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Variants and talk of variants May 26, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Some chatter about new variants of concern floating about. RTÉ notes that:

The first cases of a new Covid-19 variant of concern have been confirmed in Ireland.

The two cases of BA.4 were detected here earlier this month.

They were identified from whole genome sequencing carried out on a proportion of confirmed virus cases during the week of 7 May.

BA.4 is a sub-lineage of the highly transmissible Omicron, which is currently the dominant strain of Covid in Ireland.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reclassified BA.4 and another sub-lineage of Omicron, BA.5, from variants of interest to variants of concern on 12 May.

And:

The ECDC said the growth advantage of the two strains “is likely due to their ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection and/or vaccination, particularly if this has waned over time”.

The response here?

Dr Tony Holohan said: “the overall epidemiological situation in Ireland currently provides a broadly positive outlook, albeit we will need to continue to monitor developments with emerging variants over the coming weeks.”

What, I wonder, is this? There’s no sign of a roll-out of further boosters – indeed the latest news on the Covid front here is that:

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), the HSE arm that monitors the progress of the pandemic, de-escalated its emergency response in mid-May, according to Dr Holohan.

Although significant resources remained dedicated to Covid-19, he said, other priority work was being “upscaled” and resources were being diverted to these areas from Covid-19.

As a result, the HPSC will now update its Covid-19 data hub on a weekly rather than a daily basis.

That waning of vaccination immune responses surely is a given as time progresses, so what is envisaged as a response to these variations? One would have expected some guidance, some sense of the future. But one would be disappointed. It’s up to non-state actors to offer even a modicum of advice it would seem, given the exercise in aversion to engaging with the issue:

Anthony Staines, professor of health systems at DCU and a member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG), said it is “not surprising” cases of BA.4 have been detected in Ireland as the variant is very infectious.

“The strength we have here is there is a very high level of vaccination. Some other places that have had significant waves of BA.4 and BA.5 have had less vaccination,” he said.

“The short answer is we don’t know what will happen. We obviously need to keep a sharp eye on it.”

Prof Staines said it was important that people wear masks in crowded places and ensure good air hygiene and ventilation, as well as taking up vaccination, in order to mitigate the risk of another Omicron wave.

Meanwhile, in the US, the New York Times noted that reinfection by Covid could be multiple times a year.

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.

Given the debilitating impact on many, that seems like a rather problematic situation we’re now heading into. And yet of this not a word from our health authorities. 

And Eric Topol in the Guardian noted this last weekend that:

Moreover, a major misconception is that the vaccines are holding steady to protect against severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths. They are not.

When a booster was given during the Delta wave, it fully restored protection against these outcomes, to the level of 95% effectiveness. But for Omicron, with a booster (or second booster), the protection was approximately 80%. While still high, it represents a major, fourfold (lack of effectiveness of 55% v 20%) dropdown. Accordingly, the confidence that our vaccines, directed to the original strain from 2019, are highly protective from severe illness is exaggerated.

No less are the clear signs that the durability of such protection is reduced. All of this is tied to the marked evolution of the virus, and we yet lack any data on vaccine effectiveness versus the BA.2.12.1 variant, soon to be dominant here.

With the prospect of more noxious variants ahead, it is unfathomable that we now surrender. No more funding from the government. The only new vaccine in the hopper is an Omicron booster, but since that is based on the BA.1 variant, it may not provide much protection against what we are seeing now (BA.2.12.1 has reduced cross-immunity) or where the virus will be come this summer, when that vaccine may become available. We even face a shortage of vaccines in the months ahead.

It is difficult to understand why governments have back-pedalled this at this particular point. Topol points to innovation, new vaccines that would be variant proof and cut down or block transmission. Anti-viral drugs. 

It the virus’s accelerated evolution – that it’s sneaky – and has become more formidable over time that is at the root of our problem now. We can outsmart and finally get ahead of the virus if we don’t submit to fatigue instead of rugged perseverance, and to foolishness rather than intelligence.

And sure that demands full engagement with the realities that we are facing rather than what appears to be a pretence that the pandemic is near enough over? Or to quote the NYT piece:

“Every single time we think we’re through this, every single time we think we have the upper hand, the virus pulls a trick on us,” Dr. Andersen said. “The way to get it under control is not, ‘Let’s all get infected a few times a year and then hope for the best.’”

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