By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
(CNN) — Although there’s a growing sense that normalcy is within reach after the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, experts are continuing to push for more vaccinations — particularly as new research details the long-term consequences for those who are diagnosed with the virus.
In what the authors say is the largest study to date of the long-term impact, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that people who had Covid-19 seem to face a much greater risk of death and need more medical care in the six months after their diagnosis, even if they had a milder form of the disease.
“We have to think about the burgeoning health crisis this is going to cause for years to come,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta told Anderson Cooper on Thursday.
The US has been making strides in vaccinating the public, but tens of millions of Americans still haven’t started their inoculations and experts say the US needs much higher levels of vaccination to control the virus. And younger Americans, many of whom recently became eligible for a shot, are less likely than older residents to claim they have or will get vaccinated, a recent poll found.
But the Washington University study shows what many experts have said for much of the last year — you don’t want this virus, Gupta said.
Between one and six months after getting sick, patients who had Covid-19 had a 60% higher risk of death than those patients that never had Covid-19. Patients who had Covid-19 also had a 20% greater chance of needing more medical care over the six months after their diagnosis and more medication.
Unfortunately, the treatment options for long-haul Covid are limited, Dr Leana Wen told Cooper. But the good news is that in addition to preventing infections, the vaccines may reduce long haul symptoms, she said.
Gupta said there is still a lot experts are learning about the virus, its treatment and its implications down the road.
Study finds infectious variants still controlled by vaccines
One threat to getting the pandemic under control is the spread of more transmissible variants, but studies have found that vaccines still work to get them under control.
A pair of coronavirus variants first seen in California seem to replicate better in the noses of infected people, something that could explain their faster spread, researchers reported Thursday.
But tests of blood from people who had received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines indicates that while the variants are little less susceptible, the vaccines still protect people from them.
Examination of nose swabs showed there was twice as much virus in samples taken from people infected with the variants compared to people infected with older strains of the virus — an indication B.1.427/B.1.429 strains replicate better and something that explains why they would be more contagious.
But they are not as transmissible as the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in Britain — one that’s now the most common variant found in the US — the team also reported in the journal “Cell.”
Researchers still need to track the variants closely, the study showed, as blood tests showed that the B.1.427/B.1.429 variants can partly evade the immune response.
“Earlier identification and monitoring of the variant might have guided focused contact tracing efforts by public health to slow its spread, as well as enabled more timely investigation of its potential significance.”
Pregnant people with Covid-19 at significantly higher risk of death
Research has also shown that pregnant women with Covid-19 have significantly higher risk of poor outcomes and death compared to pregnant women without Covid-19, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Thursday.
The researchers say their findings should alert pregnant people and doctors to strictly follow Covid-19 preventative measures.
They found that the women with Covid-19 were more likely to experience negative outcomes, including death, preterm birth and preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure. The study, led by researchers from the University of Oxford in the UK, noted that the risk of maternal mortality among women with Covid-19 was 22 times higher than among those without coronavirus.
“These deaths were concentrated in institutions from less developed regions, implying that when comprehensive ICU services are not fully available, COVID-19 in pregnancy can be lethal,” the researchers wrote.
Women with Covid-19 who were already at high risk of preeclampsia because of preexisting conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiac disease, were nearly four times more likely to develop preeclampsia, they noted.
They observed that fever and shortness of breath was associated with increased risk of complications for mothers and newborns.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long said that pregnant people are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19 and increased risk for adverse outcomes such as preterm birth.
Fauci wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson & Johnson vaccinations continue
Meantime, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss how to move forward with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after it was put on hold to investigate a potential link to serious blood clots.
And Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Thursday he wouldn’t be surprised if the committee decided to resume vaccinations like Europe did.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the CDC’s recommendation, but the European Medicines Agency — which asks the same question about the use of the J&J product in Europe — has made the determination that they will allow it to be given, because they feel that the risk of Covid-19 far outweighs the very rare, rare occurrence of this serious adverse event,” Fauci said in an interview with KCBS Radio San Francisco.
“They are letting the vaccine go out with a warning to people about what to look for, about what the risk is,” he added.
The two-dose mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are made using different technology from J&J’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine and have not been linked to rare cases of blood clots.
Fauci said the decision by the CDC and US Food and Drug Administration to pause use of the vaccine should reassure the public.
“If they call a pause for such a rare event, you can be sure that they take safety very, very seriously,” said Fauci. “If any degree of hesitancy is related to continued concern about safety, you just need to look at the system, which is highly sensitive in using surveillance to look for adverse events.”
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