What We’re Reading: Gun Deaths Surged During Pandemic; Emergent BioSolutions Report; Long-term Cognitive Effects of Hypertension

Firearm homicide jumped by nearly 35% between 2019 and 2020; nearly 400 million COVID-19 vaccines were destroyed at Emergent BioSolutions’s Baltimore facility; a study found high blood pressure in younger people may be associated with negative cognitive effects later in life.

US Firearm Homicides Reached Record High During COVID-19 Pandemic

The rate of Americans killed by guns in 2020 reached levels not seen since 1994, according to a CDC report. Firearm homicides increased by nearly 35% between 2019 and 2020, jumping from 4.6 to 6.1 deaths per 100,000 persons. According to the report, non-Hispanic Black and African American males aged 10 to 44 years and Native American and Alaska Native males aged 25 to 44 years saw disproportionately higher death rates. Additionally, firearm homicide rates increased the most and had generally higher rates in areas with higher poverty levels. Firearm suicide rates also slightly increased from 7.9 to 8.1 deaths per 100,000 persons, and increased more among Native American and Alaska Native males younger than 44 years. The report said strategies should be implemented that address underlying economic, physical, and social conditions contributing to the increased risks for gun violence and suicide.

Emergent BioSolutions Destroyed Nearly 400 Million COVID-19 Vaccines

A congressional report released Tuesday said nearly 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were destroyed at Emergent BioSolutions’s Baltimore facility, The Hill reported. The report credited the damage to the company’s “failure to meet or maintain quality standards” and “poor quality control,” adding that 240 million vaccine doses were destroyed between late 2020 and early 2021—much more than the originally believed 100 million. Since then, 90 million doses were destroyed for quality control reasons and about 60 million expired doses are also set to be disposed of. The report also suggests the Trump administration was aware of the various control issues, including contamination and other management deficiencies, when it granted Emergent a $628 million contract to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine production at the Baltimore facility was stopped in April 2021, followed by a congressional investigation and a cancelled contract between Emergent and HHS.

High Blood Pressure May Have Negative Long-term Cognitive Effects

High blood pressure in younger people may be associated with negative cognitive effects later in life, according to findings of a small study highlighted in The Washington Post. The findings suggested that high blood pressure as an adolescent or young adult was related to altered brain structure, cerebrovascular function, and cognitive processing around age 55, and may increase the risk of cognitive decline and dysfunction. According to data from Johns Hopkins Medicine, high blood pressure among children has quadrupled in the last 40 years, and CDC data shows that about 1 in 25 teenagers have high blood pressure and 1 in 10 have elevated blood pressure. Because of this, the study authors said early interventions may be beneficial to reduce the risk of these long-term effects.