COVID-19 Update: BA.4 and BA.5 Dominate, Long COVID Effects Continue, CDC Considers Novavax

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It seems likely that COVID-19 is here to stay, particularly since it is known to exist in animal populations and reservoirs, such as cats and white-tail deer. A year ago, the Delta variant dominated, but now it is the BA.4/BA.5 Omicron subvariants that are spreading around the world.

As this happens, researchers continue to develop therapies and approaches for preventing or treating the disease. For that and more, continue reading.

Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 Now Dominant Strains Worldwide

About a year ago, the dominant COVID-19 variant was Delta. Then, the first Omicron variant hit in the winter, and now two subvariants, Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are the dominant strains globally.

The two subvariants are very similar to each other. They are able to cause reinfection and can evade vaccines and immunity from previous infections, although those appear to still provide protection against severe infection and death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a result, urge people to stay up to date with vaccine booster shots.

Data finds that the first and second COVID-19 booster shots provide significant protection against emergency and urgent care visits and hospitalizations caused by Omicron BA.1, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.

CDC Meets on Novavax’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, the CDC’s advisory panel will meet to discuss the vaccine.

The vaccine uses a more traditional vaccine technology. Instead of encoding for spike proteins with mRNA encapsulated in a lipid nanoparticle, like the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots, Novavax inserts actual spike proteins into lipid nanoparticles. Some advocates believe people reluctant to get the mRNA vaccines because they use new technology, despite having been injected into billions of people worldwide, may be willing to take this Novavax shot.

Unusual Menstruation Reported Post-COVID-19 Vaccine

Studies suggest some women experience unusual menstruation after COVID-19 vaccines. Early data was anecdotal, but now a more extensive survey has been conducted that found thousands of reports of breakthrough bleeding and more heavy bleeding than usual after a COVID-19 vaccine.

In a survey of about 16,000 women who claimed a regular menstrual cycle, about 42% reported they bled more heavily than usual after vaccination. The authors note that there are several limitations to the study and those limitations may tend to suggest that the menstrual irregularities after vaccination are higher than they actually are.

The study didn’t include control groups of unvaccinated people or compare prevaccine menstrual cycles with postvaccine cycles over time. A Norwegian study found about 13% of young women in the country reported heavier periods after COVID-19 vaccines, but that 7% of people in the same survey reported heavier than normal periods prior to vaccination.

Could an Inhalable or Swallowable Vaccine Halt Spread of COVID-19?

Research indicates that injectable COVID-19 vaccines have probably saved almost 20 million lives around the world in their first year of use, cutting the death toll by about 63%. Still, the disease and its various variants continue to spread. Some investigators and vaccine developers believe that vaccines via nasal sprays or tablets might do a better job of halting the continued spread by providing more immunity in the mouth, nose and throat. More than a dozen of these types of vaccines are being evaluated globally, many using new technologies.

“The hope is to shore up the defenses right there in the nose so that the virus can’t even replicate in the nose,” Dr. Ellen Foxman, M.D., Ph.D., an immunobiologist at the Yale School of Medicine said. “And then someone who has a really effective mucosal vaccination can’t even really support viral replication or make viruses that can infect other people. That would be the holy grail.”

COVID-19 Hospitalization Linked to 45% Increased Risk of Heart Failure

A new study published in Nature Communications found that COVID-19 hospitalization was linked to a 45% greater risk of subsequent heart failure. This was found especially in younger, White, or people previously diagnosed with heart disease.

Research out of the University of Arkansas evaluated 587,330 patients hospitalized from March 1, 2020, to March 31, 2022. Of them, 257,075 tested positive for COVID-19. During a median of 367 days of follow-up, 10,979 patients developed heart failure and 17,641 died of any cause. They speculate that COVID-linked heart damage and heart muscle inflammation may play a role in the development of new heart failure.

Blood Viscosity/Flu Shot & Kids’ Allergic Reactions to COVID Shot

Patients with thicker blood (viscosity) appear to be at higher risk of death from severe COVID-19. Higher blood viscosity is associated with a higher risk of blood clots, which are also a significant risk factor with COVID-19.

Another study found that people who get a flu shot at the same time as a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine are only a little more likely to report side effects than people who get a COVID-19 booster alone. Earlier studies found giving the two at the same time is equally effective as giving them individually and may be more convenient.

A study found that children with vaccine allergies can safely receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after a suspected allergic reaction to the first dose. This also applies to suspected allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate.

“Any child who experiences potential anaphylaxis following vaccination should absolutely be evaluated,” study leader Dr. Joel Brooks, D.O., MPH, of Children’s National Hospital in Washington said. “The benefits and risks must be weighed carefully when it comes to a second dose. However, we have demonstrated that for this study, most of the initial allergic reactions did not meet the criteria of anaphylaxis and our participants were able to tolerate a second dose of the vaccine.”

Pfizer-BioNTech & Europe Delay COVID Vaccine Shipments into 2024

Due to a surplus of COVID-19 vaccines in the European Union, Pfizer, BioNTech and EU member states are working to schedule a delay to vaccine shipments into 2024. The deliveries would be divided between 2023 and 2024. Although the deal isn’t a lock, it appears to have support from the European Commission and the two companies. The current deal calls for 1.8 billion doses through 2023. Moderna also has a deal with the EU that will end later this year. The company has indicated that some shipments associated with the contract could be delayed to early 2023.

DarwinHealth Technology Predicts Drugs Against COVID-19

DarwinHealth published research in Communications Biology describing its new approach to antiviral drug discovery. The technology model, ViroTreat, they say can be deployed for rapid identification of antiviral drugs by “targeting the host cell response to viral hijack within a cell system-wide context.”

The technology integrates computational and experimental assays to identify aberrations in regulatory networks at the transcriptional level and by predicting drugs capable of inhibiting viral replication and infectivity by counteracting the hijacking of host cell regulatory mechanisms. They found that 15 of the 18 drugs their platform predicted to be effective induced a significant decrease in SARS-CoV-2 replication.

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