Health Highlights: Feb. 18, 2021


More Than 20.5 Million Years of Life Worldwide Have Been Lost to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far resulted in more than 20.5 million years of life lost in 81 countries, researchers say.

Years of life lost to COVID-19 may be two to nine times higher than to seasonal flu, and between a quarter and a half as much as that associated with heart conditions, according to the study in Scientific Reports.

Years of life lost (YLL) is the difference between a person's age at death and their life expectancy.

Of COVID-19-related YLL in the study, 44.9% has been among people ages 55 to 75 years of age, 30.2% among people younger than 55, and 25% in those older than 75.

In countries with gender data on COVID-19 deaths, years of lost life was 44% higher in men than in women, according to Héctor Pifarré i Arolas, Mikko Mÿrskyla and colleagues.

They noted that their findings are based on data available as of Jan. 6, 2021, and that estimates of lost life years from COVID-19 may be over- or under-estimated due to the difficulty of accurately recording deaths from the disease.


Many U.S. Troops Refusing COVID-19 Vaccination

Thousands of U.S. military personnel are refusing or delaying COVID-19 vaccination, even as service members are being deployed to help give shots at vaccination centers nationwide.

Up to two-thirds of troops who were offered the vaccine have accepted the shots, "very early data" show, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro told Congress on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. He's vice director of operations for the Joint Staff.

Commanders are trying to dispel online rumors about vaccines and to determine how they can convince troops to get vaccinated.

"We cannot make it mandatory yet," Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Navy's 2nd Fleet, told the AP. "I can tell you we're probably going to make it mandatory as soon as we can, just like we do with the flu vaccine."

One way appears to be imminent deployment. For example, 80% to 90% of sailors on Navy ships heading out to sea last week got vaccinated, the AP reported.

The military's vaccination acceptance rate is actually higher than in the general population, which is about 50%, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

However, troops may be at higher risk for infection because they're often close together in settings where preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing masks can be difficult, the AP reported.


Millions of Counterfeit N95 Masks Seized

More than 10 million counterfeit N95 masks have been confiscated by U.S. officials in recent weeks.

The seizures were made under an ongoing investigation into bogus masks sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies,the Associated Press reported.

About 6,000 potential purchasers in at least 12 states have been notified they may have unknowingly bought the fake masks and should not use them.

"Not only do they give a false sense of security, how dangerous is the exposed individual without any protective gear? They have no utility whatsoever," Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas said of the counterfeit masks, the AP reported.

Fraud remains a major problem during the pandemic as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in phony websites purporting to sell vaccines as well as fake medicine produced overseas and scams involving personal protective equipment. The schemes deliver phony products, unlike earlier in the pandemic when fraudsters focused more on fleecing customers, the AP reported.

3M is among the largest global producers of the N95 mask, which has been approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is considered the gold standard in protection against the coronavirus. The company delivered some 2 billion N95 masks in 2020 as the pandemic grew worse.

Medical workers and companies should go to 3M's website to learn how to identify fake masks, U.S. officials said.


Biden's Pick to Head CMS Would be First Black Woman in Post

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure has been nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and, if confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first Black woman to head the agency.

The agency oversees government health insurance programs covering more than 1 out of 3 Americans and is a linchpin of the health care system. CMS also sets Medicare payment rates for hospitals, doctors, labs and other service providers. Government payment levels become the foundation for private insurers. The agency also sets standards that govern how health care providers operate.

Brooks-LaSure has extensive government experience, including health policy jobs at the White House, in Congress, and at CMS during the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported.

Her most recent assignment was laying the groundwork for the Biden administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Before returning to government service, Brooks-LaSure was a managing director at the Manatt Health consultancy.

A person familiar with the White House decision confirmed Brooks-LaSure's nomination, but spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement, the AP reported.

Brooks-LaSure will be expected to boost Obamacare enrollment by promoting HealthCare.gov and trying to persuade holdout states to adopt Medicaid expansion. She's also expected to roll back Trump administration policies allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, as well as insurance rules seen as undermining Obamacare.

Throughout her career, Brooks-LaSure has worked on Medicaid policy, and that program has now grown to become a mainstay of coverage for many low-income working Americans.

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