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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

HHS plans to open up billions in hospital Covid-19 grants in coming weeks

The Biden administration is planning to open up applications for billions in hospital grants in the coming weeks, STAT has learned. Hospitals have been pleading with the federal government to release more funds for reimbursement to make up for losses incurred through the first half of last year. It's unclear how much of the $178 billion left in the Provider Relief Fund will be made available in this round of grants, nor is it clear when an announcement will be made. A spokesperson for the agency administering the grants said the agency is working as quickly as possible to free up the money. STAT+ subscribers can read more here.  

EU makes changes to its vaccine supply strategy

The European Union said Sunday it wasn't renewing its Covid vaccine contract with AstraZeneca after June. The news came a day after the EU separately signed a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech to provide up to 1.8 billion doses to the EU through 2023. The slow pace of AstraZeneca's rollout frustrated EU regulators, the AP reports, and the EU launched legal action against the drug maker last month for allegedly not respecting the terms of its contract. Here's more news from the vaccine front: 

  • Even though India opened vaccinations up to all adults earlier this month, low supplies have slowed the pace of vaccinations. Some 10% of India's 1.3 billion population has received at least one shot, although fewer than 3% have received two. The race to get the population vaccinated is especially heated as India has consistently posted more than 400,000 new Covid cases daily in recent days. 
  • On the other end of the spectrum, states in the U.S. are cutting back on their vaccine orders, in a sign that demand — fueled by vaccine hesitancy in many places — has started to dip. Iowa, for instance, is turning down 71% of the doses available to it this week, while North Carolina scaled back its supplies by 40% last week. 
  • The WHO on Friday added Sinopharm, the Covid vaccine developed in China, to its list of vaccines approved for emergency use. The move boosts confidence in the vaccine amid fears of a lack of transparency from Chinese vaccine makers. 

Fast food ads aimed at kids often emphasize incentives over the food

A majority of fast food ads aimed at kids promote premiums — such as toys and incentives — over the actual food, which counters efforts to prevent childhood obesity, according to a small new study. Researchers looked at 28 commercials — almost all of which were for Happy Meals from McDonald's — that aired between February 2019 and January 2020, and found 27 of them contained premiums. These accounted for 53% of the words in the transcript and nearly 60% of the visuals. In a random subset of frames containing imagery of the food and premiums, the premiums occupied more of the screen. The findings suggest that companies are violating Better Business Bureau guidelines, which advise companies on such ads, and state that premiums cannot be emphasized over the product, since children can't easily tell the difference. 

Inside STAT: With long Covid, history may be repeating itself among people of color


A medical staff member examines a patient in the Covid-19 ICU at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. (GO NAKAMURA/GETTY IMAGES)

People of color have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, but even with the waning pandemic here in the U.S., these communities may not be in the clear. With long Covid — a name for the mysterious multitude of problems that continue after an infection has cleared — experts are worried that the cycle of racist discrimination will keep people of color from getting the kind of care they need. Already, those with long Covid report being dismissed, and medicine's history of not taking the problems of people of color seriously may exacerbate that problem. “Now that you have these kind of nonspecific symptoms, it’s even harder to try to say, ‘OK, I’m a go and advocate for myself and be willing to browbeat the system to hear me,’” one Black physician tells STAT's Elizabeth Cooney, who has the full story here

CDC official Nancy Messonnier, who sounded early alarm on the pandemic, is resigning

Nancy Messonnier, the first public official in the U.S. to warn of the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, is resigning from her role as director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Messonnier had also been leading the CDC's vaccine task force until she was recently reassigned to work on a different response team. At a notable February 2020 briefing, Messonnier contradicted the reassuring message about the pandemic from the White House, warning of community spread of Covid-19 and possibly "severe" disruption to everyday life. That incident led to her being removed from White House briefings about the pandemic, although she made other public appearances. Messonnier's last day is May 14, after which she joins the Skoll Foundation as executive director for pandemic and public health systems.

Heart damage following Covid infection in athletes seems uncommon

A small study of college athletes finds heart damage after Covid-19 is uncommon. Last year, amid concerns that athletes infected with Covid-19 could have lasting heart damage, experts recommended cardiac screening before letting athletes resume training and competing. In the study, conducted in 137 college athletes from three universities, only about 4% of the students had any heart abnormalities when they were screened preliminarily. A follow-up MRI of these athletes didn't show any heart damage or inflammation. Some caveats: Beyond the small study size, the study didn't compare these findings to a group of athletes who didn't have Covid-19, so more research is needed to draw broader conclusions.   

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 21,392
Deaths yesterday: 238

Vaccine doses distributed, per CDC329,843,825
Total doses administered: 259,716,989

Correction: An item in Friday's newsletter contained a miscalculated figure for the underestimation of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. according to a new analysis. That analysis found that deaths in the U.S. could be 61% higher than current CDC estimates. 

What to read around the web today

  • Why health tech companies are investing so heavily in care teams. STAT+
  • Hundreds of bodies of covid-19 victims are still in New York’s refrigerated trucks more than a year into the pandemic. The Washington Post
  • International COVID-19 trial to restart with focus on immune responses. Nature
  • 103-Year-Old COVID survivor has advice for the unvaccinated. NPR
  • How fear of disease transformed Boston’s swampy Back Bay. Bloomberg CityLab

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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