COVID-19 news from our experts

BIG STAKES, BIG STATS: Making sense of COVID-19 trials

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PITTWIRE — When we hear about clinical trials, we might picture doctors and patients partnering to test new therapies. What we might not think about are the many others who make those studies happen. Take Maria Mori Brooks, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, who makes sense of the numbers generated by multicenter research collaborations. As co-director of the Epidemiology Data Center, she helps design and optimize data collection and m... 

Johnson & Johnson vaccine could get green light on Thursday

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WTAE NEWS — According to its trials, Johnson & Johnson was about 25% less effective than the two vaccines already on the market at preventing someone from getting COVID-19. But HPM professor Mark Roberts said Johnson & Johnson is just as effective as the other two at preventing serious illness. "When you look at the data for preventing serious disease, and preventing death, it’s almost indistinguishable from the Pfizer and Moderna."   

‘Déjà vu’: HIV-positive Pittsburghers say we have much to learn about COVID by comparing it to our other deadly epidemic

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PUBLIC SOURCE — Pittsburghers who have lived with HIV for decades say the COVID pandemic echoed many of the scariest and most dangerous parts of living through the HIV and AIDS epidemic, including confusion about the science, social isolation, a reluctance to adopt public health measures, and a lack of presidential leadership. HIV disease persists, particularly among younger gay Black men living in the South, said Dr.  Mackey Friedman ,  “If yo... 

Health officials say the coronavirus will likely become endemic in the next several years. What does that mean? Burke explains.

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USA TODAY - The CDC defines endemic as the “constant presence and/or usual prevalence” of a disease within a population. An endemic disease spreads at a baseline level every year without causing major disruption to people's lives, said EPI's Donald Burke. “Things that are endemic are present for long periods of time without interruption, continuously circulating in the population," like the common cold, he said. “Epidemic means something that co... 

Alumni Research: Lack of health services and transportation impede access to vaccine in communities of color

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THE WASHINGTON POST -  Doctoral alumna Inma Hernandez (HPM '16) with researchers at Pitt and West Health Policy Center said not enough attention has been paid to gaps in the health-care system when addressing vaccine uptake in vulnerable populations. The research applauded the decision by the Biden administration to use community pharmacies as vaccine access points — they tend to be open nights, weekends and holidays and have parking lots, capac... 

COVID-19 Case counts have started falling in the U.S. This may be why

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TIME  About 10% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “We’re nowhere near where you need to be for herd immunity, even with the combination of vaccination and the number of people who had the disease,” says HPM's  Mark Roberts , director of Pitt's Public Health Dynamics lab. Each vaccination helps, but it may take months for immunizations to have a dramatic effect on case counts..  

New York scrambles to improve vaccination acceptance In Black and Latino communities

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NPR — NYC officials say they're working to overcome resistance to the coronavirus vaccine in the Black and Latino communities, while also trying to make doses more available. New state data showed many Black New Yorkers aren't taking the vaccine even when it's offered free of charge. A study by Inmaculada Hernandez (HPM '16) found many Black Americans nationwide—including some in NYC—live in "vaccination deserts," where pharmacies and other vacc... 

The NFL’s testing program could help other scientists.

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NEW YORK TIMES - The NFL didn’t just play football this season, it conducted an enormous coronavirus testing program. Now scientists who try to predict how viruses travel through communities are eager to see the data to fine-tune their models. EPI's Donald Burke said the data could help him understand how long infected people have been in the community spreading the virus. The NFL’s data, including more than 700 positive cases over six months, “... 

The choices of fans have public health implications.

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NEW YORK TIMES - Common sense dictates that bringing together 25,000 people during a pandemic could lead to more coronavirus infections, and the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., is no exception. EPI's  Donald Burke  is trying to develop a way to estimate the potential spread using cellphone tracking data, statistics on the transmission of viruses, and other information. “Modeling the virus is the easy part. Modeling the humans is the hard part.”  

Where Black Americans will travel farther than Whites for COVID-19 vaccination

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UPMC - Researchers found that in 69 counties, home to 26 million people, Black residents are significantly more likely than Whites to live more than a mile from the closest vaccination facility. “It’s important to adopt a data-driven approach to make sure we get vaccine distribution that’s equitable,” said senior author Inmaculada Hernandez (HPM '16). “Not all counties have the same limitations in existing infrastructure, and that variability is... 

Pitt public health expert sees vaccine distribution issues continuing, but overall COVID-19 situation improving

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WTAE PITTSBURGH — HPM's Mark Roberts said this decentralized system where people are calling around to pharmacies and providers on their own is inefficient, but it may be too late to change it. Roberts was optimistic that as more doses become available to providers that the stress surrounding those over 65 will dissipate. "The fact is, it’s getting better. And as more and more, if we’re really going to be able to get 11, 12, 15 million vaccines ... 

J&J vaccine effective in preventing severe disease; a mother's COVID-19 antibodies may protect newborns

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REUTERS -  Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine was 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe COVID-19 in a late-stage global trial with nearly 44,000 volunteers that includes regions with worrisome variants of the virus. "Right now, any protection and additional vaccine is great," said HPM's Walid Gellad . "The key is not only overall efficacy but specifically efficacy against severe disease, hospitalization, and death."  

Covid vaccine misinformation target of Pitt study

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KDKA CBS NEWS — Fueled by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Pitt researchers are studying and combating false online information about vaccines. “Vaccines are often the victim of their own success,” said BCHS doctoral student Beth Hoffman, a research assistant at the Center for Research on Behavioral Health, Media and Technology. “I think one of the reasons we’ve seen a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment over the years is people are l... 

Blame game begins over PA’s slow vaccine rollout

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THE EXPRESS — Republicans are faulting the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf for Pa’s slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout even as Wolf himself says insufficient supply is the real culprit, setting up a fresh political fight over who’s to blame for the frustrations of eligible residents trying to get inoculated. HPM's Mark Roberts, the PHDL director, said it is difficult to blame the state, given the federal government’s primacy in vaccine distribution. ... 

COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: Health Care Workers In Underserved Communities Get Vaccine To Build Trust

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WDKA CBS NEWS —  In a multipronged effort to prioritize the biggest impact among Phase 1A groups, UPMC vaccinated community advocates  to fight vaccine hesitancy in vulnerable, often minority, populations, where COVID-19 has had a disproportionately terrible effect.BCHS's Richard Garland got the vaccine. “It was like taking a flu shot for me,” said Garland who is part of the COVID-19 Black Equity Coalition. “The more I look at the numbers in the... 

Vaccinating home-bound seniors a growing concern

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ALBANY HERALD — About 1.9 million adults over 65 are mostly homebound and another 5.3 million have health conditions that make leaving home difficult. BSCH's Steven Albert warns it's likely that family or other caregivers will need to arrange for transport to vaccine centers. "For every one person in a nursing home, there are probably five people in their homes with equal levels of disability who rely on... family and community-based services." ... 

COVID-19 Update: As Pa. cases decline, did state avoid post-holiday surge?

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PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE — Lee Harrison, a Pitt epidemiologist and chairman of the Allegheny County Board of Health, said that the drop in the positivity rate was encouraging, but warned that the state is not done with the winter surge. “We’re in the middle still of a raging pandemic,” he said.  "I would encourage people to really continue to hunker down, stay safe, and, whenever their turn comes up to get vaccinated, get vaccinated.”  

Gov. Wolf names replacements for departing Pa. Health Secretary Rachel Levine

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AP — Wolf said he intends to nominate a deputy chief of staff, Alison Beam, to take over as secretary of the Department of Health. Wolf, meanwhile, elevated Dr. Wendy Braund  to acting interim physician general. Braund is currently the DoH's COVID-19 response director. Before that, she held multiple leadership positions at Pitt Public Health, including director of the Center for Public Health Practice and associate dean for practice, and a prof... 

In West Virginia’s poorest communities, the state’s vaccine rollout has left vulnerable residents behind

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MOUNTAIN STATE SPOTLIGHT / WVPB — Although West Virginia is currently leading the nation in its vaccination rate, the state has primarily aimed for the low-hanging fruit. “When you have to get the vaccine distributed out as widely and as quickly as possible, the inequities that already exist have the potential to be further amplified,” said Elizabeth Miller of Pitt Medicine and BCHS. “Rural communities have been devastated by lack of access to p... 

Pandemic exposes weakness in Pa. counties without health departments, like Westmoreland

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TRIB-LIVE - Westmoreland County, like 61 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, leaves the issue of public health to the state to handle. Upfront investments in public health that lead to a deeper knowledge of the community could be a bargain in the long term, said Dr. Noble A-W Maseru , a professor of public health practice. He compared it to the cost of preventing a serious illness versus the cost of treating it later.  

Research coordination

The Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) is coordinating research from Pitt and UPMC to plan and efficiently implement studies related to COVID-19 by managing resources, expertise, tools, and lab capabilities. Visit the COVID-19 research page for details.