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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Good morning. Today we are proud to share the news that STAT's Helen Branswell has won the Polk Award for Public Service, one of the highest honors in journalism, ''for relentlessly covering all aspects of the pandemic through works dating back as early as Dec. 31, 2019, that became required reading for medical experts.'' Congratulations, Helen!

Pfizer and Moderna take aim at coronavirus variants

Could the solution to emerging variants of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, some of which seem to make current vaccines less effective, be more of the current vaccines? That is one idea being tested by the makers of the two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans this morning to test a third shot, or booster, of their vaccine as a potential way to confront the new variants. Moderna announced similar plans late yesterday, saying it would also begin tests of a vaccine specifically against the B.1.351 variant that emerged in South Africa, which seems the most likely to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

Banking on tech backup, CDC launches nationwide VaccineFinder tool

Late yesterday, federal officials quietly opened up access to VaccineFinder, a site that allows the U.S. public to search nationwide for approved Covid-19 vaccine providers. But don’t get your hopes up yet, unless you live in Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, or Tennessee or you can find providers registered in the federal pharmacy program. On vaccinefinder.org, users can enter an address or ZIP code and get a list of providers with contact information, eligibility criteria, and, when available, a link to a vaccine scheduler. Critically, users will also be able to see whether each provider has doses available. VaccineFinder will eventually be an answer to scattered and siloed systems that have made it difficult for many to find where and when they can get a shot. STAT’s Katie Palmer has more on the rollout.

Fauci outlines a plan to learn more about long Covid — and possibly treat it with current drugs

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert detailed yesterday the questions he hopes research will answer about long Covid, the puzzling syndrome affecting some people who recover from Covid-19 but whose symptoms persist. At a White House briefing on Covid-19, Anthony Fauci said a new NIH initiative would ask what the spectrum of recovery looks like across all ages, how many people continue to have symptoms or develop new ones, what the underlying medical cause is, who is most vulnerable, and whether the infection triggers changes in the body that increase the risk of abnormalities such as chronic heart or brain disorders. With those answers, “we would need to design therapeutic approaches, hopefully, on medications that we already have. We just need to know how to use them.”

Inside STAT: How hospital chaplains balance Covid safety with patients’ spiritual needs

Rev. Moneka Thompson outside the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. (Caleb Chancey for STAT)

For nearly a year, hospitals across the country have struggled to meet medical challenges — from preserving PPE to limiting the spread of a highly contagious virus — as well as the pressing spiritual and emotional needs of patients with Covid-19. Policies have varied by hospital regarding whether chaplains can enter the rooms and how closely they can approach the patient, even now that many have been vaccinated. Such restrictions can be gut-wrenching when the patient’s longing for spiritual and human contact remains so visceral, Rev. Moneka Thompson, a staff chaplain at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, tells STAT contributor Charlotte Huff. “People need touch, you just don’t imagine how much they need it,” she says. “They are so isolated.” Read more.

Scientists reveal a precise structure in a fabled worm’s tangled brain  

Using Facebook-like algorithms, a bespoke microscope, and hefty doses of patience, a team of scientists has determined the brain structure of one of biology’s most powerful model organisms, the transparent, millimeter-long nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Even though “it looks like a spaghetti bowl,” study author Daniel Colón-Ramos tells STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling, the scientists found a precise set of layers in the brain that correspond directly to sensory organs and muscles, along with unique neurons that form a cage around the layers. The research could aid efforts to map and understand the more complex brains of flies, mice, and even the 86 billion-neuron human brain. It could also lay a foundation for research into human disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, which involve densely interwoven portions of the brain similar to that of the worm brain.

Broken link: Patients report no difference in muscle pain when they took a statin or a placebo

Statins — among the most successful drugs ever developed — prevent deaths from heart attacks and strokes but have long been dogged by the notion that they also cause muscle pain. Now that belief is called into question by a new trial that asked older patients who stopped taking statins (or were considering doing so) because of pain to go back on the drug or take a placebo. Crucially, they didn’t know which they were getting, and there was no difference in the aches and pains people reported. “While in these older age groups, aches and pains are indeed common, we convincingly show they are not made worse by statins and their pain is not caused by statins,” study author Liam Smeeth told me. Read more.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 74,502
Deaths yesterday
: 3,230

This week on “The First Opinion Podcast,” STAT First Opinion editor Pat Skerrett talks with Catherine Mezzacappa and Ruth Faden about the long-standing reluctance to test and administer new vaccines, including those for Covid-19, in people who are pregnant. Find it here.

What to read around the web today

  • Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine performs as well in the real world as in clinical trials, new study concludes. STAT
  • Biden aims to distribute masks to millions in 'equity' push. Associated Press
  • The virus can sicken children in very different ways, a new study finds. New York Times
  • Have a case of Covid variant? No one is going to tell you. KHN
  • Ad campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy in U.S. with celebrity help. Reuters

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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