An Omicron sub-variant that is spreading rapidly in India and has been detected in several European countries may be more effective than other coronavirus strains at overcoming immunity provided by prior infection and vaccines. BA.2.75, which has been nicknamed Centaurus, appeared to have mutated in a way that could indicate “major immune escape”, said the World Health Organization (WHO)’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, adding that it showed a “clear growth advantage” over other variants in India.
City authorities in Beijing announced China’s first large-scale COVID-19 vaccine mandate on 6 July, only to scrap the plan a day later after social media posts questioned the measure’s legality and the vaccines’ effectiveness.
The mandate called for those entering libraries, museums, movie theatres, gyms, and other public facilities to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a policy enacted by many countries during the pandemic. Instead, Beijing reverted to requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken in the previous 72 hours and a temperature check to visit facilities that attract crowds. Roughly 90% of China’s population has got vaccinated voluntarily, but only half of those older than 80 were vaccinated as of March, the last time national details were released.
With an United States (US) Federal Drug Agency (FDA) authorization for Novavax’s Nuvaxovid, Serum Institute of India (SII) has scored the go-ahead to finally supply a COVID-19 vaccine to the United States (US). Wednesday’s emergency use authorization for Novavax’s recombinant protein-based vaccine means SII is able to supply the shot, also known as Covovax, to the US from India. The Novavax green light now makes SII the first Indian drugmaker to produce a COVID shot for the US market.
A study of COVID-19 patients in the United Kingdom has found that loss of taste and smell were no longer among the most telling symptoms of the virus.
The recent survey of about 17,500 patients who were asked about their symptoms found that 58% reported a sore throat, 49% a headache, 40% a blocked nose, 40% a cough with no phlegm, and 40% a runny nose, the BBC reported. Loss of smell was ranked 20th among reported symptoms.
During the early days of the pandemic, loss of smell and taste were among the most distinct symptoms of COVID infection.
The symptoms may have changed because the coronavirus has mutated since the start of the pandemic, according to the study. The BA.4 and BA.5 variants now dominate COVID cases in the United Kingdom and many other nations.
The European Union’s population shrank for a second year running last year, the bloc’s statistics office said last Monday. According to Eurostat, the population of the 27 countries that make up the bloc fell by close to 172,000 from the previous year and over 656,000 from January 2020.
“In 2020 and 2021 the positive net migration no longer compensated for the negative natural change in the EU and, as a consequence, the EU total population has been decreasing,” it said, pointing to impacts from the pandemic.
The number of deaths began outstripping births in the EU a decade ago, but immigration from outside the bloc helped offset the gap until the first year of the pandemic.
Global childhood vaccination rates experienced the largest decline in about three decades amid COVID disruptions, putting a growing number of children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases. The percentage of children who received three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) was set back to its lowest level since 2008, falling to 81% in 2021, according to official data published by the WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund on Friday. The decline means 25 million children missed out on at least one dose of DTP through routine services in 2021 alone, two million more than in 2020 and six million more than in 2019.
Soaring demand for the monkeypox vaccine caused the appointment system to crash in New York City, one of many places where supplies have been running out almost as soon as they arrive.
Infections now exceed 1,000 from the growing outbreak in the US Vaccine shortages have added to anxiety around the virus. Health officials say anyone can get monkeypox, but most cases in the US have been men who have sex with men. Scientists warn that anyone who is in close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox or their clothing or bedsheets is at risk of infection, regardless of their sexual orientation.
There is an antiviral treatment, tecovirimat (TPOXX), but it’s only available from the US Strategic National Stockpile at the moment. The US FDA approved tecovirimat to treat smallpox in 2018 over concerns that it might be used as a bioterrorism weapon someday.
Local health departments are working with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Health and Human Services to request tecovirimat through a complicated, 120-page protocol. At the same time, monkeypox cases have risen to more than 11,000 worldwide, according to the CDC.
“If this is a trial run post-COVID to see if we are better, I don’t think it is going that well,” Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Centre for Health Security in Baltimore, said in an interview.
The slow response to growing monkeypox cases is even more puzzling, Adalja says, because we already had all the tools needed to contain the spread. “This should have been a home run after COVID-19: A not very transmissible disease for which we have off-the-shelf vaccines, off-the-shelf antivirals, and diagnostic tests that already existed,” he said.
Meanwhile, as monkeypox cases in the US climb and the preferred vaccine remains in short supply, the CDC is pushing back against calls to provide people with a single shot of the vaccine, rather than the recommended two doses.
This strategy would extend the supply of the highly in demand JYNNEOS vaccine and hypothetically curb the spread by giving a greater number of people immunity against the virus in less time. This may seem logical, especially inasmuch as cases are expected to continue rising in the coming weeks; however, a single dose does not provide enough protection against the virus, officials said during a July 15 press call, and thus the strategy could risk further infections and spread of the virus.
The JYNNEOS vaccine is administered in two doses that are delivered 28 days apart. People typically have maximum immunity against monkeypox 2 weeks after receiving the second dose. As of July 14, 1,470 cases of monkeypox had been reported in the US. Of 700 cases for which demographic information was available, the median age of the patients was 36. The majority of cases have been in men who have sex with men.
US Federal officials announced that an additional 130,000 doses of JYNNEOS had arrived at the strategic national stockpile. These will be delivered to states as early as Monday, July 18. States can also request the ACAM 2000 vaccine, which is approved for protection against smallpox but can also protect against monkeypox. But this vaccine has more side effects and cannot be given to people with heart disease or those who are immunocompromised.
The first known lab-confirmed case of monkeypox in India has been reported from the southern state of Kerala in a 35-year-old male who reached the state capital last week from the UAE.
Kerala’s health minister Veena George, said that the National Institute of Virology, Pune had confirmed the disease.
The person has been isolated for treatment at the Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College Hospital (MCH). His condition was stable.
He himself volunteered the information that a close contact of his in the UAE had been confirmed as having contracted monkeypox. He was referred to the MCH here.
His close contacts — father and mother — have also been isolated at the same hospital. Ms. George said a few other persons who might qualify as contacts — the driver who took the person from the airport to his home, the driver of the autorickshaw in which he travelled to a private hospital first, the healthcare personnel who attended to him at the first hospital as well as 11 persons who had occupied the seats near him on his flight from the UAE — have all been informed about the new development . They will also have to go into isolation and monitoring for the next 21 days.
There’s been an upswing in COVID-19 cases in the state for the past one month and mask mandates are in place with health workers also using PPE kits before attending to patients, thus minimising the risk of spread, Ms. George said.
Two people infected with the Marburg virus have died in Ghana, the first ever detected cases of the deadly haemorrhagic fever in the country, health authorities report. Tissue samples collected from the people, in the Ashanti region in the south, have been sent to the Pasteur Institute in Senegal for confirmation, the WHO announced last week. Marburg is closely related to the Ebola virus, but outbreaks are rarer and typically smaller; the biggest one, in Angola in 2004–05, ended after 252 cases. There are no approved vaccines or treatments. It is only the second time a Marburg infection has been detected in West Africa. A single case was confirmed in Guinea in 2021, but no further cases were found and the outbreak was declared over after 5 weeks.
Lalita Panicker is Consulting Editor, Views and Editor, Insight, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lalita Panicker is consulting editor, views, Hindustan Times, New Delhi