By Rachel Nania.
New at-home test checks for COVID and flu. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized an over-the-counter at-home test that can detect both influenza A and B (also known as flu) and COVID-19 in about 30 minutes with a nasal swab. The Lucira COVID-19 & Flu Test is the first of its kind and is a “major milestone in bringing greater consumer access to diagnostic tests that can be performed entirely at home,” said Jeff Shuren, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
CDC adds COVID vaccines to recommended schedule for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added the COVID-19 vaccines to its recommended vaccine schedule for adults and children. The updated schedule, published Feb. 10 in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also reflects changes in influenza vaccine recommendations. Going forward, older adults should receive what’s often referred to as a high-dose flu shot. You can find the updated vaccine schedule for adults on the CDC’s website.
COVID emergency to end. The COVID-19 public health emergency will end on May 11, bringing an official end to the coronavirus pandemic. But for people with Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, many of the benefits that have been in effect during the three years of the health crisis will remain in place. In a year-end spending bill passed in December, Congress extended the expansion of some Medicare telehealth services until the end of 2024. Depending on their coverage, Medicare beneficiaries and people with private health insurance may incur some out-of-pocket costs for COVID tests and certain treatments associated with the illness.
Bivalent boosters are effective against the latest circulating variants. The newly updated COVID-19 boosters formulated to target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants that were circulating in the summer and fall are effective at preventing mild illness caused by some of the newer variants, including XBB.1.5, which is now the dominant strain in the U.S. A new report from the CDC found that these so-called bivalent boosters cut the risk of a symptomatic infection nearly in half in adults ages 18 to 49. The boosters were 40 percent effective against symptoms from a coronavirus infection among individuals 50 to 64 years old, and 43 percent effective among those 65 and older.
Americans can still order more free at-home COVID tests from the government. The federal government has restarted its free at-home testing program. Every U.S. household can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests at covidtests.gov; shipping is also free.
Bivalent vaccines now available for kids as young as 6 months. Children 6 months to 5 years old who are fully vaccinated with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine are eligible to receive an updated bivalent booster shot, the CDC said Dec. 9. Kids 6 months to 4 years old who were vaccinated with Pfizer and have not received their third dose in the primary series can receive a bivalent vaccine for their third shot. The bivalent vaccines target some of the more recently circulating strains of the coronavirus. These shots have been available to adults since September.
Repeat COVID infections can be dangerous. If you’ve had COVID-19, that doesn’t mean future coronavirus infections will be less severe, a study suggests. A team of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Healthcare System found that repeat coronavirus infections can come with consequences, and that health risks can increase with each subsequent infection. The study, published in Nature Medicine, compared the health outcomes of people who have avoided COVID-19 with people who tested positive one time and people who had two or more infections. Researchers found that people with repeat infections were 3.5 times more likely to develop lung problems, three times more likely to suffer heart conditions and 1.6 times more likely to experience brain conditions than patients who had been infected with the virus once. “During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines; some people started referring to these individuals as having a sort of superimmunity to the virus,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., a clinical epidemiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine. “Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the acute phase, meaning the first 30 days after infection, and in the months beyond, meaning the long COVID phase.” The study’s authors encourage people to be aware of their risks and practice vigilance going into the winter season when cases could surge.