What We’re Reading: US Life Expectancy Declines; Merck COVID-19 Pill Approved; Adult Hepatitis B Vaccine Recommended

The life expectancy in the United States dropped sharply during 2020; the United Kingdom has approved the first COVID-19 antiviral pill; a government advisory panel recommends all US adults younger than 60 years be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

US Life Expectancy Drops Sharply During 2020

The United States experienced a steep decline in life expectancy in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the second-steepest decline seen globally following Russia, reported NBC News. A study of death data spanning several continents revealed that the life expectancy dropped in 31 of the 37 countries analyzed. American men saw life expectancy fall by nearly 2.3 years and US women, more than 1.6 years. The study also showed that the drop in the United States was largely driven by the deaths of young people, suggesting a suboptimal response at protecting young people from the pandemic and that the country may be falling further behind many other high-income nations when it comes to key measures of health.

UK First to Approve Merck’s COVID-19 Pill

The United Kingdom became the first country to approve Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ COVID-19 antiviral pill, according to Reuters. Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recommended use of the drug, molnupiravir, for the treatment of people with mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least 1 risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, older age, diabetes, and heart disease. The pill will be administered as soon as possible after a patient receives a positive COVID-19 test and within 5 days of the onset of symptoms. The green light is the first for an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19, and US advisors are expected to meet in late November to vote on molnupiravir’s authorization.

Advisory Panel Recommends Hepatitis B Vaccine for Adults

A government advisory committee recommended that all US adults younger than age 60 should be vaccinated against hepatitis B due to progress efforts to stop the liver-damaging disease, as reported by The Associated Press. The decision also means that millions of US adults aged 30 to 59 years are not advised to get the vaccine. Vaccination against hepatitis B became a standard for children in 1991, meaning that most adults younger than 30 have already been inoculated. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to approve the new recommendation, and the next step involves CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, signing off before it can become public policy, which the timeline remains still unclear.