COVID in California: New variants more resistant to three-shot vaccine dose

COVID in California: New variants more resistant to three-shot vaccine dose

BA.4, BA.5 are four times more resistant to three vaccine doses than BA.2

Newer omicron variants are more capable of eluding vaccines and existing COVID-19 therapies than their predecessors, according to research by Columbia University published Wednesday in Nature. In a laboratory study, the scientists found that the highly transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages of the virus, which are now dominant in the U.S., were at least four times more resistant to three doses of vaccine — the original shots plus one booster — than was the earlier BA.2. (The study group didn’t include people with two booster shots.) “Our study suggests that as these highly transmissible subvariants continue to expand around the globe, they will lead to more breakthrough infections in people who are vaccinated and boosted with currently available mRNA vaccines,” said David D. Ho, who led the study, in a statement. The researchers also tested the ability of 19 monoclonal antibody treatments to neutralize the variants and found that only one of the available treatments remained highly effective against both BA.2.12.1 and BA.4 and BA.5.

Judge rules against vaccine mandate for Los Angeles schools

A judge ruled that the Los Angeles County Unified School District does not have the authority to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school, siding with the father of a 12-year-old who challenged the mandate. After three months of arguments, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff on Tuesday decided that the local rule contradicts state law, the Los Angeles Times reports. “While LAUSD argues the court’s ruling should apply to (the plaintiff) only, the court finds no justification for such a limitation given the board’s lack of authority to adopt the resolution,” Beckloff wrote in his decision. The district had already pushed back the requirement to July 2023, in alignment with the state guidance. The ruling does not affect the vaccine requirement for teachers and staff, which has been in place since August, 2021.

Pharmacists can now prescribe Paxlovid

Pharmacists can prescribe the leading COVID-19 pill directly to patients under a new U.S. policy announced Wednesday that’s intended to expand use of Pfizer’s drug Paxlovid, the Associated Press reports. The Food and Drug Administration said pharmacists can begin screening patients to see if they are eligible for Paxlovid and then prescribe the medication, which has been shown to curb the worst effects of COVID-19. Previously only physicians could prescribe the antiviral drug.

Europe at the center of another global COVID surge, WHO says

COVID-19 infections are up 30% globally in the past two weeks with Europe at the epicenter of another surge in cases, according to the World Health Organization. The new wave is being driven by the highly-transmissible and immune evasive omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which this week became dominant in the U.S., the agency said. Officials also expressed concern over the BA2.75 sublineage of the omicron variant, which was recently detected in India. “We are seeing a much more intense wave of the disease passing through Europe again,” Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said at a media briefing Wednesday. “And we will see it happen elsewhere — we are already seeing it in South East Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region as well.”

Nearly 9 million people traveled over holiday weekend

Some 8.8 million people passed through airport security checkpoints over the July 4th weekend between Friday and Monday, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. Those numbers still lag behind pre-pandemic numbers but signal that the travel industry is on track for recovery despite persistent scheduled disruptions and staffing shortages. On Thursday and Friday, the number of passengers surpassed figures on record for 2019.

New BE.1 and BF.1 omicron subvariants detected in Louisiana

Scientists say they have identified two new sublineages of the omicron variant in Louisiana that has driven the state’s recent COVID-19 surge. The new subvariants were designated BE.1 and BF.1. by researchers at LSU Health New Orleans’ Precision Medicine Lab, which works in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health, Ochsner Health and the Louisiana infectious disease bioinformatics company BIE to collect samples from COVID-19 tests and examine their genetic sequencing to determine what versions of the disease are circulating in the state. “To our knowledge, these omicron subvariants have not been reported in the United States until now,” said Dr. Lucio Miele, the lab’s co-director and Head of Genetics at LSU Health New Orleans’ School of Medicine. “Their possible clinical and public health significance is still unknown.”

California tops 9.5 million total COVID-19 cases

As the state’s coronavirus test positive rate climbed again to 15% on Tuesday, California marked another pandemic milestone: more than 9.5 million cumulative COVID-19 cases. California is averaging about 40 daily cases per 100,000 residents. There are 4,035 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 hospitalized, according to state data, marking a 13% increase from a week ago. About 17 people are dying daily due to virus-related complications. See more on the state’s COVID dashboard.

Major cruise line drops pre-boarding test requirement

Norwegian Cruise Line said Wednesday that it will no longer require pre-boarding COVID-19 testing for its guests, unless required by local regulations. The new policy will go into effect on Aug. 1 across its brands, which also include Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises operations. “The relaxation of the testing policy is in line with the rest of the travel, leisure and hospitality industry worldwide as society continues to adapt and return to a state of normalcy,” the company said in a statement, adding it “strongly” recommends all guests be up to date on their vaccinations and “test at their convenience prior to travel.”

Overcrowding in old California prison structures helped drive COVID spread

Overcrowding, sometimes in antiquated buildings, played a key role in the dramatic surge of COVID-19 in California prisons, a new report from UCSF and UC Berkeley found. The spread was compounded by the need for complex coordination, and the report said “extraordinary” efforts by corrections officials was not enough to prevent tens of thousands of COVID infections among inmates and prison staff. Employee illness led to severe staffing shortages, and prison staff may have inadvertently carried the virus in and out of the prisons and into their homes and communities, the report said. It said risks may have been elevated because many prison staff refused to get vaccinated.

State won’t bring back mask mandate for the new school year

California kids will be allowed to go to school without face masks when classes resume in the fall. But public health officials, while not requiring them, still will be recommending face coverings for students and staff in an effort to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at K-12 schools. The state’s guidance, updated last week, allows a continuation of the mask-free classrooms that returned this spring. Read more about California’s COVID mitigation strategies and school policies.

Getting COVID can trigger events leading to brain damage, research shows

COVID-19 infection can trigger the production of immune molecules that damage cells lining blood vessels in the brain, according to a National Institutes of Health study published Tuesday. That damage causes platelets to stick together and form clots. Blood proteins also leak from the blood vessels, leading to inflammation and the destruction of neurons and may lead to short- and long-term neurological symptoms, according to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke researchers who examined brain changes in nine people who died suddenly after contracting the virus. “Patients often develop neurological complications with COVID-19, but the underlying pathophysiological process is not well understood,” said Avindra Nath, the senior author of the study. “We had previously shown blood vessel damage and inflammation in patients’ brains at autopsy, but we didn’t understand the cause of the damage. I think in this paper we’ve gained important insight into the cascade of events.”

Endemic stage of COVID-19 could be 2 years away, study suggests

It could take another two years before the virus that causes COVID-19 becomes endemic, according to a Yale study published Tuesday in the journal PNAS Nexus. Modeling data based on reinfection rates among rats, which are as susceptible to coronaviruses as humans, showed that with both vaccination and natural exposure, the population accumulated broad immunity that pushed the virus toward endemic stability. That is the point when the virus infects many people but loses its fangs, leading to outcomes that are not particularly harmful. Coronaviruses are highly unpredictable, so a potential mutation could arise “that makes it more pathogenic,” said Caroline Zeiss, a professor of comparative medicine at Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the study. “The more likely scenario, though, is that we see an increase in transmissibility and probable decrease in pathogenicity.”

Study: COVID reinfections increase the risk of new health problems

Repeated COVID increase risks for new and ongoing health problems, according to a new study of data from more than 5.6 million people Veterans Administration patients. Compared to patients who never got COVID, those infected once or more saw a proportionally increased risk of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, kidney, and neurological disorders, as well as mental health problems, researchers found. Antibodies from previous infections did not appear to reduce the risk. Among the 40,000 patients with two or more confirmed infections, the risk of death was twice as high and hospitalization within six months of their last infection three times higher. “Given the likelihood that SARS-CoV-2 will remain a threat for years if not decades, we urgently need to develop public health measures that would be embraced by the public and could be sustainably implemented in the long-term to protect people from re-infection,” the researchers wrote.

BA.5 now makes up more than half the cases in the U.S.

The omicron BA.5 subvariant of the coronavirus accounted for 53.6% of infections nationally last week, continuing its rapid rise to become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. The closely related BA.4 subvariant made up an additional 16.5% of cases, as the newer variants crowd out BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. Over the weekend, Dr. Bob Wachter, UCSF’s chair of medicine, cautioned that BA.5 is “a different beast” from previous strains of the virus — more infectious and better able to evade immune responses — and could cause another surge of cases before we have a chance to recover from the previous wave.

Why UCSF’s Bob Wachter says COVID variant BA.5 is “a different beast”

The new BA.5 strain of the COVID-causing virus is “a different beast” from ones we’ve already seen — more infectious and better able to evade immune responses — and “we need to change our thinking” about how to defend against it, according to a data-packed Twitter thread posted Sunday by Dr. Bob Wachter, UCSF’s chair of medicine.


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