Health officials in the U.S. are keeping a close watch on several coronavirus omicron subvariants that may evade immunity, while at the same time warning of an impending surge in hospitalizations this winter caused not just by COVID-19 but also the flu and other respiratory diseases. A COVID vaccine from AstraZeneca delivered as a nasal spray fell short in clinical tests in Britain. And a study in JAMA Network Open reported the discouraging finding that four in 10 Americans have lied about having COVID infections to avoid social distancing, quarantine or wearing masks.
New Canadian premier calls unvaccinated “most discriminated against group”
On her first day in office, Alberta’s new premier, Danielle Smith, described individuals who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the “most discriminated against group” of people in her lifetime and vowed to protect unvaccinated people under the Alberta Human Rights Act, reports the Toronto Star. Smith also said she would replace the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and restructure the public health department with a team that considers COVID-19 to be an endemic disease that can be treated like influenza, even though a majority of infectious disease experts say it is too soon to label it that way. “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a situation in my lifetime where a person was fired from their job, or not allowed to watch their kids play hockey, or are not allowed to go visit a loved one in long-term care or hospital, or not allowed to go get on a plane to either go across the country to see family or even travel across the border,” Smith, the leader of the United Conservative Party, told reporters Tuesday.
She also brushed aside a question from a reporter asking why she considered vaccine choice to be a bigger societal disadvantage than race, sexuality, or gender identity. “I don’t take away any of the discrimination that I’ve seen in those other groups that you mentioned,” said Smith, a former radio show host. “But this has been an extraordinary time in the last year in particular and I want people to know that I find that unacceptable, that we are not going to create a segregated society on the basis of a medical choice.” Smith and her party have drawn criticism from Alberta’s former premier Jason Kenney, who told a reporter that “a conservative party or government that is focused on a campaign of recrimination over COVID, politicizing science, entertaining conspiracy theories, campaigning with QAnon, is a party that can’t form government and shouldn’t.”
Large long COVID study finds many do not recover
One of the most comprehensive studies looking into long COVID found that between six and 18 months after an initial coronavirus infection, one in 20 people had not recovered and 42% reported a partial recovery with “poorer quality of life and wide-ranging impairment of their daily activities which could not be explained by confounding.” The results of the ongoing Long-CISS (Covid in Scotland Study), published Wednesday in Nature Communications, included 100,000 participants and measured 26 common symptoms associated with so-called long haulers. Those include shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, brain fog, and insomnia. “Between 6 and 18 months following symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, almost half of those infected reported no, or incomplete, recovery,” the authors wrote. “Whilst recovery status remained constant over follow-up for most, 13% reported improvement over time and 11% deterioration.” There was some good news. The scientists found that vaccination was associated with a reduced risk of at least seven symptoms, and those with asymptomatic infections were less likely to experience long COVID.
Children 5 to 11 can now get the new booster, FDA says
On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorizations of the bivalent Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to authorize their use as a single booster dose in younger age groups. The updated Moderna shot can now be used for children as young as 6, and the Pfizer vaccine is available for children 5-11, at least two months following completion of primary or booster vaccination series. The updated formula targets the coronavirus omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as the original strain of the virus “Since children have gone back to school in person and people are resuming pre-pandemic behaviors and activities, there is the potential for increased risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Vaccination remains the most effective measure to prevent the severe consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” said Dr. Peter Marks. “While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, as the various waves of COVID-19 have occurred, more children have gotten sick with the disease and have been hospitalized. Children may also experience long-term effects, even following initially mild disease. We encourage parents to consider primary vaccination for children and follow-up with an updated booster dose when eligible.”
U.S. tracking several new variants but risk of dying “almost zero” for boosted
Health officials in the U.S. are keeping a close watch on several coronavirus omicron subvariants that may evade immunity, the White House said at a Tuesday briefing. Dr. Ashish Jha, head of the White House Covid task force, said sublineages such a BA.2.75, BA.4.6 and BF.7 are gaining traction across the country. But he assured that updated booster shots should protect against them. “We are not helpless against these challenges,” Jha said. “What happens this winter is up to us.”
Officials expect cases to rise between November and January, but are not certain when the U.S. might see another surge due to the constantly evolving nature of the virus. So far the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only about 11.5 million Americans have received the updated shots, which are meant to provide a boost of protection against both the original strain of COVID-19 and the BA.5 variant that is dominant around the world. More than 330 people die on average each day of COVID-19, according the Associated Press, with the U.S. death toll standing at over 1.05 million.
Jha acknowledged the slower pace of vaccinations, saying, “we expected September to be a month where it would just start picking up.” He reiterated that eligible Americans should get the updated COVID-19 boosters by Halloween to have maximum protection against the coronavirus by Thanksgiving and the holidays. “If you are up to date with your vaccines and if you get treated if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from COVID is now close to zero,” Jha said.
Nasal spray COVID vaccine falls short in trials
Hopes for a nasally administered version of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine were blown after the spray failed to trigger the desired immune response in clinical trials. University of Oxford researchers found in their Phase 1 clinical trial that the spray triggered antibody responses in “a minority of participants.” Even in those, the level of protection fell short of the traditional shots that used the same formulation. “The nasal spray did not perform as well in this study as we had hoped. This was quite different from recent data from China, which has suggested good results can be achieved by delivery of a similar vaccine deep into the lungs with a more complex nebuliser device,” said Sandy Douglas, an associate professor at Oxford University and chief investigator for the trial.
Scientists hope that the mucosal vaccines will elicit a quicker whole-body immune response than needles and potentially increase uptake, according to a report from Nature. There are about 100 other nasally administered vaccines against COVID currently in development. “Delivery of vaccines to the nose and lungs remains a promising approach, but this study suggests there are likely to be challenges in making nasal sprays a reliable option,” Douglas said.
White House warns of winter hospital surge
At the White House Summit on Indoor Air Quality on Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha warned of an impending surge in hospitalizations this winter. “It’s reasonable to assume that we are going to see a level of influenza that we saw pre-pandemic. Throw in COVID on top of that, think about RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] and para-influenza and all the other respiratory viruses, and it becomes harder and harder to imagine how our health care system is going to possibly manage the burden of respiratory diseases that are all around us,” the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response director said. Jha added that the biggest structural change society can make going into cooler months is to improve indoor air quality. To that end, he said the White House has launched a new website, whitehouse.gov/cleanindoorair, where businesses and schools can learn about the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge and make improvements to their facilities.
Federal workers will get time off for boosters
Federal workers will get up to four hours of paid leave to obtain the updated bivalent booster shot as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to encourage Americans to receive the shots, according to an update from the Office of Personnel Management. “Given the potential for infections to increase in the fall and winter, it is critical that Americans get a new, updated COVID-19 vaccine to stay protected,” the agency said in its memo.
More than 40% of Americans lied about infection, survey finds
More than four in 10 Americans surveyed report that they misled others about whether they had COVID-19 in order to “feel normal” and avoid restrictions, according to a nationwide study that appears in the Oct. 10 issue of JAMA Network Open. Many respondents were reluctant to accurately report their health status so they could avoid masking, social distancing, or quarantining, according to the study. “COVID-19 safety measures can certainly be burdensome, but they work,” Dr. Andrea Gurmankin Levy, a professor of social sciences at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut and co-lead author of the study, said in a statement.
In the survey, conducted in December 2021, more than 1,700 people from across the country were asked to reveal whether they had ever misrepresented their COVID-19 status, or vaccination status, or told others that they were following public health measures when they actually weren’t. About 42% of the participants reported misrepresentation or nonadherence to COVID safety measures. The researchers found no association between COVID-19 misrepresentation and political beliefs, political party affiliation, or religion. “When people are dishonest about their COVID-19 status or what precautions they are taking, it can increase the spread of disease in their community,” Levy said. “For some people, particularly before we had COVID vaccines, that can mean death.”
40,000 children’s cases reported last week
There were 40,656 confirmed child COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week, according to data published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, down from 55,034 reported two weeks earlier. Children represented 14.3% of all weekly reported cases nationwide last week. Pediatric vaccine uptake remains slow, with just 9% of children between the ages of 6 months to 4 years old receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. About 31% of 5 to 11 year-olds and 58% of 12 to 17 year-olds have completed their two-dose primary vaccination series.