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September 2023

How We Can Protect Our Communities From COVID After the Pandemic

Every Sunday, I look out at the faces of my congregation, and I am grateful that we have overcome the many challenges we have faced over the past few years. At the same time, I am also reminded of all the beautiful souls we have lost to COVID-19. The pandemic has upended the lives of many in our community, and the residual effects are still being felt.

As pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (FAME), the oldest African-American church in the city, I have always strived to lead my members to health and prosperity. But nothing could have prepared us for the challenges of the pandemic, which affected every aspect of our church — from how we conducted services to how we communed with people. But the church leadership and I knew it was our calling to take on COVID-19 and protect our flock. Over the years, we have continued to learn and evolve our approaches to address the overall health, social, and educational needs of our parishioners and the larger South LA community.

Although we have made it through the most difficult period of the pandemic, COVID-19 remains a threat to our loved ones, especially Black communities in California who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.

According to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, Black residents in Los Angeles County were twice as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 as white residents, and one-and-a-half times more likely to die from the virus. These disparities are unacceptable, and we must work to reduce them.

Now, with COVID-19 vaccines and treatments widely available, we have the tools we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones from serious illnesses and deaths. We can return to doing the things and seeing the people we love.

To address these issues, we have had to overcome many barriers, one of the biggest being my community’s mistrust of the medical system due to generations of racism and mistreatment. We have worked hard to educate about COVID-19 safety and rebuild trust in the medical system. We have also partnered with other trusted entities and organizations like the University of Southern California and Jewish congregations to share resources, materials, and knowledge to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We have made it a priority to educate those close to us about the resources and tools available to stay safe and protect ourselves, including vaccines and treatments.

As COVID-19 remains present in our communities, we continue to step up to protect our community. The good news is that we know what works. Our church has worked to increase awareness, trust, and utilization of COVID-19 services, including hosting teachable Thursdays, that highlight influential medical professionals to discuss vaccination benefits, side effects, and other important information about COVID-19. Additionally, we opened a wellness center to create a welcoming and trusting environment for those in the community, operated by community members to provide necessary services that address COVID-19, such as vaccinations, testing, and education around COVID-19 medications.

We invite and welcome all Angelenos who have questions or need support to come and access these services.

Overcoming challenges that Black communities here in Los Angeles and throughout California have faced due to COVID-19 has not been easy. However, through hard work, listening to our community, and the power of prayer, we have found ways to win over the virus. After all, prayers are powerful, but even more so when paired with COVID-19 medications.

FDA Approves Updated COVID-19 Vaccines Amid Rising Cases and Hospitalizations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved updated COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech in response to the surge in cases and hospitalizations. Both manufacturers have reported that their vaccines demonstrate effectiveness against the currently dominant EG.5 strain in the United States.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an independent expert group advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will now assess the safety and efficacy of these updated vaccines and provide recommendations for their deployment. Following approval by the CDC director, the vaccines will be available for administration.

The advisory group plans to convene immediately, suggesting that the vaccines may soon be accessible at select pharmacies and healthcare facilities.

Health authorities have emphasized the urgency of vaccination once the shots become available. The new release coincides with a late summer surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and growing concerns over the potential impact of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, in the upcoming fall and winter seasons.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, underlined the importance of vaccination in protecting against severe COVID-19 consequences.

“The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated,” Marks stated in a news release.

Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, noted that despite an increase in infection rates and hospitalizations, the rates of severe disease, hospitalizations, and death are still significantly lower than in previous years.

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, highlighted the significance of this decision, especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise again. He said that nearly all individuals aged six months or older in the U.S. are eligible for this season’s COVID-19 vaccine, even if they have not been previously vaccinated.

The updated vaccines are approved for individuals 12 and older, with emergency use authorization for those aged six months to 11 years. The bivalent Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are no longer authorized for use in the United States.

According to the FDA, babies and young children from six months to four years who have not been vaccinated can receive three doses of the updated Pfizer/BioNTech shot or two doses of the updated Moderna booster. Those who have been previously vaccinated will follow specific dosage guidelines. For those five and older, a single dose of the updated vaccines is recommended at least two months after their last COVID-19 shot, irrespective of previous vaccination.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, emphasized the critical role of updated vaccines in protecting the population during the peak respiratory virus season. “COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in the U.S. and poses a significant threat to vulnerable populations, particularly as we enter peak respiratory virus season,” Bancel stated.

The mRNA vaccines have been adjusted to combat the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant of the coronavirus and related strains.

The FDA anticipates that COVID-19 vaccine compositions may need annual updates, similar to seasonal influenza vaccines.

Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, stated, “Our goal is to provide people worldwide with COVID-19 vaccines that are adapted to circulating virus variants or sub-lineages.”

The updated vaccines, administered in a single dose, are expected to be available at no cost to those in need.

Novavax’s updated COVID-19 vaccine has not yet received FDA authorization but is currently under review for individuals aged 12 and older.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans cover the total cost of vaccines, eliminating co-pays for insured individuals. The uninsured or underinsured can access the vaccine at no cost through the CDC’s Bridge Access Program, a temporary initiative set to conclude by December 2024.

Officials noted that this is the first instance of vaccines being provided through the commercial market. According to CNN, during a Pfizer investor call in October, officials estimated a potential list price of $110 to $130 per single dose for adults.

Many Americans Wrongly Believe Exposure to Marijuana Smoke is Safer Than Tobacco

Is inhaling marijuana smoke safer than inhaling smoke from tobacco? A majority of American adults say yes, according to a new survey, and they also believe there is less harm to adults and children from secondhand marijuana smoke than tobacco smoke.

However, those beliefs are just not true, said lead study author Dr. Beth Cohen, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-director of UCSF’s program in residency investigation methods and epidemiology.

“When you burn something, whether it is tobacco or cannabis, it creates toxic compounds, carcinogens, and particulate matter that are harmful to health,” she said in an email. “It’s the combustion that’s the problem, so this idea that because cannabis is ‘natural’ burning and inhaling it is fine is just wrong.”

While many longitudinal studies on the health impact of inhaling marijuana are still underway, there are “plenty of toxins and tar” in cannabis smoke that can hurt the lungs, said Carol Boyd, founding director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, and Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She was not involved in the new study.

What Mosquitoes Are Most Attracted to in Human Body Odor is Revealed 

 Anyone who has spent a summer evening swatting away mosquitoes, or a summer day scratching mosquito bites, can agree: Mosquitoes stink. But the smells produced by humans are an important part of what draws mosquitoes to us.

In a scientific report published in May, scientists helped pinpoint the different chemicals in body odor that attract these insects by building an ice-rink size testing arena and pumping in the scents of different people.

Mosquitoes are part of the fly family, and most of the time, they feed on nectar. However, females preparing to produce eggs need a meal with extra protein: blood.

Best-case scenario, getting bitten will just leave you with an itchy red bump. But mosquito bites often turn deadly, thanks to parasites and viruses the insects transmit. One of the most dangerous of these diseases is malaria.

Finally, Lower Prices! These Are the First 10 Drugs Subject to Biden’s Medicare Price Negotiations

The Biden administration unveiled Tuesday the names of the first 10 drugs subject to price negotiations in Medicare, including several popular blood thinners and diabetes medications.

They are Eliquis, Jardiance, Xarelto, Januvia, Farxiga, Entresto, Enbrel, Imbruvica, and Stelara, as well as Fiasp and certain other insulins made by Novo Nordisk, including NovoLog.

The medications treat heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, among other conditions. Medicare enrollees paid a total of $3.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs last year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Those who didn’t receive additional financial assistance shelled out as much as $6,500 on average.

“Today is the start of a new deal for patients, where Big Pharma doesn’t just get a blank check at your expense and at the expense of the American people,” President Joe Biden said at a Tuesday afternoon event at the White House celebrating the unveiling of the list. “Big Pharma is charging Americans more than three times what they charge other countries simply because they could. I think it’s outrageous. That’s why these negotiations matter.”

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