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Pfizer and BioNTech to begin testing their Covid-19 vaccine in children

In a move that could mean children could receive their Covid-19 vaccine in the fall, Pfizer and BioNTech said yesterday they are beginning a study aimed at showing it can be used in children as young as 6 months. The study follows the launch of a separate, ongoing trial in children ages 12 to 15, which was fully enrolled in January. That study could lead to results by the end of the first half of the year, depending on the data, and then to an emergency use authorization. The vaccine already has an EUA for people 16 and older.  Moderna, whose Covid-19 vaccine is authorized for people older than 18, has also started a pediatric study. STAT’s Matthew Herper has the full story.

SARS-CoV-2 infects cells of the mouth

Genetic sequencing has confirmed that SARS-Cov-2 infects the mouth, a new study says. It’s no surprise that people can spread Covid-19 by coughing, sneezing, singing, or otherwise spraying droplets because the virus has been found in saliva before, thought to originate in the lungs. The new analysis nails down the virus in the gums and salivary glands in ways that not only explain viral transmission, but could also hint at why taste and smell can be casualties of infection. And, the scientists say, it’s possible the mouth plays a role in sending the virus to the lungs or digestive system. Two other takeaways: Saliva from people without Covid-19 symptoms also contained the virus and the amount of virus in the mouth matched changes they reported in taste and smell.

HPV infections continue to fall, but pandemic worries experts

Gaining acceptance for vaccinating girls at age 11 or 12 against HPV has sometimes been an uphill battle. Twelve years after the vaccine was introduced, a new report shows progress against the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. Compared to the pre-vaccine era, HPV prevalence has fallen more than 80% among girls and women. And significant declines among unvaccinated females suggest herd effects, in drops of more than 80% in teens and 65% in 20- to 24-year-olds. But continued improvement is uncertain, the researchers say: “The Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to reverse gains made in HPV vaccination coverage in the United States, as indicated by lower adolescent vaccine orders in 2020. Efforts are needed to increase HPV vaccination to maintain the substantial progress of the vaccination program.” 

Inside STAT: How to talk to the Covid-19 vaccine hesitant

A medical professional prepares consent forms before administering a Covid-19 vaccine at the Louisville Urban League in Kentucky. (jon cherry/getty images)

Vaccine hesitancy is the next hurdle to overcoming Covid-19. Surveys show Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to be “waiting to see” before they get a vaccine (but are also less likely to say they definitely won’t take one than white adults). STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling asked experts on the frontlines — global vaccine scholars, physicians tackling low vaccination rates in Black communities, and multilingual doctors taking matters in their own hands to get out the word — to create a guide on how best to handle these sometimes difficult conversations. A sample: You could talk about mRNA, spike proteins, and viral vectors until the cows come home, but that knowledge might not be the best thing to draw on when you’re talking to people who are vaccine hesitant. Read more.

Despite its link to Covid, stroke care fell early in the pandemic

A large global study of stroke care early in the pandemic has found a marked decline in strokes and stroke treatments from March through June 2020. Even though strokes have been linked to the inflammatory effects of Covid-19, the falloff was also seen in hospitals with few Covid patients. Overall, stroke hospitalizations dropped 12%, the use of intravenous clot-busting drugs fell 13%, and transfers between primary and comprehensive stroke centers declined by 12%. “Similar to cardiovascular events, it is conceivable that there was a true population-level reduction in cerebrovascular events, possibly related to decreased consumption of high-sodium, fast-foods, reduced exposure to ambient air, or improvement in patent behaviors,” the researchers write. “A reduction in exposure to other common viruses that may play a role in triggering vascular events may have also reduced stroke risk.”

Patients skip 60% of opioids post-surgery

Texting patients to track how many opioid tablets they took to manage their postoperative pain revealed that more than half of their pills go unused, a new study says. Overprescribing opioids is not a new problem, but researchers were looking for a cheaper, more reliable way to measure pain felt and pills taken than asking patients to recall later in phone interviews. In the pre-pandemic study, 919 patients rated their pain on a scale of 1 to 10 in response to automated text messages sent four, seven, 14, and 21 days after orthopedic (hand fracture repair or knee arthroscopy) or urologic (vasectomy or prostatectomy) surgery. On average, orthopedic patients took six of the 20 tablets they were prescribed and urologic patients took only one of the seven they got.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 67,443
Deaths yesterday: 1,558

What to read around the web today

  • With time running out, an ALS patient fights with Biogen over expanded access to its drug. STAT+
  • Long-haulers are pushing the limits of Covid-19 vaccines. The Atlantic
  • Patients on ventilators. Hotel instead of home. Covid comes to Jackson South. Miami Herald
  • Cuba's revolutionary dream: Making its own Covid vaccine. NPR
  • FDA panel says risks of Pfizer pain drug outweigh the benefits. STAT+

Thanks for reading! More Monday,

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