COVID-19: Weekly Update (August 22, 2022)

The US government is about to stop buying COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and will transition the availability of most of these products to the regular healthcare system. A new study suggests that most people infected with the Omicron variant are unaware of it.

The 7-day moving average of daily new cases decreased by 9.9%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Covid Data Tracker Weekly Review.

There is also a 6.1% decrease in hospitalizations, and a 10.7% decrease in new deaths, compared with the previous 7-day moving average.

The 7-day average of percent positivity from nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) is down 8.4% from the previous seven days.

As of August 18, there are 33.9%counties with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 41.1% counties with a medium Community Level, and 25.0% counties with a low Community Level.

Government to stop buying vaccines

The White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said on Tuesday that the Biden administration would stop buying COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests, CNN reports.

"My hope is that in 2023, you're going to see the commercialization of almost all of these products. Some of that is actually going to begin this fall, in the days and weeks ahead," he said.

As the availability of those products would transition to the regular healthcare system, COVID-19 patients will be able to get vaccines or treatments from their doctor or a hospital. Tests have already been available commercially.

Bivalent vaccine boosters authorized

The United Kingdom (UK) became the first country in the world to authorize Moderna's bivalent vaccine booster shots, targeting both the original strain of the virus and the original Omicron variant, called BA.1

The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says its decision is based on data from a clinical trial which showed that "a booster with the bivalent Moderna vaccine triggers a strong immune response against both Omicron (BA.1) and the original 2020 strain."

According to the MHRA, the bivalent vaccine was also found to generate a good immune response against the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

“Safety monitoring showed that the side effects observed were the same as those seen for the original Moderna booster dose and were typically mild and self-resolving, and no serious safety concerns were identified,” the MHRA says in a press release.

The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), however, has asked vaccine developers to include components targeting the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, accounting for almost 90% of the US cases, for their booster doses.

Most people unaware of the infection

A study at Cedars-Sinai, a hospital in Los Angeles, found that 56% of people infected with the Omicron variant were not aware of it.

Of the healthcare workers and patients who have participated in the research, investigators identified 2,479 people who had contributed blood samples just prior to or after the start of the Omicron surge. The investigators identified 210 people who likely were infected with the Omicron variant based on newly positive levels of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in their blood.

"Our study findings add to evidence that undiagnosed infections can increase transmission of the virus," said Sandy Y. Joung, MHDS, an investigator at Cedars-Sinai and the first author of the study. "A low level of infection awareness has likely contributed to the fast spread of Omicron."

COVID-19 leads to neurological problems

A wide-ranging observational study from Oxford University suggests that COVID-19 is associated with increased risks of neurological and psychiatric conditions compared to other respiratory diseases.

Researchers analyzed 1.25 million patient files and discovered that patients from 18 to 64 years old recovering from COVID-19 had an increased risk of brain fog. At the same time, those over 65 were at a higher risk of psychotic disorders and dementia.

Researchers also found that children were twice as likely to develop epilepsy or seizures within two years of a COVID-19 infection compared to other respiratory diseases. However, the study only included children with a diagnosis of COVID-19 or another respiratory infection in the medical record and thus would have missed those who never sought care.

These included children may have been at higher risk for severe outcomes due to any respiratory infection and more likely to seek care. In addition, the study did not control for other respiratory co-infections, which may have increased the risk of febrile seizures. Finally, only those children diagnosed early in the pandemic were followed for the full two years of the study; thus, longer-term outcomes represent risk due to the original strain.

"The fact that neurological and psychiatric outcomes were similar during the Delta and Omicron waves indicates that the burden on the healthcare system might continue even with variants that are less severe in other respects," the study authors write.


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