Category Archives: Core Topics

Two new studies address fertility and COVID vaccines

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo by Johannes Jander via Flickr.

One of the most persistent concerns about potential adverse effects from the COVID-19 vaccines has been whether it will affect the reproductive system, particularly fertility. Fortunately, two new studies suggest there is no evidence that any of the vaccines can impact fertility.

As I wrote years ago in Forbes, anxiety about vaccines causing problems with fertility is not new. At that time, in 2014, a resurgence of fears about the pertussis vaccine causing infertility in Kenya was in the news, but that was just one incarnation of a fear that’s been around as long as vaccines have. In fact, it’s one of the oldest and most lingering fears about vaccines because fertility has been such a precious, treasured health status for centuries and is, therefore, something people, understandably, want to protect.

The first study, published Jan. 5 in Obstetrics and Gynecology, addresses the issue tangentially by reporting on findings of COVID-19 vaccines’ impact on menstrual cycles. Early in the vaccine rollout, anecdotal evidence suggested an uptick in breakthrough bleeding even for people taking hormones that should have suppressed periods or in people who had entered perimenopause. People with otherwise normal cycles experienced early or particularly heavy periods after getting vaccinated, prompting an investigation into whether there was a link between vaccination and heavier, earlier, or longer periods.

The researchers analyzed data from six menstrual cycles — three before vaccination and three post-vaccination—in 3,959 people, about two-thirds of whom were vaccinated. Just over half the vaccinated people got the Pfizer vaccine, a third got Moderna, and 7% got Johnson & Johnson. While the researchers did detect a slight difference in cycle length, it was by less than one day, suggesting no significant impact. While the study doesn’t directly address fertility effects, menstruation is one indicator of potential fertility health, so the findings should be reassuring to those concerned about it.

The second publication, an NIH-funded study appearing Jan. 20 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, compared more than 2,000 couples with varying infection and vaccination (1 dose, 2 doses, no doses) status and took into account a wide range of covariates that might cause confounding. The results showed no difference in the likelihood of conceiving where one or both partners had received one or two doses of the vaccine, compared with couples where neither were vaccinated.

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Global burden of Alzheimer’s projected to triple

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo by Fred Kearney via Unsplash.

Cases of Alzheimer’s disease are rising throughout the world and could triple by 2050, according to a recent analysis in The Lancet. While much of this increase can be traced back to the fact that we’re living longer, researchers also concluded that three key modifiable risk factors: smoking, high body mass index and diabetes, also contribute to the increased burden and could cost health systems around the world billions in long-term services and supports.

The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is also increasing in the U.S. and other high-income nations thanks to increased life expectancy. By 2050, cases of Alzheimer’s in those 65 and older could top 12.7 million in the U.S. alone. The ratehowever, will actually decline slightly, because of the sheer size of this demographic. And can be explained largely by educational changes, according to Eileen Crimmins, Ph.D., chair in gerontology at the USC Leonard School of Gerontology.

As the search for treatment and a cure for the disease continues, addressing risk factors is one of our only viable tools. Journalists who are following this issue have an opportunity to report on other potentially fruitful research you may have missed, as well as look at how health systems in the U.S. and around the world are planning to address this looming crisis. There are also new opportunities to look into COVID-19’s effects on the brain and whether we will see more cases of dementia in the future. We also recently reported on continuing disparities in care among Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans, who continue to have a higher burden of illness and lower access to care compared with whites.

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Employers’ rising health insurance costs leave many families underinsured

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform. He welcomes questions and suggestions and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

For employer-sponsored health insurance in 2020, premiums and deductibles accounted for 11.6% of the U.S. median household income, an increase from 9.1% in 2010, according to a report published Jan. 12. Source: State Trends in Employer Premiums and Deductibles, 2010–2020, The Commonwealth Fund, New York, January 2022.

In every state, what families pay for employer-sponsored health insurance is consuming a greater share of household income than it did 10 years ago, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund. And rising health care costs and drug prices have caused employers to raise monthly insurance premium payments and deductibles to the point where those increases have outpaced median family incomes.

In the report, researchers from the Commonwealth Fund noted that in 37 states, premium contributions and deductibles amounted to 10% or more of median income in 2020, an increase from 32 states in 2015 and from 10 states in 2010. For employers’ plans, health insurance premiums and deductibles accounted for 11.6% of the U.S. median household income in 2020, up from 9.1% in 2010, according to the report, State Trends in Employer Premiums and Deductibles, 2010–2020, published Jan. 12.

Health care journalists could write this story in every state because the report includes extensive data on premiums and deductibles in each state for employer-sponsored health insurance. The report also shows that family income often fails to keep pace with rising health care costs, leading many to be underinsured so that they skip needed care and go into debt to pay for care.

For an excellent example of how to cover this story, see this report from Tom Miller, the morning news anchor at KXAN in Austin, Texas, on Monday (Jan. 17): “Health insurance costs keep rising in Texas—here’s why.” Miller’s report could be a model for journalists in all 50 states, in part because he explained that many employed Texans pay more for health insurance than residents in other states.

In 2020, Texans spent an average of $9,311 for employer-sponsored health insurance premiums and deductibles, an amount that was more than 14.2% of their median income, up from 12.7% in 2010, Miller said.

“Texans are doubly disadvantaged,” Miller wrote, quoting the fund’s vice president Sara Collins. “They’re paying more on average for their premiums and deductibles, and also have lower median incomes on average.”

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Covering rapid testing and resources for journalists

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post and other outlets.

Photo by Travis Wise via Flickr.

Rapid COVID-19 testing, how to get rapid tests and how to use them is currently one of the biggest pandemic stories. In the coming weeks, Americans will have more access to rapid tests than ever before now that the Biden administration has rolled out its plan to send one billion tests through the mail in response to the omicron surge.

Yesterday, Americans were able to start visiting  COVIDtests.gov to order up to four free rapid tests per household that will be delivered by mail in seven to 12 days, according to this White House fact sheet. This move comes in conjunction with a plan to send 10 million rapid tests to schools and a new requirement enacted over the weekend requiring private health insurers to reimburse plan holders for buying as many as eight rapid tests a month.

“Public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that Americans use at-home tests if they begin to have symptoms, at least five days after coming in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or are gathering indoors with a group of people who are at risk of severe disease or unvaccinated,” the White House said in an announcement about the new website on Jan. 14.

Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina has a good explainer on how to use rapid tests that you can use in your reporting. 

COVID-19 testing in the U.S. has been challenging for  myriad of reasons including lack of laboratory infrastructure, supply chain gaps, regulatory obstacles, lack of test production capacity and federal leadership attention. Public health experts say that for much of the pandemic, testing in the U.S. has been more about documenting cases than anticipating and altering the course of the pandemic. 

To learn more about the above, read this CNN story and this Washington Post story. They are both balanced, detailed articles explaining why there wasn’t enough supply of COVID-19 tests during this past holiday season. They conclude that the administration has prioritized getting the public fully vaccinated, and the size and capacity of the COVID-19 testing supply wasn’t as high a priority. As of early 2022, there were about a dozen rapid tests approved by the FDA. Manufacturers are pledging to ramp up their supply, and the government has signed contracts to ensure that test makers keep producing tests, even when demand wanes. 

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New tip sheet highlights aging in place trends and challenges

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis view Unsplash

The U.S. population of people 65 and older is expected to reach around 71 million by 2030 — nearly double that in 2006. By 2030, older adults will comprise about 20% of the population. By 2034,  the U.S. Census Bureau projects that older adults will edge out children in population size. The number of adults ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2040, the Urban Institute predicts.

The majority of older people87% — want to remain in their current home and community as they age. Doing so while staying as safe and independent as possible can pose challenges.  So, planning ahead is crucial, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Covering aging in place trends in your community and state is an opportunity for reporters to explore what financial, supportive housing and social services are available and where gaps exist, especially in states where populations are skewing older. Approximately 25% of older Americans live in one of three states: California, Florida, and Texas. Seven other states — Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — account for another 25% of Americans age 65 or older, according to the Population Reference Bureau. How can they remain safely at home? Where will they go if unable to live independently?

While retirement, assisted living, or continuing care communities have their appeal, they’re not for everyone. These options can also be expensive. For some, home modifications, in-home assistance or other supportive programs are more viable options.  However, despite the desire to remain in place, doing so can be daunting, according to a report from Fresenius Medical Care. Their survey of 2,000 older people found financial barriers along with other key social determinants of health such as food insecurity, lack of a strong social support network, and trouble completing everyday tasks were significant roadblocks to successful aging in place.

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