What We're Reading: Omicron Variant Response; Lung Transplants for Patients With COVID-19; Panel to Review Merck’s COVID-19 Pill

President Joe Biden will provide an update today on his administration’s response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant; marked rise in lung transplants for patients with COVID-19 sparks ethical questions; an independent panel of experts will advise FDA tomorrow on the use of Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral pill.

President Biden to Announce US Response to Omicron Variant

As travel restrictions for travelers from several African countries take effect, President Joe Biden is set to provide an update today on his administration’s response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant. As reported by The Hill, it will take roughly 2 weeks to obtain definitive data on the transmissibility and severity threat of the Omicron variant compared with other variants, noted the chief medical advisor to President Biden, Anthony Fauci, MD, ​​during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” Labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, Omicron has spread to countries in Africa, Europe, and North America since first being discovered in South Africa.

Lung Transplants Increasing for Patients With COVID-19

According to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, lung transplants in the United States rose 10-fold between the first year of the pandemic and 2021, with approximately 1 in 10 lung transplants performed on patients with COVID-19. As reported by NPR, transplants for other top lung diseases, such as emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary fibrosis, were conversely shown to be down compared with prior years, which has raised questions regarding the ethics of allocating these scarce resources to people who elected not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. With more than 2000 lung transplants performed in the United States each year, a double lung transplant costs approximately $1.2 million.

Independent Panel to Advise FDA on Merck’s COVID-19 Pill

As reported by POLITICO, an independent panel of experts will advise the FDA tomorrow on whether to limit the use of Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral pill for pregnant people due to potential risks. As new data showed the pill, molnupiravir, reduced the risk of hospitalization by 30%, down from a decrease of 50% seen in an earlier analysis, regulators are also considering whether to authorize its emergency use in adults who have been experiencing symptoms for less than 5 days. As pregnant women are an at-risk population for severe COVID-19, the FDA will ask advisers to consider an alternative approach if the pill is deemed unsafe.