children wearing masks.

Reconsidering Mask Mandates

By Carmel Shachar

The desire to get back to “normal” is an understandable one. And despite their prevalence for the last two years, masks don’t fit into most people’s concept of normal.

But removing mask requirements means rejecting yet another public health tool to control the pandemic and protect our health care system.

First, some context: most states haven’t had indoor mask mandates in place for many months. As of February 10th, only Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, Illinois, and Delaware had statewide indoor mask mandates. These remaining few states are now taking steps to end mask policies. Some states have narrower mask mandates that apply to schools, and are similarly moving to end such policies.

But the decision to end these mandates is not made in a vacuum. We should be thinking about what other public health initiatives and components should be in place before we lift these protections.

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Baby held in someone's arms.

Remember the Babies: The Need for Off-Label Pediatric Use of COVID-19 Vaccines

By Carmel Shachar

As trials stall and the omicron variant surges, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is failing parents by preventing off-label use of our existing COVID-19 vaccines in the under-five set.

The cries of frustration, anger, and fear from parents of small children have reached a new pitch amidst the ruckus of 2022. Parents of children under five years old need to navigate omicron-fueled rising pediatric hospitalization rates while their kids remain entirely unvaccinated. They must also juggle childcare and work responsibilities amid unpredictable, lengthy daycare and schooling closures. Give us the vaccine to help protect our kids, shorten quarantines, and keep children in care they all clamor.

But where are the vaccines for the pediatric set — the same vaccines that have been proven safe, both in adult populations and in older children? So far the story has focused on disappointing efficacy results and delays in studies from Pfizer and Moderna. But that is not the entire explanation for why parents of small children are blocked from vaccinating their offspring.

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Vaccines.

Promote Trust, Avoid Fraud: Lessons in Public Health Messaging from the Booster Roll Out

By Carmel Shachar

Even in September 2021, it was fairly clear that boosters for all adults, regardless of risk factors or which vaccines they initially received, would be coming soon.

Indeed, within two months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its recommendations to say that all vaccinated adults should receive a COVID-19 booster.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy between past messaging, which restricted access to boosters to select groups, and the current, broad recommendation has spawned two, related public health communications problems.

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Reston, USA - April 9, 2020: Social distancing sign at cashier check-out aisle inside Trader Joe's grocery shop store during coronavirus with woman employee in mask.

Passing the Buck: What the CDC Guidance on Masks Gets Wrong About Public Health

By Carmel Shachar

As Americans shed their masks in response to recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, the most vulnerable among us face an unfair choice: either to enforce public health hygiene or forgo being in public spaces entirely.

The new guidance, which states that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks or socially distancing, is too nuanced for a country in which a significant percentage of adults continue to refuse vaccination and there are no mechanisms to enforce masking or social distancing for the unvaccinated.

Ultimately, this shift in policy unfairly burdens small businesses and individuals to be the guardians of public health, when it should be our community leaders responsible for enforcing public health norms.

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Fake Vaccine Cards and the Challenges of Decentralized Health Data

By Carmel Shachar and Chloe Reichel

Soon the U.S. will have vaccinated all adults who are not vaccine hesitant. Our next key challenges will be reopening workplaces, restaurants, schools, and other public areas, as well as encouraging vaccine uptake among those who are hesitant or resistant to the vaccine.

Vaccine passports or certifications could be a tool used to address both of those challenges.

But our approach to health care data management may undermine this next stage of the pandemic response.

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Medicine doctor and stethoscope in hand touching icon medical network connection with modern virtual screen interface, medical technology network concept

Data Talking to Machines: The Intersection of Deep Phenotyping and Artificial Intelligence

By Carmel Shachar

As digital phenotyping technology is developed and deployed, clinical teams will need to carefully consider when it is appropriate to leverage artificial intelligence or machine learning, versus when a more human touch is needed.

Digital phenotyping seeks to utilize the rivers of data we generate to better diagnose and treat medical conditions, especially mental health ones, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The amount of data potentially available, however, is at once both digital phenotyping’s greatest strength and a significant challenge.

For example, the average smartphone user spends 2.25 hours a day using the 60-90 apps that he or she has installed on their phone. Setting aside all other data streams, such as medical scans, how should clinicians sort through the data generated by smartphone use to arrive at something meaningful? When dealing with this quantity of data generated by each patient or research subject, how does the care team ensure that they do not miss important predictors of health?

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Young male doctor in telehealth concept

Call for Abstracts: Looking Forward to a Post-Pandemic Landscape

By Carmel Shachar and Katie Kraschel

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted virtually every facet of day-to-day life.

This disruption has forced us to examine baseline choices and assumptions about how to deliver health care, participate in public discourse, provide access to education, and support the workforce. This “great revision” will continue in several iterative stages: an immediate response to the crisis, a modulation as the pandemic continues, and a resolution into a “new normal.”

The Petrie-Flom Center and the Solomon Center for Health Law Policy are interested in tracking when crisis settles into the new normal and articulating how public policy and law should respond to that evolution.

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