COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are on the rise in the United States, according to July 22 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2/3 of Americans have tested positive for Covid. This may represent an
undercount: more and more people are reporting that their at-home tests are coming back negative even when they are exhibiting clear symptoms of Covid-19. The BA5 subvariant of Omicron is responsible for 78 percent of infections in the US. Is BA5 more transmissible? Is it harder to detect in home-testing kits? Are symptoms of BA5 more severe? How has a mere handful of Americans dodged infection? And is BA2.75 the next threat? Ethnic Media Services held a robust panel discussion with three acclaimed subject matter experts who all together implored the community to keep their guards up.
Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine reiterated the fact that Covid is going to be with us for the foreseeable future and all efforts were being placed on minimizing the damage that it was causing. Currently, deaths and hospitalizations are on the rise in the US with 2/3rds testing positive. Worth noting that whatever numbers have been shared are probably inaccurate and an undercount since most people are not reporting their test positivity incidents.
“We need more durable, long-term protection against a broader array of different variants, the ones we know and the ones we don’t know yet,” Dr. Shaffner said. “We would like vaccines that abort and prevent the actual infection at the surface of the mucous membranes, not just vaccines that protect against serious disease.”
As nasal vaccines gain more prominence the NovaVax vaccine recently authorized by the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has been licensed for the initial two-dose series and is not a booster just yet.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, Associate Dean for Regional Campuses at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Chin-Hong a professor of medicine who specializes in treating infectious diseases shared that 1/3rd of the population had somehow escaped the infection thus far and he laid out four factors that have made this possible.
Some people he said seemed to be genetically disposed to have a higher resistance to the virus which was comparable to the HIV/AIDS crisis and could play a role in future research.
Another reason was behavior, especially with mask-wearing, and the role of vaccines that have curbed infection. Finally, he reiterated the fact that some people are not aware of having been infected because they were asymptomatic or were never tested. Emphasizing the role that wastewater inspectors play, Dr. Chin-Hong shared that they certainly can paint a clearer picture.
“For example in California, the level of wastewater virus is very similar to (reported Covid levels) in January, when more people were getting tested,” explained Chin-Hong. Based on this data, current case rates would be far higher than the 130,000 daily infections now being reported.
A summer surge of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which can cause Covid-like symptoms, could also explain why a lot of people have received negative results on their home testing kits, said Shaffner.
“The rapid tests are also less apt to give you a positive result in this BA5 era… that is why the CDC keeps focusing on hospitalizations because they remind us that there is this important public health problem.”
Sharing the effectiveness of therapeutics such as PAXLOVID among older adults there are solutions for patients who are resistant to PAXLOVID. However, experts all agree that vaccines are the most effective weapon against the virus.
Dr. Ben Neuman, professor of biology and chief virologist of the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University, expressed a different view stating that NovaVax though late is fine.“NovaVax has this very delicate spike protein that is transported and protected very carefully; a little bit survives to go into your body… With the mRNA vaccine, you get perfect pristine spikes exactly the way nature intended.”
Omicron has had 15mutations which include the BA variants for which the current vaccines are ineffective.
“We are still vaccinating against the 2019 virus and it is now late 2022,” he said. “We have a problem.”