COVID-19: Weekly Update (October 24, 2022)

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Novavax COVID-19 booster shots for adults. The health authorities launched an inquiry into a study that created a new form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

As of October 19, the 21-day moving average of weekly new COVID-19 cases decreased by 30.9% compared to the previous 21-day average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There was also a 13.0% decline in new deaths.

The 7-day moving average for hospitalizations dropped by 4.4% from the previous week.

As of October 20, 2022, most counties (80.9%) were with a medium community level, 1.4% with a high, and 17.6% with a low community level.

Novavax booster for adults

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for Novavax booster shots in adults 18 and older. Those who have completed primary series vaccination but have not previously received a COVID-19 booster will be eligible for the newly-approved Novavax vaccine.

Authorities say a monovalent Novavax booster is an alternative for those who are unable to get an mRNA vaccine due to health reasons, preference, or lack of availability.

The FDA's decision was based on the Phase 3 clinical trial, in which a single dose of Novavax booster was administered from eight to 11 months after completing the primary series.

According to the vaccine developer, antibody levels increased significantly relative to pre-boost levels following a booster dose, while neutralizing antibodies also increased by 34- to 27-fold compared to pre-boost levels.

Inquiry into a study

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials launched an inquiry into a study by Boston University researchers. In the study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, scientists created an artificial form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by attaching the spike protein of the Omicron subvariant BA.1 to the original strain.

Research, partly funded by the US government, suggests that the original strain from Wuhan is slightly more deadly than the hybrid virus, which killed 100% and 80% of mice infected by it, respectively. The Omicron variant, however, caused only non-lethal disease in mice.

Boston University released a statement saying that the findings of the research were taken out of context and sensationalized by the media. Researchers say that the virus created in the lab is actually less dangerous than the Wuhan strain. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the virus' effect on humans because researchers used a particular type of mouse that is highly susceptible.

"This work shows that it is not the spike protein that drives Omicron pathogenicity, but instead other viral proteins," one of the lead researchers on the study, Mohsan Saeed, said in a statement.

In its rules regarding Research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPP), the NIH says that such research may be justified and supported on limited occasions.

Life expectancy rebounded in 2021

A study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour examined the pandemic-related life expectancy changes in 29 countries since 2020 using the Short-Term Mortality Fluctuations Database. The research included most of Europe, the US, and Chile.

The study found that in 2021, Western European countries rebounded from 2020 life expectancy (LE) losses, with the most significant bounce backs in Belgium and Switzerland, +10.8 months and +7.7 months, respectively.

However, LE continued to fall in Eastern Europe, with Bulgaria experiencing the most significant decline (−25.1 months). LE also continued to drop in Chile (−8.0 months) and the US (−2.7 months).

According to the study, in 11 of the 16 countries with LE losses in 2021, the under-60 age groups contributed significantly more to LE loss in 2021 than in 2020. However, increased mortality among those aged 60+ remained the most important contributor to LE losses compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Researchers note that in the US, non-COVID mortality also increased, mainly from external causes, such as overdose or homicide, among those younger than 60 years.

“This may be interpreted as the continuation and worsening of a pre-existing mortality crisis among working-age adults,” the study authors say.

Disparities in LE may also be due to differences in comorbidities between regions or countries, although research confirming comorbidity as a predictor of COVID mortality differences is still preliminary.

Finally, the way COVID deaths are counted may differ between countries, introducing some variation in the data.

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