatments for the virus, such as monoclonal antibodies or oral antiviral drugs molnupiravir from Merck & Co (MRK.N) or Pfizer’s (PFE.N) Paxlovid. Among the 241 individuals older than 65, whose age puts them at risk for severe COVID-19, 66% were aware of treatments and 36.3% had sought them, but only 1.7% reported use of such drugs, according to a report posted on Tuesday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. (Lapid, 4/29)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. Schools Chief Seeks Delay Of Student COVID Vaccine Mandate

The Los Angeles Unified School District should delay its requirement that students be vaccinated against COVID-19 until next year, its superintendent recommended Thursday, given the system’s already high vaccination rates among older students as well as low transmission rates in schools. Supt. Alberto M. Carvalho said that, after consulting with experts, he will ask the district’s board to hold off on enforcing the mandate until July 1, 2023, at the earliest. Doing so would align California’s largest school district with the expected timeline of a statewide student vaccination requirement. (Gomez, Money and Lin II, 4/28)

Salt Lake Tribune:
Utah Reports 7 More Deaths From COVID-19 As Virus Levels Rise In Sewers

Utah reported nearly 1,700 new coronavirus cases in the past seven days and seven more deaths, the Department of Health reported Thursday. The number of new cases reported this week — 1,695 — was hundreds higher than the 1,197 reported last Thursday. The state reported a 51.4% increase in the seven-day average of new cases, moving from 173.3 to 260.3. That was after reporting a more than 61% increase in cases last week. The weekly rate of positive tests also rose from 5.06%. to 6.62%. (Harkins, 4/28)

FDA Issues Plan To Ban Menthol In Cigarettes, Cigars

The FDA said it will also seek to ban menthol and dozens of other flavors like grape and strawberry from cigars, which are increasingly popular with young people, especially Black teens. The agency’s proposals on both cigarettes and cigars are only initial drafts and are unlikely to be finalized before next year. Companies would then have one additional year to phase out their products. Tobacco industry lawsuits could delay the prohibition for several more years, according to experts. For now, FDA leaders said they will take comments for two months and then proceed “as expeditiously as possible.” (Perrone, 4/28)

The Washington Post:
FDA Proposes A Ban On Menthol Cigarettes And Flavored Cigars

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed banning menthol cigarettes, a significant step praised by leading health and civil rights groups that say the tobacco industry has a history of aggressively marketing to Black communities and causing severe harm, including higher rates of smoking-related illness and death. The FDA also proposed prohibiting flavors in cigars, including small ones called cigarillos that are popular with teenagers. FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, in remarks to reporters, said a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would save lives and reduce health disparities. Expressing a sense of urgency to finalize the rule, he stressed that 480,000 people a year in the United States die of tobacco-related illnesses, making smoking the leading cause of preventable death. (McGinley, 4/28)

U.S. FDA Pushes Ahead With Move To Ban Menthol Cigarettes

Menthol cigarettes, banned in many states including California and Massachusetts, account for more than a third of the industry’s overall market share in the United States, even as overall smoking rates have been declining in the country. “Today is a huge win for equity, justice, and public health concerns,” Derrick Johnson, president of NAACP, the largest U.S. civil rights organization, said in a statement. There were more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers ages 12 and older in the country in 2019, with particularly high rates of use by youth, young adults, and African American and other racial and ethnic groups, the agency said. (Banerjee, 4/28)

Proposed Menthol Ban Divides Black Leaders 

The Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and relatives of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, have argued that the rules, should they take effect, would give law enforcement another reason to target Black people — potentially endangering Black lives. “What we said is, ‘Y’all have got to consider unintended consequences.’ Imagine some cop pulling a kid over saying, ‘Where did you buy or get that Kool cigarette?’” Sharpton told POLITICO Thursday after the FDA announcement. “People are not going to stop smoking Newports and Kools because of a rule. They’re going to go and get them from people that go to the street in the black market. Then what happens? That’s all I’m asking.” (Ellen Foley and Daniels, 4/28)

The Washington Post:
Okla. Legislature Approves Bill Banning Abortions After 6 Weeks Of Pregnancy

The Oklahoma House on Thursday morning approved a Republican bill to outlaw abortions after six weeks of pregnancy that will take effect as soon as it is signed into law. The measure would immediately cut off most abortion access in a state that has absorbed nearly half of all Texas patients who have traveled out of state for abortions since Texas enacted a similar law last fall. The bill, which makes exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest, cleared the Oklahoma Senate in March and now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who is expected to sign it. (Kitchener, 4/28)

Oklahoma House Sends Texas-Style Abortion Ban To Governor

The abortion bill, dubbed the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, prohibits the procedure once cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo, which experts say is roughly six weeks into a pregnancy. A similar bill approved in Texas last year led to a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions performed in that state, with many women going to Oklahoma and other surrounding states for the procedure. Like the Texas law, the Oklahoma bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion for up to $10,000. After the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that mechanism to remain in place, other Republican-led states sought to copy Texas’ ban. Idaho’s governor signed the first copycat measure in March, although it has been temporarily blocked by the state’s Supreme Court.(Murphy, 4/29)

The 19th:
Oklahoma Approves Laws That Could Immediately End All Abortion Access

Oklahoma’s legislature has passed two Texas-inspired laws that would allow civil lawsuits against anyone who might “aid or abet” any abortion. Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, has indicated he plans to sign both bills, which would take effect immediately. One bill, House Bill 4327, would outlaw virtually all abortions, with an exception if the pregnant person’s life were in immediate danger; pregnancy resulting from rape or incest is only an exception if it has been reported to law enforcement. After amendments were added to it, HB 4327 will go back to the House, which has already passed a version of the bill. The other bill, Senate Bill 1503, would create penalties for abortions done after six weeks of pregnancy. It’s not clear when Stitt will sign the two bills. But clinics are preparing for an immediate shutdown of services — making Oklahoma the only state in the country where abortion is completely inaccessible. (Luthra, 4/28)

U.S. Reports Its First Human Case Of H5 Bird Flu

The first known human case of H5 bird flu in the United States has appeared in a person in Colorado, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday. The person tested positive for avian influenza A(H5) virus and was involved in the culling of poultry presumed to have had H5N1 bird flu, the CDC said in a statement. “This case does not change the human risk assessment for the general public, which CDC considers to be low,” the agency added. (4/29)

The Wall Street Journal:
Bird Flu Detected In Person In Colorado

A person in Colorado tested positive for a version of avian influenza, federal officials said, marking the first known human case in the U.S. of a bird flu that has ravaged poultry flocks for months. The unidentified person had direct contact with poultry and was working to destroy birds believed to have a version of H5N1 bird flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday. The person’s only symptom was fatigue, the agency said. An earlier case in December in the U.K. was in an asymptomatic person who also had contact with infected birds. (Kamp, 4/28)

Human Bird Flu Case: CDC Confirms Case Of Bird Flu In Colorado Man But Says The Public Health Risk Assessment Remains Low

“This is the second human case associated with this specific group of H5 viruses that are currently predominant, and the first case in the United States,” the CDC said. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said the man is a state inmate younger than 40 who was working at a commercial farm in Montrose County.
The man has recovered after experiencing fatigue, CDPHE said. He is currently isolated and is being treated with the antiviral drug oseltamivir. (Dillinger, 4/29)

Six States Report More Avian Flu Outbreaks, Poultry Losses Top 35 Million

Six states reported more highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks in poultry, including Nebraska, where the virus struck a large layer farm housing 2.1 million birds, according to the latest notifications from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Nebraska’s outbreak, the state’s seventh, occurred in Knox County, located in the northeast corner of the state. Elsewhere in the Midwest, three states reported more outbreaks, all involving backyard birds. They include Kansas (Republic County), Michigan (Saginaw County), and North Dakota (Richland County). (4/28)

The New York Times:
Medicare Advantage Plans Often Deny Needed Care, Federal Report Finds

Every year, tens of thousands of people enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans are denied necessary care that should be covered under the program, federal investigators concluded in a report published on Thursday. The investigators urged Medicare officials to strengthen oversight of these private insurance plans, which provide benefits to 28 million older Americans, and called for increased enforcement against plans with a pattern of inappropriate denials. Advantage plans have become an increasingly popular option among older Americans, offering privatized versions of Medicare that are frequently less expensive and provide a wider array of benefits than the traditional government-run program offers. (Abelson, 4/28)

Modern Healthcare:
CMS Finalizes Rule On Ownership Changes At Accreditation Groups

Accreditation organizations will need to notify the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of a change in ownership at least 90 days before it occurs, according to a rule finalized by the agency Wednesday three years after it was proposed. Following the notice, CMS will determine whether the new ownership is equipped to accredit facilities and meet Medicare standards. CMS can’t approve or disapprove business transactions, but it does need to ensure a new owner is eligible for Medicare participation, the agency said. (Goldman, 4/28)

Modern Healthcare:
CMS Finalizes ACA Plan Standardization, Network Adequacy Policies

Insurers on Affordable Care Act exchanges will have to offer plans with standardized deductibles and limits on out-of-pocket costs and co-pays for each of non-standardized offerings, as well as meet stronger network adequacy requirements in 2023, under a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services final rule issued Thursday. CMS did not finalize a change to the risk adjustment model for exchange plans that experts had cautioned could prompt insurers to cherrypick healthier consumers, and punted a proposed policy to explicitly prohibit sexual orientation and gender identify discrimination to a future rule. (Goldman, 4/28)

USA Today:
Medicare Advantage Plans Skimp On Claims, Care, Federal Report Finds

A government watchdog report released Thursday found private Medicare plans routinely rejected claims that should have been paid and denied services that reviewers found to be medically necessary. The report, completed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general investigators, discovered private Medicare plans denied 18% of claims allowed under Medicare coverage rules. The denials often were a result of errors in processing claims, the report found. (Alltucker, 4/28)

Medicare Advantage Debate Rekindled By Report On Coverage Denials

“The OIG report validates that the vast majority of Medicare Advantage prior authorization requests are approved, and that the vast majority of denials that the OIG reviewed were appropriate,” said Kristine Grow, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, adding Medicare administrators noted plan performance is improving. (Reed and Owens, 4/29)

Justices Limit Discrimination Claims For Emotional Distress

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the dismissal of a discrimination lawsuit filed by a deaf, legally blind woman against a physical therapy business that wouldn’t provide an American Sign Language interpreter for her appointments. In a 6-3 ruling with conservatives in the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that businesses that receive federal health care money can’t be sued for discrimination under the Affordable Care Act when the harm alleged is emotional, not financial. (4/28)

Jerome Adams Calls For Masking ‘Compassion’

Before there were mask requirements or recommendations or candle tests or homemade mask drives, in the very early days of the pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams published what would become a notorious tweet: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” As the supply increased and science emerged showing masks were effective in stopping the spread of the virus, Adams encouraged the use of masks. (Simmons-Duffin, 4/28)

The Hill:
Birx Book: First Meeting With Trump Lasted 30 Seconds Before He Flipped On Fox News

Deborah Birx, who served as coronavirus response coordinator for former President Trump, said in her book released Tuesday that her first meeting with Trump lasted 30 seconds before he turned on Fox News and she was escorted out. Birx says she met with Trump on March 2, 2020, to emphasize her concerns about the new virus after she joined the White House coronavirus task force, Business Insider reported, citing her memoir “Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, Covid-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late.” “Mr. President, this is not like the flu. This is far more serious than the flu. We have to shape our response differently,” Birx said she told Trump, who dismissed her concerns and said the people he talked to did not believe COVID-19 would be very serious. (Lonas, 4/28)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Georgia Senate Candidate Herschel Walker Spent Years Promoting Health Products With Dubious Claims

Senate candidate Herschel Walker has spent years promoting and developing health-conscious products with dubious benefits and a skepticism from the medical community, a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found. Through the two decades that Walker has been retired from professional football, the Republican frontrunner has repeatedly tried to cash in on his career as a legendary athlete with a striking physique. He looked to “revolutionize” the health market with products he said would prevent aging, help weight loss and even protect against the damages of smoking—despite little evidence, his company admitted in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (Jackson, 4/28)

Would Drugmakers Lower Their Insulin Prices If Congress Asks Nicely?

After a yearslong, drawn-out debate over how to best lower patients’ prescription drug prices, two senators are workshopping a new idea to slash insulin costs: dangling incentives to convince drugmakers to lower prices of their own free will. It’s largely based on a common complaint from drugmakers: that their sticker prices are sky-high because they have to pay insurers to get more favorable coverage for their medicines. The policy would ban those payments to insurers and cap patients’ monthly out-of-pocket costs for insulin, but only if drugmakers agree to reduce their prices to 2006 levels. Back then, a vial of insulin lawmakers cited cost about $68 without insurance; in 2019, it ran as much as $300. (Cohrs, 4/29)

House Republicans Attempt To Force Vote On Transgender Sports Bill

Dozens of House Republicans on Wednesday signed on to a petition to force a vote on legislation that would ban transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. Nine lawmakers led by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) submitted the petition Tuesday to discharge the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, which was introduced by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) in January 2021 and has not been taken up by the House Education and Labor Committee. (Quilantan, 4/28)

The Hill:
Kansas Lawmakers Uphold Governor’s Veto Of Trans Sports Ban

Lawmakers in Kansas on Thursday sustained Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D) veto of two bills accused of being discriminatory against LGBTQ+ people in the state. One of them, a transgender athlete ban, would have barred transgender women and girls from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. The other would have established a Parental Bill of Rights allowing parents to challenge classroom materials inconsistent with their personal beliefs. The state House of Representatives on Thursday voted to sustain Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 160 – officially titled the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” – that would have required public schools from the elementary to the university level to designate sports teams by “biological sex,” or a student’s sex assigned at birth. (Migdon, 4/28)

An Algorithm That Screens For Child Neglect Raises Concerns

Inside a cavernous stone fortress in downtown Pittsburgh, attorney Robin Frank defends parents at one of their lowest points – when they are at risk of losing their children. The job is never easy, but in the past she knew what she was up against when squaring off against child protective services in family court. Now, she worries she’s fighting something she can’t see: an opaque algorithm whose statistical calculations help social workers decide which families will have to endure the rigors of the child welfare system, and which will not. “A lot of people don’t know that it’s even being used,” Frank said. “Families should have the right to have all of the information in their file.” (Ho and Burke, 4/29)

Fox News:
Drug Overdose Deaths Among Adolescents On The Rise

According to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, deadly overdoses among adolescents nearly doubled from 492 in 2019 to 954 in 2020. They jumped another 20% in 2021. George Youngblood, who has worked with Teen and Family Services in Houston, said the COVID-19 pandemic affected hundreds of children across the country in the same way that it did Lydia. “The more we isolated our kids without being able to do all the social-emotional learning that they needed to do, I think that the mental health crisis became so acute. They experienced anxiety and depression,” Youngblood said. (Addison, 4/28)

ABC News:
Concerning Clusters Of Severe Hepatitis Cases In Children Being Investigated

Earlier this month, researchers in the United States and Europe announced they were investigating small clusters of the cases emerging across the globe. Soon after, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an alert to doctors and providers to be on the lookout for the unusual cases. Globally, around 170 cases have been identified, according to World Health Organization officials, with many of the children under the age of 10. “What is particularly unusual is that the majority of these children were previously healthy,” Dr. Philippa Easterbrook, a medical expert with the WHO’s Global HIV Hepatitis and STI Programme, said during a press conference on Thursday. (Mitropoulos, 4/29)

Wisconsin And California Probe Unexplained Hepatitis Cases, 1 Fatal

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) in an alert to clinicians said it is investigating at least four unexplained hepatitis cases in children, including one who needed a liver transplant and one who died. Also, California officials said today that they are investigating seven cases. The WDHS said it launched the investigation following a report from Alabama of nine similar cases, of which all five sequenced samples showed a possible connection to adenovirus type 41. Two of the Alabama children required liver transplants. News of the California cases was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, which cited the California Department of Health. The developments brings the number of US states reporting similar cases to five, which also includes North Carolina and Illinois. (4/28)

Fox News:
Wisconsin Reports First Death In U.S. Possibly Linked To Puzzling Hepatitis Outbreak In Children

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) issued a health alert this Wednesday regarding the first pediatric death in the United States possibly linked to the mysterious pediatric hepatitis outbreak and adenovirus, according to a recent statement. “Since being notified of this adenovirus-associated hepatitis cluster, DHS is now investigating at least four similar cases among children in Wisconsin. This includes two children who had severe outcomes, one liver transplant, and one fatality.” (Sudhakar, 4/28)

Baby Formula Social-Media Pitches Undermine Breast Milk, WHO Says

Infant-formula makers use social media and influencers to target women and boost sales, undermining efforts to increase breastfeeding rates, according to a new study by the World Health Organization. Companies use personalized content through apps, paid influencers and advice forums to reach consumers, the WHO report said, adding these are often not recognizable as advertising. (Gretler, 4/28)

Whistleblower Alerted FDA To Alleged Safety Lapses At Baby Formula Plant Months Before Recalls, Complaint Shows

A former employee of Abbott Nutrition documented his concerns that the company was hiding safety problems at its Sturgis, Mich., production facility and sent a detailed complaint to the US Food and Drug Administration months before infant formula was removed from grocery store shelves. The complaint was released Thursday by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. The congresswoman said she had received the complaint this week and called its allegations “extremely disturbing.” (Goodman and Howard, 4/28)

Mental Health Issues In Kids Rose During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the mental health of children and adolescents, researchers say, based on their analysis of findings from 17 earlier studies. The studies – published in 2020 and 2021 – found unusually high rates of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, suicidal behavior, stress-related disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and other mental health problems during the pandemic. Individual behaviors such as hobbies, praying, and listening to music were associated with positive mental health, the studies also found. (Lapid, 4/29)

Fox News:
Amy Schumer Raises Awareness About Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder Through Her Husband’s Recent Diagnosis

Comedian Amy Schumer revealed last week on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that her 42-year-old husband, chef Chris Fischer, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as an adult, which is helping raise awareness that the condition can also be diagnosed as we get older. ASD ” … is a complex, lifelong developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation,” according to the Autism Society. (Sudhakar, 4/28)

Washington Post:
Google Is Letting You Limit Ads About Pregnancy And Weight Loss

Google, which makes money in part by showing you ads based on your search history and other online behavior, has come under fire for targeting people with family or body-related ads they’d rather not see. Facebook has settings that filter ads about certain sensitive topics, but until now, Google users had little recourse. In December 2020, Google started letting people in the United States opt out of ads on YouTube that feature alcohol or gambling. Now, people worldwide can opt out of alcohol and gambling ads as well as ads in the newly announced categories across Google’s ad ecosystem. (Hunter, 4/28)

Seven Hours Of Sleep Per Night Is Optimal In Middle To Older Age, Study Suggests

Seven hours of sleep per night is the ideal amount in middle to older age, a study has suggested. Both too much and too little sleep are associated with poorer cognitive performance and mental health, according to researchers from Cambridge University and Fudan University in China. Scientists examined data from nearly 500,000 adults, aged between 38 and 73, from the UK Biobank. Participants were asked about their sleeping patterns, mental health and wellbeing, and took part in a series of cognitive tests. (Russell, 4/28)

The Wall Street Journal:
FDA Approves New Bristol-Myers Drug For Common Inherited Heart Disease

The disease, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, causes the heart muscles to thicken excessively and make it difficult for the organ to pump blood. The condition affects about 1 in 500 people. It is the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people, including athletes, though it is rare. The new drug, which carries the chemical name mavacamten and which Bristol will market as Camzyos, was the centerpiece of the company’s $13.1 billion acquisition of MyoKardia in 2020. Bristol is counting on sales to help offset several upcoming patent expirations for key products. (Hopkins, 4/28)

FDA Approves Bristol Myers’ Oral Heart Disease Drug

Bristol Myers Squibb said on Thursday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its oral heart disease drug Mavacamten, making it the first cardiac myosin inhibitor to be permitted for use in the country. Mavacamten, which Bristol Myers acquired in its $13 billion buyout of MyoKardia in 2020, will be used in the treatment of adults with symptomatic New York Heart Association (NYHA) class II-III obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. (4/29)

Modeling Study Shows Geographical Disparities In US COVID Deaths

Using excess mortality data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers from Georgetown University found significant regional differences in mortality rates due to COVID-19, with a disproportionate number of virus deaths in Southern states. Excess deaths were analyzed for the period between Jan 3, 2020, to Sep 26, 2021, with Northeast, Midwest, South, and West regions compared. Though the South only has 38% of the US population, that region has seen 48% of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths since October of 2020. Using the excess death data over that same time period, there were 895,693 excess deaths associated with COVID-19, 26% more than previously reported, the authors said. Since May 31, 2020, the South experienced COVID-19 mortality 26% higher than the national rate, whereas the Northeast’s rate was 42% lower. (4/28)

Initial Vital Signs, Labs Better Predict COVID Severity Than Chronic Conditions

COVID-19 patients’ vital signs, lab results, and need for supplemental oxygen when they arrive at the hospital can better predict illness severity than underlying illnesses and differ by age-group, suggests a modeling study published today in Scientific Reports. A team led by Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle led the study to improve risk stratification for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a process important for clinical decision-making and resource allocation. (Van Beusekom, 4/28)

Opera-Led Singing Program Eased Breathlessness In Long-COVID Patients

An ongoing online UK program using singing techniques helped relieve post–COVID-19 mental wellbeing and persistent breathlessness, according to a randomized, controlled trial published yesterday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Led by Imperial College London researchers, the trial involved 150 adults who still had shortness of breath, with or without anxiety, 4 or more weeks after symptom onset (average, 320 days), referred from 51 UK long-COVID clinics from Apr 22 to May 25, 2021. Eighty-one percent of participants were women. (4/28)

The New York Times:
Patients Taking Experimental Obesity Drug Lost More Than 50 Pounds, Maker Claims

An experimental drug has enabled people with obesity or who are overweight to lose about 22.5 percent of their body weight, about 52 pounds on average, in a large trial, the drug’s maker announced on Thursday. The company, Eli Lilly, has not yet submitted the data for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal or presented them in a public setting. But the claims nonetheless amazed medical experts. “Wow (and a double Wow!)” Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, chief executive of Verve Therapeutics, a company focusing on heart disease drugs, wrote in a tweet. Drugs like Eli Lilly’s, he added, are “truly going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity!!!” (Kolata, 4/28)

Antibiotic Use In Young Children Tied To Reduced Vaccine Response

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have found that antibiotic use in young children is associated with lower vaccine-induced antibody responses to several childhood vaccines. The study, published yesterday in Pediatrics, found that children 2 years of age and younger who had received antibiotics had lower levels of antibody protection from the diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) than those who received no antibiotics. They also found that antibiotic courses that were accumulated over time were negatively associated with vaccine-induced antibody levels. (Dall, 4/28)

Researchers Test The Power Of Machine Learning To Study Long Covid

Long Covid, with its constellation of symptoms, is proving a challenging moving target for researchers trying to conduct large studies of the syndrome. As they take aim, they’re debating how to responsibly use growing piles of real-world data — drawing from the full experiences of long Covid patients, not just their participation in stewarded clinical trials. “People have to really think carefully about what does this mean,” said Zack Strasser, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital who has used existing patient records to study the characteristics of long Covid. “Is this true? Is this not some artifact that’s just happening because of the people that we’re looking at within the electronic health record? Because there are biases.” (Palmer, 4/29)

Startups Turn To EEGs To Fuel A Resurgence In Neuro Drug Development

Biotechs are used to turning to genetics as guideposts in developing new medications. Now, a small but growing number of startups are turning to a century-old technology found in hospitals and doctors’ offices across the country to find new clues for developing brain disorder treatments. At least four biotechs — Athira Pharma, Alto Neuroscience, Beacon Biosignals, and Neumora Therapeutics — have integrated electroencephalograms, or EEGs, in their work. The tests use dozens of electrodes placed around a person’s head to measure brain waves, generally to diagnose epilepsy or sleep disorders, but these companies believe they could unveil new biomarkers for many other conditions. (DeAngelis, 4/29)

AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine Sales Top Estimates, Keeps Overall 2022 Forecasts

AstraZeneca (AZN.L) on Friday beat first-quarter sales and profit expectations, helped by higher than expected sales of its COVID-19 vaccine, a product the company has forecast will see a sharp decline over the course of the year. The vaccine recorded $1.15 billion in sales in the quarter, the majority of which came from initial contracts, but that number eclipsed consensus analyst expectations of $739 million, cited by Credit Suisse. (Aripaka and Grover, 4/29)

Merck Raises 2022 Forecast As COVID Pill, Cancer Drug Fuels Profit Beat

Merck & Co (MRK.N) on Thursday reported quarterly profit and sales that beat estimates and raised its full-year forecasts on strong demand for top-selling cancer drug Keytruda, its Gardasil vaccine and COVID-19 antiviral pill molnupiravir. The U.S. drugmaker’s shares rose 1.8% to $85.90 before the opening bell as revenue rose 50% to $15.9 billion, with most of the growth coming from sales of molnupiravir, which was approved in November. (Erman and Mishra, 4/28)

WHO-Backed Vaccine Resolution Wins 24% Support At Moderna

A shareholder proposal calling on Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) to study transferring production of COVID-19 vaccines to less-developed countries won 24% support from investors on Thursday after it received a rare endorsement from the World Health Organization. Proponents say production shifts could help combat the global pandemic. Moderna of Cambridge, Mass. opposed the measure, saying among other things it already maximized its manufacturing capacity with partners, and that poorer countries have declined millions of doses that Moderna was prepared to deliver. (Kerber, 4/29)

The Wall Street Journal:
Shareholder Proposals To Broaden Access To Covid-19 Vaccines Rejected

Investors in three Covid-19 vaccine makers on Thursday rejected shareholder proposals aimed at broadening global access to the shots. Pfizer Inc., PFE 1.55% Moderna Inc. MRNA 0.06% and Johnson & Johnson JNJ 0.75% had opposed the proposals, saying they already had taken steps to expand access to their vaccines in poorer countries. Shareholders at Pfizer and Moderna voted against similar resolutions, which asked each company to study the feasibility of transferring technical know-how and patents to allow other manufacturers to produce Covid-19 vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries. (Loftus, 4/28)

Crain’s Chicago Business:
Baxter’s Revenues Climb With Acquisition Of Hillrom

Medical products giant Baxter International reported rising revenue in the first quarter coming on the heels of its acquisition of Hillrom. Deerfield-based Baxter saw revenue grow 26% to $3.7 billion in the first quarter, the company announced in an earnings call today. U.S. sales totaled $1.76 billion, a nearly 50% increase from the same period a year earlier, with international sales increasing 10% to $1.95 billion. Net income was $71 million. Baxter’s stock was down slightly on the news this morning, trading at about $70 a share. (Davis, 4/28)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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