BA.5 Is Driving A Wave Of Covid Infections, But Not Deaths Here’s Why Experts Say We Should Still Be Cautious

The evasive BA.5 omicron variant is driving up Covid cases and hospitalizations as it spreads rapidly across the United States—but despite deaths remaining lower compared to earlier waves, experts tell Forbes there are still plenty of reasons to remain cautious and warn Americans against letting their guard down too soon.

While Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in most states in recent weeks and jumped 20% nationwide over the past fortnight, deaths have risen only modestly and have hovered around 300-400 a day since April. Driving the new wave is BA.5, an omicron offshoot that has a “superpower to cause reinfection” and can evade immunity from vaccination and previous infection, even from other omicron variants, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told Forbes.

The disconnect reflects the fact that vaccines and past infections still provide strong protection against serious illness and death for BA.5 as well as there being more options available to treat early disease like Pfizer’s Paxlovid. Chin-Hong said there are still plenty of reasons to avoid infection, not least because Covid can still cause severe symptoms “even if you don’t end up in the hospital” and symptoms can “last for weeks.”

Infection also carries the risk of “long Covid”—lingering and sometimes debilitating symptoms that can persist for months or years—and early evidence suggests this is more likely the more times you get infected. Avoiding infection also helps safeguard people around you who may have less protection against serious disease like children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, Dr. Stuart Turville, a virologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Forbes.

Increasingly transmissible variants of omicron have surged across the U.S. this year. BA.5, the most infectious form of the virus yet, rapidly spread and became the dominant variant in early July. It now accounts for an estimated 78% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and community transmission has spiked. Concerns over BA.5, as well as the related BA.4, prompted officials to direct vaccine makers to target the variants in updated shots and the Biden Administration announced new plans to tackle its spread.

Officials and experts say it is especially important to ensure strong protection against serious disease by keeping up-to-date on vaccinations, including booster shots. Despite the appeals of public health officials and being available for many months, booster uptake in the U.S. is poor. Fewer than half of fully vaccinated people have received their first booster dose and fewer than 30% of those who have and are eligible for a second have taken up the offer, according to CDC data.

More variants. It is inevitable that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, will evolve and spawn new variants over time. Another omicron offshoot, BA.2.75—inexplicably and successfully dubbed “Centaurus” by the internet—has already caught the eye of virologists. The variant is spreading rapidly in India, has been detected across Europe and North America and shows signs of evading immunity.

Little data is available and it’s not clear whether BA.2.75 causes more severe disease. It’s also not clear whether it would be able to take over from BA.5 “as the ruler of the roost,” Chin-Hong explained, as they haven’t had a chance to directly compete with each other as yet.”

A great deal. Data collection and surveillance is poor compared to earlier on in the pandemic. Individual testing is down, genomic surveillance is reduced and evidence suggests cases could be vastly higher than official figures state. Conversely, hospital figures are inflated and reflect routine testing upon admission, which catches many “incidental” infections from people seeking care for other problems.

There is a lot to be understood about the newer omicron variants as well, experts say. BA.5, as well as other more recent omicron offshoots like BA.4 and BA.2.75, are relatively new pathogens that are infecting or reinfecting large numbers of people in the community, Turville explained, which makes it hard to provide absolute and definitive answers. “As with most things with SARS CoV-2, it is a large bag of unknowns,” he added.

Turville told Forbes the decoupling of deaths from cases shows the longer term effects of vaccination and exposure to the virus. It’s a “maturing immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in general” which has taken off the “edge of disease severity,” he added.

While cases are growing—and likely undercounted—it’s worth noting that they are a long way from the earlier omicron peak in January. In July, there were around 100,000-120,000 cases reported on average compared to more than 800,000 in mid January.

I am a senior reporter for the Forbes breaking news team, covering health and science from the London office. Previously I worked as a reporter for a trade publication

Source: BA.5 Is Driving A Wave Of Covid Infections, But Not Deaths—Here’s Why Experts Say We Should Still Be Cautious

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So far there is no evidence that this variant causes more serious illness. And infectious disease experts say that even though new infections are on the rise, the impact of BA.5 is unlikely to be on the scale of the surge we saw last winter — in part because the country is better equipped to manage it.

The U.S. is averaging about 300 deaths a day, compared to 3,000 last winter. Dr. Anna Durbin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the combination of prior infections and vaccinations is still protective, and COVID-19 treatments are better.

“Most people have some underlying immunity that is helpful in fighting the virus,” she explains. “We have antivirals … And I think that because of that … we’re not seeing a rise in deaths. And that’s very reassuring. It tells me that even this virus, even BA.5, is not so divergent that it is escaping all arms of the immune system.”

She adds that new booster shots specifically targeting omicron — which could roll out as soon as this fall — should also be helpful in preventing serious illness and deaths.

There are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to the virus, like masking up in crowded indoor spaces. Here’s how to step up your mask game.

Plus, children under the age of 5 are finally eligible to get vaccinated (and while many parents are hesitant, public health experts are encouraging them not to wait any longer). And adults ages 50 and older, as well as those over 12 with certain underlying conditions, can get a second booster shot.

And, if you already have plans to travel or attend gatherings this summer, check out these tips for protecting yourself outdoors, improving indoor airflow and what to do if you get sick while on vacation.

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BA.5 variant now makes up 78% of active Covid-19 cases in the US Mail Online

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CDC Approves COVID-19 Vaccines For Children Under 5

U.S. health advisers on Saturday recommended COVID-19 vaccines for infants, toddlers and preschoolers — the last group without the shots.The advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously decided that coronavirus vaccines should be opened to children as young as 6 months. On Saturday afternoon, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on the panel’s recommendation.

“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against COVID-19,” Walensky said in a statement. “We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can. I encourage parents and caregivers with questions to talk to their doctor, nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the benefits of vaccinations and the importance of protecting their children by getting them vaccinated.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra released a statement calling the CDC’s move a “major milestone.”

“Thanks to the FDA and CDC’s rigorous, comprehensive, and independent review of the data, and their strict commitment to following the science, we are reaching another major milestone in our efforts to protect more children, their families, and our communities as we work to end the pandemic,” Becerra said. “We are following the data and science as we make sure all Americans are eligible and have access to COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to prevent severe disease and save lives. Based on CDC and FDA actions, we now know that vaccination for our children 6 months through 5 years old is safe and effective and we are ready to get millions of children vaccinated.”

The White House also weighed in on the decision in a statement calling the CDC’s decision a “monumental step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus.””For parents all over the country, this is a day of relief and celebration,” President Biden said in the statemente. “As the first country to protect our youngest children with COVID-19 vaccines, my Administration has been planning and preparing for this moment for months, effectively securing doses and offering safe and highly effective mRNA vaccines for all children as young as six months old.

“While the Food and Drug Administration OKs vaccines, it’s the CDC that decides who should get them. The government has been gearing up for the start of the shots early next week, with millions of doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics around the country. Roughly 18 million kids will be eligible, but it remains to be seen how many will ultimately get the vaccines. Less than a third of children ages 5 to 11 have done so since vaccination opened up to them last November.

Two brands — Pfizer and Moderna — got the green light Friday from the FDA. The vaccines use the same technology but are being offered at different dose sizes and number of shots for the youngest kids.

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Pfizer’s vaccine is for 6 months through 4 years. The dose is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later. Moderna’s is two shots, each a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for kids 6 months through 5. The FDA also approved a third dose, at least a month after the second shot, for kids with immune conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness.

Two doses of Moderna appeared to be only about 40% effective at preventing milder infections at a time when the omicron variant was causing most COVID-19 illnesses. Pfizer presented study information suggesting the company saw 80% with its three shots. But the Pfizer data was so limited — and based on such a small number of cases — that experts and federal officials say they don’t feel there is a reliable estimate yet.

Hospitalizations surged during the omicron wave. Since the start of the pandemic, about 480 children under age 5 are counted among the nation’s more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths, federal data show. “It is worth vaccinating, even though the number of deaths are relatively rare, because these deaths are preventable through vaccination,” said Dr. Matthew Daley, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado researcher who sits on the advisory committee.

U.S. officials expect most shots to take place at pediatricians’ offices. Many parents may be more comfortable getting the vaccine for their kids at their regular doctor, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said. He predicted the pace of vaccination to be far slower than it was for older populations.

Pediatricians, other primary care physicians and children’s hospitals are planning to provide the vaccines. Limited drugstores will offer them for at least some of the under-5 group. U.S. officials expect most shots to take place at pediatricians’ offices. Many parents may be more comfortable getting the vaccine for their kids at their regular doctor, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said. He predicted the pace of vaccination to be far slower than it was for older populations.

“We’re going see vaccinations ramp up over weeks and even potentially over a couple of months,” Jha said. It’s common for little kids to get more than one vaccine during a doctor’s visit. In studies of the Moderna and Pfizer shots in infants and toddlers, other vaccinations were not given at the same time so there is no data on potential side effects when that happens. But problems have not been identified in older children or adults when COVID-19 shots and other vaccinations were given together, and the CDC is advising that it’s safe for younger children as well.

About three-quarters of children of all ages are estimated to have been infected at some point. For older ages, the CDC has recommended vaccination anyway to lower the chances of reinfection.Experts have noted re-infections among previously infected people and say the highest levels of protection occur in those who were both vaccinated and previously infected. The CDC has said people may consider waiting about three months after an infection to be vaccinated.

Source: CDC approves COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 | Fox Business

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Consumers are Shifting Their Spending From Goods To Services

The Covid-19 pandemic has strained global supply chains, causing freight backlogs that have driven up costs. Now some companies are looking for longer-term solutions to prepare for future supply-chain crises, even if those strategies come at a high cost. Americans responded to the pandemic with a dramatic shift in spending to goods from services. That now appears to be reversing and should gather steam as the Omicron wave of Covid-19 ebbs, economists say.

Consumers shopped more online in the pandemic, and changed what they bought. Unable to eat out or travel, and with both school and work going remote, they splurged more on things for the home such as furniture and computers. Several rounds of federal stimulus amplified that spending spree.

Goods—including nondurable goods such as food and clothing, and durable goods such as cars and appliances—averaged 31% of total personal consumption in the two years before the pandemic. That soared to 36% in March and April 2021, shortly before Covid-19 vaccines became widely available. The share has been dropping since, to 34% in December. Consumer spending on goods fell that month for the second month in a row, according to the Commerce Department, while spending on services increased slightly.

James Knightley, chief international economist at ING, said consumers are starting this year with “a combination of general fatigue of buying physical things and Omicron reducing the ability to spend on services.”

After bingeing on goods earlier in the pandemic, consumers are taking a breather. What’s more, spending on goods has been hit by supply-chain constraints, rising prices and dwindling government stimulus funds. As warmer springtime weather comes to much of the country and falling infection rates help people feel more comfortable socializing in-person, pent-up demand for services such as travel and dining should recover, said Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union.

“If the Omicron wave continues to decline and there’s no follow-up strain, I do think we’re going to see a shift to a more normal breakdown in spending on goods and services,” he said.

That could be important for the inflation outlook. Strong demand for goods coupled with disruptions to their supply have fueled inflation, sending it to a 39-year high of 7% in December. Prices for goods such as furniture and appliances rose 10.7% in December from a year earlier, while services inflation for costs such as rent and airline fares was up a more moderate 3.7%. If consumer spending rotates back to services from goods, some of that upward pressure on goods prices should dissipate.

Economists caution that 2022 is off to a weak start. The Omicron wave hurt consumer spending and job growth in December, trends that likely continued through January as cases of the Covid-19 variant peaked. Real-time data show that restaurant bookings and travel remained depressed in January, suggesting the shift toward services away from goods may have paused in January.

But looking ahead, a strong labor market and rising wages mean many U.S. consumers are starting 2022 with robust income prospects that are likely to help fuel the services recovery this year. “All the indications are that it will be a big year for travel,” said Visa Inc. Chief Financial Officer Vasant Prabhu. “We see the shift to services continuing to gather momentum.”

 Travel, restaurants and entertainment services all stand to benefit, he said, adding the economic impact of Omicron is more short-lived than earlier Covid-19 waves as people learn to live with the variant.

Airlines were hit hard by the Omicron variant, with travelers scrapping holiday trips and staff absenteeism prompting flight cancellations over the holidays. Still, executives are optimistic about a speedy recovery.

“The GDP growth we’re seeing now, the excess customer savings, customer spend in other categories and even things like New York City rents snapping back pretty quickly, all seem to indicate real strength for the customer and pent-up demand that wasn’t there in the past,” David Fintzen, an executive at New York-based JetBlue Airways Corp. said during an earnings call last week.

One potential roadblock to higher spending in 2022 is inflation, as shortages of supplies and workers are pushing up prices and wages at levels that may become unaffordable to some households. Some consumers are forgoing purchases because of sticker shock. “We will not buy a used car at the prices we’re seeing now, it’s ridiculous,” said Cory Randall, controller at a cattle company in Amarillo, Texas, who had been considering a secondhand compact car purchase as his son recently turned 16.

Mr. Randall isn’t alone. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s most recent Survey of Consumer Expectations found the share of households that made a large purchase over the past four months decreased to 58% in December from 63% in August. Households reported that they were less likely to make a large purchase over the next four months—like on a vacation, home repairs, home appliances, furniture and vehicles—than in the prior survey.

Source: https://www.wsj.com

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Future COVID Variants Will Likely Reinfect Us Multiple Times a Year, Experts Say

For more than a year now, the original COVID-19 vaccines have held up remarkably well — even miraculously so — against a Greek alphabet of new variants: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta.

But now experts say something is changing. Since the start of 2022, the initial version of Omicron, known as BA.1, has been spinning off new sublineages — BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.4, BA.5 — at an alarming pace.

Earlier variants did this too. But it never really mattered, because their offshoots “had no functional consequence,” according to Eric Topol, founder of Scripps Research Translational Institute. “They did not increase transmissibility or pathogenicity.”

Today’s rapidly proliferating Omicron mutants are different, however. They all have one worrisome trait in common: They’re getting better and better at sidestepping immunity and sickening people who were previously shielded by vaccination or prior infection.

The virus, in other words, is now evolving faster — and in a more consequential way — than ever before. Given the increasing speed of immune evasion, and what this pattern portends for the future, experts warn that the time has come to rethink our reliance on the vaccine status quo and double down on next-generation vaccines that can actually stop infection.

“As difficult [as] it is to mentally confront, we must plan on something worse than Omicron in the months ahead,” Topol wrote on May 15. “We absolutely need an aggressive stance to get ahead of the virus — for the first time since the pandemic began — instead of surrendering.”

The brewing storm of BA sublineages isn’t all bad news. COVID cases have been rising nationwide since the beginning of April, nearly quadrupling over the last six weeks to more than 90,000 per day on average. Yet both COVID deaths (about 300 per day) and ICU patients (about 2,000 total) are still at or approaching record lows — even though other countries with bigger gaps in previous exposure or vaccination have been hit hard, and even though new research shows that Omicron and its spinoffs are not, in fact, intrinsically less severe or deadly than prior variants, contrary to early assumptions.

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Source: Future COVID variants will likely reinfect us multiple times a year, experts say — unless we invest in new vaccines

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The new variants have not altered the fundamental usefulness of the Covid vaccines. Most people who have received three or even just two doses will not become sick enough to need medical care if they test positive for the coronavirus. And a booster dose, like a previous bout with the virus, does seem to decrease the chance of reinfection — but not by much.

At the pandemic’s outset, many experts based their expectations of the coronavirus on influenza, the viral foe most familiar to them. They predicted that, as with the flu, there might be one big outbreak each year, most likely in the fall. The way to minimize its spread would be to vaccinate people before its arrival.

Instead, the coronavirus is behaving more like four of its closely related cousins, which circulate and cause colds year round. While studying common-cold coronaviruses, “we saw people with multiple infections within the space of a year,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York.

If reinfection turns out to be the norm, the coronavirus is “not going to simply be this wintertime once-a-year thing,” he said, “and it’s not going to be a mild nuisance in terms of the amount of morbidity and mortality it causes.”

Reinfections with earlier variants, including Delta, did occur but were relatively infrequent. But in September, the pace of reinfections in South Africa seemed to pick up and was markedly high by November, when the Omicron variant was identified, Dr. Pulliam said.

Reinfections in South Africa, as in the United States, may seem even more noticeable because so many have been immunized or infected at least once by now.

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Why Some People Get COVID More Than Once


Although the federal government does not collect data on COVID reinfections, and nor do health authorities in WA and Queensland, Victoria recorded almost 10,000 reinfections between late December 2021 and late March 2022. This compares with just 108 known reinfections in Victoria during the previous two years. NSW plans to release state reinfection data soon.

As the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 continues to fuel more infections, the spectre of repeat infections is well and truly upon us. Current vaccines were designed to protect against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, and while the shots are crucial in shielding us from severe illness and death, they are less effective in preventing infection by newer variants.

 Unfortunately, natural immunity gained from a Delta infection also won’t stop us getting infected with Omicron. We learnt this with the rise of Omicron in South Africa late last year, when a population with relatively high natural immunity from previous coronavirus infections still fell victim to the merciless Omicron wave.

Reinfections have become something of a hallmark of Omicron. Since the rise of this highly transmissible strain, the number of people reinfected with coronavirus has spiked, in a pattern that is unique to the strain. Imperial College London researchers estimate a reinfection with Omicron is 5.4 times greater than with the Delta variant.

A letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that a previous COVID-19 infection was 90 per cent effective at preventing an infection with the Alpha, Beta or Delta variants, but only 56 per cent effective against Omicron.

In England, where Omicron has driven a spike in reinfections, provisional data from the UK Health Security Agency shows 10.7 per cent of all positive COVID-19 cases were reinfections in the last week of March.

The data shows that the number of weekly reinfections jumped from 20,000 to 50,000 in just one month, with reinfections occurring across all age groups, despite high vaccination levels. (A reinfection was counted when someone tested positive on two tests taken more than 90 days apart.)

Waning immunity is playing a part, along with the easing of restrictions. But the potent variable here is the rise of the BA.2 variant of Omicron, which is rapidly becoming the dominant strain globally.

A non-peer reviewed Swedish study suggests Omicron BA.2 could be more contagious than the original BA.1 strain due to its higher viral loads in the nose and throat. (The first case of a new recombinant variant combining BA.1 and BA.2, known as XE, was detected in New South Wales on April 9. Watch this space.)

The good news as far as reinfections go, is that catching the same variant twice is fairly unlikely. So if you got sick with Omicron BA.1, you’re probably in the clear when it comes to catching BA.2.

A more likely scenario is being reinfected after having Delta or an earlier strain. You’re more likely again to get infected if you’ve had no prior COVID infection at all, and that likelihood increases further if you’re unvaccinated.

While reinfection is no fun, the plus side is that it gives you excellent immunity when coupled with vaccination. The combination triggers a broader range of antibody and white cell responses in your system, meaning you are less likely to suffer serious illness on reinfection.

A preprint study from Qatar confirms that the best defence against Omicron BA.1 or BA.2 infections is a prior infection plus two vaccinations and a booster shot. This reduces the risk of infection by 77 per cent, compared with 52 per cent if you got three doses but had no prior infection, the study found.

Senior research fellow at the Kirby Institute’s infection analytics program Dr Deborah Cromer says COVID-19 may follow the trajectory of other respiratory viruses, such as the flu, when it comes to reinfection.

“People will get the flu once, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get the flu again,” she says. “They probably won’t get the flu twice in one season, but obviously, there are people who do. And if you’ve had the flu vaccine, it doesn’t mean you won’t get the flu, but your symptoms will probably be less severe.

“I think what we’re talking about is a respiratory virus that will keep changing, but if people’s immunity levels keep being maintained at a high level, then it should hopefully not be too severe.”

That’s pretty much how the 1918 Spanish flu petered out. The first couple of years of that pandemic were the worst in terms of severe sickness and death, but as the virus changed and spread over the following decades, it continued to infect people but was far less dangerous.

The key problem in Australia, though, is a lack of good data. As more people rely on rapid-antigen tests, there are fewer samples available for sequencing. ANU infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon says we need systematic surveillance to monitor infections and genomic sequencing to better understand how reinfections will impact us.

“Instead of having a one in 1000 chance of dying, is there one in 10,000 if you’re reinfected? What’s your chance of getting into hospital? And how is it proportionate to your socio-economic condition and your age? We need that sort of data to be able to plan for the future.”

Timna Jacks

By: Timna Jacks

Source: Why some people get COVID more than once

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