Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Cameron Hood, Newsletter EditorJonathan Lambert
Public Health Reporter
Welcome to Grid Health, bringing you stories on the intersections of health and politics, technology, climate change, misinformation and more. In this issue:  
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As covid raged the past two winters, flu retreated — thanks in large part to widespread social distancing. But the country has largely abandoned those collective measures, setting the stage for flu to mount a major comeback this year. And that could spell trouble for hospital systems worn out from the pandemic. 

Worrying signs emerged during the southern hemisphere’s flu season, which is just wrapping up. Cases in Australia started ticking up in April, two months earlier than usual, before peaking in early June as the country’s
worst flu season in five years, especially in young children. Some South American countries, including Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, experienced more significant flu seasons than the past several years too, potentially previewing a bad season up north. 

There are signs that the United States’ break from influenza may be over. Cases have started rising several weeks earlier compared with the 2021-2022 flu season, with the virus likely exploiting a larger population of immunologically vulnerable people. Children under 3 may be especially at risk, since they likely haven’t been exposed to the virus and childhood vaccination rates have dipped to their lowest rate in eight years during the pandemic. 

This year’s flu shots seem reasonably well-matched to the circulating strains, but even in a good year, only about half of Americans get vaccinated. Political polarization around covid shots, and vaccine fatigue, could push that down even further in some areas. Flu vaccination rates
dropped several percentage points in states with the lowest covid vaccine uptake in 2021, a recent study found. Federal officials have been urging Americans to get both their covid booster and their flu shots, but if the slow booster rollout is any indication, those efforts may not translate into robust uptake. 

That could put hospitals in a bind this winter if the flu returns in full force, especially if covid surges. Healthcare workers have been
leaving front-line positions in droves, and many hospitals have struggled to recover. The one-two punch of even an average flu season combined with an uptick in covid could push health systems to the brink yet again. But that’s not a foregone conclusion — especially if the most vulnerable get vaccinated


💠 Doctors get more politically active: Restrictions on abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision have sparked a wave of political participation by doctors and nurses across the country, according to Science Reporter Dan Vergano. Measures on abortion rights are on the November ballot in five states: California, Kentucky, Montana, Michigan and Vermont. Read more.

Biden’s surprise pot pardons: President Joe Biden’s surprise announcement last week that he’s pardoning the approximately 6,500 Americans with federal convictions for marijuana possession is a step toward decriminalizing cannabis, which is popular with Americans of all political beliefs. It’s also fair, Data Reporter Alex Leeds Matthews notes: Many states have legalized weed, but thousands of people still have criminal records leftover from a time when attitudes were different. Read more.

💠 Abuse in women’s soccer: Women’s soccer is the latest sport wrestling with an abuse scandal. A report commissioned by U.S. Soccer and led by former deputy attorney general Sally Q. Yates described shocking abuse and sexual coercion from one of the National Women’s Soccer League’s most decorated coaches, Alex reports. It also laid out in detail the institutional failures that allowed abusive coaches to fly under the radar at the NWSL for years. Read more.

🎧 Don’t miss Grid’s new podcast, Bad Takes! Each week, Executive Editor Laura McGann and Editor-at-Large Matthew Yglesias discuss a take that’s gotten under their skin, peeling back its layers to figure out what it tells us about American politics and society. Catch up on the latest episodes here Have a bad take for Laura and Matt to review in a future episode? Send it to us📩


The latest federal figures on youth e-cigarette use show that vaping among tweens and teens remains high, with 2.5 million middle and high school students – or 9.4 percent – reporting that they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Data from this year’s National Youth Tobacco Survey show that the most popular brand among this age group is Puff Bar, followed by Vuse and Hyde.  

The FDA, which in recent years has
banned several types of flavored vapes and is systematically reviewing e-cigarettes to determine which can stay on the market, sent warning letters to Puff Bar and Hyde. The agency said that Puff Bar was illegally selling flavored vapes containing flavored, synthetic nicotine, which Congress gave the FDA authority to regulate earlier this year. The FDA also denied marketing approval for Hyde, ordering it to remove its products from the market. 


  • I Tried to Keep My Pregnancy Secret (The Atlantic)
  • How a Chinese Doctor Who Warned of Covid-19 Spent His Final Days (New York Times
  • Biden’s Operation Warp Speed revival stumbles out of the gate (Politico

👋 Thanks for reading. Until next week, take care. –Jon 

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Alex Leeds Matthews, Cameron Hood and Lillian Barkley also contributed to this edition of Grid Health.
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