Newly Discovered Gene Doubles Severe COVID-19 Risk and WHO Updates Guidelines
The World Health Organization (WHO) changed some of its guidelines for treating COVID-19, recommending a rheumatoid arthritis drug while providing more granularity on the use of different antibody therapies. For that and more COVID-19 news, continue reading.
WHO Updates Treatment Guidelines for COVID-19
The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its treatment guidelines for COVID-19 for the eighth time, recommending baricitinib for individuals with severe COVID-19 when used with corticosteroids. Baricitinib is sold under the brand name Olumiant by Eli Lilly and other generic versions. It is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that disrupts how cells respond to some cytokines and is indicated for rheumatoid arthritis. The WHO is now recommending it as an alternative to interleukin-6 receptor blockers, which the organization recommended for use in July 2021. The WHO also issued a conditional (weak) recommendation against using ruxolitinib (Incyte’s Opzelura) and tofacitinib (Amgen’s Enbrel), two other JAK treatments, because the data supporting them was unclear, and there was some evidence that tofacitinib might increase serious side effects. It also updated guidance on monoclonal antibodies, adding a conditional recommendation for sotrovimab, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, in people with mild COVID-19 at high risk for hospitalization.
Gene ID’ed that Doubles Risk of Severe COVID-19
Researchers from the Medical University of Bialystok in Poland identified a gene that appears to double the risk of severe COVID-19. That makes it, the researchers indicated, the fourth most important factor in determining the risk of severe disease after age, weight, and gender. Marcin Moniuszko, M.D., Ph.D., who led the project, said the gene is observed in about 14% of the Polish population, about 8–9% of Europe and 27% in India.
“After more than a year and a half of work, it was possible to identify a gene responsible for a predisposition to becoming seriously ill (with coronavirus),” said Health Minister Adam Niedzielski. “This means that in the future we will be able to … identify people with a predisposition to suffer seriously from COVID.”
COVID-19 Infectivity Drops Dramatically in the Air Over First 20 Minutes
A study out of the University of Bristol in the U.K. suggests that the airborne infectivity rate of COVID-19 drops significantly over the first 20 minutes after it’s been released into the air. They found a decrease almost immediately, with SARS-CoV-2 losing infectivity by 50–60% within seconds, and by the first two minutes, infectivity decreased more by 90%. This supports the approaches to prevention that include social distancing and masking.
“It means that if I’m meeting friends for lunch in a pub today, the primary [risk] is likely to be me transmitting it to my friends, or my friends transmitting it to me, rather than it being transmitted from someone on the other side of the room,” said Jonathan Reid, professor at the University of Bristol and lead author of the study.
Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate
The Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test requirements for large private companies. This ruling was three days after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) measure took effect. The Biden mandate required staff at businesses with 100 or more people to either get vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test weekly. It also required people who were unvaccinated to wear masks indoors at work. The court, however, allowed a vaccine mandate for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments, which is almost all of them.
The court wrote, “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented, writing, “As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others.”
Efforts to Vaccinate Children Stalls
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 years old two months ago. However, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 27% have received at least one shot. Only about 5 million children, or 18%, have received both doses. An analysis by KHN indicates vaccination rates vary significantly across the country. For example, about half of the 5- to 11-year-olds in Vermont are fully vaccinated, but fewer than 10% have received both shots in nine states, mainly in the South. For example, only 5% of children in that age group have been fully vaccinated in Louisiana. The state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, has added the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school immunizations. Other places, such as the District of Columbia and California, have as well. On the other hand, 15 states have banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates in K-12 schools.
Biden Administration Buying 1 Billion Rapid COVID-19 Tests to Give Away
The Biden Administration announced that the U.S. government is acquiring 1 billion rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests, which will be distributed for free to Americans. It has also added “high-quality masks” to the effort to control the current surge. President Biden is also sending 1,000 military medical personnel to sites most affected by staff shortages. So far, they will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
The tests will be available for order via a federal website that hasn’t been put up yet. The initial order for the kits was 500 million, but they have doubled the order. The initial supply will be available beginning next week.