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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Federal government strikes deal to make a Covid-19 vaccine widely available at U.S. pharmacies

Federal health officials have reached an agreement with pharmacy retailers across the U.S. to offer a Covid-19 vaccine for free once one is approved and available. The agreement covers 3 out of 5 pharmacies — including chain drugstores like Rite Aid and pharmacies in stores like Walmart and Costco — in all 50 states and territories such as Puerto Rico, with the goal that a Covid-19 vaccine would be available in the same way that the flu shot currently is. This latest agreement follows similar deals with chains CVS and Walgreens to make a Covid-19 vaccine available to nursing home residents and staff. Because initial supplies will be limited, states will likely have to allocate them to high-priority groups such as health workers and other first responders. 

Measles cases in 2019 reach a 23-year high 

The number of measles cases in 2019 were the highest in 23 years, according to new estimates from the WHO and CDC. There were nearly 870,000 cases worldwide last year, and deaths from the disease — roughly 207,500 — were up nearly 50% since 2016. The report's authors attribute these startling totals to children not being vaccinated with both the recommended doses of the measles vaccine. Coverage rates have to be at 95% for both doses in order to prevent outbreaks, but the rate for the first dose has been stagnant at around 85% for the past decade, and despite gains for the second dose, the rate is still only at around 71%. “These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

Lab Chat: Cleaning up genetic data to protect privacy but get maximum use

As research using genetic data has accelerated in recent decades, scientists are trying to find ways to get the most out of the data while still preserving individuals' privacy. In a new study, experts describe a program that allows them to "sanitize" and blur out any identifying genetic variants in available data. I spoke with Mark Gerstein and Gamze Gursoy, two authors of the study and bioinformatics researchers at Yale, to learn more: 

What is the current problem with privacy, and which datasets have this problem?
Gerstein: There is this binary view of privacy — either the data is locked or not locked. It’s hard to aggregate data when it’s locked down and what we’re trying to do in the paper is measure the amount of private information in there so we can just remove that [and access the rest]. 
Gursoy: Some examples of databases with this problem are the Cancer Genome Atlas, and even the one we manage, called PsychENCODE [for understanding the genetics of psychiatric disorders]. 

How did you cover up the private data? 
Gursoy: We have a reference genome that represents everyone — but there is 1% that’s unique to each of us. So, if you see an "A" in the genetic code of the reference genome, but a "G" in the data you have, you change it to the "A."
Gerstein: When you use Google's Street View, the people on the street are unimportant to the information you're trying to get about stores, etc. The Google car takes pictures of people’s faces, but then finds people in the images and blurs them out. Our process is similar. 

Inside STAT: Cancer clinical trial enrollment has plummeted. Will patients come back amid Covid-19?

Nearly 1 in 5 patients are hesitant to participate in cancer clinical trials during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new survey that signals the drastic drop in enrollment during this time. The small survey found that most patients feared exposure to SARS-CoV-2 as a reason for not wanting to participate. STAT's Priyanka Runwal spoke with study co-author Mark Fluery to learn more about the study, including the small percentage of participants who said they would be less willing to volunteer for future trials and the smaller-still group who said they'd be more willing to participate as the pandemic continues. STAT+ subscribers can read their conversation here

Children's visits to emergency rooms for mental health concerns rose during the pandemic

A new CDC report finds that children's visits to emergency departments for mental health concerns have been higher than usual this year, possibly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Between January and early March 2020, ED visits among kids for mental health concerns went up compared to that same period in 2019, but dipped down to lower-than-usual levels once the nationwide lockdown was instituted in mid-March. At the same time, the proportion of kids' visits to EDs for mental health concerns steadily increased and remained high all the way through October. The proportion of such visits was up 24% among those ages 5-11 and 31% among adolescents aged 12-17, compared to the same period last year. The authors write that the proportion of such visits could be elevated because the number of ED visits during the pandemic have gone down overall. 

E-cigarette use — even among those who quit — associated with higher risk of respiratory disease

Former and current e-cigarette users are at a higher risk for respiratory diseases than those who have never used these devices, according to a new study. Looking at survey data from more than 21,600 individuals — around 16% of whom were current or former users — scientists found a 28% higher risk of respiratory disease among former users and 31% increased risk among current users, even after adjusting for cigarette and other tobacco use. The trend persisted even among those who self-reported good health. And among those who reported current vaping, there was a nearly 70% higher risk of emphysema, a 57% higher risk for COPD, and around a 30% higher chance of having chronic bronchitis or asthma. 

What to read around the web today

  • Minnesota Latinos ask for timely coronavirus information in Spanish—then get referrals to Google Translate. Sahan Journal
  • Heat is killing more people than ever. Scientists are looking for ways to lower the risk. Science
  • Pandemic's deadly toll behind bars spurs calls for change in U.S. jails and prisons. NPR
  • Teens in Covid isolation: ‘I felt like I was suffocating.’ The New York Times

Thanks for reading! And happy Diwali to those who will be celebrating this weekend — I'm off for the occasion until Monday, but will be back with the news as usual on Tuesday!


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Friday, November 13, 2020


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