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What we know about COVID-19 vaccines for children and long haul COVID

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Those of us with kids under 12 will be watching as the FDA reviews vaccine data for younger kids this month. The review raises the possibility of vaccinating millions of additional people just after the U.S. death toll from coronavirus passes 700,000 human beings. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now, as she often does on Mondays. Allison, good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How do experts reflect on so many deaths?

AUBREY: You know, really, in the most recent wave, the fact that so many were preventable - and what rankles doctors and nurses is that so many people ended up so sick because they're unvaccinated. It's really just tragic. But things are looking up now. New cases have fallen about 35% over the last month, and 76% of people eligible have gotten at least one vaccine shot. But as Dr. Anthony Fauci warned yesterday on ABC, this virus is unpredictable.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: We certainly are turning the corner on this particular surge. The way to keep it down is to get people vaccinated. When you have 70 million people in the country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated, that's the danger zone right there.

AUBREY: Yeah, especially as we head into the holiday season next month and people gather indoors.

INSKEEP: OK. So we're turning a corner, but we may yet turn another corner into another dark alley. We don't know. So what is the news on booster shots and vaccines for kids under 12?

AUBREY: Well, a panel of FDA advisers is scheduled to meet next week to deliberate on boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. They will also look at data on mixing the shots, so, for instance, giving a during Moderna boost to someone who originally got Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson. There's a separate meeting scheduled for late October now to review Pfizer data for children aged 5 to 11. And Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California planned to require students to get vaccinated after vaccines are fully approved.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Allison Aubrey. And Allison, I know you've been reporting on one aspect of COVID. There are so many people who say, I don't need to worry so much about this disease; most people survive. Virtually all people survive who get it. And yet there are people who are long-haulers, who face symptoms for a very long time. What do you know about the prevalence of that?

AUBREY: Well, a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital that included medical records of about 96,000 people who were never sick enough to be in the hospital - this included many younger adults - it points to a range of problems beginning three to six months after COVID, including chronic fatigue, shortness of breath. Here's Dr. Zachary Strasser.

ZACHARY STRASSER: Our study really is showing that even in those non-hospitalized patients, you're still seeing shortness of breath, loss of hair, loss of smell, chronic fatigue. Even if you're young, even if you're healthy, you still have to worry about some of these long COVID symptoms.

AUBREY: Which, he says, is another reason to get vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Some of the vaccine resistance is also focused on the fact that you can get treated for COVID. Do people respond well to treatment of long COVID?

AUBREY: You know, there are a number of post-COVID clinics around the country. And I first spoke to one patient, Michaelene Carlton - this was over a year ago when she could hardly get out of bed. She is being treated at Johns Hopkins and describes herself as a soccer mom who was very active before COVID. She was diagnosed with a post-viral condition called POTS that affects her blood flow.

MICHAELENE CARLTON: I'm better than I was six months ago, but I'm not anywhere near where I was prior to COVID. So I've got to take the good with the bad, and I just hope that I get more good days than bad days.

INSKEEP: How does that health affect her life?

AUBREY: Well, she's on disability, unable to work now. And Dr. Ann Parker, who is part of the Johns Hopkins clinic, says patient outcomes are variable. But data coming out of Italy, coming out of China, they fit with what she's seeing in her clinic.

ANN PARKER: There is a tendency overall from, like, a thousand-foot view that folks are tending to improve. But there are still a number of people who are having symptoms at 12 months, and I think trying to understand why is really important.

AUBREY: And a new study announced by the National Institutes of Health aims to get some answers, Steve.

INSKEEP: Allison, I want to ask about one other thing, a problem that predates the pandemic that we report on a lot here on MORNING EDITION - surprise medical bills. The Biden administration, late last week, announced a rule to end this. What are the details?

AUBREY: Well, this has been in the works a while. Congress passed a bill requiring action, and the Biden administration has hashed out a process where doctors and hospitals will basically negotiate with insurers to settle disputes over costs, and patients won't be dragged into it. I spoke to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about it.

XAVIER BECERRA: It's going to be very transparent. And the most important thing is patients will be left out of the food fight.

AUBREY: He says it will be up to insurers and doctors to kind of hash it out over these fees. So this is going to be good for consumers, he says. This is set to go into effect at the start of next year.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us many Mondays with updates on the pandemic. Allison, thanks as always for your reporting.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.