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This is our weekly briefing on the pandemic, vetted by John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive.

This Week's Top Story

Vaccines for Children Under 5 Could be Available by End of June  

  • Possible timeline: “A top Biden administration health official, anticipating that federal regulators will soon authorize coronavirus vaccines for children younger than 5, said Thursday that the first doses could become available as early as June 21, and that states can begin ordering them from the Biden administration beginning on Friday,” The New York Times reported.

The Big Three

Kids Are Far, Far Behind in School

  • Via Thomas Kane in The Atlantic
     
  • "The achievement loss is far greater than most educators and parents seem to realize. The only question now is whether state and local governments will recognize the magnitude of the educational damage and make students whole. Adults are free to disagree about whether school closures were justified or a mistake. But either way, children should not be stuck with the bill for a public health measure taken on everyone’s behalf."
  • "One-fifth of American students, by our calculations, were enrolled in districts that remained remote for the majority of the 2020-21 school year. For these students, the effects were severe. Growth in student achievement slowed to the point that, even in low-poverty schools, students in fall 2021 had fallen well behind what pre-pandemic patterns would have predicted; in effect, students at low-poverty schools that stayed remote had lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. At high-poverty schools that stayed remote, students lost the equivalent of 22 weeks. Racial gaps widened too: In the districts that stayed remote for most of last year, the outcome was as if Black and Hispanic students had lost four to five more weeks of instruction than white students had."

 

Updated CDC Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs

  • Quietly released Friday ahead of a holiday weekend. Details here.
     
  • Schools should consider adding masks and other prevention measures when CDC-defined risk levels indicate an increase in disease burden, particularly if the level is medium or high.

 

Why Are Vaccines for Young Kids Taking So Long? And Other Questions

  • Via Scientific American
     
  • Why has it taken so long to authorize vaccines for those younger than age 5?
    • "There are several reasons for the delay. Since the risk of death and severe illness was greatest in adults, clinical trials with older age groups took priority as initial efforts to develop a vaccine got underway. Testing new immunizations in adults before children ‘is also a standard convention in vaccine development,’ says Kathryn Edwards, a pediatrician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”

  • Have there been any side effects or safety concerns with the vaccines in young kids?

    • "Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are somewhat reactogenic, or prone to inducing fever, achiness, malaise and other inflammatory responses. Fever in particular raises pediatric concerns because it can trigger seizures in babies and young children. Yet the evidence so far shows that children achieve strong immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, with surprisingly low vaccine doses, ‘and this is important for reducing side effects,’ [one expert] says."

  • What data will the FDA consider in making its decision?

    • "Apart from safety, a primary consideration is how well the vaccines protect against symptomatic infections.”

 

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COVID-19 Research

Why Masks Work, but Mandates Haven’t

  • Via David Leonhardt in The New York Times
     
  • "The evidence suggests that broad mask mandates have not done much to reduce COVID caseloads over the past two years. Today, mask rules may do even less than in the past, given the contagiousness of current versions of the virus."
     
  • "In U.S. cities where mask use has been more common, COVID has spread at a similar rate as in mask-resistant cities. Mask mandates in schools also seem to have done little to reduce the spread."
     
  • "In the current stage of the pandemic, there are less divisive measures that are more effective than mask mandates,” including booster shots and a drug that can protect the immunocompromised.
     
  • "The country is probably never going to come to a consensus on masks. They have become yet another source of political polarization."
     
  • "Fortunately, the scientific evidence points to a reasonable compromise. Because masks work and mandates often don’t, people can make their own decisions. Anybody who wants to wear a snug, high-quality mask can do so and will be less likely to contract COVID."
     
  • "If anything, that approach — one-way masking — is consistent with what hospitals have long done. … Patients, including those sick with infectious diseases, typically have not worn masks, but doctors and nurses have."

 

Reinfection and Long COVID

 

Q&A Boosters for 5- to 11-Year-Olds

  • Via Katelyn Jetelina
     
  • "Vaccine effectiveness against severe disease is 68% among 5- to 11-year-olds with the two-dose series. A third dose will make this higher. We don’t know if protection is waning because hospitalizations are a relatively rare event, so our confidence in the rate at which effectiveness is (or is not) waning is not strong."
     
  • "If I had a 5- to 11-year-old, I would get them boosted now regardless of previous infection."

 

Paxlovid

  • "The FDA rebuked Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s proposed solution to reports that some patients experienced a relapse of COVID-19 symptoms after treatment with the company's antiviral Paxlovid."
     
  • "After reports said some patients who took Paxlovid rebounded and started feeling symptoms again, the CEO told Bloomberg that patients can take another course, ‘like you do with antibiotics.’ ”
     
  • "The FDA isn't on board with the suggestion. ‘There is no evidence of benefit at this time for a longer course of treatment … or repeating a treatment course of Paxlovid in patients with recurrent COVID-19 symptoms following completion of a treatment course,’ John Farley, M.D., director of the Office of Infectious Diseases, said in a post."

 

InteliSwab

  • OraSure Technologies announced that its InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Test has been selected by the Department of Health and Human Services to be distributed to schools nationwide.

 

More Notable Research 

  • Mask Wearing in Community Settings Reduces SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Study
     
  • Revisiting Pediatric COVID-19 Cases in Counties With and Without School Mask Requirements: Study
     
  • COVID Can Cause Ongoing Damage to Heart, Lungs and Kidneys: Study / Guardian story
     
  • Omicron Caused 3 Times as Many Deaths as Delta in Massachusetts: Study / Press Release
     
  • COVID-19 Can Leave You Infectious After Five or Even 10 Days: The Wall Street Journal

Viewpoints

How to Make Up the COVID Learning Loss

  • Via Roland Fryer in the WSJ
     
  • "As it turns out, there’s a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers won’t complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard."
     
  • "The trick isn’t to pay for a final outcome, such as a grade or a test score. What worked was to incentivize the key inputs — the behaviors and habits that create good outcomes down the line. Paying students to read books (and pass easy tests to verify the reading took place) substantially boosted reading comprehension. Rewarding mastery of math objectives was even more successful. Paying students based on their attendance, good behavior and homework completion boosted achievement more generally."

 

Show Me the Data 2022

  • Via the Data Quality Campaign
     
  • "This year is the sixth time that DQC has reviewed report cards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Our review uncovered a commitment to compliance rather than the courage to share information, even if the report card shows that students have fallen behind. Despite flexibility on 2021 report card timelines, timely information on student academic performance is the bare minimum that states should be including on their report cards. States largely failed to provide context for how schools are supporting students during recovery and, if data is not available, explain why."

 

High-Dosage Tutoring Resource

On a Lighter Note

It's June!: Let's all walk up to June with the same level of confidence (and moves) as this young man...

Dad of the Year: Built a roller coaster for his son in their backyard.

For even more COVID policy and education news, subscribe to John Bailey’s daily briefing via Substack.

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