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COVID-19 Briefs for July 20, 2021

The following are COVID-19 briefs for July 20, 2021.

CDC Information on Variants

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted information on variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

It states that information about the characteristics of these variants is rapidly emerging; and scientists are working to learn more about how easily they spread, whether they could cause more severe illness, and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect people against them.

The CDC is monitoring multiple variants. Currently there are four notable variants in the U.S.:

  • 1.1.7 (Alpha): This variant was first detected in the U.S. in December 2020. It was initially detected in the United Kingdom.
  • 1.351 (Beta): This variant was first detected in the U.S. at the end of January 2021. It was initially detected in South Africa in December 2020.
  • 1 (Gamma): This variant was first detected in the U.S. in January 2021. P.1 was initially identified in travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at an airport in Japan, in early January.
  • 1.617.2 (Delta): This variant was first detected in the U.S. in March 2021. It was initially identified in India in December 2020.

These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than others, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially cause more deaths.

So far, studies suggest that the current authorized vaccines work on the circulating variants. Scientists will continue to study these and other variants.

Reimbursement for Vaccine Administration

The state Department of Health has updated its policy and billing guidance document on Medicaid reimbursement for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use.

The new information includes:

As announced in Executive Order 210 the New York State Declared Disaster Emergency has ended, effective June 25, 2021. NY Medicaid’s policy for the administration of COVID-19 vaccine will continue to remain in effect in accordance with the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act). As additional COVID-19 vaccines become available under an EUA, or are otherwise approved by the FDA, this billing guidance will be updated as needed.

Non-NIOSH-approved Disposable Respirators

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is revoking the Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for non-NIOSH-approved disposable respirators (the revocation is effective July 6, 2021) and the EUAs for decontamination and bioburden reduction systems (the revocation is effective June 30, 2021).

These devices will no longer be authorized for use by health care personnel in health care settings. In a May 27 letter, the FDA had already recommended a transition away from non-NIOSH-approved disposable respirators as well as from reusing decontaminated or bioburden-reduced disposable respirators.

Based on the increased domestic supply of respirators, the CDC’s updated recommendations, and a recent Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the FDA believes health care facilities should no longer use crisis capacity strategies.

More information is here.

COVID Impact on the Medicare Population

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released a snapshot of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Medicare population from January 1, 2020 to April 24, 2021. The updated data shows over 4.3 million COVID-19 cases and over 1.2 million COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Surgeon General Warning on Misinformation

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has issued the first Surgeon General’s Advisory of the Biden Administration to warn the American public about the urgent threat of health misinformation and call for a whole-of-society approach to address health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

It states that health misinformation, including disinformation, have threatened the U.S. response to COVID-19 and continue to prevent Americans from getting vaccinated, prolonging the pandemic and putting lives at risk. The advisory encourages technology and social media companies to take more responsibility to stop online spread of health misinformation.

J&J Vaccine and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

On July 13, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced revisions to the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) fact sheets for the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine to include information regarding an observed increased risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after administration of the vaccine.

Although the available evidence suggests an increased risk of GBS after vaccination with J&J vaccine, there is not enough evidence to establish a causal relationship at present. No similar signal has been identified for either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Updates to the EUA fact sheet for health care providers include a warning about GBS and information regarding the adverse event reports suggesting an increased risk for GBS. The fact sheet for vaccine recipients has been updated to include information about GBS and explains that those who receive the Janssen vaccine should seek medical attention right away if they develop certain symptoms.