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Vaccines seem to work well against Covid variants. It's also complicated

The simplest answer to the question of whether the existing suite of vaccines is effective against emerging Covid variants is yes. But, in reality, experts say that the answer is more complicated. Part of the reason is because efficacy against variants is a matter of how well the vaccines work, and also which vaccines are being pitted against which variant in different countries. In a new story, STAT's Andrew Joseph breaks down the current understanding of the vaccine-variant equation, as explained by experts, and what it means for the future of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

CDC advisory panel recommends use of Pfizer Covid vaccine in adolescents

A CDC advisory expert panel has voted to recommend that the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine be used in adolescents ages 12-15. The unanimous endorsement followed a daylong meeting of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Earlier this week, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the same vaccine to be used in this age group. During the meeting, the CDC also revealed it was waiving the recommendation that those getting a Covid-19 vaccine wait at least two weeks before getting other vaccinations so adolescents and adults who may have missed essential shots in the past year can work on catching up. 

Ear tubes don't seem to offer a benefit over antibiotics at preventing infections, study finds

Acute otitis media, or middle ear infections, are a painful and common condition that kids experience, and a new study finds that tubes — which are expensive to place and require surgery — to help with these infections are no more effective than antibiotics at preventing recurrent infections. Of the 183 children enrolled in the study, about two-thirds had tubes placed in their ear to avoid infection, while the other third received antibiotics. There were no significant differences between the two groups in the rate or severity of infections, even though kids in the latter group tended to develop infections about two months earlier than those in the tubes group. And although kids in the antibiotics group received more medication, the authors of the study didn't also find evidence of increased antibiotic resistance in samples taken from these kids. 

Inside STAT: Can new tools better predict when growth spurts hit to help a novel scoliosis surgery? 

For decades, fusion surgery has been the default approach for kids with scoliosis, a network of screws, hooks, and wires hold misaligned vertebrae together to correct posture. But this method, while safe and successful, also limits some mobility. About a decade ago, a new surgery known as tethering — where a flexible cord is run down the misshapen spine to correct positions over time — began to be offered on an experimental basis. And while this method could preserve flexibility, it only works before kids hit growth spurts, the timing of which is notoriously hard to predict. Now research teams are converging on a set of predictive tools to be able to find the "sweet spot" for tethering. STAT's Katie Palmer has more here

Fatal drug overdoses in San Francisco increased by 50% during and after pandemic lockdown 

Drug overdose deaths increased by 50% in San Francisco after the shelter-in-place for the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a small new study. Researchers looked at fatal drug overdose data in the eight months before and after the shelter-in-place order was announced on March 17 last year, and found that in the before period, 365 people died but that figure for the eight months after the shelter-in place order was 537. Those who died in the post-shelter-in-place period also tended to be Black and experiencing homelessness, and deaths attributable to fentanyl were also higher during this period. The study only looked at San Francisco deaths, and may not be generalizable, but the authors suggest that policymakers ought to consider the impact of future lockdowns on those who use drugs and experience homelessness. 

New initiative aims to increase diversity among Ph.D. students at Johns Hopkins

A new, $150 million initiative from Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg Philanthropies is looking to increase the representation of people from traditionally minority communities in STEM fields. The program, called the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative and named for a Black JHU scientist known for developing a technique to treat "blue baby syndrome," will add roughly 100 new and fully funded Ph.D. slots exclusively for those from underrepresented backgrounds. The initiative will also include active engagement with historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions to recruit students. The first cohort of the new program is expected to enter JHU in the fall of 2022. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 35,878
Deaths yesterday: 848

In this week’s episode of STAT’s “First Opinion Podcast,” First Opinion editor Pat Skerrett talks with reporter and editor Kalpana Jain, who details how India got to today’s crisis with Covid-19. Listen here

What to read around the web today

  • How COVID broke the evidence pipeline. Nature
  • The benefits of special interests in autism. Spectrum
  • Latino and Black Californians less likely to have received COVID-19 vaccine. Los Angeles Times
  • Ohio lottery to give five people $1 million each to encourage vaccination. The New York Times
  • Most Americans believe Biden is correct to support an IP waiver for Covid-19 vaccines. STAT+

Thanks for reading — and Eid Mubarak to those celebrating the end of Ramadan! More tomorrow,

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