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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Biden names nominees for HHS secretary, CDC director

President-elect Biden has picked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for HHS secretary. Selecting Becerra, who previously served 12 terms in Congress, runs against recent calls from public health advocates for Biden to nominate someone with medical expertise to head HHS. Still, Becerra championed several health care issues as attorney general, including leading a coalition of 20 states that were working to uphold the Affordable Care Act. 

Rochelle Walensky, who is currently the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and an HIV/AIDS expert, is Biden's nominee to run the CDC. Walensky will be tasked with bringing back to the forefront of the Covid-19 response an agency that has been sidelined by the Trump administration. In addition to resuming regular media briefings, the CDC under Walensky will also be crucial to distributing a Covid-19 vaccine.

And in case you're wondering about an FDA commissioner nominee, a Biden transition official told STAT that there’s no decision yet.

U.K. to begin vaccinating against Covid-19 this week

This week will likely be an action-packed one for all things Covid-19 vaccine. The U.K. just received around 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — which the country approved last week — to begin immunization campaigns tomorrow. Countries around the world will be watching closely to see how the situation in the U.K. unfolds, especially as later this week, an FDA advisory panel will meet to advise the agency on whether to approve an emergency use authorization for Pfizer and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine. Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui told CNN yesterday that he hopes the FDA will grant this authorization, adding, "Overall, I really hope they do it quickly, and that the vaccine will be available to our population starting later this week."

Suspected drug overdoses in those under 15 have increased recently

Nonfatal drug overdoses seem to be on the rise among those younger than 15, according to a new study. Researchers looked at emergency department data from April 2016 through September 2019, and found a 2% increase in overdoses for all drugs — opioids, heroin, and stimulants — in those ages 0-10, and a 2.3% increase in for those ages 11-14. Suspected stimulant overdoses also increased across all age groups over the study period, including a 3.3% increase for those younger than 10 and a 4% increase in preteens. These events are still rare, however: For every 10,000 ED visits, roughly 22 are among those 0-10 for suspected drug overdoses, while that figure for those ages 11-14 was around 43 visits. 

Inside STAT: Pledge to vaccinate 20 million against Covid-19 in December seems unrealistic

A nurse assists with a procedure on a Covid-19 patient in the ICU at Regional Medical Center in San Jose, Calif. (JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES)

The leaders behind the U.S. government's Operation Warp Speed have repeatedly said that by the end of the year, they expect to immunize 20 million health care workers and others who are first in line for a Covid-19 vaccine. But the reality is far murkier. The leaders of four health systems across the U.S. tell STAT's Olivia Goldhill that they only expect to give the first shots to their staff in early January. With the second dose of a vaccine a month later and an additional week for the vaccine's effects to be realized, mid-February would be the soonest that hospital workers in these facilities would be immunized. These delayed expectations also indicate a lack of information about a process that's due to begin soon. “We’re craving to get some information here to understand what we’re doing,” one executive tells Olivia, who has the story here

More than a quarter of people have switched providers over poor digital care experience

In a year with unprecedented growth for digital health, a new survey from health care financial company Cedar finds that 28% patients have switched or stopped going to a health provider due to a poor digital experience. The survey, which collected more than 1,500 responses, found that that figure represents a 40% increase over last year. Nearly a third of respondents don't think their physicians have done enough this year to improve payment processes, while half wish their digital health experience was more seamless and intuitive like with Netflix or Amazon. More than half also said that, in light of the pandemic, they would consider switching providers for the sake of electronic paperwork or virtual care. 

U.S. saw some progress against hospital-acquired infections last year

The latest CDC report on hospital-acquired infections in the U.S. shows some progress against these conditions, which often affect people who have been admitted to hospital for other ailments. Here's more from the report, which collected data from more than 36,000 hospitals between 2018-2019: 

  • Bloodstream infections: There was a 7% decrease in these infections, which are caused when bacteria enter the bloodstream through a catheter placed in a large vein. The largest decrease — 13% — was seen in NICUs. 
  • Urinary tract infections: There was an 8% decrease in infections due to harmful bacteria entering catheters placed in the urinary tract, while ICUs saw a 12% decrease in such infections. 
  • Other infections: There was a 2% increase in ventilator-associated infections, an 18% decrease in C. difficile infections (which can occur in those taking antibiotics or who have been hospitalized for a long time), and no significant change in many surgical site infections or infections caused by MRSA.  

Covid-19 in the U.S. 

Cases yesterday: 175,663
Deaths yesterday: 1,113

What to read around the web today

  • ‘Makes you ask why the hell we even bother.’ Infectious disease experts face disillusionment as COVID-19 pandemic worsens. The Boston Globe
  • Countdown to a coronavirus vaccine. The New Yorker
  • Preliminary but ‘nothing short of great.’ New data on CRISPR treatment for blood diseases suggest cure is possible. STAT
  • Trump lawyer Giuliani in hospital after positive COVID test. Associated Press
  • Atypical forms of dementia are being diagnosed more often in people in their 50s and 60s. The Washington Post

Monday, December 7, 2020


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