"Fourth Wave" Driven Primarily by Delta and New Omicron Data
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and countries are reporting what might be called the fourth wave of rising cases, driven mainly by the Delta variant, although Omicron has everybody concerned. Here’s a look.
Omicron Variant At Least 3 Times More Likely to Cause Reinfection
Data is slowly coming in on the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Researchers in South Africa, where it was first identified, say the variant is at least three times more likely to cause reinfection than previous variants. This conclusion is based on a statistical analysis of about 2.8 million positive COVID-19 samples in South Africa. Of them, 35,670 were suspected of being reinfections, leading the officials to say the mutation has a “substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection.”
One of the study’s authors, Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist in South Africa, believes vaccines are still the best protection against severe disease and death. Only about 30% of South Africa’s population has been immunized, and only 6% of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Harry Moultrie, who co-wrote the study, stated, “Our most urgent priority now is to quantify the extent of Omicron’s immune escape for both natural and vaccine-derived immunity, as well as its transmissibility relative to other variants and impact on disease severity.”
However, public health officials in the U.S. are cautioning that while they are paying attention to the Omicron variant, the vast majority of cases in the U.S. are of the Delta variant. This is very much a case of focusing on the problem in front of you rather than the problem down the road.
“Omicron is a spark that’s on the horizon,” said Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Delta variant is the fire that’s here today.”
And the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global health authorities have yet to identify any deaths associated with the Omicron variant. And Delta is surging across the U.S., with several states, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Michigan, reporting spikes in cases.
“This fourth wave, I can pretty clearly state, has hit Minnesota harder than any of the previous ones,” said Timothy Johnson, president of the Minnesota chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
And Delta is surging in Europe as well, with Germany and Austria reporting major waves of infections. South Korea is also showing a wave of Delta-related hospitalizations and deaths. report
Humanigen’s Antibody Therapy Positive for Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients
Humanigen published positive results in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine from its Phase III LIVE-AIR trial of lenzilumab in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The study demonstrated that the drug improved the likelihood of survival without the need for mechanical ventilation. The drug is a first-in-class monoclonal antibody that neutralizes GM-CSF, a cytokine vital to the hyperinflammatory cascade called cytokine release syndrome or cytokine storm connected to COVID-19 and other diseases and treatment conditions. An accompanying commentary by Helen Leavis of Utrecht University in the Netherlands noted that clinical trials of immune-modulating drugs like lenzilumab are increasingly complicated because of the inability to administer similar medications for comparison.
President Biden Presented a Winter Strategy Against COVID-19
President Biden described his administration’s pandemic strategy yesterday, especially in the winter months, as COVID-19 is again surging. The plan includes adding hundreds of vaccination sites, offering booster shots of vaccines to all adults, free at-home tests, and new testing requirements for international travelers. The strategy is a partial shift from vaccination with a greater emphasis on testing. The sole focus on vaccinations, still the best way to fight the pandemic, has resulted in a quarter to a third of the U.S. population digging in and refusing vaccination.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” President Biden stated.
After First U.S. Case of Omicron in California, New Cases Identified
Now that health officials are looking for it, there are increasing cases of the Omicron variant being identified in the U.S. The first was in San Francisco earlier this week, but now New York State has confirmed five cases. At least some of the cases were in people who had recently returned from South Africa or had been traveling. Positive cases have also been reported in Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado.
Thermo Fischer and Roche Offers Omicron Test Kits
Earlier this week, Thermo Fisher Scientific confirmed that two of its polymerase chain reaction test kits, TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit and TaqPath COVID-19 CE-IVD RT-PCR Kit, provide accurate tests results, including the Omicron variant. The variant has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone, and the WHO and European Centers for Disease Control have reported that PCR tests that use S-gene target failure (SGTF) as a proxy for the variant helped identify Omicron. Now competitor Roche said that its newly acquired subsidiary TIB Molbiol has three new kits that can detect Omicron.
“The teams at TIB Molbiol have worked around the clock since the new variant emerged, and today we are able to offer a test that can specifically identify the novel B.1.1.520 Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant to help better understand its spread and behavior,” stated Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche Diagnostics.
mRNA Vaccine Boosters Have Biggest Impact
A study led by the University of Southampton in the U.K. found that when it comes to booster shots against COVID-19, the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna appear to give the biggest boost to antibody levels when dosed 10 to 12 weeks after the second shot. They found a full dose or half dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine or a full dose of Moderna’s offered a strong improvement in both antibody and T-cell levels, with no changes based on whether the individual had previously received the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. They also tested the vaccine combinations using Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and CureVac. All improved antibody levels but to a lesser degree than the two mRNA vaccines.
Saul Faust, who led the trial, said, “T-cell (response) does seem to be broader against all the variant strains, which gives us hope that a variant strain of the virus might be able to be handled, certainly hospitalization and death, if not prevention of infection, by the current vaccines.”