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COVID-19: New Booster Recommendations, COVID.gov Site

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 29 updated its recommendations for COVID-19 vaccines to recommend that immunocompromised people and people ages 50 and older who received an initial booster shot at least four months ago receive a second mRNA booster shot. This decision comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a second booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines for those groups..

The agency also recommended that those age 18 and older who received both a primary vaccine and booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at least four months ago receive a second booster dose using an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Adults ages 50 and older who received an initial dose of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine also are eligible for a second booster dose, regardless of which booster vaccine they received.

A recent study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows higher rates of vaccine effectiveness (VE) against COVID-19–associated hospitalization in individuals who received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, measuring:

  • 31 percent after one Janssen dose;
  • 67 percent after two Janssen doses;
  • 78 percent after one Janssen and one mRNA dose; and
  • 90 percent after three mRNA doses

VE against COVID-19–associated emergency department and urgent care visits also was higher in individuals who received at least one mRNA vaccine dose compared with individuals who received only Janssen vaccines. This study underscores the importance of receiving an mRNA vaccine booster if possible to protect against COVID-19. During the recent omicron surge, individuals who received a booster shot were 21 times less likely to die and seven times less likely to be hospitalized compared with the unvaccinated, the agency reports.

Biden Administration Launches COVID.gov

The Biden administration has launched a new site, COVID.gov, to provide a central hub for information about masks, vaccines, tests, and treatment for COVID-19. Available in English, Spanish, and simplified Chinese, the site allows users to find their county’s COVID-19 community level and also includes a map of Test-to-Treat program locations, where those who test positive and have high risk for severe COVID-19 can access antiviral treatment. COVID.gov tools also are available in more than 150 languages via the National Hotline at 800.232.0233 (TTY 888.720.7489).

Medicare Covers Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Tests

Effective April 4, Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries have access to eight FDA-authorized over-the-counter COVID-19 tests each calendar month.

Through this initiative, announced in February, Medicare will reimburse participating eligible pharmacies and health care providers directly for these tests for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. CMS released a fact sheet and frequently asked questions with more information.

CDC Data Highlight Youth Mental Health Threats during Pandemic

More than a third of high school students reported poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new CDC analysis.

In the agency’s first national survey of public and private high school students:

  • 44 percent of students reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless during the last year;
  • 55 percent reported emotional abuse, including swearing, insults, or put-downs, by a parent or other adult in the home;
  • 11 percent reported physical abuse from an adult in the home;
  • 29 percent reported a parent or adult lost a job during the pandemic; and
  • 36 percent of students reported experiencing racism before or during the pandemic.

Rates of poor mental health were higher among female students and lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Forty-seven percent of students reported feeling close to people at school during the pandemic, and youth who felt connected to adults and peers at school were significantly less likely than those who did not to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, seriously consider attempting suicide, or attempt suicide.

This study underscores the importance of accessible mental health care and family, school, and community support for youth.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlights the access challenges consumers who have mental health care coverage face. Based on research and interviews with 29 stakeholder organizations, GAO found that covered individuals struggle to find mental health providers in their insurance network. Contributing factors include providers who are not accepting new patients or have long wait lists, low reimbursement rates for mental health services, and inaccurate or outdated information on provider networks. This can lead to increased health care costs, delays in care, or trouble finding a provider close to home.

The report also highlights consumer challenges with restrictive health plan approval processes and plan coverage limitations; for example, some health plans are less likely to grant prior authorization for mental health hospital stays compared with medical and surgical hospital stays, and Medicaid places statutory restrictions on inpatient care coverage in certain settings. Additionally, GAO highlights work by the Department of Labor, CMS, Health Resources and Services Administration, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase structural capacity for mental health care and ensure compliance with mental health parity laws.

Visit the America’s Essential Hospitals coronavirus resource page for more information about the pandemic.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Emily Schweich is a communications manager at America's Essential Hospitals.

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