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What We’re Reading: Variant-Specific Boosters; CDC Revamp; EPA Asbestos Ban

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A panel of experts advised the FDA to support the development of COVID-19 variant-specific booster doses; the CDC is undergoing a month-long review in efforts to revamp the agency; the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to ban asbestos.

FDA Advisors Advocate for Variant-Specific Booster Doses

During a daylong virtual meeting, advisors of the FDA advocated for the agency to support efforts to develop vaccines tailored to protect against specific COVID-19 variants, according to NPR. The panel discussed the decision-making framework about when to alter the viral strain or strains used in future vaccines and booster doses, but did not vote on any recommendations. The panel is expected to reconvene in May or June to potentially work on a more specific proposal for changing the vaccines. It’s possible that the process used to adjust flu vaccines to match circulating strains could be adopted to inform the process for COVID-19. However, uncertainty persists regarding how the virus may change over time.

CDC Announces Revamp Plans and 1-Month Review

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, hired an outside senior federal health official to conduct a month-long review of the CDC in an effort to revamp the agency, according to a report from Reuters. The review will begin on April 11 and an associate administrator from HHS has been assigned to listen to and engage with the CDC’s COVID-19 response activities. The assigned administrator will provide insights into how the agency’s programs can be improved. The review comes after criticism of the CDC’s pandemic response, including delays in developing tests for COVID-19 and confusion surrounding mask wearing, isolation, and quarantine recommendations. Walensky claimed the review will inform the CDC as it develops new systems and processes.

EPA Proposes Rule to Ban Asbestos

As reported by the Associated Press, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule that would ban asbestos, a carcinogen responsible for killing thousands of Americans annually, from being used in chlorine bleach, brake pads, and other products. The proposal is part of an expansion of EPA regulation under the 2016 law that imposed regulations governing tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in everyday products, such as household cleaners, clothing, and furniture. The rule would ban chrysotile asbestos, the only form of asbestos still being used in the United States. The carcinogen is commonly used in brake linings and gaskets, chlorine bleach, sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda.

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