Hot Topics in Infection Prevention: Vaccine for Youngsters and WHO Report

April 1, 2021
Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC
Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC

From a global health and infection prevention perspective, “normal” is what got us here—a state of poor preparedness, underfunded health departments, and neglected hospital preparedness for a pandemic.

Some weeks are busier than others in the world of infection prevention and global health. The United States sits on a precarious position as we race to vaccinate as many as possible to combat the growing case counts and hospitalizations. It’s a worrisome sign when Rochelle Walensky, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pleads with

people to maintain vigilance in COVID-19 prevention efforts. More and more the goal of passing the finish line is used, but the truth is that we keep having to push back this line with our rush to reopen and return to “normal.” From a global health and infection prevention perspective, “normal” is what got us here—a state of poor preparedness, underfunded health departments, and neglected hospital preparedness for a pandemic. There are several things though, that we should keep a close eye on that will likely come in up infection prevention rounds.

Pfizer Vaccine Efficacy in Adolescents

On Wednesday, Pfizer announced that their COVID-19 vaccine has shown preliminary efficacy and safety in children aged 12-15 years.While more data is being collected, analyzed, and many are calling for antibody results, this is an exciting bit of news. A timeline for distribution though could be prior to the next school year. The current Pfizer vaccine is already available for those aged 16 years and older, so this new insight would expand the vaccine eligibility and hopefully decrease transmission as older children appear to have more similar transmission dynamics as adults. Overall, this will be a welcome advancement in COVID-19 response, especially in the face of novel variants and an increasing need for school re-openings.

WHO Report on SARS-CoV-2 Origin

The World Health Organization (WHO) just released its report on possible origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. Within the report, there is a review of several hypotheses, with a strong emphasis on epidemiology, sample collection, and a need for further analysis. The topic of an origin and concerns around lab origins were discussed within the report, which has a strong epidemiological section. Not all were satisfied with the report though, as described by Kai Kuperschmidt—“Produced by an international team of scientists after a carefully negotiated visit to China, where COVID-19 was first recognized, the report concludes that the likeliest start of the pandemic was a bat coronavirus that infected another, unidentified animal and then moved on to humans. That’s long been the favored hypothesis of many virologists, but the team convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) reports little fresh evidence to support it, and members acknowledge several other scenarios, including an accidental release from a lab, remain possible. The report does, however, lay out plenty of next steps. ‘We still don’t know where the virus came from, but there’s a clear plan to continue investigating,’ says virologist Angela Rasmussen of Georgetown University, who was on the WHO team.”

While there is a bigger need for multi-lateral review and continued efforts, the truth is that the source of the pandemic does not change the poor response from so many countries, including the United States. Considering that the United States had over 61,240 cases yesterday (March 31) and reported 875 deaths, I think we can safely say that understanding the origin is critical, but not the most immediate concern we have. For infection prevention efforts, this is a welcome reminder that regardless of source, a virus could have pandemic potential and that continued readiness is critical.