What We’re Reading: US Enters New Pandemic Phase; US to Pump $2 Billion Into Vaccine; Pandemic Highlights Health Illiteracy

August 3, 2020

Deborah Birx, MD, warned the United States has entered a new phase in the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic; the United States will send $2 billion in funding to GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi to ramp up production of a COVID-19 vaccine; the pandemic highlights health illiteracy among Americans.

Widespread Incidence Marks New US Pandemic Phase

The United States has entered a new phase of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, said Sunday. As infections remain widespread across all areas of the country, Birx warned those living in rural regions are not immune or protected from COVID-19, Reuters reports. The “extraordinarily widespread” nature of the pandemic differs from early concentrated outbreaks first reported in March and April. Birx also advised individuals living in multigenerational households in areas experiencing an outbreak to wear masks inside the home to better protect at-risk individuals. Recent numbers show the disease has infected 4.6 million people in the United States and killed more than 155,000.

GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi to Receive $2 Billion From United States

GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur will receive $2.1 billion from the United States in an effort to develop, manufacture, and scale up delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine, the AP reports. Together, the 2 pharma companies announced they plan to supply 100 million doses of an experimental vaccine to the United States. Longer term, the US government has the option of buying the supply of an additional 500 million doses under the terms of Operation Warp Speed. HHS Secretary Alex Azar explained that the variety of vaccines being assembled under Operation Warp Speed increases the likelihood the country will have at least 1 safe, effective vaccine as soon as possible.

Pandemic Amplifies Health Illiteracy

Although health illiteracy is not a new problem, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the issue, prompting concern among some health workers, according to The Washington Post. During the pandemic, a Michigan library had to ask patrons to stop microwaving books to kill the coronavirus, and Cleveland Clinic issued a public warning about the dangers of using vodka concoctions as hand sanitizer. One in 5 people struggle with health information, while individuals most likely to have low health literacy are those dying in greater numbers from COVID-19: older adults, nonnative English speakers, and people with low income and education levels. Misinformation and rumors spread on social media exacerbate the problem as individuals turn to these platforms for quick, unverified advice on health matters.