What We’re Reading: Pfizer Vaccine Effective After 6 Months; USDA Halts Plan to Cut Food Stamps; Pandemic Overdose Deaths

Phase 3 data show the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19 6 months after the second dose; the USDA will not move forward with a plan to cut food stamps; data reveal spike in drug overdose deaths during pandemic.

Pfizer Vaccine Efficacy Data Updated

New phase 3 trial data from Pfizer/BioNTech indicate the companies’ vaccine is effective 6 months after individuals received their second dose with no serious safety concerns reported, according to NBC News. The data also show the vaccine is effective against B.1.351, a COVID-19 variant that first emerged in South Africa. The CEO and cofounder of BioNTech said the results indicating the vaccine’s efficacy against the variant mark a critical step forward in reaching herd immunity. The results also allow the companies to submit a full Biologics License Application to the FDA. Currently, the vaccine is being distributed under an Emergency Use Authorization.

Biden Administration Halts Plan to Cut Food Stamps

A plan proposed by former President Donald Trump to cut federal food assistance benefits to around 700,000 adults has been dropped by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), CBS News reports. The plan, which would have cut food stamps by implementing tightened work requirements for working-age adults without children, was rejected by the Biden administration and condemned by anti-hunger advocates. The Trump administration had formerly appealed a federal court ruling that blocked the restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As of November, approximately 41.4 million people are enrolled in SNAP—an increase of 13% from February 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drug Overdose Deaths Spike Amid Pandemic

Drug overdose deaths increased by 26.8% during the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for 88,000 lives lost in a 12-month period, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said. Reported by Axios, illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids were the primary drivers of the increase, which is almost 20,000 more deaths than those reported in 2019 (70,630 deaths). Rates in drug overdoses have been on the rise since 1999 while opioids remain the main cause of drug overdose fatalities. In response to the data, the Biden administration released a plan to address the crisis which involves removing barriers preventing the persecution of buprenorphine.