COVID-19 in the News

CBC (Canada) Sept. 3, 2022
What protection to expect from updated COVID vaccines this fall

Canada has just approved an updated COVID-19 vaccine to target the first highly contagious omicron variant, with doses expected to start rolling out within days. Less than half of Canadians have received a booster, while only about 12% have received a fourth dose. "As we start to head into the fall and we start to see almost certainly cases rise again, the updated booster is definitely going to be better than not getting a booster at all," said University of Arizona professor of immunobiology Deepta Bhattacharya. "Given that BA.5 is still circulating, I don't see that there's really any downside at all to picking up these boosters and they'll probably work better than just another shot of the original."

The New York Times Sept. 1, 2022
Updated booster shots expected within days as CDC panel signs off

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended updated coronavirus booster shots to the vast majority of Americans, adding a critical new tool to the country's arsenal as it tries to blunt an expected wintertime surge of the virus. Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona, said that CDC recommendations could afford to space out doses of routine childhood vaccines at precisely the right intervals because children are unlikely to be exposed to those pathogens in the interim. That's not the case for the coronavirus, which is circulating so widely that someone leaving a long gap between doses faces higher odds of getting infected in the meantime. "Honestly, that's probably the more important factor to consider – what's happening in the real world – rather than in an ideal world of immunological optimization," Bhattacharya said.

The New York Times Aug. 31, 2022
How the pandemic shortened life expectancy in Indigenous communities

New federal data outline the scale of suffering among Native Americans and Alaska Natives caused by COVID-19. Jennie R. Joe, a professor emerita of family and community medicine and interim executive co-director of the University of Arizona Wassaja Carlos Montezuma Center for Native American Health, cited entrenched poverty along with chronic disease contributing to the shortening of average life spans among Native Americans and Alaska Natives. But she cautioned that the decline might be even deeper than the latest figures indicated because death certificates in some regions sometimes misclassify race. "It is not uncommon for a Native person to be identified as Native on their birth certificate but listed differently on their death certificates, usually listed as white," she said. "It is therefore safe to say that the current life expectancy reported for Native Americans is probably a case of undercounting."

NPR Aug. 18, 2022
What's behind the FDA's controversial strategy for evaluating new COVID boosters

The federal government wants to roll out another round of COVID-19 boosters this fall, but drugmakers are still testing the new boosters. Some scientists say health officials know enough about how vaccines work to start handling the COVID-19 vaccines like the flu vaccines, which are changed every year to try to match whatever strains are likely to be circulating but aren't routinely tested again every year. "We're going to use all of these data that we've learned through not only from this vaccine but decades of viral immunology to say: 'The way to be nimble is that we're going to do those animal studies,'" says Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunobiologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson. "We're really not going out too far on a limb here."

The Arizona Republic Aug. 9, 2022
Creating connection a drumbeat at a time: Phoenix nonprofit helps people fight loneliness

Grounded32 is a nonprofit community center in north Phoenix that seeks to counter the increase in loneliness many people experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. High-quality social relationships reduce emotional distress, and improve psychological well being and life satisfaction, according to David Sbarra, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. "We're not out and about seeing our strong connected networks and loose affiliative networks – college kids have come home, children stop attending school, everyone's working from home. There was an immediate physical cost that needed to be mitigated, which had a variety of downstream consequences at least socially," he said.

Salon Aug. 6, 2022
How many times can you get reinfected with COVID? Here's what experts say

Unlike summer 2020 – when researchers believed that it was unlikely someone could get the coronavirus twice – so-called re-infections are considered to be the "new normal." Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology at the University of Arizona who previously co-authored a paper in 2020 that suggested that immunity to COVID-19 lasts "at least several months after SARS-CoV-2 infection," said the answer to how many times a person can get reinfected will depend on how the virus keeps mutating. "It really depends on how much the virus changes and how long it takes for it to change from whatever it was that you were infected with, or got vaccinated against, in the first place," Bhattacharya said.