How long will it take to understand long COVID?

How long will it take to understand long COVID?

Enlarge (credit: niphon | Getty Images)

Rachel Robles contracted COVID in March 2020. The 27-year-old data analyst has not gone a single day without symptoms since. Most doctors did not believe her when she described how she had gone from running the Brooklyn Half Marathon the previous year to enduring such crippling fatigue that her couch felt like quicksand. How she suddenly struggled to put numbers together, despite her technical training. How no matter how many breaths she took, she always felt starved for air.

Three months in, one doctor told her, “COVID doesn’t last for 90 days. You either get over it or you die.”

That dichotomy—in which the only possible outcomes of COVID are either complete recovery or death—has turned out to be anything but true. Between 8 million and 23 million Americans are still sick months or years after being infected. The perplexing array of symptoms known as long COVID has left an estimated 1 million of those people so disabled they are unable to work, and those numbers are likely to grow as the virus continues to evolve and spread. Some who escaped long COVID the first time are getting it after their second or third infection. “It is a huge public health crisis in the wake of acute COVID infection,” says Linda Geng, a physician and codirector of Stanford Health Care’s long COVID clinic.

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CDC no longer gently recommends COVID precautions most weren’t following anyway

Huge facade for CDC headquarters against a beautiful sky.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its pandemic guidance today, offering slightly looser recommendations that likely won’t change much about how Americans handle the pandemic these days.

According to the updated guidance, people who are not up-to-date on their vaccinations—i.e., unvaccinated people or people who have not received the recommended number of boosters—no longer need to quarantine if they know they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Instead, if a not up-to-date person is exposed, the CDC now recommends they wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure and get tested for COVID-19 on day 5. Currently, roughly 68 percent of the US population is not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccination.

This guidance update essentially ends all COVID-19-related quarantine recommendations since the CDC had previously said that those who are up to date on their vaccines do not need to quarantine but only wear a mask for 10 days and test.

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With help from BA.5, new COVID hospitalizations quadrupled since April

A thrown-away surgical mask lays on the ground.

Enlarge / A thrown-away surgical mask lays on the ground. (credit: Getty | David Gannon)

As the wave of omicron coronavirus subvariant BA.5 continues to flood the US, daily COVID-19 hospitalizations are four times higher than four months ago, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The data reflects the high ongoing transmission of coronavirus subvariants adept at evading fading immune responses in a population that is largely unboosted.

In early April, as the US fell into a brief pandemic lull in the wake of the towering BA.1 omicron wave, the seven-day rolling average for new hospitalizations sunk to around 1,420 per day nationwide. Now, after waves of subvariants BA. 2, BA.2.12.1, and the current BA.5, hospitalizations have floated back up. The current seven-day rolling average is nearing 6,300. Overall, more than 37,000 people in the US are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

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As BA.5 continues to blaze across US, feds scrap summer booster plans

As BA.5 continues to blaze across US, feds scrap summer booster plans

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Federal officials have reportedly scrapped plans to expand access to second COVID-19 booster doses this summer, opting instead to pressure vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to produce their next-generation BA.5-targeting boosters even faster than before, possibly in September.

Currently, people ages 50 and over, as well as those 12 and up with certain health conditions, can received a second COVID-19 booster dose. But, with the ultratransmissible BA.5 wave threatening more infections and reinfections at a time when vaccine protections are fading, officials earlier this month toyed with the idea of opening second boosters to all adults. At the time, they were expected to decide the matter within the following weeks.

That decision window has now closed. And although BA.5 is still raging, the Biden administration has reportedly abandoned the plan to instead focus on the new booster vaccines for those 12 and up, which were previously expected to roll out in October and November.

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Meta thinks Facebook may need more “harmful health misinformation”

Meta thinks Facebook may need more “harmful health misinformation”

Enlarge (credit: Caroline Brehman / Contributor | CQ-Roll Call, Inc.)

The US continues to struggle with pandemic management. Where cases are rising right now, some cities and counties are considering reinstating mask mandates, and many hospitals are confronting a chronic nursing shortage.

Despite new concerns and a recent uptick in daily deaths recorded in the US and globally, however, Meta is already thinking about what a return to normal might look like. That includes recently speculating that normalcy might mean it’s time to go back to the company’s heydays of allowing health misinformation to spread through posts on Facebook and Instagram.

On Tuesday, Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, wrote in a statement that Meta is considering whether or not Facebook and Instagram should continue to remove all posts promoting falsehoods about vaccines, masks, and social distancing. To help them decide, Meta is asking its oversight board to weigh whether the “current COVID-19 misinformation policy is still appropriate” now that “extraordinary circumstances at the onset of the pandemic” have passed and many “countries around the world seek to return to more normal life.”

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Biden leaves isolation after testing negative for COVID twice

US President Joe Biden waves from his isolation following a virtual meeting on July 26, 2022.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden waves from his isolation following a virtual meeting on July 26, 2022. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

President Joe Biden has now tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 on two separate rapid antigen tests, and he is ending his “strict isolation measures.”

The president tested negative Tuesday evening and then again on Wednesday morning, the president’s physician, Kevin O’Connor, wrote in his daily update letter of the president’s SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Biden, 79, first tested positive Thursday morning while experiencing mild symptoms of a runny nose, fatigue, and a dry cough.

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President Biden, 79, tests positive for COVID-19 [Updated]

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: U.S. President Joe Biden departs the Oval Office and walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House July 20, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden is traveling to Somerset, Massachusetts to discuss his next steps in addressing climate change. He is scheduled to deliver remarks at the site of the now-closed Brayton Point power plant, which is being turned into the state's first offshore wind manufacturing facility.

Enlarge / WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 20: U.S. President Joe Biden departs the Oval Office and walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House July 20, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden is traveling to Somerset, Massachusetts to discuss his next steps in addressing climate change. He is scheduled to deliver remarks at the site of the now-closed Brayton Point power plant, which is being turned into the state’s first offshore wind manufacturing facility. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday morning, the White House announced.

The 79-year-old is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and is experiencing very mild symptoms, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. He has already begun a course of the antiviral Paxlovid and has started an isolation period in the White House, consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a letter released from the president’s physician, Kevin O’Connor, Biden tested positive via an antigen test this morning, a result that has already been confirmed by a PCR test. Prior to this morning, he was most recently tested on Tuesday and had tested negative. Now, Biden is experiencing mild symptoms of a runny nose, fatigue, and an occasional dry cough, which began yesterday, the letter said.

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BA.5 skyrockets in US, now accounting for 78% of cases

BA.5 skyrockets in US, now accounting for 78% of cases

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The omicron coronavirus subvariant BA.5 is hurtling toward complete domination in the US, now accounting for an estimated 78 percent of the country’s cases—which are also on the rise.

The breakneck takeover is stunning, with BA.5 showing a significant growth advantage over all other lineages and sublineages. In the US, that seems to include BA.4, which shares the same spike protein mutations but has differing mutations elsewhere in its genome.

At the start of June, BA.5 accounted for less than 10 percent of cases, with BA.4 lagging slightly, accounting for an estimated 6.4 percent. Since then, BA.5 has blasted ahead to 78 percent, while BA.4 peaked at 14.4 percent early in July and has now declined to 12.8 percent.

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Long COVID patients spend their life savings on unproven “blood washing”

A plasma donor is connected to an apheresis machine, which separates plasma from blood as people donate blood plasma for medicines, at the Twickenham Donor Centre, southwest London on April 7, 2021.

Enlarge / A plasma donor is connected to an apheresis machine, which separates plasma from blood as people donate blood plasma for medicines, at the Twickenham Donor Centre, southwest London on April 7, 2021. (credit: Getty | Johnathan Brady)

The COVID-19 pandemic is considered by many experts to be a mass disabling event. Though most people fully recover from a battle with the highly infectious coronavirus, a significant chunk of patients develop lingering, sometimes debilitating symptoms—aka long COVID. Estimates of how many COVID patients endure long-term symptoms can vary considerably. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that nearly one in five COVID patients report persistent symptoms. With hundreds of millions of COVID-19 cases reported around the globe, even the more modest estimates would still suggest that tens of millions have lasting effects.

Yet, as those patients seek effective care, researchers are still scrambling to define, understand, and treat this new phenomenon. Many patients have reported uphill battles for finding care and relief, including long waits at clinics and few treatment options when they see a care provider.

Cue the quacks. This situation is ripe for unscrupulous actors to step in and begin offering unproven products and treatments—likely at exorbitant prices. It’s a tried-and-true model: When modern medicine is not yet able to provide evidence-based treatment, quacks slither in to console the desperate, untreated patients. Amid their sympathetic platitudes, they rebuke modern medicine, scowl at callous physicians, and scoff at the slow pace and high price of clinical trials. With any ill-gotten trust they earn, these bad actors can peddle unproven treatments and false hope.

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Novavax’s COVID vaccine finally wins FDA authorization for use in unvaccinated

Empty vials of the Novavax Inc. Nuvaxovid COVID-19 vaccine arranged at the Tegel Vaccine Center in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, March 7, 2022.

Enlarge / Empty vials of the Novavax Inc. Nuvaxovid COVID-19 vaccine arranged at the Tegel Vaccine Center in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, March 7, 2022. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg )

The US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday issued a long-awaited authorization for Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine. It is the fourth COVID-19 vaccine to gain authorization in the US, but it’s the first to use a more conventional protein-subunit design.

For now, the two-dose vaccine is mainly aimed at the roughly 72 million Americans who have yet to receive one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA’s emergency use authorization only allows for its use as a primary series, not a booster for those already vaccinated. Though Novavax is expected to seek booster authorization later, the company and the FDA hope that the vaccine’s traditional formulation will entice vaccination holdouts now, particularly as BA.5 sweeps the country.

Some consider the vaccine’s protein-subunit design as a more tried-and-true design relative to the newer mRNA-based platform used in the leading COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. While mRNA-based vaccines made their public debut during the pandemic, protein-subunit-based vaccines were already in use against various diseases, including hepatitis B, flu, pertussis (whooping cough), and meningococcal infections.

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Feds may expand 2nd boosters to all adults as anxiety surges over BA.5 wave

Feds may expand 2nd boosters to all adults as anxiety surges over BA.5 wave

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The swift rise of omicron subvariant BA.5—with its increased immune-evading abilities and demonstrable growth advantage—has federal officials on edge. In a flurry of activity late Monday and early Tuesday, officials doubled down on pandemic measures, renewed calls for vigilance, and are considering expanding eligibility of second boosters to all adults.

In a press briefing Tuesday morning, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha outlined a battle plan against BA.5, which, as of today, is estimated to account for 65 percent of cases in the US. Jha highlighted efforts and tools to prevent another towering wave of infection as seen with the original omicron in January. The plan includes a stronger push to get Americans vaccinated and boosted, plus renewed encouragement to test, treat, mask, and improve indoor ventilation.

US COVID-19 cases are currently plateaued at a high level of around 117,000 new cases per day—but that’s likely a significant underestimate given that many Americans are testing at home and not reporting their cases. Hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, meanwhile, are rising, with 17 percent and 21 percent increases over the past two weeks, respectively, according to tracking by The New York Times. Generally, the daily average of hospitalizations has more than doubled since the end of May, with the current average nearing 38,000.

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Moderna to make two different omicron boosters: one for US, another for UK, EU

A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination center.

Enlarge / A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination center. (credit: Getty | SOPA Images)

The type of COVID-19 booster dose you get later this year could depend on where you live.

Vaccine maker Moderna is working up two omicron-targeting boosters for different countries. If the company’s plans pan out, it will mark the first time that COVID-19 vaccines would target different versions of the pandemic coronavirus in different places. Until now, all vaccines, including boosters, have targeted the ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2, first identified in Wuhan, China.

Both of Moderna’s next-gen booster candidates are bivalent vaccines, which target both the ancestral virus and some version of omicron. One booster option targets BA.1—the version of omicron that first burst out of South Africa last November, causing a towering wave of infection in the US in January 2022. That BA.1-based next-gen booster could be available in the EU, UK,  Australia, and elsewhere later this month or early August. Moderna’s other booster option targets BA.4/5 and is intended for use in the US. However, it likely won’t be ready until early to mid-fall.

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Yet another omicron subvariant is raising concern as BA.5 sweeps the US

MUMBAI, INDIA JUNE 7: A health worker collects swab samples of a citizen for Covid-19 test after cases are on the rise in the city, at TMC's C.R. Wadia Hospital testing centre, in Thane, on June 7, 2022 in Mumbai, India.

Enlarge / MUMBAI, INDIA JUNE 7: A health worker collects swab samples of a citizen for Covid-19 test after cases are on the rise in the city, at TMC’s C.R. Wadia Hospital testing centre, in Thane, on June 7, 2022 in Mumbai, India. (credit: Getty | Hindustan Times)

As the omicron coronavirus subvariant BA.5 blazes through the US—accounting for an estimated 54 percent of cases in the country—experts are eyeing another subvariant that threatens to follow hot on its heels.

The subvariant is referred to as BA.2.75 and was first detected in India in late May. Amid a backdrop of BA.2 and BA.5 circulating in India, the newcomer BA.2.75 began quickly gaining ground in June. This week it reached 23 percent of recent virus samples there. Meanwhile, spread beyond India’s borders. It is now present in about 10 other countries, including the US, according to the World Health Organization.

Experts are concerned about the new subvariant, not just because of its rapid rise. It has several mutations in its spike protein—the critical protein that allows the virus to latch onto human cells and the protein that acts as a prime target for immune responses. In particular, BA.2.75 has key mutations that suggest it could be good at evading antibody responses in people who have been vaccinated and/or previously infected with earlier omicron subvariants.

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COVID was the leading cause of death in Americans aged 45-54 in 2021

A woman watches white flags on the National Mall on September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. Over 660,000 white flags were installed here to honor Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 epidemic.

Enlarge / A woman watches white flags on the National Mall on September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. Over 660,000 white flags were installed here to honor Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 epidemic. (credit: Getty | Chen Mengtong)

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in Americans between March 2020 and October 2021, accounting for one in every eight deaths.

In that time frame, COVID-19 ranked in the top five causes of death for every age group of people older than 15 years. Between January and October 2021, the pandemic disease was the leading cause of death among people 45 to 54 years old.

That’s all according to a study of national death certificate data, published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

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Windblown “alien things” caused massive COVID outbreak, North Korea says

Balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets are released by North Korean defectors, now living on South Korea, on February 16, 2013, in Paju, South Korea.

Enlarge / Balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets are released by North Korean defectors, now living on South Korea, on February 16, 2013, in Paju, South Korea. (credit: Getty | Chung-Sung Jun)

After an intense, detailed investigation, North Korea has determined what sparked an explosive outbreak of COVID-19 that has led to over 4.7 million “fevers” within its borders since late April. The culprit: “alien things” blown into the country from the South.

According to a report from the official KCNA news agency, North Korea’s outbreak began in early April when an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergartener made contact with “alien things in a hill” in the area of Ipho-ri in Kumgang County, which is in the country’s southeastern corner near the border. The two later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and epidemiological analyses found that those cases were solely behind the country-wide outbreak; the two infections link to greater spread in Kumgang and, from there, into the rest of North Korea.

“It was also ascertained,” the report reads, “that the fever cases reported in all areas and units of the country except the Ipho-ri area till mid-April, were due to other diseases.” The report did not include any information about how officials came to that conclusion.

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FDA calls for fall boosters against BA.4/5 as subvariants take over US

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research within the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill on March 18, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research within the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill on March 18, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Pool)

On Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration advised vaccine makers to reformulate COVID-19 booster shots for this fall. The boosters would target both the original strain of the pandemic coronavirus plus two new omicron subvariants—BA.4 and BA.5—which became the dominant versions of the virus circulating in the United States this week.

The FDA’s announcement comes two days after its independent expert advisors voted overwhelmingly in favor of updating boosters to include an omicron component. The vote—19 in favor, two against—was simply in favor of including an omicron component generally. But, in their afternoon-long discussion, experts offered opinions that led to the FDA’s more specific guidance.

Specifically, much of the committee expressed support for combination shots—aka bivalent boosters—that would target both the original virus and a version of omicron. There was also broad support for targeting the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 specifically, rather than earlier subvariants, such as the first, BA.1, which is no longer in circulation.

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Fauci reports COVID rebound, says his is “much worse” than initial illness

Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Alex Wong)

The country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, has been struck by a phenomenon that appears to be becoming more common in the latest stage of the pandemic—rebounding bouts of COVID-19 after a course of the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

In an interview Tuesday at Foreign Policy’s Global Health Forum, Fauci recounted the progression of his infection to his current rebound, which he said has been much worse than his first round with the disease. Fauci—the director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical advisor to the president—is 81 years old and has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and boosted twice.

He first tested positive on a rapid antigen test on June 15 and experienced “very minimal symptoms.” But his symptoms worsened and he began a five-day course of Paxlovid. “And I felt really quite well,” Fauci said, adding that he just had mild nasal congestion and fatigue. When he had finished the five-day course, he had reverted to negative on antigen tests for three consecutive days. But, “then on the fourth day—just to be absolutely certain—I tested myself again, and I reverted back to positive … and then over the next day or so I started to feel really poorly, much worse than in the first go-around.”

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How hiring the wrong medical “expert” derailed US pandemic response

Image of a man speaking from behind a podium.

Enlarge / Scott Atlas, a White House adviser, used his position to advocate for allowing the SARS-CoV-2 virus to spread and tried to block testing for it, which would further that goal. (credit: MANDEL NGAN / Getty Images)

While one congressional committee seems to be grabbing all the headlines recently, other investigations of the Trump administration have continued in the background. One of them is trying to determine how the US’s response to the coronavirus pandemic went so wrong that the country ended up with over a million deaths and one of the worst per-capita death rates in the world. In its own words, the committee’s goal is “to ensure the American people receive a full accounting of what went wrong and to determine what corrective steps are necessary to ensure our nation is better prepared for any future public health crisis.”

In its latest report, released on Tuesday, the committee details the White House career of Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious disease experience. Atlas’ hiring by the White House was expected to be so controversial that he was initially instructed to hide his staff ID from the actual government public health experts. Yet he quickly became a driving force for the adoption of policies that would achieve herd immunity by allowing most of the US population to be infected—even as other officials denied that this was the policy.

How’d this guy get here?

Atlas’ lack of relevant expertise raises questions as to why he was hired in the first place. The new report details that he wasn’t shy about voicing his opinions about the pandemic response, making multiple TV appearances to complain about the policies advocated by actual public health experts. He also directly reached out to a senior government official, calling the US’s response “a massive overreaction” to a virus he estimated “would cause about 10,000 deaths.”

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COVID rebounds: Immune responses may be reignited by cleanup of viral scraps

A box of Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral drug.

Enlarge / A box of Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral drug. (credit: Getty | Europa Press News)

Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid is among the most treasured tools for hammering COVID-19; it can knock back the relative risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent in unvaccinated patients at high risk of severe disease. But, as use of the convenient drug has grown in the US, so have troubling reports of rebound cases—people who took the pill early in their infection, began feeling better, and even tested negative but then slid back into symptoms and tested positive again days later.

It’s still unclear just how common the phenomenon is, but it certainly happens in some proportion of Paxlovid-treated patients. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even issued a health alert over the rebound reports.

But, amid the rising awareness, it has also become clear that patients who have not been treated with Paxlovid can also rebound. In fact, in Pfizer’s clinical trials of Paxlovid, researchers noted that about 1 percent to 2 percent of both treatment and placebo groups had rebounds.

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Long COVID 20-50% less likely after omicron than delta in vaccinated people

A long COVID patient sits with her daughter in her wheelchair while receiving a saline infusion at her Maryland home on Friday, May 27, 2022.

Enlarge / A long COVID patient sits with her daughter in her wheelchair while receiving a saline infusion at her Maryland home on Friday, May 27, 2022. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

Among adults vaccinated against COVID-19, the odds of developing long COVID amid the omicron wave were about 20 percent to 50 percent lower than during the delta period, with variability based on age and time since vaccination.

The finding comes from a case-control observational study published this week in The Lancet by researchers at Kings College London. The study found that about 4.5 percent of the omicron breakthrough cases resulted in long COVID, while 10.8 percent of delta breakthrough cases resulted in the long-term condition.

While the news may seem a little reassuring to those nursing a breakthrough omicron infection, it’s cold comfort for public health overall since the omicron coronavirus variant is much more transmissible than delta.

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Moderna, Pfizer vaccines for under 5s overwhelmingly endorsed by FDA advisors

A woman in protective gear leans over a toddler in a bed.

Enlarge / Boston Medical Center Child Life Specialist Karlie Bittrich sees to a baby while in a pediatrics tent set up outside of Boston Medical Center in Boston on April 29, 2020. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

A committee of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration voiced unanimous support Wednesday for the authorization of two COVID-19 vaccines for children under the age of 5. If the FDA authorizes the vaccines, it will mark the first time during the more than two-year pandemic that vaccines against COVID-19 will be available for this age group—the last group yet to be eligible for vaccination.

Although children in this young age group have a relatively lower risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 compared with older groups, they can and do become severely ill and die from the infection. As of last month, 45,000 children under 5 have been hospitalized for COVID-19 during the pandemic; roughly 50 percent of those hospitalizations occurred during the omicron wave. Of the children who land in the hospital, about 63 percent have no underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe COVID-19. And about a quarter of those hospitalized require intensive care.

So far, 475 children under the age of 5 have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, making COVID-19 far deadlier than other diseases we routinely vaccinate young children against, including influenza, measles, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and rotavirus.

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EU warns of BA.4/BA.5 uprising, braces for next wave of cases

Members of the public queue outside a pharmacy to receive COVID-19 antigen tests in Paris on January 6, 2022.

Enlarge / Members of the public queue outside a pharmacy to receive COVID-19 antigen tests in Paris on January 6, 2022. (credit: Getty | LUDOVIC MARIN)

Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are on the rise in the European Union, spurring officials there to warn that a surge of COVID-19 cases will likely follow in the coming weeks.

In an alert Monday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control cautioned that various factors would influence how bad the expected BA.4/BA.5 wave will be. Those factors include the extent of vaccination and past infection in the population, as well as timing since those events because protection from both wanes over time.

BA.4 and BA.5 are clumped together because they share the same mutations in the genetic coding for their spike proteins, though they have differing mutations elsewhere in their genome. Both have a transmission advantage over the initial omicron subvariant, BA.1, as well as subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.

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#ba-2, #ba-2-12-1, #ba-4, #ba-5, #biology, #boosters, #cdc, #covid-19, #ecdc, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #public-health, #science, #subvariants, #vaccines

US can’t afford fall boosters for all—even after cuts to test and PPE spending

A sign for a vaccine site stands in Staten Island on November 29, 2021, in New York City.

Enlarge / A sign for a vaccine site stands in Staten Island on November 29, 2021, in New York City. (credit: Getty | Spence Platt)

With pandemic funding running out, the Biden administration is repurposing $10 billion to buy next-generation COVID-19 booster doses for the fall, as well as treatments, including the anti-viral Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies.

The funding will be pilfered from federal programs that support COVID-19 test availability and domestic production, as well as stockpiles of essential resources, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Funding for research on coronavirus vaccines and new treatments will also take a hit.

“These were incredibly painful decisions,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said in a press briefing Thursday.

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#biology, #booster, #boosters, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #ppe, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #testing, #testing-capacity, #vaccines

Moderna’s omicron-combo booster outcompetes current booster

Extreme close-up photo of a gloved hand holding a tiny jar.

Enlarge / A vial of the current Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (credit: Getty | Ivan Romano)

A combination COVID-19 booster dose that targets the ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the initial omicron variant, BA.1, appears to outperform the current booster against both of those versions of the virus, Moderna reported Wednesday.

Specifically, Moderna says the combination booster increased neutralizing antibodies against omicron 8-fold, while the original booster only increased antibody levels around 4.4-fold.

The vaccine maker is angling to have this bivalent shot—dubbed mRNA-1273.214—be the go-to booster for seasonal shots this fall. The company will be submitting its data to the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks and says it hopes to have the bivalent booster available by late summer, if not early fall.

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#bivalent, #booster, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #moderna, #omicron, #science, #subvariants, #vaccine, #variants

FDA advisors overwhelmingly endorse Novavax COVID-19 vaccine

Empty vials of the Novavax Inc. Nuvaxovid COVID-19 vaccine arranged at the Tegel Vaccine Center in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, March 7, 2022.

Enlarge / Empty vials of the Novavax Inc. Nuvaxovid COVID-19 vaccine arranged at the Tegel Vaccine Center in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, March 7, 2022. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg )

A committee of independent, expert advisors for the Food and Drug Administration voted overwhelmingly to authorize the two-dose Novavax COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, with 21 of 22 committee members voting in favor of the vaccine and one member abstaining.

The endorsement is only for a two-dose primary series in adults, not for boosters. The FDA is not obligated to follow the advice of its committee—the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC)—but the agency typically heeds its advice. If the FDA authorizes the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will need to sign off on use before it becomes available.

The decision regarding the Novavax vaccine, which is already authorized in dozens of other countries, is not a straightforward one in the US. The vaccine has some advantages over currently approved vaccines but has several strikes against it.

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#biology, #clinical-trial, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #novavax, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

BA.4, BA.5 gain ground in US, pose higher risk of breakthrough infections

A person holds a positive SARS-CoV-2 rapid test on February 17, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.

Enlarge / A person holds a positive SARS-CoV-2 rapid test on February 17, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. (credit: Getty | Thomas Trutschel)

Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 has overtaken BA.2 as the dominant version of the pandemic coronavirus in the US, now accounting for an estimated 59 percent of cases nationwide. But BA.2.12.1’s reign may end as quickly as it began, with yet another batch of omicron subvariants gaining ground—BA.4 and BA.5—and threatening to cause more breakthrough infections.

BA.2.12.1 has a transmission advantage over BA.2, which itself has an edge over the initial omicron subvariant, BA.1, that caused a towering surge of US cases in mid-January. BA.2 peaked in mid-April, accounting for 76 percent of US cases at its height. But then came BA.2.12.1, which is named for being the 12th lineage stemming from BA.2 and the first branch of that BA.2.12 lineage.

When BA.2 peaked in mid-April, BA.2.12.1 accounted for about 18 percent of cases. It reached about 43 percent prevalence by mid-May and has since overtaken BA.2, which currently accounts for only about 35 percent of cases. BA.2.12.1 is dominant in every region of the country, except for the Northwest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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June 21 is expected start date of COVID vaccination for kids under 5

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha speaks alongside White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during the daily press briefing at the White House on June 02, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha speaks alongside White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during the daily press briefing at the White House on June 02, 2022 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Kevin Dietsch)

COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 6 months to under five years—the only age group yet to be eligible for vaccination—is expected to get underway on June 21, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said in a press briefing Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing data from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech on their respective vaccines for the young age group. The agency will convene its panel of independent expert advisors to review the data on June 15 and vote on whether the vaccines should be granted emergency use authorization.

If the panel votes in favor of authorization, the FDA will likely grant authorization quickly. Once that happens, shipments of federal supplies of the vaccines will begin going out to states for distribution. But, before they can go into little arms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will need to have its own advisory committee meeting to review the data and vote on a recommendation. And for the final step, the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will need to endorse the recommendation.

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#biology, #children-under-5, #covid-19, #fda, #medicine, #science, #vaccines

More than 1 in 5 COVID survivors may develop long COVID, CDC study suggests

A woman breathes into a tube while a health care worker looks on.

Enlarge / A long-COVID patient in Germany takes a pulmonary function test at Hufeland Clinic’s Center for Pneumology. (credit: Getty | picture alliance)

More than one in five adults in the US who have recovered from COVID-19 may end up developing a long-term condition linked to the viral infection, according to a study published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The post-COVID conditions span heart, lung, kidney, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, and mental health conditions. Overall, COVID survivors had nearly twice the risk of developing respiratory and lung conditions, including pulmonary embolisms, compared with uninfected controls. The most common post-COVID conditions were respiratory conditions and musculoskeletal pain.

Among COVID survivors, people ages 18 to 64 were more likely than older survivors to develop cardiac dysrhythmia and musculoskeletal pain. The risks for survivors 65 and up were greater for kidney failure, blood clots, cerebrovascular disease, muscle disorders, neurological conditions, and mental health conditions.

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Sliding to mild? Nope—omicron BA.2 caused worse COVID symptoms than BA.1

Sliding to mild? Nope—omicron BA.2 caused worse COVID symptoms than BA.1

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

Despite early suggestions that the omicron coronavirus subvariant BA.1 would be mild, a massive wave of infections in January caused spikes in hospitalizations and more excess deaths than earlier variants. And subsequent omicron subvariants don’t appear to be easing up.

According to a preprint study involving data from more than 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom, an infection with the omicron subvariant BA.2 was more likely to be symptomatic, more likely to cause a larger number of symptoms, and more likely to cause symptoms that people said affected their daily lives “a lot,” compared to an infection with BA.1.

In fact, BA.2 wasn’t just worse than BA.1; it was bad overall. The study authors analyzed symptom reports linked to infections of the ancestral coronavirus strain and variants alpha, delta, omicron BA.1, and omicron BA.2. The authors found that BA.2 infections were the most likely to cause symptoms compared with all the other variants. And the finding held up when the authors adjusted for time since a booster dose in people who were triple vaccinated, suggesting that waning vaccine protection could not explain the increase in symptom reporting.

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#biology, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #omicron, #sars-cov-2, #science, #symptoms, #variants

Pfizer warns of “constant waves” of COVID as complacency grows

A woman wears a facemask as she walks by the Pfizer world headquarters in New York on November 9, 2020.

Enlarge / A woman wears a facemask as she walks by the Pfizer world headquarters in New York on November 9, 2020. (credit: Getty | KENA BETANCUR )

Growing complacency about COVID-19 and politicization of the pandemic response will cost lives as the world is hit by new waves of the virus in the coming months, Pfizer’s chief executive has warned.

Albert Bourla said people were growing “tired” of the measures introduced to slow the spread of the virus, while “politicians want to claim victory.” Compliance with authorities’ requests for people to get booster shots would fall even among those who are already vaccinated, he predicted.

This, combined with waning immunity from previous infections and vaccinations, was likely to lead to “constant waves” of COVID variants and deaths, he said.

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#covid-19, #pandemic, #pfizer, #pfizer-biontech, #science, #vaccines

Pfizer says 3-dose COVID vaccine for under 5s produces strong immune response

Vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Enlarge / Vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (credit: SOPA images)

Pfizer and BioNTech will request authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration this week for their three-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months to under 5 years, the companies announced this morning.

Top-line clinical trial results indicate that the vaccine series is safe and produces a strong immune response against the pandemic virus, according to the companies.

“The study suggests that a low 3-[microgram] dose of our vaccine…  provides young children with a high level of protection against the recent COVID-19 strains,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

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North Korea’s COVID outbreak hits over 1.7M; WHO is “deeply concerned”

People watch a television broadcast showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade at the Seoul Railway Station on May 4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea.

Enlarge / People watch a television broadcast showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade at the Seoul Railway Station on May 4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea. (credit: Getty | Chung Sung-Jun)

A mushrooming COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea has reached over 1.7 million cases, with nearly 233,000 new cases reported on Wednesday alone, according to state media reports. It’s a startling rise given that North Korea claimed to have zero COVID-19 cases a week ago.

But now the secretive, authoritarian country is acknowledging that the pandemic virus has been spreading “explosively” in since late April. Many experts have interpreted the admission as a sign of a dire situation in the country and a plea for international aid. North Korea has a weak health care system, and many of its people are undernourished due to an ongoing food crisis. Moreover, the country previously shunned offers of vaccines from the United Nations-backed COVAX program and China, leaving its population unvaccinated.

After North Korea acknowledged the outbreak for the first time last Thursday, South Korea offered aid, including vaccines. But North Korea has reportedly not responded. But, the country may have accepted aid from its closest ally, China. According to unnamed diplomats who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, three North Korean cargo planes flew to the Chinese city of Shenyang on Monday, returning the same day carrying basic medical supplies.

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#covid-19, #north-korea, #science

Kids 5 to 11 get FDA OK for COVID-19 booster doses

A boy gives a nurse a high five before receiving a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site for 5-11 year-olds at Eastmonte Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Enlarge / A boy gives a nurse a high five before receiving a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site for 5-11 year-olds at Eastmonte Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida. (credit: Getty | SOPA)

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 through 11, the first booster dose for the age group intended to revive waning immune protection.

The authorization comes as the US continues to see COVID-19 cases rise due to the extremely transmissible omicron coronavirus subvariants, specifically BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, which now account for an estimated 51 percent and 47.5 percent of all reported cases, respectively. Transmission levels are considered high in just over 50 percent of US counties, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The seven-day average of new daily cases is nearly 96,000, up 57 percent in the last two weeks, according to data tracking by The New York Times. Hospitalizations are around 22,000, up 26 percent. Daily deaths are averaging around 300.

But some experts highlight that data on the current omicron-subvariant wave is muted because testing sites have shuttered, and many people are relying on at-home testing results that are largely not reported. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine, tweeted over the weekend that the current wave could rival that of the original omicron wave in January. He strongly urged Americans to get vaccinated and boosted and to vaccinate their children.

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Omicron caused spike in breathing condition in babies and toddlers, study finds

Parents look after their son, age 5, who is being treated for croup and asthma in an emergency room at a California hospital March 24, 2010.

Enlarge / Parents look after their son, age 5, who is being treated for croup and asthma in an emergency room at a California hospital March 24, 2010. (credit: Getty | Mark Boster)

The omicron coronavirus variant caused a spike in cases of a potentially severe breathing condition in babies and toddlers, according to a hospital study recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study is small, focusing only on COVID-19-associated cases at one large children’s hospital in Massachusetts during the pandemic. But, it provides some of the initial data on the subject and backs up anecdotes from health care providers that the latest pandemic variant causes more cases of laryngotracheobronchitis—aka croup—in younger children than earlier variants.

Generally, croup is a common upper-respiratory tract condition in which significant inflammation and swelling develop in the larynx and trachea, imperiling breathing. Some viral infection usually triggers swelling, but allergies and other irritants can also be culprits. Croup can occur at any age but mostly strikes the tiny upper airways of infants and young children, ages 3 months to 5 years.

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Switch to Moderna booster after Pfizer shots better against omicron in 60+

The Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Enlarge / The Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. (credit: Getty | Marcos del Mazo)

People ages 60 and older who were initially vaccinated with two Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses were better protected from the omicron coronavirus variant after being boosted with a Moderna vaccine rather than another dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Those results are according to interim data from a small but randomized controlled clinical trial in Singapore and published this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The study—involving 98 healthy adults—can’t determine if the Moderna booster is simply superior to a Pfizer-BioNTech booster for older adults or if a mix-and-match booster strategy is inherently better. It also focused solely on antibody levels, which may or may not translate to significant differences in infection rates and other clinical differences. It also only followed people for 28 days after a booster, so it’s unclear if the Moderna booster’s edge will hold up over time.

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North Korea: Six dead, 350,000 “fevers” as coronavirus spreads “explosively”

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un on June 30, 2019.

Enlarge / North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on June 30, 2019. (credit: Getty | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)

At least six people in North Korea have died and more than 350,000 have contracted an unusual fever since late April in an outbreak that “explosively spread nationwide,” North Korean state media said Friday.

On Thursday, 18,000 new cases were reported, 187,800 people were in quarantine, and 162,200 had reportedly recovered. The cases are being defined by “a fever whose cause couldn’t be identified,” according to The New York Times.

The numbers come just a day after the authoritarian country acknowledged for the first time during the pandemic that the coronavirus was spreading within its borders.

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#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #north-korea, #omicron, #outbreak, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

Unvaccinated North Korea reports omicron outbreak, raising fears of new variants

People watch a television broadcast showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade at the Seoul Railway Station on May 4, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.

Enlarge / People watch a television broadcast showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade at the Seoul Railway Station on May 4, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. (credit: Getty | Chung Sung-Jun)

North Korea instituted a nationwide lockdown Thursday after reporting an omicron coronavirus variant outbreak in its capital, Pyongyang. The report marks the first time during the pandemic that the secretive, authoritarian country has acknowledged coronavirus cases within its borders, though outside experts have doubted the country’s previous claims of zero infections.

Acknowledging omicron cases in Pyongyang raises questions over whether the admission is a sign of deteriorating public health conditions and/or a signal that the country is willing to accept pandemic aid, including vaccines.

So far, North Korea’s government has rejected offers of COVID-19 vaccine supplies from the United Nation’s global vaccination effort, COVAX, and China’s domestically produced vaccines. North Korea is one of the few countries that has not run a public vaccination effort, and its 26 million people are believed to be largely unvaccinated.

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#ba-2, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #north-korea, #omicron, #outbreak, #public-health, #science, #vaccines, #variant

White House warns of “pretty sizeable” COVID surge this winter

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha gestures as he speaks at a daily press conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 26, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha gestures as he speaks at a daily press conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Anna Moneymaker)

The US could see a significant surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths this fall and winter unless the country prepares and acts, according to public health experts with the Biden administration.

Last week, administration officials told reporters in a background briefing that some disease models projected that the US could see 100 million coronavirus infections this winter, though there is a wide range of possibilities. The noted forecast assumed that omicron subvariants continued to be dominant in the country, rather than a dramatically different variant potentially worsening the outlook.

In an interview Sunday on ABC’s This Week, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha reiterated the warning of a winter surge, noting that each pandemic winter so far has included large surges, and the conditions will be prime for another this season. Protection from first and even second boosters will wane by this fall. Meanwhile, the virus will continue to evolve new variants and subvariants, and people will huddle indoors during the cold weather and end-of-year holidays.

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#covid-19, #omicron, #science

FDA puts the brakes on J&J vaccine after 9th clotting death reported

Boxes of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Florida.

Enlarge / Boxes of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Florida. (credit: Getty | Paul Hennessy)

The US Food and Drug Administration limited the use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine late Thursday, citing the risk of a very rare but severe clotting disorder called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).

From now on, the J&J vaccine is only to be used in people ages 18 and up who are unable or unwilling to receive an alternative COVID-19 vaccine. That includes people who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, people who have personal concerns about mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and would otherwise not get vaccinated, and people who don’t have access to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

The limitation comes as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been closely monitoring people who received J&J COVID-19 vaccinations for TTS. To date, the agencies have identified and confirmed 60 cases of TTS linked to the vaccine, including nine deaths. That represents a rate of 3.23 TTS cases per million doses of J&J vaccine administered, and a rate of 0.48 TTS deaths per million doses of vaccine administered, the FDA said Thursday.

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Pandemic killed 15M people in first 2 years, WHO excess death study finds

A woman watches white flags on the National Mall on September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. Over 660,000 white flags were installed here to honor Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 epidemic.

Enlarge / A woman watches white flags on the National Mall on September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. Over 660,000 white flags were installed here to honor Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 epidemic. (credit: Getty | Chen Mengtong)

An estimated 14.91 million people worldwide died in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of global excess deaths released Thursday by the World Health Organization.

The estimate—with a 95 percent confidence interval of 13.3 million to 16.6 million—is significantly larger than the number of reported deaths directly caused by COVID-19 during that time, which was around 5.42 million by official counts. But, estimates of excess death try to capture the true toll of the pandemic—direct and indirect deaths. The estimate is done by comparing the number of deaths that occurred during a time period to those expected to occur in that period based on historical mortality data and modeling. Such modeling also accounts for historical differences, such as fewer traffic and influenza deaths during the pandemic due to movement and health restrictions.

Thus, excess death estimates aim to capture not only reported COVID-19 deaths, but unreported COVID-19 deaths, and deaths indirectly caused by COVID-19. Those can include people dying of preventable, non-COVID conditions because they delayed or avoided health care in fear of becoming infected, or because their healthcare system was overburdened with COVID-19 patients and unable to provide optimal care.

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#covid-19, #excess-deaths, #infectious-disease, #mortality, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #who

BA.2.12.1 poised to become dominant in US, raising concern for future vaccines

A medical worker arranges nucleic acid samples at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site on May 3, 2022 in Beijing, China.

Enlarge / A medical worker arranges nucleic acid samples at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site on May 3, 2022 in Beijing, China. (credit: Getty | Pang Songgang)

The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is poised to become dominant in the US, currently accounting for an estimated 36.5 percent of all US SARS-CoV-2 cases, according to the latest estimates released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The subvariant’s ascent is the latest rapid succession of omicron subvariants, from the sky-scraping peak of cases from the initial omicron subvariant BA.1 in January, to the current bump driven by the subvariant BA.2, which achieved dominance in March. As before, the reason for the viral usurping is that omicron subvariants continue to evolve advantages: BA.2.12.1 has a transmission advantage over BA.2, which had a transmission advantage over BA.1, which had a significant advantage over delta.

The imminent reign of BA.2.12.1 raises concern for yet another wave of infections and poses questions about how effective future omicron-specific vaccines could be against symptomatic infections.

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Omicron subvariants BA.4, BA.5 evade protection from earlier omicron infection

A Covid-19 testing tent stands in Times Square on April 27, 2022 in New York City.

Enlarge / A Covid-19 testing tent stands in Times Square on April 27, 2022 in New York City. (credit: Getty | Spencer Platt)

Enduring an initial omicron infection may not spare you from omicron’s subvariants, according to preliminary data from South Africa.

The country is currently at the start of a new wave of infections, primarily driven by two omicron coronavirus subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. Despite a towering wave of cases from the initial BA.1 omicron variant in December that infected a large chunk of the country, new omicron cases increased 259 percent in the last two weeks, according to data tracking by The New York Times. Hospitalizations are also up, and deaths have increased by 18 percent.

Preliminary data posted online last week helps explain why cases are once again surging—the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants can evade neutralizing antibodies generated by infections from BA.1. For the study, led by virologist Alex Sigal of the Africa Health Research Institute, researchers pitted neutralization antibodies from people infected with BA.1 up against BA.4 and BA.5 in a lab. They had samples from 24 unvaccinated people infected with BA.1 and 15 vaccinated people who had also had a BA.1 infection (eight people were vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and seven had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

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Moderna requests FDA authorization for COVID vaccine for kids under 6

Moderna requests FDA authorization for COVID vaccine for kids under 6

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a move highly anticipated by parents the country over, Moderna announced Thursday that it has requested FDA authorization for its two-dose COVID-19 vaccines for children 6 months to 2 years, and 2 years to under 6 years.

If the Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccines, they will be the first such vaccines available to the age groups in the now nearly two-and-a-half-year-long pandemic. Parents of young, vaccine-ineligible children have been anxiously awaiting the availability of such vaccines, particularly as much of the country tries to move on from the pandemic even as the number of cases of the extremely contagious omicron subvariants continue to tick upward.

“We are proud to share that we have initiated our EUA submission for authorization for our COVID-19 vaccine for young children,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement Thursday morning. “We believe mRNA-1273 [the COVID-19 vaccine] will be able to safely protect these children against SARS-CoV-2, which is so important in our continued fight against COVID-19 and will be especially welcomed by parents and caregivers.”

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Musk has “huge responsibility” to fight health misinfo on Twitter, WHO says

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presents a vaccine production device during a meeting September 2, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Musk met with vaccine maker CureVac, with which Tesla has a cooperation to build devices for producing RNA vaccines.

Enlarge / Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presents a vaccine production device during a meeting September 2, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Musk met with vaccine maker CureVac, with which Tesla has a cooperation to build devices for producing RNA vaccines. (credit: Getty | Filip Singer)

Elon Musk has a “huge responsibility” to combat dangerous, potentially life-threatening health misinformation on Twitter, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The United Nation’s health agency commented on Monday’s news that the tech billionaire has struck a deal to purchase Twitter for $44 billion. WHO officials stressed how damaging misinformation and disinformation could be when it’s widely spread in digital spaces like Twitter.

“In cases like this pandemic, good information is life-saving,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said. “In some cases, [it’s] more life-saving than having a vaccine in the sense that bad information sends you to some very, very bad places.”

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75% of US children have now had COVID, up from 44% due to omicron

A child arrives at an elementary school vaccination site for children ages 5 to 11 in Miami in November 2021.

Enlarge / A child arrives at an elementary school vaccination site for children ages 5 to 11 in Miami in November 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

At least 75 percent of US children have now been infected with the pandemic coronavirus, up from roughly 44 percent before the omicron wave, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children in the age groups of 0 to 11 and 12 to 17 have the highest infection rates and saw the most significant increases during the omicron wave compared with any other age group. About a third of all children in the country were newly infected during the omicron wave. Together, the data showcase just how poorly the country has done at shielding children—including those not yet eligible for vaccination—from the pandemic virus.

The new data dovetails with a study published by the CDC in February, which found that the peak rate of pediatric hospitalizations during the omicron wave was four times higher than the peak seen during the delta wave last fall. The largest increase was seen in children ages 0 to 4, who had a peak hospitalization rate five times higher than the peak amid delta.

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Shanghai’s plan to reboot the supply chain will hit workers the hardest

Shanghai’s plan to reboot the supply chain will hit workers the hardest

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Like many people in Shanghai, Joyce has spent weeks shut at home since the latest COVID-19 lockdown was imposed on March 28. The software industry executive, who asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid attention from the authorities, says she has suffered from food shortages, and the compound where she lives has resorted to “group buying,” where different individuals are responsible for sourcing as much of a certain product as possible for the community.

“A lot of people are struggling with being confined at home, because they have literally no income,” she says. Group purchases “are three to four or five times more expensive than the normal days, and Shanghai is not cheap.”

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Fauci confirms parents’ nightmare: FDA may delay COVID vaccines for kids under 5

Fauci confirms parents’ nightmare: FDA may delay COVID vaccines for kids under 5

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The Food and Drug Administration is considering holding off on reviewing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under age 5 until it has data from Pfizer and BioNTech on their vaccine for young children. The plan would push back the earliest possible authorization for a vaccine in the age group from May to June—yet another blow to parents who are anxious to protect their young children as the rest of the country ditches pandemic precautions, despite recent upticks in cases.

The FDA’s plan to delay the review was first reported by Politico Thursday morning, with sources telling the outlet that FDA officials worry about green-lighting Moderna’s vaccine, only to find out just a few weeks later that Pfizer’s offers superior protection.

In an interview with CNN’s Kasie Hunt later in the day Thursday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci confirmed that the regulator is considering waiting until summer, likely June, to authorize vaccines for kids under 5. Fauci said the delay was intended to avoid confusion about the vaccines, but he emphasized that he was not involved in the regulators’ decisions and couldn’t explain their thinking further.

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Combo COVID booster is the way to go this fall, Moderna data suggests

A tray of prepared syringes for booster vaccinations with Moderna's vaccine.

Enlarge / A tray of prepared syringes for booster vaccinations with Moderna’s vaccine. (credit: Getty | Picture alliance)

A COVID-19 booster targeting two versions of the coronavirus in one shot offered stronger and broader protection than the current booster, which targets only one version, according to clinical trial results released this week by vaccine maker Moderna.

The results are preliminary and have not been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal. But Moderna touted the findings as evidence that bivalent or multivalent vaccines—those that target two or more versions of the virus in a single shot—are the way forward for COVID-19 boosters.

Moderna and other vaccine makers are on a mission to develop boosters that could restore the once extraordinarily high levels of protection that mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines initially provided, while also protecting against future variants. The first-generation mRNA vaccines were all designed to target the ancestral version of SARS-CoV-2 isolated in Wuhan, China—and they did so quite effectively, showing efficacy against symptomatic disease in the ballpark of 95 percent. But the virus has evolved into variants that can evade vaccine-derived protections. The latest variant, omicron, significantly reduced vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease, though protection against severe disease remains strong. Booster doses of the current vaccine design buoy protection but don’t restore the high levels seen previously. And the virus continues to evolve.

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Delta dragged for mask stance, walks back “ordinary seasonal virus” line

Delta dragged for mask stance, walks back “ordinary seasonal virus” line

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Delta Air Lines on Tuesday walked back calling the deadly pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 an “ordinary seasonal virus” after widespread backlash from health experts and travelers, who noted that the virus that has killed nearly a million Americans so far is neither ordinary nor necessarily seasonal.

The downplayed descriptor for the coronavirus appeared in a news release the airline released Monday announcing that masks are now optional for employees and customers on domestic and some international flights. The change came on the heels of a federal judge’s order that vacated the federal mandate for masking on mass transit and transit hubs, which include airplanes and airports but also transit stations, buses, trains, subways, ferries, taxis, and rideshares.

“We are relieved to see the US mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus,” Delta originally wrote in its news release Monday. The company updated the release Tuesday to read: “We are relieved to see the US mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus—with better treatments, vaccines, and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness.”

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#airlines, #covid-19, #delta, #masks, #omicron, #sars-cov-2, #science, #transit