Health

FDA recommends COVID vaccines update for fall

Morsa Images/Getty Images/Stock

(SILVER SPRING, Md.) -- The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said it had advised COVID-19 vaccine companies to produce an updated vaccine for this fall, an aim to give people broader and stronger immunity in an upcoming booster campaign ahead of the winter.

It’s the latest step in the FDA’s strategy to better keep up with the virus, moving quicker to address variants and working to make booster doses more effective.

The announcement comes after the FDA's advisers met earlier this week to discuss the various options for updated vaccine designs. In keeping with the advisers’ recommendations, the FDA selected a vaccine that will include two strains of COVID, the original Wuhan strain and the most recent omicron sub variants, BA.4 and BA.5, which is currently making up the majority of cases.

“The COVID-19 vaccines that the FDA has approved and authorized for emergency use have made a tremendous difference to public health and have saved countless lives in the U.S. and globally,” said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s vaccine chief, in a statement Thursday.

But the virus has “evolved significantly,” Marks said, making it necessary to better match the vaccines to the variants.

“As we move into the fall and winter, it is critical that we have safe and effective vaccine boosters that can provide protection against circulating and emerging variants to prevent the most severe consequences of COVID-19,” Marks said.

The hope is that updating the vaccines to more closely match the current variants will give people stronger protection for a longer period of time, and that including multiple strains of virus in the vaccine could give broader protection against new variants that are likely to arise in the future.

Still, the next few months will carry a lot of uncertainty, as manufacturers race to produce hundreds of millions of doses and the virus likely continues to mutate.

As the chair of the FDA’s advisory committee noted on Tuesday, planning vaccines ahead of time to try to protect against unknown COVID-19 variants is “unchartered territory.”

“Unfortunately -- looking in the past doesn't help us a great deal to look in the future for this virus, which has baffled a lot of us and made predictions almost irrelevant,” said Arnold Monto, the committee chair.

But experts are hopeful that updating the vaccines to bring them closer to the latest variants will still be beneficial, even if it won’t be a perfect match by fall.

The government has already purchased $3.2 billion worth of vaccines from Pfizer, which amounts to 105 million doses. The order includes doses for adults, adolescents and children.

The contract came with an option to order an additional 195 million doses, bringing the total to 300 million, which would nearly cover the U.S. population.

But for now, the White House has run into funding troubles.

After months of Congressional gridlock over a request for $22.5 billion for COVID preparedness, the White House pulled $10 billion from other COVID efforts, including testing, to buy $5 billion worth of vaccines and another $5 billion of therapeutics.

The government is likely to also contract with Moderna, which could increase the available doses, but in the meantime the White House has so far only secured enough doses to boost the country’s most vulnerable people, White House COVID coordinator Ashish Jha said Wednesday.

There are around 118 million Americans over the age of 50, 55 million of whom are 65 and older — the highest risk group for the virus. The Pfizer order alone could cover this group, if manufacturing all goes to plan.

But there are over 258 million Americans over the age of 18, and the White House said it’s committed to securing doses for everyone “who may benefit.”

“As we warned Congress months ago, our fall vaccine order will not be sufficient to make a vaccination available to every adult who may benefit from these new booster shots and comes with trade-offs,” Jha said, calling on Congress to act.

“We lack funding to purchase enough vaccines to cover all Americans who may want this protection.”

Of course, it remains to be seen how many Americans that will be. Only 105 million Americans have gotten their first booster dose, about half of the people who got their initial series, which could be a sign that demand for boosters will continue to be low this fall.

Both Pfizer and Moderna plan to have doses available by October and November.

Before that happens, the companies will submit their data on these vaccines to the FDA, which will issue an authorization if it finds them to be safe and effective.

The FDA has not asked the companies to alter their designs for primary doses — the initial two shots for mRNA vaccines — calling this year a “transitional period” and saying that the primary series still gives good protection against hospitalization.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.
 

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New York City's COVID test positivity rate surpasses 10% for the first time since January

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- New York City's COVID-19 test positivity rate is skyrocketing, indicating that a sixth wave of the virus could be around the corner.

As of June 26 -- the latest date for which data is available -- the test positivity rate hit 10.05%, according to the city's Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

It marks the first time the rate has surpassed 10% since Jan. 22, when the omicron wave was still hammering the Big Apple.

Experts previously suggested the true test positivity rate could even be higher due to the number of people testing positive with at-home rapid tests and not reporting their results to health officials.

This reflects trends also being seen on the national level, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

As of June 26, the seven-day average for the COVID test positivity rate in the United States was 15.65%, the highest figure recorded since Feb. 3.

Additionally, COVID-19 cases are also on the rise, with the seven-day average sitting at 3,216, city data shows -- a 9% percent increase from the 2,946 average recorded two weeks ago.

However, hospitalizations are continuing to fall while deaths remain flat.

The majority of COVID-19 cases continue to be among the unvaccinated. As of June 11, the case rate among the unvaccinated was 1,046.04 per 100,000, data from the New York health department shows.

Comparatively, the rate among those who are vaccinated and boosted was four times lower at 259.4 cases per 100,000, while the rate among those vaccinated but not boosted even lower at 156.4 per 100,000.

Earlier this week, Dr. Jay Varma, an infectious diseases physician and former Mayor Bill de Blasio's senior advisor for public health, tweeted this is likely the beginning of a wave caused by BA.5, an omicron subvariant.

"BA.5 was [around] 17% of cases two weeks ago so [it's] likely much higher now," he tweeted. "Experience from other countries means there will be another big increase in NYC COVID-19 infections, including among those who have had omicron in [the] past few months."

Varma added, "Unclear from lab data [and] elsewhere how much this will increase hospitalizations & deaths. At a minimum, I can be confident predicting that BA.5 will lead to more days when people are out of work, kids home from school/camp and more people suffering from long COVID."

Across the U.S., BA.5 makes up 36.6% of all COVID-19 cases, CDC data shows, which is more than double the prevalence from two weeks prior. Combined with another subvariant, BA.4, they make up more than half of all cases.

Meanwhile, BA.1 -- the original omicron variant -- accounts for no cases, according to the data.

"BA.4 and BA.5 have come out of nowhere the last two weeks." Dr. Roy Gulick, chief of the division of infectious diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, told ABC News. "They are more transmissible than the other recent variants we've seen, they're less susceptible to antibodies both from previous infection or from vaccination -- but they don't seem to cause more severe disease."

In response, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, announced Thursday the agency is asking COVID-19 vaccine developers, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to develop a booster shot that can target the subvariants.

"As we move into the fall and winter, it is critical that we have safe and effective vaccine boosters that can provide protection against circulating and emerging variants to prevent the most severe consequences of COVID-19," Marks said in a statement.

In light of the rise of cases, Gulick recommends people still keep following known mitigation measures that work including avoiding large crowds and wearing a mask if crowds are unavoidable.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Spike in Google searches for abortion pills may lead to rise in unsafe abortions: Study

Elisa Wells/Plan C/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A spike in internet searches for abortion pills may indicate women in the United States will try to obtain the medication without a doctor's oversight, a new study finds.

Researchers from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and the University of California, San Diego examined online searches following a leaked draft opinion on May 2 from the Supreme Court indicating Roe v. Wade would be overturned. The court eventually did so on June 24.

The team analyzed Google search trends that mentioned "abortion pill" or "abortion medications" from Jan. 1, 2004 -- when the search engine first began collecting data -- through May 8, 2022.

Results showed the week following the leaked draft opinion corresponded with a record-high number of searches on Google in the U.S. with 350,000 searches from May 1 to May 8.

When the team looked at the data based on hourly trends, they found that in the 72 hours following the leaked opinion, there was a 162% increase in online searches relating to abortion medications.

At-home medication abortions involve someone taking two pills to end a pregnancy and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use up to 10 weeks after conception.

The first pill is mifepristone, which was authorized by the FDA in 2000. It works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which the body needs to continue a pregnancy.

This causes the uterine lining to stop thickening and break down, detaching the embryo. The second drug, misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours later, causes the uterus to contract and dilates the cervix, which will expel the embryo.

Lawmakers in at least 12 states have introduced bans or restrictions on medication abortion in 2022, including barring the mailing of pills and preventing them from being accessed via telehealth, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that focuses on sexual and reproductive health, and further reporting.

Results also showed states with more restrictions on abortion had higher search volumes than states with fewer restrictions.

Nebraska had the highest search volume, followed by Iowa and Missouri, respectively.

The team said its study is limited because it cannot confirm any searches for these medications were linked to abortion attempts.

But residents of these restrictive states trying to obtain abortion medications that traditionally require a prescription is an alarming trend as it suggests that they will attempt unsafe abortions with potentially unregulated, counterfeit pills and without physician oversight.

"Elevated interest in abortion medications should alert physicians that many of their patients may pursue this option with or without them," the authors wrote.

Dr. Erica Jalal contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What you need to know about medication abortion after the overturning of Roe v. Wade

ELISA WELLS/PLAN C/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, many pregnant people living in states where abortion is now illegal are expected to turn to medication abortion, also known as the abortion pill. For now, it is still legal in most states to receive this medication by mail.

A medication abortion consists of two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol. This combination of pills can be used to end an early pregnancy, up to 10 weeks.

These medications are prescribed by a health care provider and can be taken wherever people feel comfortable. The abortion pill is one of two ways to safely end a pregnancy, the other option being an in-person procedure. In the U.S. currently, medication abortion accounts for half of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that focuses on sexual and reproductive health.

Now, with in-clinic abortion services banned or threatened in more than half of U.S. states, the abortion pill is expected to become an even more important option.

Are these medications safe?

The Food and Drug Administration and major physician groups have found these medications to be safe and effective.

“Medication abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy has been demonstrated to be so safe that sonograms are no longer needed to detect ectopic pregnancies before the medication is administered,” said Dr. Jacques Moritz, a board-certified OB/GYN and medical director at Tia, a healthcare system centered around female-related care.

“Medication abortions pose no increased risk to the mother’s health nor impacts future pregnancies," Moritz said. "Medication abortion can be likened to undergoing a spontaneous miscarriage in terms of the expected effects of the procedure.”

This medication should not be used by those with bleeding conditions, long term steroid therapy and adrenal failure, or people who have a contraceptive IUD present in the uterus.

How are these medications taken?

When terminating a pregnancy, 200 mg of mifepristone is taken orally; 24 to 48 hours after taking mifepristone, 800 mg of misoprostol is taken buccally (in the cheek pouch). About seven to 14 days after taking mifepristone, patients should follow-up with their health care provider.

What should someone expect when having a medication abortion?

People undergoing a medication abortion can expect vaginal bleeding greater than normal as well as pelvic cramping and pain. The success rate of medical abortion is 95-98%.

Other common side effects of a medicated abortion include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, chills, headache and dizziness. Typically, medications are needed for pain relief such as NSAIDs for most people.

What else are these medications used for?

Misoprostol can be used to induce labor by softening and opening the cervix in patients ready to give birth vaginally, prevents drug induced gastric ulcers and treats postpartum hemorrhage in combination with oxytocin.

Mifepristone can also treat persistently high blood glucose in patients with Cushing Syndrome.

How is the abortion pill different from Plan B or emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is intended to prevent pregnancy from occurring after unprotected intercourse rather than terminating an already existing pregnancy.

Emergency contraception or Plan B is an oral medication that contains levonorgestrel, which prevents ovulation and fertilization of an egg. This treatment option does not affect existing pregnancies and cannot cause abortion.

The emergency contraception pills should not be used as a long-term contraceptive method since repeated use can cause menstrual irregularities and is not as effective as other known options, such as IUDs, depot shots and birth control pills.

What other abortion options are present?

Both medical and surgical abortions are available in both the first and second trimesters. In the first trimester, surgical abortion is called uterine aspiration and is offered up to 13 weeks of pregnancy. This procedure takes place under anesthesia, takes less than 15 minutes to complete and is greater than 99% effective, which allows for women to leave the medical center knowing their abortion is complete.

“Both are excellent options, and it really comes down to personal preference and sometimes logistics,” said Dr. Gariepy, the director of complex family planning at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We saw an increase in the number of abortions that were accomplished via medical abortion during the pandemic because of all the various health restrictions, lack of access to clinics, etc. during COVID.”

Although less common, the CDC found that in 2019, 7.2% of abortions happen in the second trimester or after 13 weeks.

In the second trimester between 13 and 20 weeks of pregnancy, a medical abortion is called an induction abortion, and is done in a hospital or clinic setting where monitoring can occur. A combination of misoprostol and mifepristone as well as anesthesia and pain medication are given, with the abortion usually taking 12 to 24 hours to complete.

Surgical abortion in the second trimester is called a dilation and evacuation (D&E). In a D&E, the cervix will be dilated with medication or dilator rods and then a suction device is used to remove all fetal tissue present in the uterus.

"The reasons someone may prefer a medication abortion is for privacy, the fact that you don’t have to have surgery, and the fact that you can take the pills at home with a loved one, and your heating blanket,” said Gariepy.

Erica Jalal, MD, is an internal medicine resident physician at George Washington University and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Emma Egan is an MPH candidate at Brown University and a contributor to the ABC Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Baby neck floats could lead to severe injury, death: FDA

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images, FILE

(WASHINGTON) -- The Food and Drug Administration issued a new alert this week, warning parents not to use baby neck floats on their children, particularly those with special needs, as part of a water therapy program because doing so could be fatal or lead to serious injury.

"Neck floats are inflatable plastic rings that can be worn around a baby's neck and allow babies to float freely in water," the FDA explained in a safety communication released Tuesday, adding that they are sometimes marketed for premature babies and babies as young as 2 weeks old, and as water-therapy products.

The FDA also said the "safety and effectiveness of neck floats to build strength, to promote motor development or as a physical therapy tool, have not been established."

According to the agency, neck floats "as therapy interventions" are especially hazardous for babies with developmental delays; birth defects or genetic disorders, such as cerebral palsy; Down syndrome; spina bifida; or spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1.

"The use of neck floats in babies with special needs can lead to increased risk of neck strain and injury," the FDA said in a recommendation to parents and caregivers.

The FDA believes injury or death from neck floats is rare but noted that one baby who had been placed in a baby neck float had been hospitalized and another died. It also noted that there may be a chance other cases have gone unreported.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents in general avoid using "floaties" or inflatable swimming aids on children as they can provide kids a false sense of security. They also note that floats and swimming aids are not adequate substitutes for life jackets.

"The market will keep coming up with ways to float infants and adults and market them. This is not a lifesaving device, not designed to be. We consistently say anything inflatable is only a toy; and can deflate. No child should be unsupervised or left alone in water, even with a personal flotation device or if wearing a US Coast Guard approved life jacket," Dr. Linda Quan, an AAP spokesperson, told ABC News in a statement.

The FDA asks individuals to file a report if they know of any baby or individual injured by a neck float through their online voluntary reporting form.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Fauci says he's taking 2nd course of Paxlovid after experiencing rebound with the antiviral treatment

Anna Rose Layden-Pool/Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- After testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that he has joined a growing group of people experiencing a Paxlovid rebound, following treatment with Pfizer's antiviral.

Fauci, 81, said that when he first tested positive two weeks ago, he had very minimal symptoms. However, when he began to feel worse, "given [his] age," he was prescribed Paxlovid.

Other than fatigue and a bit of congestion, Fauci reported that he felt "really quite well," and after his five-day course of Paxlovid, he tested negative with a rapid test.

However, after testing negative for three consecutive days, Fauci said he decided to take one more test out of precaution and subsequently found himself positive again on the fourth day.

"It was sort of what people are referring to as a Paxlovid rebound," Fauci said during a remote interview with the Foreign Policy Global Health Forum on Tuesday.

Over the course of the next day, he began to feel "really poorly," and "much worse than in the first go around," he added.

Paxlovid is authorized in the U.S. for people with mild-to-moderate symptoms of COVID-19, who are at significant risk of progressing to severe illness.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked doctors to be on the lookout for the seemingly rare, but increasingly reported phenomenon.

"Paxlovid continues to be recommended for early-stage treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 among persons at high risk for progression to severe disease," the CDC wrote in a health alert in May.

The rebounding phenomenon, which is described as a recurrence of COVID-19 symptoms or the development of a new positive viral test after having tested negative, has been found to occur between two and eight days after initial recovery. A brief return of COVID-19 symptoms may be part of the "natural history" of the virus, officials wrote, and may occur in some people, regardless of treatment with Paxlovid or vaccination status.

Just last week, Fauci told reporters during a White House COVID-19 briefing that he was feeling well after testing positive and taking his first course of Paxlovid.

"All is well with Fauci and thank you for asking," Fauci said. "I'm vaccinated. I'm doubly boosted. And I believe if that were not the case, I very likely would not be talking to you, looking as well as I look, I think, right now."

However, after his COVID-19 recurrence, Fauci was prescribed another course of Paxlovid, he said. As of Tuesday, he is on his fourth day of a five-day course.

"I am on my fourth day of a five-day course of my second course of Paxlovid. And fortunately, I feel reasonably good. I mean, I'm not complete[ly] without symptoms, but I certainly don't feel acutely ill," Fauci said.

Health officials have reported that while information is still limited, available data suggests that most people who experience the rebound are not likely to suffer from severe forms of disease.

At this time, CDC states that there is currently no evidence that an additional treatment of Paxlovid, is needed, following a rebound.

The Food and Drug Administration also says that “there is no evidence of benefit at this time for a longer course of treatment … or repeating a treatment course of Paxlovid in patients with recurrent COVID-19 symptoms following completion of a treatment course.”

The CDC currently recommends that doctors advise their patients with COVID-19 rebound to follow CDC’s guidance on isolation and take additional precautions to prevent transmission.

Patients should re-isolate for at least five days, and per agency guidance, can end their re-isolation period after five full days, if fever has dissipated for 24 hours and symptoms are improving, the CDC says. Physicians are also recommended to tell their patients to wear a mask for a total of 10 days after rebound symptoms started, the agency said.

"Regardless of whether the patient has been treated with an antiviral agent, risk of transmission during COVID-19 rebound can be managed by following CDC’s guidance on isolation, including taking other precautions such as masking," the agency wrote in May.

Earlier this month, Pfizer also reported new clinical trial data that showed that Paxlovid did significantly reduce the risk of going to the hospital or dying in people with standard risk of developing severe illness. However, the company said the treatment still works well in high-risk individuals.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Health officials plan for updated vaccines with an eye on COVID’s unpredictability

APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Updated COVID-19 vaccines that could better match the more recent variants are on the way.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's committee of independent advisors met and recommended that the vaccines should target the latest omicron variant, kicking off the process for distribution of the new vaccines this fall.

That could be good news for the fight against the virus. But the next few months hold a lot of uncertainty.

Many vaccine scientists agree that as the virus evolves, vaccines should be updated along with it. But scientists caution that planning ahead in this pandemic is challenging. A new variant could emerge by the fall, rendering even new vaccines old by then.

There's also a question of how many people will get the shot -- both because the government doesn't have enough funding to secure vaccines for everyone, and because less than half of eligible Americans have received their first booster shots.

That said, the vaccine companies have been testing different strategies for a new-and-improved booster shot.

On Tuesday, the FDA's advisers reviewed the data and favored a bivalent vaccine -- a type of vaccine that targets two strains of virus in the same shot. They recommended that it include the latest omicron subvariant and the original strain, generally supporting it because it could protect more broadly against future variants.

FDA leadership will announce the final decision sometime in early July, incorporating the advisers' discussion from Tuesday.

Health officials are aiming to roll out the newly designed vaccines in early October, said Dr. Peter Marks, who oversees the FDA's vaccine department.

The goal is to get ahead of a potential surge next winter.

"That combination of waning immunity, combined with the potential emergence of novel variants during a time this winter when we will move inside as a population, increases our risk of a major COVID-19 outbreak," Marks said.

"And for that reason, we have to give serious consideration to a booster campaign this fall to help protect us during this period from another COVID-19 surge," he said.

How much better will the new vaccines be?

Scientists cautioned that existing vaccines are still working well to prevent severe illness.

And while newer shots will help, they might not be significantly better at preventing more mild breakthrough illness.

"It will be better than what we have now, but I don't think we are going to see 94% again," said Dr. Paul Goepfert, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The current vaccines, designed to match the original Wuhan virus, initially showed efficacy of 94% -- but that's now thought to be an untenable goal because of rapidly-evolving new variants, Goepfert said.

"It's essentially an arms race," said Dr. Dan Barouch, author on the recent study and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "As the population becomes more immune, the virus becomes more and more immune evasive."

Updated vaccines "will be helpful," Barouch said, but are unlikely to be a "game changer" that end the need for future boosters.

The political snag getting in the way

The other major caveat to the rollout of new vaccines this fall is funding -- the battle over which has been stuck in a stalemate on Capitol Hill since the winter.

The White House has since pulled funds out of COVID test manufacturing and put it toward contract negotiations for the newest vaccines, but the decision leaves the US vulnerable to a testing shortage, and still doesn't fully do the job.

"It's very clear we're not going to have enough vaccines for every adult who wants one," Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID coordinator, said last week.

Jha called the decision to move money away from testing "incredibly painful," but necessary to avoid missing out on orders entirely as other countries placed theirs.

"Contract negotiators on behalf of the US government are going to enter into contract negotiations with Moderna and Pfizer with the resources that we've been able to … cobble together for vaccines for the fall," Jha said.

The government will purchase enough for high-risk Americans to get the latest vaccines, Jha said.

But it's unclear how the rest of the population will get access to the vaccines. On one hand, demand for vaccines has continued to drop since the initial doses. If that trend continues and fewer people want a vaccine, it's possible that the government's smaller order could still cover people who want one.

And some experts don't think everyone will need a booster in the fall, like Dr. Paul Offitt, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who said he thinks re-upping antibody levels ahead of a likely winter surge would be beneficial for high-risk groups, but not necessary for everybody.

Another option is for insurance companies to step in and cover vaccines, rather than the government distributing them for free. Jha dismissed this option, though, calling it too soon to switch to the private market because there's still too much competition for ordering doses among countries and insurance companies wouldn't have enough leverage.

"There is not a commercialization plan that somehow would be ready in time for this fall and winter," Jha said.

Yet vaccine companies have indicated that they're ready to distribute their vaccines through insurance companies and won't leave the American market behind.

Though it's still months away, both the White House and the vaccine companies have committed to devising a plan as fall draws closer.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Potential recession would harm mental health: Experts

elenaleonova/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Jey Austen, a brand designer at a fintech company, lost their job about two weeks ago. But the layoff didn’t come as a surprise, said Austen, 27, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns.

A market downturn in recent months has hammered the tech industry, eliciting a wave of layoffs. Austen, whose lease on an apartment in Austin, Texas ends in August, will receive three weeks of severance pay but otherwise lacks savings, they said.

“Worst comes to worst, I’ll sleep in my car,” said Austen, who was making $80,000 a year. “It’s a sucky situation all around.”

Compounding the stress, Austen will likely struggle to afford their usual weekly therapy appointments, they said. To save money, they’re considering a reduction to bi-weekly or monthly appointments. “Therapy was already expensive,” Austen said.

Austen is hardly alone. So far this year, more than 21,000 tech workers have been laid off, according to Crunchbase. While notable, the layoffs make up a small fraction of the 8.9 million tech employees nationwide, according to an employment tally from the industry trade group CompTIA.

Across the economy, acute financial distress could grow as the Federal Reserve pursues a series of rate hikes that aim to dial back sky-high inflation but risk tipping the economy into a recession, experts told ABC News earlier this month.

Nearly 70% of economists believe that a recession will begin at some point next year, according to a survey of 49 macroeconomists conducted by the Financial Times and Chicago University’s Booth School of Business this month.

Research has linked economic recessions -- a shrinking of economic output that lasts at least several months -- with a rise in mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and even suicide, experts told ABC News. In hard economic times, the prevalence of potentially catastrophic financial events -- such as job loss or foreclosure -- exacerbates preexisting mental health challenges and gives rise to new ones, worsening such challenges further if a financial downturn persists over many months or years.

Moreover, since the U.S. healthcare system largely ties insurance to employment, the loss of a job often compromises access to mental health support when a person needs it most, the experts said. The prospect of heightened mental health issues -- combined with inadequate support -- poses added concern in light of the pandemic, which has already taken a toll on the psyches of many people, the experts added.

“After COVID, there was an unprecedented rise in mental health issues,” Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. “This coming in the wake of that is a real double whammy.”

Typically, the economy loses millions of jobs in a recession. During the Great Recession, between 2007 and 2009, nonfarm employment dropped by 6.8 million jobs while the unemployment rate rose from 4.8% to 9.6%, according to the Federal Reserve of St. Louis.

A robust, decades-long body of research links economic downturns with a rise in mental health issues, establishing the role played by a spike in major hardships tied to employment, housing, and other financial supports, experts told ABC News.

A 2019 study published in the Association for Psychological Science -- which examined individuals affected by the Great Recession -- found an increase in depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use among those who underwent even a single major hardship, such as job loss or foreclosure, let alone multiple incidents.

The loss of a job during the Great Recession increased the risk of a mood disorder in the U.S. by 22%, according to a study released last year by researchers at the University of Alberta that examined the available literature on the subject. The researchers also found found 1.2 to 5.8 times higher odds of a major depressive episode associated with the experience of home foreclosure during the Great Recession.

“Pre-existing mental health issues get worse, and mental health issues newly arise for some undergoing economic hardship,” Ralph Catalano, a professor of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News. “How would you feel if you lost your job?”

Chris Ruhm, a economics and public policy professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in the health effects of economic downturns, put it bluntly: “When the economy gets worse, mental health gets worse,” he said

One alarming finding shows a correlation between recessions and increased rates of suicide, Ruhm said. Between 2008 and 2010, the first three years following the financial crisis, the suicide rate rose at a pace more than four times higher than it had over the eight years prior to the crisis, according to a 2012 study in The Lancet. “We’ve known for many years that the suicide rate goes up reliably with the unemployment rate,” Ruhm said.

The adverse mental health effects of an economic downturn fall disproportionately on low-income people and minorities, since they’re less likely to have built up savings or alternative sources of wealth that could soften the blow, experts said.

“People of lower socioeconomic status are always more adversely affected by things like this,” Catalano said. “They have a more difficult time when recessions come.”

The scale of such mental health effects depends on the severity and duration of a recession, experts said. A long recession can prolong the time that individuals spend out of work, deepening mental health struggles as a person grapples with financial stress and possible feelings of self-blame, experts said. “When there’s a more severe recession, the effects are going to be more severe,” said Ruhm, the economics professor at the University of Virginia.

To be sure, the U.S. economy could avoid a recession altogether. If a recession does occur, it could prove short and mild, some economists predict. A mild downturn would blunt many of the worst mental health effects, in part because people are better equipped to withstand a brief financial challenge with savings or government support, experts said.

“With economic downturns that are short, it’s not an enormous effect,” said Kessler, the professor at Harvard Medical School. “A lot of resources are there to buffer for those types of things.”

Still, a potential recession brings stress, in part because the extent of financial difficulty remains uncertain, even for those in the middle and upper-middle class, Ruhm said. “In general, people live with a degree of anxiety and uncertainty,” he said.

A New York City-based employee at the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase -- who was laid off this month and requested anonymity due to the terms of a severance agreement -- said the prospect of a recession worries her because it could dry up job prospects after the severance pay runs out.

“What if a recession happens and I don’t get something?” she said. “How will I pay the rent?”

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


HHS to send out nearly 300,000 monkeypox vaccine doses across US in coming weeks

Jasmine Merdan/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration is planning to send out hundreds of thousands of monkeypox vaccines in response to the outbreak of the rare disease that has been identified in multiple non-endemic countries.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday on a call with reporters that it will be sending out 296,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine for prevention of the disease for people who have been exposed.

Of that number, 56,000 doses will become available immediately and an additional 240,000 doses will become available in a few weeks. Officials said they expect 750,000 more doses to become available over the summer, and an additional 500,000 doses throughout the fall.

This allows for a total of "1.6 million doses we wouldn't have had otherwise," Dr. David Boucher, director of infectious disease preparedness and response at HHS, told reporters during the call.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding its recommendation of who gets the monkeypox vaccine due to the difficulty identifying all contacts in the current outbreak.

Previously, the federal health agency only recommended vaccination for people who had been identified as being exposed through contact tracing.

But the CDC said it is now recommending the vaccine for those with confirmed and suspected exposures, including those who have had close physical contact with a person who was diagnosed, contact with a known sexual partner who was diagnosed, and men who have sex with men who were in an area with known monkeypox exposure.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on the call that, as of Tuesday evening, 4,700 monkeypox cases have been detected globally in 49 countries.

In the U.S. alone, 306 cases have been identified across 28 jurisdictions with no deaths.

Many cases have been reported among men who identify as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, but there is currently no evidence monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection -- and the experts emphasize that anyone can be infected.

Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC's Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said the majority of U.S. cases in this outbreak have occurred through intimate close contact as exposure to transmission via droplets.

However, officials advised Americans not to panic and that there are plenty of tests, vaccines and treatments for those who have been exposed to monkeypox.

"We want to remind folks this is not a novel virus," Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said. "Unlike COVID, monkeypox is a virus that has been around forever. We have known about it for 60-some-odd years and we have spent years treating it in endemic nations."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Some pharmacies limiting Plan B pill purchases as demand spikes

Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Two of the country’s largest pharmacy chains, CVS and Rite Aid, confirmed to ABC News this week that they had restricted the amount of Plan B or morning-after pills a customer could buy, following a spike in demand for emergency contraceptive drugs in recent days.

In the case of CVS, the restrictions have since been dropped, according to company officials.

The rise in demand for Plan B pills came after the Supreme Court ruled on Friday to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which previously set a 49-year precedent for legal abortion in the U.S., at the federal level.

Following the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested other past court decisions, including the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision -- which ensured the right of married couples to buy and use contraception, and the right to marital privacy -- should be reconsidered as well.

A CVS spokesperson told ABC News that while CVS pharmacies had temporarily limited Plan B purchases to three at a time, given high demand, the company had since eased those restrictions as sales leveled off.

"Immediately following the Supreme Court decision, we saw a sharp increase in the sale of emergency contraceptives and implemented a temporary purchase limit to ensure equitable access," the spokesperson said. "Sales have since stabilized and we're in the process of removing the purchase limits, which will take effect in-store and on CVS.com over the next 24 hours. We continue to have ample supply of emergency contraceptives to meet customer needs."

Rite Aid, as of Tuesday afternoon, was still restricting purchases of the morning after pill due to high demand.

A spokesperson told ABC News in a statement, that "due to increased demand, at this time we are limiting purchases of Plan B contraceptive pills to three per customer."

Walmart officials, meanwhile, have not said whether they will specifically place buying limits for morning-after pills. A company spokesperson told ABC News that "many of [Walmart's] products have online purchase limits in place," but did not specify what kind of limits, if any, would be applied to purchases of Plan B or morning-after pills.

"During times of fluctuating demand, these limits may change," they said.

Plan B or morning-after pills, which stop pregnancy before it happens, are different than abortion-inducing pills. Morning-after pills are instead a type of emergency contraception that can be taken orally up to five days after intercourse -- though it is recommended that they be taken within 72 hours, to be more effective -- to prevent an egg from being fertilized or delay ovulation, thus preventing unintended or undesired pregnancy.

Morning-after pills can be used when a birth control method fails, or if no birth control was used, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Levonorgestrel, the generic name of the drug used in Plan B, is sold over-the-counter under various brand names, including Plan B One-Step, AfterPill, Aftera, EContra One-Step, My Choice, My Way, Next Choice, Option 2, Preventeza, and Take Action.

Another type of morning-after pill, ulipristal acetate, is sold under the brand name Ella and usually requires a prescription.

This article has been updated to include comments from a Walmart spokesperson, and to add new information from a CVS spokesperson on the company's move to halt temporary purchasing limits on morning-after pills.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Millions remain unboosted, as scientists say 3rd COVID shot provides 'significant' protection

Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- As advisors to the FDA consider what type of COVID-19 shots should be offered in the fall, new federal data reveals a significant proportion of Americans have yet to receive their first and second boosters.

In May, federal officials authorized the use of COVID-19 boosters for children ages 5 to 11 years-old. However, now, nearly six weeks later, fewer than 10% of those eligible — representing just 1.7% of the age group — have been boosted, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Booster uptake among other young populations also continues to lag, with just 28.7% of eligible adolescents ages 12-17 boosted — representing 16% of the age group — and less than 40% of eligible 18- to 49-year-olds — representing 26.5% of the age group — boosted.

"Despite strong evidence for the value of a booster in providing more complete protection, we are seeing massive confusion on the need for third and fourth shots. The slow uptake has created public health vulnerability as we face a surge from the BA4 and BA5 variants and likely a new variant this coming Fall," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

Older Americans — people over 50 — have proven to be more likely to receive their first COVID-19 booster. Over 55% of the eligible 50- to 64-year-old age group, and 72% of eligible people 65 and older have received their first boost.

However, despite repeated encouragements from federal officials for the immunocompromised, as well as those over 50, to receive their second booster shot, uptake for the supplemental doses has been noticeably slower.

Since the rollout, earlier this spring, fewer than a fifth of eligible people ages 50 to 64 have received their second boost -- only about 8% of the age group. Uptake is a bit higher among the elderly, with 35% of those eligible — representing just 20% of the age group.

In May, the CDC announced that it is "strengthening" its recommendation for Americans over the age of 12 who are immunocompromised and those over the age of 50 receive their second booster shot.

"While older Americans have the highest coverage of any age group of first booster doses, most older Americans received their last dose (either their primary series or their first booster dose) many months ago, leaving many who are vulnerable without the protection they may need to prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death," the CDC wrote in a press release last month.

Health experts suggest that some booster uptake may increase in the fall, should a new generation of vaccines be made available.

"Muddled booster messaging has placed many Americans into a wait and see category, given the prospects for a more well-matched vaccine. While the current booster campaign has likely stalled out, it doesn’t mean we won’t see higher uptake when a vaccine that targets Omicron variants becomes available," Brownstein said.

During a presentation to the FDA's independent advisory committee, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), scientists outlined data showing that vaccine effectiveness with the current COVID-19 shots continues to wane with the latest variants.

However, a third COVID-19 dose was not only found to provide "significant" additional protection against infection and severe disease, but effectiveness also appeared to wane more slowly.

Although officials said it is still too early to draw conclusions about the protection provided by a second booster, the additional shot has been found to provide "substantial" additional protection among the immunocompromised.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden's health secretary unveils 'action plan' on abortion access

Alex Wong/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Tuesday unveiled what was called an "action plan" on abortion access as advocates call on President Joe Biden and his administration to do more in the wake of the Supreme Court stripping the constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

Becerra said there's no "magic bullet" that could restore Americans' constitutional right to abortion, but said the administration was working with its top legal advisers to explore every option.

"Stay tuned," he told reporters.

Becerra's comments are likely to be a steep disappointment for progressives after he promised to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. In his remarks, Becerra only noted that federal law allows for abortions through its Medicaid program in cases of rape and incest -- a standard at odds with states like Arkansas.

"Friday's Supreme Court decision was despicable. But it was not unpredictable. HHS has been preparing for this for some time," he began, before laying out largely existing policy protecting the right to abortion.

When pressed by ABC Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce on why he didn't have more concrete proposals if the ruling was predictable, Becerra noted that he wanted to ensure the administration was on firm legal ground.

"We're not interested in going rogue and doing things just because we want to make sure what we tell Americans is accurate -- because we hear, we know, a lot Americans are hearing a lot of inaccurate information," Becerra replied. "And so to every American who's impacted: My apologies that, I as I said, we can't tell you there's a silver bullet. But what I am saying to you is that the more we dig, we will do everything we can with what we find to make sure we're protecting women's reproductive health care services. It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law."

Among actions he ticked off, Becerra said he was directing his Office of Civil Rights to ensure patient privacy of anyone seeking reproductive care, working to ensure the clinical judgment of doctors is supported in treating patients at risk because of pregnancy and working to expand access to family planning and contraceptives.

He also said HHS will first take steps to increase access to medication abortion -- but he said later to "stay tuned" on what exactly those steps would be.

"How we respond will speak to how we view the rights, the dignity and the well-being of women everywhere," he said, before taking questions from reporters. "At HHS, we will leave no stone unturned."

Abortion rights groups have also pitched a variety of options for the federal government to take.

One option presented was to declare a public health emergency to free up federal funds, possibly to use for transportation, an idea supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But this approach would likely be challenged in court as a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds to cover almost all abortions. Becerra did not call for one Tuesday.

While some Democrats have urged the administration to look into whether reproductive health services could be provided on federal lands or on federal property, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shot down the idea Tuesday, saying anyone who is not a federal employee who utilized such facilities could be subject to prosecution under some state laws.

"We understand the proposal as well the intention but here's the thing, it could actually put women and providers at risk," she said.

Another idea is to loosen restrictions on the abortion pill so that it can be picked up at pharmacies. Currently, only registered clinicians can prescribe it and mail it. Pharmacies are not part of that network, which would require FDA regulatory action.

"Federal law requires our programs to provide medication abortion in certain circumstances, such as the life of the woman rate, or instance," Becerra said Tuesday. "Now more than ever, it is imperative that all federally supported programs and services are complying with the law."

While telehealth medicine is allowable under federal rules, it's not a loophole to circumvent state restrictions -- which Becerra acknowledged.

Asked about possible ways to help with transportation for women who may need to travel to another state to get an abortion, as Becerra hinted the administration was looking into on Monday, he said, "Once we tell you exactly what we believe we are able to do, have the money to do, we will let you know, but until then, what I can simply say to you is every option is on the table."

Right now, the only legal option a person has in a restricted state for abortion services would be to travel to a state where it is allowed.

"It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law," a careful Becerra said.

Otherwise, the person can go online and engage providers who are outside the scope of the U.S. regulatory system, such as the international organization Aid Access, which says it will prescribe the pill to women in the U.S. for 95 euros regardless of where they live. The FDA does not recommend this, although advocates say the group is using a reputable pharmacy in India.

"We're going to stay within the confines of the law," Becerra stressed, "even though it's a lot I personally believe jeopardizes the health of women."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Evolution is on omicron subvariants’ side

Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A new study finds that as the coronavirus continues to evolve, each new omicron subvariant is increasingly likely to lead to reinfection or breakthrough infection. However, researchers say current vaccines are still doing a good job of protecting people against severe illness.

Meanwhile, vaccine makers are working on new and improved boosters that will hopefully be a better match against omicron and its subvariants. Food and Drug Administration advisers are slated to meet on June 28 to discuss the new booster shots.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, echoes prior studies, and the finding is consistent with what we're seeing in the real world. Working in a laboratory, researchers measured neutralizing antibody response against the original Wuhan variant, compared to the new omicron variant and many of its sub variants.

Antibody levels are one measure of immune response, and often used as a rough indication of a variant's ability cause reinfection or breakthrough infection. Other parts of your immune system, like T-cells, are harder to measure but are a much better indicator of how well protected you are against severe disease.

Researchers found neutralizing antibody levels were six-fold lower against the original omicron variant, fourteen-fold lower against BA.2.12.1, and twenty-fold lower against BA.4/BA.5.

The BA.2.12.1 sub variant is currently dominant in the U.S., but the BA.4/BA.5 sub variants have been growing proportionally and now account for more than a third of estimated cases.

"It's essentially an arms race," said Dr. Dan Barouch, author on the recent study and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "As the population becomes more immune, the virus becomes more and more immune evasive."

The good news, said Barouch, is current vaccines are still working to dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease. "That's the most important goal of vaccination."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Poor women of color will bear brunt of abortion bans following Roe reversal: Expert

Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- After the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, women in states that now outlaw abortion have scrambled to cobble together piecemeal solutions, including traveling across state lines, an expert told ABC News.

However, for many that won't be an option, according to Deon Haywood, executive director of New Orleans women's health organization Women with a Vision.

"If you have a job where you're being paid hourly and being paid minimum wage, how easy would it be for you to be able to leave your job or existing kids to leave to drive somewhere, to be driven somewhere ... to have an abortion and then come back?" Haywood told ABC News.

"It wouldn't work for them," she added. "It just wouldn't work. It's not practical for their lives, the lives that they are living."

Forty-nine percent of abortion patients have an income below the poverty line, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And in Louisiana, where Haywood lives, the maternal mortality rate is one of the worst in the nation, especially among Black women. The state has since shuttered its abortion clinics, though a Louisiana judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the state's "trigger" abortion ban Monday.

"For the Black women I work with who already fear entering the health care system, this just exacerbates that even more," Haywood said. "The idea that somebody in the state that doesn't care what we say about Louisiana, in the state that doesn't care about people, that people will have to carry a child to term when they're already living in substandard housing, when their children are not getting the best education, when they can barely see their families."

And for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, many of whom also struggle with homelessness, accessing safe abortions in a different state is completely out of the question, according to Haywood.

"If one of our clients were to have an unintended pregnancy, then if they're on probation and parole or house arrest, they're not going anywhere," she said.

Haywood said the lack of information and transparency about safe abortion options, especially in Louisiana, which has one of the country's lowest literacy rates, may also drive women to seek recourse in dangerous home remedies.

"If you get pregnant, we know that people when they're reacting out of fear we don't always make the best decision for ourselves, and so we're unsure what to do," she said.

"One person wanted to know, 'How much bleach should I mix with my cold drink or juice to end my pregnancy?'" she added. "We're saying, 'Absolutely don't take bleach, don't mix any household cleaner or chemicals and ingest them because of the danger of poisoning or death.'"

Haywood's organization, Women with a Vision, is doubling down on its efforts to equip women of color in New Orleans with reproductive health information and connecting them with safe resources.

"Black women have intersectional lives," she said. "It's a particular way that people of color and Black people fight because we don't have the privilege to sit on one thing."

"I can't just talk about abortion and not talk about health care. I can't talk about health care if I'm not talking about access to housing as a basic, fundamental human right," she added.

ABC News' Annie Ochitwa contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


More than 150,000 births could occur in the US every year following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, report predicts

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The reversal of Roe v. Wade could lead to a dramatic increase of babies born in the United States, including thousands of high-risk births, a new report finds.

The data, from health care industry consulting firm Sg2, estimates there will be an additional 150,500 to 159,700 live births each year in the U.S. The projections have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Birth rates in the country have been declining ever since the Great Recession of 2008-09 and were only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers found limiting access to abortion in several states will boost birth rates beginning in the second half of this year.

For the report, Sg2 looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2019 abortion surveillance report as well as data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that focuses on sexual and reproductive health.

About 808,000 to 862,000 abortions were estimated to have occurred in 2019 with 60% of those being in so-called “protected” states, where abortion access is in little danger of being restricted. The group then analyzed how many of the abortions in “restricted” states would not have been performed if the Supreme Court ruling had occurred then.

In addition to the overall increase in births, the report projected there will be a larger number of births requiring a higher level of care, between 18,400 and 19,600 per year.

Of those, 17,300 to 18,400 are expected to be babies born prematurely, including about 5,400 born early preterm, which is before 34 weeks gestation.

Premature babies are at a greater risk for problems with feeding, breathing, vision and hearing, as well as behavioral issues.

The higher level of care group also includes 1,500 to 1,600 infants born with congenital anomalies such as Down syndrome or heart defects.

Additionally, the report estimated there will be an increase in both maternal and neonatal mortality rates, especially among groups with traditionally less access to prenatal care, such as Black women.

The team suggests that in states where abortion is restricted, physicians at hospitals, clinics and other services should prepare for the increase in births as well as the increase in more babies requiring a higher level of care.

“There is no question that this ruling significantly alters the landscape for reproductive services nationwide,” the report read. “The state-level disparities that already exist in women’s health outcomes will deepen

ABC News’ Andrew Fies contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


On Magic 100.9 Now

MSJ
MSJ
5:00am - 10:00am
Murphy, Sam & Jodi

Magic 100.9 Now Playing!

Kdixie 100.3 HD2 Now Playing

Local Events

Weather

Entertainment News

LAB

https://cenlabroadcasting.com/assets/images/LAB/logo.png

Phone Apps

The Magic 100.9 & Kdixie

Phone Apps Are Available Now! Free Of Charge.

Go To The Android Or Apple Store And Do A Search.

ENJOY!

Good Food Project