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Healthwatch with Dr. Leana Wen: Responding to the COVID-19 surge

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Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and public health advocate, teaches at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. (GWU)

Today, in our first show of the new year, it’s the Midday HealthWatchTom's guest is Dr. Leana Wen, who for years has been so generous sharing her time and expertise with Midday listeners.

Dr. Wen is an emergency physician and former Baltimore City Health Commissioner. She teaches at the George Washington University School of Public Health. She’s also a columnist for the Washington Posta medical analyst for CNN, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health.

This morning, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds, and it lowered the time frame for everyone getting a booster from six months to five months after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will review the FDA panel’s ruling. They’re expected to make an official recommendation on Wednesday.

Over the New Year’s weekend, the US was reporting nearly 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day. That number has climbed to more than 400,000 daily cases as of today and it’s likely much higher, given the number of people who are self-testing for the virus, and not reporting positive results. And it’s not all due to the omicron variant. The Delta variant still accounts for more than 41 percent of cases in the United States, as of the week that ended on Christmas Day.

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A rendering of the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19. The virus is also responsible for a host of serious maladies that linger in patients after their infections have abated. (credit CDC)

The positivity rate in Maryland is nearly 27% and Maryland hospitals are under orders to limit various procedures so that scarce medical personnel can concentrate on patients with severe COVID-related disease. Maryland reported more than 14,000 new cases in the last 24 hours. More than 2,700 people are currently in Maryland hospitals; that’s nearly 200 more than on Sunday.

As we mentioned, children over the age of 12 will soon be eligible to get a booster. But, first things first: nationally, only 32% of kids above the age of 5 have received their first shot.

And, a year into vaccine availability, only about 62% of Americans are fully vaccinated, well behind dozens of other countries.

Dr. Leana Wen joins us on Skype for the hour to discuss these and other COVID-related developments...

And as always, we welcome your questions and comments.

Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Malarie is Midday's Supervisory Producer.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.