June 2, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The Food and Drug Administration’s expert advisory panel on vaccines will consider new drug trial data from Pfizer and Moderna that the companies hope will result in approved vaccines for 20 million children ages 6 months to four years old.

Pfizer says its three-dose infant vaccination is about one-tenth the strength of the adult vaccines and that the vaccines have about an 80% efficacy rate. The first two doses of the vaccine are given three weeks apart, followed by a third dose at least two months later.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet June 14 and 15 to offer guidance on the pediatric doses. The full FDA generally — but not always — follows the panel’s guidance, and then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also considers the drug trial evidence. If all of the panels and agencies approve, the vaccines could be available before schools reopen at the end of summer.

Pfizer has been close to this position and asked for FDA approval before but withdrew the application when field trials did not find a two-dose regimen to be as effective as the FDA wanted.

Moderna’s emergency application for an infant-toddler dose has been pending since late April. Moderna is asking for approval of a two-dose vaccine plus a booster dose. The Moderna pediatric vaccine uses two 25-microgram doses four weeks apart.

You will probably get COVID-19 over and over, epidemiologist says

Clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim tells The Atlantic’s Katherine J. Wu that some people have gotten infected with each new COVID-19 wave — and that may continue.

Aubree Gordon, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, added, “We will all get SARS-CoV-2 multiple times in our life.”

That is similar to how we experience the seasonal flu and even the common cold. What we do not know, Wu writes, is whether future COVID-19 infections will be worse. We also do not know if some symptoms will linger for months in some people .

I thought this passage was useful:

“There are still very good reasons” to keep exposures few and far between, Landon, of the University of Chicago, told me. Putting off reinfection creates fewer opportunities for harm: The dice are less likely to land on severe disease (or chronic illness) when they’re rolled less often overall. It also buys us time to enhance our understanding of the virus and improve our tools to fight it. “The more we know about COVID when we get COVID,” the better off we’ll be, she said.

COVID-19 infections 90 days apart

There is reason to believe that once you have had COVID-19, you carry some immunity to the virus. But we are learning that, for some people, that immunity is short-lived. Forbes reports that researchers are documenting cases where patients get infected three months after the last illness:

The CDC has released a report documenting 10 cases where people were confirmed to be infected with the Delta coronavirus variant and were then reinfected with the Omicron variant, less than 90 days later. A genetic analysis technique called whole-genome-sequencing conclusively identified which variant was present in the people for each different infection and the cases were collected from 4 States between October 2021 and January 2022.

“One persuasive belief around reinfections is that they merely represent prolonged viral shedding,” said Samira Jeimy, MD, PhD, Program Director of the Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, at Western University in Ontario, Canada. “So, this is the most striking message of the paper, that whole genome sequencing confirmed two discrete infections,” Jeimy added.

This finding underscores the value of vaccinations which, the CDC says, provide a more predictable and longer-lasting immunity than the so-called “natural immunity” that comes from having been infected.

Baby formula shortage gets worse

President Joe Biden meets virtually with infant formula manufacturers from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, as his administration works to ease nationwide shortages by importing foreign supplies and using the Defense Production Act to speed domestic production. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Baby formula manufacturers say they saw the shortage coming months ago, even though the Biden administration says it only became aware of the problem in April.

The federal government is still playing catch-up with the emergency. The president said airlifts are underway from Europe and Australia to get more formula to the United States. Operation “Fly Formula” will move 3.7 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of Kendamil infant formula to retailers around the country.

The White House said another effort will fly 4.6 million bottles of Bubs Australia infant formulas from Australia to Pennsylvania and California on June 9 and June 11.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the most recent data shows the baby formula shortage is not improving:

Nationally, 23% of powdered baby formula was out of stock in the week ended May 22, compared with 21% during the previous week, according to the latest figures from market-research firm IRI. In the first week of January and before the recall of formula produced by Abbott Laboratories, 11% of powdered baby formula was out of stock because of pandemic-related supply-chain shortages and inflation. Before the pandemic, the normal out-of-stock range for powdered formula was 5% to 7%, according to IRI.

Want a new car? You will still wait 6 to 8 weeks.

The Beige Book — the Federal Reserve’s monthly report from Federal Reserve Banks around the country — is always a great story starter. This week’s report includes some ideas:

  • Almost all new cars delivered to dealers are still being pre-sold 6-8 weeks in advance.
  • Manufacturing wage increases were moderate to strong, and some sought to compensate workers for inflation with one-time bonuses rather than—or, in some cases, on top of— permanent wage increases. Although upward wage pressures persisted for most positions, some employers sought to reverse “COVID wage premiums” but faced resistance from workers seeking compensation for inflation. Competition for scarce labor was intense, particularly in specialized roles, as workers were reportedly “besieged” with offers. Employers and staffing firms tended to describe hiring and retention of employees as their biggest challenge.
  • Among the firms with the strongest results, a manufacturer of laboratory equipment said that business was up across all product lines except those related to COVID testing, and a semiconductor manufacturer continued to enjoy record-breaking sales growth.
  • At the other end, a garden hose maker lamented that supply chain issues were driving up prices and that retail customers increasingly balked at paying them.
  • Contacts described many firms as “hunkering down” in anticipation of a recession – hiring managers are more carefully assessing their future needs, and firms are deploying automation wherever possible. Also, the share of manufacturers that expect to hire more workers fell to one-third from over one-half in December.
  • One large grocery chain said that “customers have recently taken aggressive steps to save. They’ve shifted from national brands to cheaper store brands. They are also doing things such as purchasing half a gallon of milk instead of a gallon.”
  • Lenders noted that delinquency rates for commercial and consumer loans remained low but that they expected higher borrowing costs would lead to an uptick in delinquency rates in the months ahead.
  • Leisure travel remained strong, and contacts reported that group travel had started to come back. More weddings and smaller events occurred, but conventions have not fully returned yet.
  • One luxury car dealership in Northern Mississippi said that they are starting to sell fewer large cars and more small, fuel-efficient cars as demand shifts due to rising gas prices.
  • Corn, soybean, and wheat prices were all up, as were prices for diesel and propane. Cool, wet weather slowed spring planting for corn and soybeans. In addition, concerns lingered about whether fertilizer would arrive at farms on time. Strong dairy exports helped boost milk prices. Bird flu continued to ravage poultry farms, pushing up egg prices. Hog prices moved sideways, while cattle prices were lower. As with crop farmers, livestock producers also faced higher input costs. Agricultural land prices continued to rise strongly.

Wine industry paying lots more for glass bottles

Shelves display bottles of wines for sale at a Pennsylvania fine wine and spirits store, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Harmony, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Journalists might not notice this price increase since your salaries dictate that your wine comes in boxes, but everyone else will see higher wine prices this summer because vineyards are paying a few dollars more for bottles. WSBT reports:

Three years ago it was our cans for beer and wine, now it’s the actual bottles,” Matthew Moersch, Moersch Hospitality Group CEO & Owner said.

Because of Covid, increased gas prices, and inflation, it’s difficult to get the bottles for the wine.

The wine industry saw a 30-percent increase in costs this year. Like Round Barn Winery, Tabor Hill, and The Wine Gallery at Villa Macri.

“What we’ve been up charged we have to pass it along to keep paying our awesome employees that we have and keep paying a tax man and the bankers,” Moersch said.

Colored glass — like that used for wine bottles — uses cobalt, copper and nickel. All of those elements are tougher to get right now.

Check with your local wine companies. Obviously smaller wineries will feel the pressure more than the big guys.

State and national parks attempt to fix racial gap in visitation

Pew’s Stateline reports:

Officials estimate that about 3 in 4 visitors to America’s state and national parks are White, well above the population rate of 60%.

Studies suggest millions of Black and Hispanic Americans miss out on the health benefits of being in nature—stress reduction, weight control and physical exercise among them—because they lack access to parks. Those add up to larger health costs.

In South Dakota, physicians can write a prescription for exercise that patients can turn in at a state park for a free day pass. State parks also work with nonprofit groups such as Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors and GirlTrek, all of which sponsor outings.

The Texas Outdoor Family program lends camping equipment to families, teaches them how to use it and guides them on their first camping trip.

Public libraries in Colorado offer free backpacks for check out containing park passes, maps, wildlife brochures and binoculars. Despite Colorado’s many outdoor opportunities, not all youth have access to them, said state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat and fly-fishing enthusiast, in an interview.

She sponsored a new outdoor equity grant program funded by the lottery that will provide $3 million a year to groups that work with disadvantaged youth and their families to have meaningful outdoor experiences.

It raises the question of what your state is doing to encourage more racial and ethnic minorities to explore the great outdoors.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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