The end is at last in sight, but we will all need to work to get there. - TESEMA NEGASH ,
Estimated 73% of US now immune to omicron: Is that enough? The omicron wave that assaulted the United States this winter also bolstered its defenses, leaving enough protection against the coronavirus that future spikes will likely require much less — if any — dramatic disruption to society.
Millions of individual Americans’ immune systems now recognize the virus and are primed to fight it off if they encounter omicron, or even another variant.
About half of eligible Americans have received booster shots, there have been nearly 80 million confirmed infections overall and many more infections have never been reported. One influential model uses those factors and others to estimate that 73% of Americans are, for now, immune to omicron, the dominant variant, and that could rise to 80% by mid-March.
This will prevent or shorten new illnesses in protected people and reduce the amount of virus circulating overall, likely tamping down new waves. Hospitals will get a break from overwhelmed ICUs, experts agree.
The coronavirus — the current variant or future ones that are sure to pop up — remains a dangerous germ. It is still infecting more than 130,000 Americans and killing more than 2,000 every day. Tens of millions of people remain vulnerable.
And there will be future outbreaks. The notion of a “herd immunity” that could stop the virus has slipped away under the harsh reality of new variants, waning immunity, and the rejection of vaccines by some Americans.
But the coronavirus is no longer new. Two years ago it arrived in a nation where nobody’s immune system had seen it before. The entire population — 330 million people — were immunologically naive, that is, susceptible to infection.
“I am optimistic even if we have a surge in summer, cases will go up, but hospitalizations and deaths will not,” said Mokdad, who works on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model, which calculated the 73% figure for The Associated Press.
With varying degrees of relief and caution, many Americans are starting to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles.
As mask mandates ease, workers return to offices and flights fill up, experts are trying to understand whether this return to normal can last, or if another setback is looming.
To address that, researchers are trying to answer questions about the virus, the vaccine, and how our bodies respond: How fast is booster protection waning against omicron? How long does protection from infection last? How many mild infections were never reported? How many people got infected but had no symptoms?
To find clues, they use health data from other countries such as Britain, Denmark, South Africa and Qatar to project what could be in store.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimate that about three out of four people in the United States will have been infected by omicron by the end of the surge.
“We know it’s a huge proportion of the population,” said Shaun Truelove, an epidemiologist and disease modeler at Johns Hopkins. “This varies a lot by location, and in some areas we expect the number infected to be closer to one in two.”
That means different regions or groups of people have different level of protection — and risk.
Still, while the population is better protected, many individuals are not. Even by the most optimistic estimates for population immunity, 80 million or so Americans are still vulnerable. That’s about the same as the total number of confirmed infections in the U.S. during the pandemic.
“The 26% who could still get omicron right now have to be very careful,” Mokdad said.
Andrew Pekosz, a virus researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is concerned that people — particularly unvaccinated omicron survivors — may have a false sense of security. “In an ideal world, unvaccinated individuals infected with omicron would be lining up for a vaccine shot,” he said. Also, estimating protection is far from an exact science. It’s a moving target, as immunity wanes and new variants circulate. Protection varies widely from person to person. And it’s impossible to know for sure how many people are protected at all. The IHME model estimates a wide range — from 63% to 81% of Americans. “We’ve reached a much better position for the coming months, but with waning immunity we shouldn’t take it for granted,” Mokdad said.
BA.2 Omicron subvariant is no more severe than original strain: The BA.2 Omicron subvariant doesn’t appear to cause more severe illness than the original strain, a new South African study showed Wednesday.
Those who tested positive for the new subvariant suffered similar rates of hospitalizations as those infected with the original Omicron strain, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ study. The study, obtained by Bloomberg, examined data from 95,470 cases recorded within a large hospital system and the government’s laboratory service.
Of those cases, 3.6 percent infected with the subvariant were hospitalized, compared to the 3.4 percent who ended up in the hospital with the original strain. Just over 30 percent of hospitalized patients with BA.2 fell seriously ill, while 33.5 percent of those with the initial Omicron variant developed severe disease. Despite fears that BA.2 was more infectious than the initial Omicron strain, the subvariant is still more mild in comparison to earlier strains — including the Delta variant, the study found.
Vaccine-Induced Antibodies 17 Times More Effective Than Natural Immunity: Antibodies induced by the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines may be better at neutralizing the virus and it’s variants than having natural immunity, according to new research. The results suggest that even after recovering from COVID-19, the vaccine likely remains the best way to protect yourself against re-infection, particularly against new and more infectious variants. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
In this new study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, used a series of in vitro assays to determine the number of antibodies produced by the vaccine and natural immunity, and whether this correlates to how much of the virus is neutralized.
Forty one serum samples were taken from 33 donors, all with a documented history of COVID-19 infection, and compared to a sample of 28 donors who had all received two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna. Those who were vaccinated had a 16.8-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies when compared to the natural immunity group, and a 30.1-fold increase over another group who were newly-diagnosed COVID-19 patients.
In a follow-up experiment, the researchers discovered this increase in antibodies translated to a similar improvement in virus neutralization, suggesting vaccinated people have more antibodies and are therefore more effective at neutralizing COVID-19. When faced with a different variant, the vaccinated samples’ antibodies were far more effective at neutralizing it compared to natural immunity-induced antibodies.
The researchers concluded that mRNA vaccine-induced antibodies were likely more effective against infectious variants than natural immunity.
COVID Increases the Risk of Heart Failure by 72% in Unvaccinated People, Even in Mild Cases: COVID-19 illness, even mild cases, can leave people with a significantly higher risk of life-threatening heart problems, a new study found.
In one of the largest analyses yet of the long-term effects of COVID-19, researchers found that the virus drastically increases the chance of heart issues like failures, strokes and irregularities, and the potential of deadly blood clots in the legs and lungs for at least a year after infection.
The risk of heart failure went up by 72%, heart attacks by 63% and stroke by 52%, even for people who had mild cases.
The researchers, led by Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, collected data for up to a year from 153,760 COVID-19 patients before vaccines were available. They compared the patients' cardiovascular health and any heart problems to two control groups — one from the same time period of more than 5.6 million people who did not contract COVID-19, and the other of 5.8 million veterans from before the pandemic.
Heart experts feel that the COVID-19 vaccines, which protect against infection, likely reduce this risk.
Until next time PLEASE Stay Safe, Stay Well, Stay Distant, be Careful in Crowds and Wear Your Mask. We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. By working together we can bring this pandemic to an safe and healthy end.
James A Vito, D.M.D