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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#china, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #north-korea, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #south-korea, #transmission

People are getting explosive gastroenteritis at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon viewed from the South Rim adjacent to the El Tovar Hotel on November 11, 2019, in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Enlarge / The Grand Canyon viewed from the South Rim adjacent to the El Tovar Hotel on November 11, 2019, in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. (credit: Getty | George Rose)

The Grand Canyon is an immense, vibrantly painted geological wonder, treasured for its awe-inspiring stratified architecture, which has been spectacularly sculpted over millions of years. Up close, it will blow your mind and take your breath away—and if you’ve visited recently, it may also violently flush your colon and have you projectile vomiting your granola bars.

That’s right—the majestic natural wonder has been the site of a months-long outbreak of gastrointestinal illness, likely caused by norovirus. The virus was confirmed to be the cause of illnesses among at least eight rafting trips. Overall, more than 150 river rafters and backcountry campers have fallen ill since April, according to a recent update from the Grand Canyon National Park Service.

While many may have sought the outdoor grandeur in hopes of avoiding the pandemic coronavirus, it seems they were instead met with a different germ that has been savagely hollowing out innards at a pace many orders of magnitude faster than the Colorado River gutted the southwestern section of the Colorado Plateau. Amid the smoothly carved buttes and intricately chiseled chasms serenely shaped over eons, park-goers are blowing chunks from both ends in hot seconds. And instead of reaching both the North and South Rims during their visits, some are forced to remain perched on the edge of a far smaller basin.

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#biology, #gastrointestinal, #grand-canyon, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #norovirus, #outbreak, #science, #virus

Poliovirus may be spreading in London; virus detected in sewage for months

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child out of Kabul Afghanistan on May 17, 2016.

Enlarge / A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child out of Kabul Afghanistan on May 17, 2016. (credit: Getty | Anadolu Agency)

A vaccine-derived version of poliovirus has repeatedly surfaced in London sewage over the past several months, suggesting there may be a cryptic or hidden spread among some unvaccinated people, UK health officials announced Wednesday.

No polio cases have been reported so far, nor any identified cases of paralysis. But sewage sampling in one London treatment plant has repeatedly detected closely related vaccine-derived polioviruses between February and May. This suggests “it is likely there has been some spread between closely-linked individuals in North and East London and that they are now shedding the type 2 poliovirus strain in their feces,” the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Though the current situation raises alarm, the agency notes that it’s otherwise common to see a small number of vaccine-like polioviruses pop up in sewage from time to time, usually from people who have recently been vaccinated out of the country. This is because many countries use oral polio vaccines that include weakened (attenuated) polioviruses, which can still replicate in the intestines and thus be present in stool. They can also spread to others via poor hygiene and sanitation (i.e., unwashed hands and food or water contaminated by sewage), which can become concerning amid poor vaccination rates.

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#cdc, #infectious-disease, #london, #polio, #public-health, #science, #sewage, #vaccination, #vaccine-derived-polio

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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#biology, #covid-19, #delta, #infectious-disease, #long-covid, #medicine, #omicron, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #variants

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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#children-under-5, #covid-19, #fda, #infants, #infectious-disease, #moderna, #pfizer, #pfizer-biontech, #public-health, #science, #toddlers, #vaccines

Monkeypox outbreak spurs WHO to consider declaring international emergency

A negative stain electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicular fluid.

Enlarge / A negative stain electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicular fluid. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

The World Health Organization will convene its emergency committee of expert advisors Thursday, June 23, to consider whether it should declare the growing, multinational monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

As of Tuesday, June 14, WHO has received reports of more than 1,600 confirmed monkeypox cases and almost 1,500 suspected cases from 39 countries. Those countries include eight in which monkeypox infections were previously known to spill over from animals, and 32 newly affected countries, most of which are in Europe, but also include Australia and countries in the Americas and Eastern Mediterranean.

There have been 72 monkeypox deaths reported this year from African countries that have long been affected by limited spillovers. So far, there are no confirmed deaths among cases in newly affected countries, but WHO is seeking verification of a reported monkeypox-related death in Brazil.

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#emergency, #infectious-disease, #monkeypox, #public-health, #science, #virus, #who

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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Monkeypox spreading via direct, physical contact, CDC says as US cases hit 45

Monkeypox spreading via direct, physical contact, CDC says as US cases hit 45

(credit: CDC | UK Health Security Agency)

The US has now identified 45 monkeypox cases scattered across 15 states and the District of Columbia, while the multinational outbreak has reached more than 1,300 confirmed cases from at least 31 countries. No deaths have been reported.

In a press briefing Friday, US health officials provided updates on efforts to halt the spread of the virus and dispel unfounded concerns that the virus is spreading through the air.

To date, no cases of airborne transmission have been reported in the outbreak, which has almost entirely been found spreading through sexual networks of men who have sex with men. Monkeypox may spread through large, short-range respiratory droplets, and health care providers are encouraged to mask and take other precautions during specific procedures, such as intubation. But the general potential for spread via smaller, long-range aerosols is more speculative and theoretical.

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#biology, #cdc, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #monkeypox, #outbreak, #science, #transmission

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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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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#ba-1, #ba-2, #ba-2-12-1, #ba-4, #ba-5, #biology, #booster, #cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #omicron, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #subvariant, #vaccine, #variant

US officials monitoring over 400 people for monkeypox; 21 cases confirmed

A negative stain electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicular fluid.

Enlarge / A negative stain electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicular fluid. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

Health officials in the US have confirmed 21 cases of monkeypox across 11 states amid a multinational outbreak that has grown to more than 800 cases in over two dozen countries.

In a press briefing Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed details of the 17 US cases that officials have clinical data. The officials noted that genetic sequencing from some of the cases revealed two distinct lineages of the monkeypox virus, which may indicate that monkeypox has been quietly spreading among humans for much longer than previously known. It also deepens concern over whether the current outbreak can be contained entirely.

Low risk overall

So far, there have been no deaths reported in the US or multinational outbreak. Among the 17 well-documented US cases, all patients are reported to be doing well and are isolating.

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#biology, #cdc, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #monkeypox, #outbreak, #science, #virus

Experts warn of continued monkeypox spread as hundreds of cases found worldwide

A negative stain electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicular fluid.

Enlarge / A negative stain electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicular fluid. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

The multinational monkeypox outbreak continues to pose a low risk to the general public, and, for now, it seems unlikely that cases will mushroom into a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But, experts are concerned that the virus could continue to spread and that transmission may escape containment without an urgent and thorough public health response.

The outbreak tally continues to increase rapidly, with hundreds of cases now reported across at least 23 countries. In an update released Sunday, May 29, WHO reported 257 confirmed cases and around 120 suspected cases from 23 countries. Those figures are already significantly outdated. As of Monday, Our World in Data reported 555 confirmed cases worldwide. On Tuesday, the United Kingdom reported 190 cases, up from the 106 that WHO reported Sunday. Likewise, the US total has increased to 15 cases, up from 10 reported last week.

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#biology, #cdc, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #monkeypox, #outbreak, #public-health, #science, #smallpox, #who

CDC presumes community spread of monkeypox; 9 cases now in 7 states

A 2003 photo of the arms and legs of a 4-year-old girl infected with monkeypox in Liberia.

Enlarge / A 2003 photo of the arms and legs of a 4-year-old girl infected with monkeypox in Liberia. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

Monkeypox is presumed to have spread within the US, and nine cases have now been identified in seven states, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky.

In a press briefing Thursday, Walensky said the nine cases were from Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Utah, Washington, California, and Virginia. Most of the nine cases had recent international travel to areas with active monkeypox cases, but not all.

“We need to presume that there is some community spread,” Walensky said. “But there is active contact tracing that is happening right now to understand whether and how these cases might have been in contact with each other or with others in other countries.”

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#biology, #cases, #cdc, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #monkeypox, #outbreak, #public-health, #science, #virus

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

Monkeypox outbreak erupts; US, UK, Spain, Portugal, and more report cases

A 2003 photo of the arms and legs of a 4-year-old girl infected with monkeypox in Liberia.

Enlarge / A 2003 photo of the arms and legs of a 4-year-old girl infected with monkeypox in Liberia. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

A growing outbreak of monkeypox cases has spread across several countries, including the US, suggesting that the animal-transmitted disease that occurs in forested areas of Central and West Africa has been quietly spreading undetected.

So far, the US has reported one case in a Massachusetts man who had recently traveled to Canada, which, as of Thursday, reported 17 suspected cases in Montreal. The United Kingdom has identified nine cases, one of which is connected to recent travel to Nigeria, where monkeypox is endemic. But the other cases appear to have been infected within the UK and are all not linked to the travel-related case by contact or timing. Portugal is investigating more than 20 cases, Spain is reportedly investigating 23 cases, and Italy and Sweden have each reported at least one case.

Disease origins

Monkeypox is a relative of smallpox and produces similar symptoms, but it causes a milder disease than that of the eradicated virus. There are two clades of monkeypox: the West African clade and the Congo Basin clade. The West African clade, which is what has been detected in the UK, is the milder of the two. It is usually a self-limiting infection, though it can cause severe disease in some cases. The case fatality rate has been estimated at about 1 percent. The Congo Basin clade, meanwhile, has an estimated fatality rate of as high as 10 percent. For both clades, children are among those at high risk of severe disease, and infection can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy, causing complications, congenital conditions, and stillbirth.

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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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Puzzling cases of hepatitis in kids leaps to 109 in 25 states, CDC reports

Huge facade for CDC headquarters against a beautiful sky.

Enlarge / Signage outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating 109 cases of unexplained liver inflammation—hepatitis—in young children from 25 states over the past seven months. Of the 109 affected children, five have died, and 15 (14 percent) required liver transplants. The children were all under the age of 10, and 90 percent were hospitalized.

The CDC’s announcement Friday marks a dramatic uptick in the US’s reported cases, which was limited to nine confirmed cases in Alabama just three weeks ago. The cases also add to a mounting global tally, which reached upward of 300 cases from more than two dozen countries.

But, despite the boom in cases, CDC and international health investigators are still puzzled about the cause of the illnesses. Severe hepatitis is rare in young children, and unexplained cases of severe hepatitis are rarer.

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#adenovirus, #cdc, #children, #hepatitis, #infectious-disease, #outbreak, #outbreak-investigation, #sars-cov-2, #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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Despite unknowns, FDA officials make the case for annual fall COVID shots

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)

The pandemic coronavirus will likely become a seasonal respiratory virus, much like influenza, requiring annual booster shots each fall, according to three top officials at the US Food and Drug Administration.

In a commentary piece published this week in the medical journal JAMA, the officials make a case for seasonal shots and caution that preparation for this winter’s potential surge needs to begin no later than next month.

“The timeframe to determine the composition of the COVID-19 vaccine for the 2022-2023 season, to use alongside the seasonal influenza vaccine for administration in the Northern Hemisphere beginning in about October, is compressed because of the time required for manufacturing the necessary doses,” the officials write. “A decision on composition will need to be made in the US by June 2022.”

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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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Details of 9 puzzling hepatitis cases rule out SARS-CoV-2 as culprit, CDC says

Liver lesions in patient with chronic active hepatitis C.

Enlarge / Liver lesions in patient with chronic active hepatitis C. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ruled out the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, as a possible cause of the puzzling, international outbreak of severe hepatitis (liver inflammation) in children, according to a statement released Friday.

The outbreak has sickened more than 170 children in more than a dozen countries in recent months, with case counts ticking up by the day. Around 10 percent of the children—mostly under the age of 10—have required liver transplants. The World Health Organization has reported one death.

In the US, officials in at least five states have reported at least 25 confirmed or possible cases: Alabama (9), North Carolina (2), Wisconsin (4), Illinois (3), and California (7). At least three of the US cases have required liver transplants and officials in Wisconsin are investigating a possible death linked to the outbreak.

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First possible US death reported in international outbreak of child hepatitis

First possible US death reported in international outbreak of child hepatitis

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Barcroft)

Health officials in Wisconsin are investigating what could be the first child death in the US—and the second worldwide—linked to a growing international outbreak of unexplained liver inflammation, aka hepatitis, in children.

In a health alert Wednesday, Wisconsin health officials said they are investigating four cases of unexplained hepatitis in children that match the profile of the outbreak cases. Two of the cases were severe, with one leading to a liver transplant and the other being the fatality.

Wisconsin is at least the fifth US state to report cases of mysterious and severe hepatitis in children. Earlier this month, Alabama health officials initially reported nine cases, which occurred between October 2021 and February 2022. Five of the cases occurred last November in the same large children’s hospital in the state, and three of those cases involved acute liver failure.

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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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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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WHO reports first child death, 17 transplants in growing hepatitis mystery

Liver lesions in patient with chronic active hepatitis C.

Enlarge / Liver lesions in patient with chronic active hepatitis C. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

At least one child has died of unexplained liver inflammation in a growing international outbreak of puzzling hepatitis cases in children, according to the World Health Organization.

The outbreak tally has reached more than 170 cases in 12 countries and is expected to continue growing. At least 17 children—10 percent of the cases—have required liver transplants. The ages of the affected children range from one month to 16 years, though the majority are children younger than 10 and many younger than 5.

Over the weekend, the WHO reported 114 cases in the United Kingdom, 13 in Spain, 12 in Israel, six in Denmark, fewer than five in Ireland, four in the Netherlands, four in Italy, two in Norway, two in France, one in Romania, and one in Belgium. The WHO also noted nine cases in the US, all in Alabama. But two additional cases were reported in North Carolina last week, bringing the US total to at least 11. Two of the US cases resulted in transplants.

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#adenovirus, #children, #hepatitis, #infectious-disease, #liver, #outbreak, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #who

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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“Wearing a mask cleans nothing:” Florida judge vacates CDC travel mask mandate

A sign advises people to wear a mask and stand six feet apart as travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021.

Enlarge / A sign advises people to wear a mask and stand six feet apart as travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle)

A federal judge in Florida on Monday struck down the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public transit and travel hubs.

The abrupt ruling throws passenger requirements into tumult when Americans are resuming pre-pandemic travel levels and while cases of the omicron subvariant BA.2 have begun ticking upward.

It’s unclear if or when the Department of Justice will appeal the judge’s order and seek a stay to reinstate the mandate until the matter is litigated further. According to the latest reports, administration officials confirmed that the mandate is no longer in place, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends the use of masks on public transit. The administration is said to be reviewing the next steps.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #masks, #public-health, #sanitation, #science, #travel

Puzzling cases of severe liver disease in children spark international probe

A baby being treated with blue light, a jaundice-prevention measure.

Enlarge / A baby being treated with blue light, a jaundice-prevention measure. (credit: Getty | Picture Alliance)

Health officials in Scotland on Thursday published early findings from a burgeoning international investigation into dozens of puzzling cases of severe liver inflammation among children. A few cases have already led to acute liver failure and liver transplants.

Thursday’s report detailed 13 severe cases in Scotland, mostly in children between the ages of 3 and 5 and nearly all occurring in just March and April this year. Scotland usually tallies fewer than four such cases of unexplained liver inflammation—aka hepatitis—in children over the course of an entire year. Of the 13 cases this year in Scotland, one has led to a liver transplant and five are still in the hospital. No deaths have been reported.

Meanwhile, health officials in England reported approximately 60 unexplained severe hepatitis cases in 2022, most of which were in children ages 2 to 5. Some of those cases progressed to acute liver failure, and a few have also led to liver transplantation. Again, no deaths have been reported.

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#adenovirus, #cdc, #cluster, #hepatitis, #infectious-disease, #liver-transplant, #outbreak, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

As gonorrhea becomes untreatable, a repurposed vaccine may prevent it

A scanning electron micrograph of Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Enlarge / A scanning electron micrograph of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. (credit: NIH)

An existing vaccine that prevents meningococcal disease may also be up to 40 percent effective at preventing gonorrhea infections, which are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, with some strains completely incurable. This discovery is according to a series of studies and commentaries published Tuesday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Though the estimated effectiveness is modest, shots of the vaccine—4CMenB aka Bexsero—could still prevent many infections, researchers reported. The vaccine could prevent more than 100,000 gonorrhea infections over 10 years in the UK, saving an estimated $10.4 million. In the meantime, the vaccine’s effectiveness could provide significant clues for vaccine developers to make a more effective gonorrhea-specific shot.

The need for such a vaccine is clear. Not only is gonorrhea quickly becoming more drug-resistant, but it also is on the rise in the US and other countries. The World Health Organization estimates there were more than 82 million gonorrhea cases worldwide in 2020. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were nearly 680,000 cases in the US in 2020, up 10 percent from 2019 and up 45 percent from 2016.

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DC’s Gridiron COVID outbreak tally hits 72 as cases tick up nationwide

US President Joe Biden (C) signs the Postal Service Reform Act into law during an event with (L-R) Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and retired letter carrier Annette Taylor and others in the State Dining Room at the White House on April 6, 2022, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden (C) signs the Postal Service Reform Act into law during an event with (L-R) Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and retired letter carrier Annette Taylor and others in the State Dining Room at the White House on April 6, 2022, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla )

At least 72 of the over 600 people who attended the mostly maskless Gridiron dinner—an exclusive annual event frequented by high-profile Washington, DC, elites—have since tested positive for COVID-19. The dinner took place on April 2.

The growing tally may herald a nationwide rise in infections from the BA.2 omicron subvariant amid relaxed health measures. BA.2 is now the dominant variant circulating in the US and is more transmissible than the initial ultra-transmissible omicron subvariant, BA.1.

So far, over 20 states and Washington, DC, are reporting upticks in cases over the past two weeks, and nearly 10 states are seeing an increase in hospitalizations, according to data tracking by The New York Times. Over half of the country’s wastewater sites monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 levels have also detected rises in the past two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The monitoring is intended to act as an early warning signal for case surges.

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CDC study spotlights utter failure of China’s COVID-Zero policy in Hong Kong

Health care workers wearing personal protective equipment transport the body of a deceased patient onto a hearse outside the mortuary at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Hong Kong reported more than 55,000 cases on Wednesday, its hospitals are inundated, and the city's morgues are nearly full.

Enlarge / Health care workers wearing personal protective equipment transport the body of a deceased patient onto a hearse outside the mortuary at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Hong Kong reported more than 55,000 cases on Wednesday, its hospitals are inundated, and the city’s morgues are nearly full. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

For much of the pandemic, China kept the coronavirus at bay. The country adopted an aggressive COVID-Zero plan, rigorously identifying, containing, and tracing cases to prevent the viral spread. It appeared to work remarkably well—until the arrival of the ultratransmissible omicron variant.

The seemingly uncontainable virus is now exploding in China, smashing records daily and laying bare a tragic fault in China’s COVID policies: the country’s most vulnerable—older people—are among the least protected by vaccination. As such, death rates are bound to soar.

This has already played out in Hong Kong, which saw its own towering omicron wave between January and March. In its wake was one of the highest death rates the world has seen amid the pandemic. In a study published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US CDC partnered with the CDC China for a postmortem on the deadly spike. The analysis highlighted just how fatal a flaw it is to neglect vaccinating older people.

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#covid-19, #elderly, #hong-kong, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #vaccination

NIH begins trial of COVID boosters to fight future variants

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)

Mild or not, more SARS-CoV-2 variants are inevitable. To avoid any blips in our pandemic endgame, researchers at the National Institutes of Health on Thursday announced the start of a complex Phase II clinical trial to find the best COVID-19 booster regimen to protect against variants that emerge in the wake of omicron.

“We are looking beyond the omicron variant to determine the best strategy to protect against future variants,” Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement. “This trial will help us understand if we can use prototype and variant vaccines alone or together to shift immune responses to cover existing and emerging COVID-19 variants.”

Evidence so far suggests that the current vaccines—which are based on an early version of SARS-CoV-2 isolated in Wuhan, China—can muster protection against most of the variants that have swept across the globe so far. However, current vaccines have struggled against omicron, an ultratransmissible variant that is the most divergent variant yet. As such, researchers are wary that an omicron-specific vaccine alone will not generate broad protection against any future variant that may be more closely related to past variants—such as beta, a variant first detected in South Africa in 2020 suspected of being more severe than past variants, and delta, a highly transmissible variant that swept through the US before the emergence of omicron.

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Largest trial to date finds ivermectin is worthless against COVID

A box of Ivermectina medicine manufactured by Vitamedic in Brazil.

Enlarge / A box of Ivermectina medicine manufactured by Vitamedic in Brazil. (credit: Getty | SOPA Images)

The largest clinical trial to date on the use of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin against COVID-19 concluded that the drug is completely ineffective at treating the pandemic disease, according to results published in The New England Journal of Medicine late Wednesday.

The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial was primarily designed to test if ivermectin could reduce the need for hospitalization among 1,358 COVID-19 patients who were at high risk of severe disease. Ivermectin did not, according to the international team of researchers behind the trial, dubbed TOGETHER. “We did not find a significantly or clinically meaningful lower risk of medical admission to a hospital or prolonged emergency department observation with ivermectin,” the researchers reported.

The folks with TOGETHER also found that the drug failed to reduce all other secondary outcomes of COVID-19, including the time to recovery, time to viral clearance on PCR test, time spent in the hospital, the need for mechanical ventilation, the duration of mechanical ventilation, death, or the time to death. “We found no important effects of treatment with ivermectin on the secondary outcomes,” the researchers wrote.

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With a second booster now authorized for some, the question is when to get it

A health worker administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly resident at Ichilov medical center in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.

Enlarge / A health worker administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly resident at Ichilov medical center in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced the authorization of second booster doses of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for people ages 50 and above, as well as certain immunocompromised people.

The FDA’s decision, which was made without consulting its panel of independent expert advisers, was expected this week.

“Current evidence suggests some waning of protection over time against serious outcomes from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised individuals,” Peter Marks, the FDA’s top vaccine regulator, said in a statement. “Based on an analysis of emerging data, a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could help increase protection levels for these higher-risk individuals.”

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Omicron is trouncing the argument for “natural immunity” to COVID

A 13-year-old celebrates getting the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 13, 2021.

Enlarge / A 13-year-old celebrates getting the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 13, 2021. (credit: Getty | JOSEPH PREZIOSO )

So-called “natural immunity” against COVID-19 has always been a dodgy argument for avoiding vaccination during the pandemic. But amid omicron, natural immunity is clearly rubbish.

Unvaccinated people who have recovered from an infection with the omicron coronavirus variant are left with paltry levels of neutralizing antibodies against omicron and almost no neutralizing antibodies against any of five other coronavirus variants, including delta. People who were vaccinated before getting an omicron infection, on the other hand, have strong protection against all five variants, and they are among the highest levels of neutralizing antibodies seen against omicron.

That’s all according to a new study surveying neutralizing antibody profiles in people who have all recovered from an omicron infection, with or without pre-existing immunity. The study was published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine by a team of Austrian researchers. The researchers were led by virologist Janine Kimpel of the Medical University of Innsbruck.

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Moderna reports good COVID vaccine results for kids

Avery, 6, and Aidan, 11, got their second Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Friday, June 25, 2021, as part of the KidCOVE study evaluating the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine in young children.

Enlarge / Avery, 6, and Aidan, 11, got their second Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Friday, June 25, 2021, as part of the KidCOVE study evaluating the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine in young children. (credit: Getty | MediaNews Group)

Wednesday brought some potentially positive news for the parents and caregivers of young children who have endured an agonizing wait for an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna announced Wednesday that its two-dose vaccine for children ages 6 months to under 6 years appeared safe and produced strong antibody levels that correlate with effectiveness in adults. The company plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the vaccine in the coming weeks.

The trial, a randomized, observer-blind, placebo-controlled study called KidCOVE, involved 6,700 children under 6 years old (4,200 children six months to 2 years and 2,500 children 2 years to under 6 years). Vaccinated children received two 25-microgram doses of vaccine—a quarter of the adult dose—which were given 28 days apart. Neutralizing antibody levels in the vaccinated children met or exceeded those seen in adults ages 18 to 25, for which vaccine is already approved.

Omicron hit

Though the primary objective of the trial was to reach those antibody levels seen in adults—a process called an immunobridging study—the trial also looked at efficacy against infection and severe disease amid the wave of omicron coronavirus variant infections. Phase III trial data indicated that the vaccine was about 44 percent effective at preventing an omicron infection in children ages 6 months to 2 years and 37.5 percent effective against an omicron infection in children ages 2 years to under 6 years.

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#antibody, #children-under-5, #children-under-6, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #moderna, #omicron, #pediatric, #science, #vaccine, #vaccine-efficacy

Murky case for fourth doses now with FDA as protection wanes, BA.2 looms

The US Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Enlarge / The US Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

Vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer have now both submitted requests for the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize fourth doses—second boosters—of their COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer, along with vaccine partner BioNTech, announced Tuesday that they had asked the FDA to authorize fourth doses for adults age 65 and above. The move followed days of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla saying in press interviews that a fourth shot is “necessary” for everyone.

Late Thursday, Moderna announced that it, too, had asked the FDA to authorize fourth doses—for all adults. Moderna addressed the broader request in its announcement, saying it’s intended to “provide flexibility” for the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide for themselves who should get a fourth dose—whether it’s specific age groups and/or groups with higher risks of disease.

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COVID cases are again on the rise globally as testing, health measures decline

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (L) and WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attend a daily press briefing on COVID-19 at the WHO headquarters on March 2, 2020, in Geneva.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (L) and WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attend a daily press briefing on COVID-19 at the WHO headquarters on March 2, 2020, in Geneva. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Coffrini)

After weeks of decline, the global tally of COVID-19 cases is now ticking back up. This uptick is raising concerns that we could see yet another surge amid relaxed health measures and the rise of the omicron subvariant BA.2, the most highly transmissible version of the virus identified to date.

According to the latest COVID-19 situation report by the World Health Organization, the global tally of new weekly cases increased 8 percent for the week ending on March 13, totaling over 11 million cases. Cases are increasing in the Western Pacific, European, and African regions. Korea, Vietnam, Germany, France, and the Netherlands reported the highest numbers of new cases.

“These increases are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, which means the cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a press briefing Wednesday.

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#ba-2, #cases, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #surveillance, #testing, #vaccine

Delta-omicron recombinant virus no reason for panic, health experts say

Transmission electron micrograph of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle isolated from a patient sample and cultivated in cell culture.

Enlarge / Transmission electron micrograph of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle isolated from a patient sample and cultivated in cell culture. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

Researchers in France have reported the first compelling genetic evidence of a recombinant SARS-CoV-2 virus that contains elements of both the omicron coronavirus variant and the delta variant. However, health experts at the World Health Organization and elsewhere have been quick to note that such a recombinant virus is expected to arise and, so far, there’s no reason to be worried about the hybrid.

The delta-omicron recombinant—a combination of the delta AY.4 subvariant’s backbone and the omicron BA.1 subvariant’s spike protein—has been circulating at very low levels since at least early January 2022 in France. Researchers have also reported a smattering of cases in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. So far, epidemiology data on the recombinant’s spread does not raise any red flags, and the variant does not appear to cause more severe disease, according to WHO technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove, who addressed the variant in a press briefing this week. However, researchers are in the process of conducting more studies on the recombinant and will be monitoring it closely, as the organization does with other new variants, she noted.

Coronaviruses are known to recombine, and researchers fully expected that such recombinant SARS-CoV-2 viruses would crop up from time to time. Generally, recombination can happen when two variants infect one person at the same time and invade the same cells. In this scenario, the cellular machinery that viruses hijack to make clones of themselves can sometimes abruptly switch from translating the genetic code of one of the variants to the code of the other, resulting in a mosaic virus.

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COVID ups risks of dementia, cognitive impairment, and decline in older survivors

Health care workers treat a COVID-19 patient at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Photographer: Allison Dinner/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Enlarge / Health care workers treat a COVID-19 patient at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Photographer: Allison Dinner/Bloomberg via Getty Images. (credit: Getty| Bloomberg)

People over 60 who survive COVID-19 have higher risks of dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and cognitive decline—particularly if they had severe COVID-19—according to a study out this week in JAMA Neurology.

The study followed over 1,400 older COVID survivors in Wuhan, China, who were among some of the first people in the world to be hospitalized for COVID-19. The patients were discharged between February 10 and April 10, 2020, from three COVID-19–designated hospitals in Wuhan. Researchers followed their neurological health for a full year afterward.

Their experiences in that year do not bode well for the rest of the world. The study authors, led by neurologist Yan-Jiang Wang of the Third Military Medical University, found that long-term cognitive decline is common after an infection with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. As such, health care systems around the world need to prepare for what could be a substantial increase in the number of people requiring dementia care.

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#cognitive-decline, #covid-19, #dementia, #infectious-disease, #neurology, #sars-cov-2, #science, #severe-disease, #wuhan

Florida’s latest anti-health political stunt is to cast doubt on kids’ vaccines

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Rosen Shingle Creek on February 24, 2022, in Orlando, Florida.

Enlarge / Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Rosen Shingle Creek on February 24, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. (credit: Getty| Joe Raedle)

Sometimes fighting a common enemy can unite a country, inspiring solidarity, bravery, and sacrifice. Ordinary citizens become heroes; leaders become icons. But sometimes—like in the United States right now—a common enemy wins by exploiting divisions.

As the US faced down a global viral threat two years ago, its people and leaders couldn’t seem more factious and impotent against a shared foe. Most Americans seemed to embrace the evolving consensus of public health experts, heeding advice to follow basic and simple measures, like getting a safe and effective vaccine and wearing a mask. These measures might otherwise seem uncontroversial and like minor inconveniences. A vocal minority of Americans, however, leaned hard in the opposite direction, claiming that joining the fight against a deadly enemy infringed on their freedom—as if the US Constitution enshrined the right to freely spread disease and suffering to family, friends, and fellow Americans.

Two years later, the US has tallied nearly 80 million cases. Nearly 960,000 people—grandparents, parents, siblings, children, infants, precious loved ones all—are dead. Nine hundred and sixty thousand. It’s an unfathomable loss—a toll one might at least hope would stir reconsideration in those not fighting for the greater good. Yet, here we are two years and nearly 1 million deaths later, and many have not changed their positions. Some Americans still deny the devastating realities of the pandemic. Some spread dangerous misinformation, twist facts, and squabble over trivial points as lives hang in the balance.

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#coronavirus, #covid-19, #desantis, #florida, #infectious-disease, #ladapo, #masks, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

The rat problem in Washington, DC, is so bad, two people got hantavirus

A rat drinks water in a back alley in the Park View neighborhood near a construction site on Saturday, September 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Enlarge / A rat drinks water in a back alley in the Park View neighborhood near a construction site on Saturday, September 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

Many people might already think of the nation’s capital as a political rat’s nest, teeming with rat-related features, like underground networks and crowded backrooms where any faint smell of betrayal could send lawmakers scurrying. But Washington, DC, is also a den of literal rats. And it’s creating a concerning risk of viral spillover for residents.

In a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DC health officials ratted out the first two known cases of hantavirus spillover in the city. The virus festers quietly in rats and other rodent populations, but in humans it can cause potentially deadly respiratory and hemorrhagic diseases. Humans pick up the infection by direct contact with rodent urine or nest dust or by breathing in aerosolized viral particles from urine, droppings, or saliva. There’s also the possibility that the virus can spread from rat bites, but this is less common. Once in a human, the virus almost never jumps from human to human.

Fortunately for DC residents, the type of hantavirus found in the city is one of the milder types: an “Old World” hantavirus called the Seoul virus. Old World hantaviruses cause a disease called Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. HFRS can start out like a generic infection with fever, chills, nausea, and headache. But it can progress to low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage, and acute kidney failure, the CDC notes. The severity of HFRS varies by which hantavirus you catch, but fatality rates can reach up to 15 percent. The Seoul virus is one of the milder forms, with a fatality rate of only about 1 percent. As such, in both of the cases reported by DC health officials, the infected individuals recovered.

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#cdc, #hantavirus, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #rats, #rodents, #science, #spillover