Archive for Hilary Brueck

The CDC says it’s identified a new Delta-related coronavirus variant in the US, and officials are monitoring it closely

Helix San Diego Lusk Scinomix Lab Worker COVID coronavirus Tests
  • A new coronavirus variant, called AY.4.2, is being closely monitored by scientists around the world.
  • AY.4.2 is a descendant of the Delta variant. It has been found "on occasion" in the US, the CDC said.
  • It's not clear yet whether AY.4.2 is actually more transmissible than Delta, or if it has just had some good luck in the UK.

A new coronavirus descendant related to Delta, called AY.4.2, is being closely monitored by scientists in the US, UK, and Israel.

AY.4.2 is still "very rare" in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is well below 0.05% of all our sequenced viruses, with less than 10 reported in our database so far," the CDC said in a statement sent to Insider on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, AY.4, the parent lineage of the new variant, "represents around 11% of the Delta viruses in the United States," the CDC said.

While many different AY lineages of the Delta variant have been documented to date, AY.4.2 has caught the attention of virus-watchers around the world recently because it has two changes located on the viral spike protein, which could perhaps give it some advantages. But it's unclear if that's the case yet.

"At this time ... there is no evidence that the sub lineage A.Y.4.2 impacts the effectiveness of our current vaccines or therapeutics," the CDC said.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Twitter over the weekend that "we need urgent research" to figure out how much of a threat the new Delta descendant really poses.

AY.4.2 has been identified 'on occasion' in the US

Getting a COVID-19 test to travel to the UK - Testing Facility at JFK Airport
Most COVID-19 tests are never sequenced.

"We have, on occasion, identified the sublineage here in the United States, but not with recent increased frequency or clustering to date," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House coronavirus briefing Wednesday morning, referencing AY.4.2.

But the UK, which has noticed a larger uptick in AY.4.2 cases recently, has been far better than the US at tracking and sequencing coronavirus variants in real time during the pandemic.

Jeffrey Barrett, a genomics expert leading the COVID-19 initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said it's still possible that AY.4.2 has just had a bit of "epidemiological luck" in the UK recently.

Professor Francois Balloux, Director of the University College London Genetics Institute, agreed.

"In Denmark, the other country that besides the UK has excellent genomic surveillance in place, it reached a 2% frequency but has gone down since," he said of the subvariant.

Read the original article on Business Insider

CDC data confirms J&J is the worst-performing COVID-19 vaccine in the US – but being unvaccinated is far more dangerous

johnson and johnson vaccine
Johnson & Johnson's one shot COVID-19 vaccine isn't performing as well as two shot mRNA vaccines.
  • The CDC has released data breaking down COVID-19 cases and deaths by vaccination status, as well as vaccine brand.
  • The data shows "firstly, the vaccines work," an independent immunologist said.
  • But it also suggests that Moderna's vaccine has an edge, and J&J's probably needs a boost.

Two COVID-19 shots work better than one.

For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sharing data from across the US on COVID-19 cases and deaths, broken down by vaccination status, as well as vaccine brand.

With this more granular data available, clear trends are emerging showing Pfizer and Moderna's two-shot vaccines work best at preventing all kinds of COVID-19 infections.

"Firstly, the vaccines work," immunologist John Moore from Weill Cornell Medical College told Insider, as he reviewed the new data. "The difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated is huge."

That's true. In August, the risk of catching COVID-19 was more than six times higher for unvaccinated people, according to the CDC's new graph.

Still, there's a "split in the potency of the vaccines with J&J and the other two," Moore said.

Moderna's vaccine (green line) seems to have the edge, while Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine (in orange) isn't holding up as well.

rates of covid 19 cases chart, showing far higher rates for unvaccinated, but among vaccinated: j&j highest and moderna lowest

This new data (taken from 16 different health departments representing 30% of the US) goes along with what other real-world studies have found.

J&J's single shot vaccine isn't as good as the others at preventing coronavirus infections. Part of the reason for the difference might be that one exposure to a pathogen isn't enough to stimulate a really robust immune response. (That's another reason why it's a good idea for people who've had COVID-19 to get vaccinated.)

Mounting evidence J&J should be a 2-shot vaccine

The data comes at a critical time, as an independent advisory committee to the US Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously Friday to support booster doses for everybody who's gotten J&J's vaccine.

At the meeting, Peter Marks, who directs the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said "there is some concern" about "the idea of the Janssen [J&J] vaccine as one dose."

"All of the data do not fully align with this being a vaccine that retains excellent activity over time against all forms of disease, or even against severe forms of disease," Marks said.

Indeed, according to the new CDC charts, J&J's vaccine isn't protecting people against death in the same way that the other vaccines are. Fewer than one in every 100,000 people vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna's vaccine have died from COVID-19, but for J&J, the number is roughly double that.

rates of covid 19 deaths chart, showing far higher rates for unvaccinated, but among vaccinated: j&j highest and moderna lowest

Dr. Amanda Cohn from the CDC told the FDA panel Friday that the real-world effectiveness of J&J's vaccine is "hovering" around 50-60% overall, and it is only 68% effective at keeping people out of the hospital, which is "substantially lower than the mRNA vaccines."

The risk of death for fully vaccinated people under the age of 65 is virtually non-existent

vaccine

Not everyone who's vaccinated has the same risk of death. Older adults don't mount as good of an immune response to vaccines as younger people do, while people over the age of 80 are especially vulnerable to severe disease, even if they are vaccinated.

"It's essentially unheard of for vaccinated people under 65 to die of COVID-19 after vaccination," Moore said.

The new CDC data shows that clearly, with the solid green, turquoise, and orange lines for vaccinated people under the age of 65 remaining flat:

chart showing rates of covid-19 death broken down by vaccine status and age group. unvaccinated people over 80 are clearly at greatest risk of death

Moore said younger people who've had the J&J vaccine still don't need to worry, even if they only have a single jab on board. His own son and his partner, both in their 30s, have had J&J.

"They're not panicking about it, and I'm not panicking about them," he said. Still, he added "I've always said right from the start that J&J is a two-dose vaccine."

While J&J recipients might need a second shot, it doesn't necessarily have to be the same brand. A recent mix-and-match study suggested that people who've had J&J may get a stronger boost from Pfizer or Moderna.

Dr. Penny Heaton, from Janssen's vaccine research and development team, told the FDA committee on Friday, "The bottom line is, single dose, you get a lower efficacy."

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Scientists gave J&J vaccine recipients different booster shots in a highly anticipated trial, and found they got a much better immune response with Moderna and Pfizer

johnson & johnson vaccine
A vial of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen's) Covid-19 vaccine.
  • People who got the J&J vaccine may get a better immune response from a Moderna or Pfizer booster, a major new study suggests.
  • J&J recipients generated far more antibodies after a Moderna or Pfizer shot, instead of a second J&J jab.
  • However, higher levels of antibodies do not necessarily mean a person is more protected from the coronavirus.

The first US study to mix and match boosters of Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 shots is out, and it looks like you can boost any US-authorized vaccination with any other vaccine safely - though boosting J&J with Moderna or Pfizer may prompt a stronger immune response, at least initially.

The new study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health, showed first and foremost that mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines is a perfectly safe thing to do.

"What the study shows is that regardless of what an individual received originally, getting boosted with one of the three vaccines that we evaluated, the one from Moderna, the one from Janssen, the one from Pfizer, led to good antibody responses in each of the groups," lead study author Dr. Robert Atmar from Baylor College of Medicine told Insider, shortly after his new data was released on Wednesday.

The mix-and-match study enrolled 458 people from 10 different medical centers across the US who were each fully vaccinated with Moderna's, Pfizer's, or J&J's [Janssen] vaccine. Volunteers then got boosted with one of those three shots, yielding nine different mix and match combinations. Researchers tested the blood of those volunteers periodically throughout the next month, comparing their levels of virus-fighting proteins called neutralizing antibodies.

The study provides some of the clearest evidence yet that all the booster shots - Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J - increase antibody levels, but that a booster from Moderna's or Pfizer's vaccine yields a stronger response than another J&J jab. (It's similar to what researchers in Europe have found boosting AstraZeneca's vaccine with Pfizer.)

People who got their first shots from J&J saw the strongest responses from Pfizer or Moderna boosts

The clearest improvement in neutralizing antibody responses - which are an imperfect, but easy-to-test proxy for measuring initial vaccine-induced immunity - came from people who initially got J&J's vaccine.

In this group, a J&J booster shot raised neutralizing antibody levels by 4.2-fold on average. But J&J recipients who got a Moderna shot instead saw a 76-fold increase in antibodies, and a Pfizer booster yielded a 35-fold jump. The differences between these groups were statistically meaningful, meaning it's highly unlikely they are a product of chance.

woman in scrubs prepares covid-19 vaccine, with patient and doctor chatting in background
Chanei Henry, senior research coordinator of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine during the mix and match trial.

The researchers warn that with only roughly 50 people in each group, this study is too small to fairly compare different vaccine booster combinations side by side, and the trial's limited follow-up time (of just one month) doesn't tell us how durable each booster's protection may be in the long run.

Atmar cautioned that this study was "not designed to really make comparisons between different groups," but instead "to provide data rapidly for public health decisions."

Still, he acknowledged, "the natural thing" people do "is to want to make comparisons." And the tables show stark differences:

graph showing that boosting with moderna or pfizer yields far higher antibody levels than j&j

The same trends above held true for neutralizing antibody titers, a more durable (though still not perfect) picture of vaccine-induced immunity.

similar graph, showing better response when J&J is boosted with Pfizer, Moderna - rather than J&J again

Antibodies are not everything when it comes to immunity

Atmar cautioned that this does not mean we all need mRNA boosters.

"I don't think we're going to want to end up boosting people every six months," he said.

While antibodies are a key part of the body's initial immune response, there are other long-term components of immune memory, like the cellular immune response, which weren't measured in this study.

As far as side effects are concerned, by far the most common complaint post-booster was some mild arm pain, which more than 70% of patients in all mix and match groups experienced.

Health regulators will vote on boosters this week and next

The highly-anticipated study is some of the most compelling research on the safety and immunogenicity of boosters. And it comes at a critical time, too: An FDA expert panel will meet Thursday and Friday to discuss Moderna and J&J boosters, while a CDC panel convenes on the same issue next week. (Third doses of Pfizer were OK'd by both last month.)

J&J's booster shot application has already fallen under FDA scrutiny, with the agency's scientists highlighting a lack of robust clinical trial results supporting a booster at six months.

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WHO director says we need a vaccine for ‘misguided nationalism’ to stop rich nations getting the lion’s share of vaccines

Tedros sitting down in a suit and tie, listening to his colleague Mike Ryan speak.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO.
  • In a new Netflix documentary, the director general of the WHO says "we don't have vaccines for misguided nationalism."
  • The gap between COVID-19 vaccine availability in rich and poor countries is only growing wider.
  • COVID-19 should be a wakeup call, he says, for us "to behave as a global community."

When Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, visited China in January of 2020, his agency didn't understand much about the coronavirus.

It would take the WHO another two months to call this crisis a pandemic, three more to establish that face masks can be beneficial when worn by the general public, and half a year to acknowledge airborne transmission may spread the coronavirus beyond six feet between people.

Finally, then, "we started to know the virus," Tedros said, in the new Netflix documentary called, "Convergence: Courage in a crisis," released on Tuesday.

The film shares intimate scenes from the work and lives of doctors, ambulance workers, cleaners, patients, and others who've been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020, in countries including China, the US, Brazil, Peru, Iran, England, India, and Switzerland (where Tedros works).

It also shines a light on how poorly health systems and political forces around the world have managed this crisis. For Tedros, the ultimate frustration has been the world's unwillingness to work as one during this time, with rich world leaders using the virus as a political tool or hoarding their vaccines for boosters, as poor countries struggle.

No 'vaccines for misguided nationalism'

Close up of Renata Alves, wearing a mask
Renata Alves, who's also a main character in the documentary, is a volunteer who helps direct a private ambulance through the Paraisópolis favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Vaccines have been well established as our best route out of this pandemic.

The COVID-19 vaccines we have can make the virus a manageable illness that is generally not life-threatening. They also help reduce transmission of the virus, since vaccinated people with breakthrough infection appear to be less infectious, and for less time. In turn, the evidence we have suggests, vaccines can help curtail the spread of this virus around the world, which could help prevent the emergence of new variants.

And yet, the gap between vaccine supplies for rich and poor countries only continues to grow.

The US, now the world leader in vaccine donations, while promising to give away more than a billion vaccine doses to other countries, has only delivered on about a fifth of that promise. (Meanwhile, the US started its own booster campaign last month.)

Similarly to the US, the WHO's own COVAX alliance is behind schedule, only shipping 355 million of the more than 5 billion doses that program has promised.

"In WHO we say 'we need vaccines for COVID,' but we don't have vaccines for misguided nationalism, we don't have vaccines for inequality, no vaccines for poverty," Tedros said.

"What makes me sad is when the politics fail, even the technical knowledge doesn't work," Tedros said in the film. "We have to fight this virus in unison."

Fielding death threats

The director general also mentioned the many "death threats" and "racist attacks" he and his colleagues at the WHO received during the pandemic, which escalated right around the same time that then-President Trump threatened to "terminate" US support for the WHO in the spring of 2020.

"We don't mind about that," the Ethiopian health expert said of the death threats. "We don't care about ourselves. We care about our world, because people are dying."

"For me, COVID-19 is a call, a clear call, a call that is telling us to really behave - to behave as a global community."

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 charts show why Moderna vaccine recipients may not need boosters as much as people who got Pfizer’s vaccine

Pfizer and Moderna vaccine vials
Vials of the Pfizer (left) and Moderna (right) COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Millions of adults across the US are now eligible for booster shots of Pfizer's vaccine.
  • Federal authorities are still waiting for more data on Moderna and Johnson & Johnson before recommending a boost to those vaccines.
The US is now offering booster doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to tens of millions of people who've been fully vaccinated with Pfizer's shots for at least six months.
man in a mask getting his third booster shot of Pfizer vaccine injected into his right arm by a healthcare worker (also masked).
Booster shots began to be administered at the VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois on September 24, 2021.

Booster doses are most recommended for adults age 65 and up, who don't generally have the same kind of strong, lasting immune response to vaccines as younger people. 

But there's not yet any federal guidance about whether, or when, people who've gotten Moderna or Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccines might need a boost.
a healthcare worker holds a syringe inserted into a vial of pfizer's comirnaty vaccine
Booster shots are being offered to some adults in the US who got Pfizer's vaccine, called Comirnaty.

More evidence is beginning to emerge suggesting that people on #TeamModerna may not need a booster as much as others, though.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data sets from hospitals around the country, which are starting to show that people who've gotten Moderna's vaccine are less likely to be hospitalized than those with Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson.

Another CDC report released earlier in September suggested that Moderna's two-dose vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 93%. For Pfizer, that figure was 88%, and for Johnson & Johnson it was 71%.

Dr. Robert Atmar, who's leading a pivotal COVID-19 booster study at Baylor College of Medicine, says while it "wouldn't surprise me" if J&J recipients get a booster recommendation soon, "for the Moderna, it is an open question."

The protection Moderna's vaccine offers against hospitalization seems to last longer than other brands.
chart showing vaccine effectiveness appears to wane more with pfizer than with moderna after 4 months

This data, collected from hospitals in 20 cities across the country, suggests that Moderna's vaccine protects people against hospitalization for longer than both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

After four months, Moderna's vaccine remained 92% effective at preventing hospitalizations, while Pfizer's was 77% effective, and J&J's 68%.

 

One reason why Moderna may be holding up better in long-term protection is because the vaccine dosage is higher.
vaccine effectiveness chart showing slightly lower effectiveness against hospitalizations for pfizer vaccine than for moderna

Moderna's shot consists of 100 micrograms of mRNA vaccine, while Pfizer's is 30 micrograms. That may mean lighter side effects for Pfizer's shot, but in the long run the protection might not be as strong.  

According to a study of hospitals in New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, Indiana, and Colorado, Moderna's vaccine is triggering far fewer hospitalizations when people aged 65 and older do get sick. 

Another possibility is that the four week interval between doses of Moderna is better than the three week waiting time between shots one and two of Pfizer.
vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization lower with pfizer than moderna

Both vaccines are still great at preventing severe disease and hospitalization, especially in adults under the age of 65.

Still, this data from five veterans affairs medical centers in the US suggests that Moderna's vaccine is superior at protecting elderly adults, with a vaccine effectiveness of 87% against hospitalization in patients aged 65 and up, whereas Pfizer is 77% effective in that same group. 

Since the Delta variant took over in the US, both Moderna and Pfizer recipients are getting sick more often. But Moderna's vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization, for people over age 30, is looking slightly stronger - for now.
charts showing vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization remains very high for both vaccines

These estimates of vaccine effectiveness, broken down by age group, come from data on over 74,000 hospitalizations across 187 hospitals nationwide. 

Here, we can see that Moderna has been outperforming Pfizer among adults ages 30-64. From June to August, Moderna's vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization was 99% in the 30-49 year old age group and 91% among 50-64 year olds. Pfizer's vaccine during that same time period was roughly 82% effective among 30-49 year olds, and 84% effective among 50-64 year olds.

But in younger adults, ages 18-29, the two vaccines performed almost identically, with vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization of 82% for Moderna and 85% for Pfizer.

It's tough to know exactly how the arrival of the Delta variant in the spring may be impacting  how well vaccines work.

Whichever way you slice the data, all the vaccines are still pretty stellar at their primary job - keeping people alive and out of the hospital. Still, older adults remain more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 outcomes, even when they're vaccinated.
vaccine effectiveness chart showing protection remains high against hospitalization

This data, taken from more than 250 hospitals across 14 states, combines both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization in a single chart. It shows the vast majority of COVID-19 cases and deaths nationwide are now among unvaccinated people. 

"We will not boost our way out of this pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 briefing on Friday. "The most vulnerable are those unvaccinated." 

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 people who got COVID-19 booster shots share what it felt like to get an extra vaccine dose

healthcare worker in mask, smiling, getting booster shot.
A healthcare worker receives a booster dose of Pfizer's vaccine in Bangkok on August 9, 2021.
  • The US has authorized third doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to adults over 65, and others at high risk of developing severe disease.
  • Already, more than two million Americans know what it feels like to get a booster shot.
  • The side effects, they say, are much like after a second shot, with some arm pain and fatigue.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The federal government is starting to recommend third shots of COVID-19 vaccines to large numbers of vulnerable people living in the US.

Already in August, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended, a boost for all immunocompromised people who were vaccinated at least a month prior.

This week, the FDA expanded its booster authorization to a much broader population, and the CDC is now recommending certain adults who've had Pfizer's vaccine get a third shot at least six months after their initial one.

But the truth is that many people have already taken it upon themselves to get boosted, whether they are in priority groups or not. They say their side effects are, by and large, a lot like the ones they had after a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

Most are sticking to the same brand, and reporting milder side effects

More than 2.3 million Americans have gotten booster doses already, according to CDC data, a number that most certainly includes people who are not immunocompromised.

"It's not happening randomly," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, told a group of journalists recently, explaining how he had recently been at a dinner where roughly a quarter of attendees had boosted themselves. "It is wealthier people, it is more highly educated people who are going out and getting boosters on their own."

More than 21,900 people have reported their third dose side effects using the CDC's v-safe text messaging system.

Nearly all of them (more than 98%) remain loyal to the same brand when they go back for a third shot (Pfizer recipients boost with Pfizer, Moderna recipients with Moderna.) Some are boosting their single shot of J&J with a second shot of the same, while others are topping it up with a jab of mRNA vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna.

In general, reactions to third doses of the two mRNA vaccines appear quite similar to second doses, though third dose side effects may be slightly milder.

'Out of commission for a day'

Steve Walz, head of international relations at Israel's Sheba Medical Center, spoke to Insider after his third dose of Pfizer. "The only thing that bothered me was I was extremely tired for 24 hours," Walz, who is in his 60s, said. "That's it. I didn't have any of those shakes, fevers, or all the other reactions that most people have. I guess I'm fortunate."

Younger adults told Insider similar stories.

Alec Lynch, who's 21 and on medication that affects his immune system, said he was "just out of commission for a day," laying in bed after he got a third shot of Pfizer in August. Lynch described feeling "tired and achy" and "kind of gross" but without a fever.

32-year-old Andy Sparks who boosted his single shot J&J vaccine with a shot of Moderna said his arm hurt "way worse" after the Moderna boost than with the initial J&J.

Katie Bent, 30, boosted her J&J with Pfizer and said after that second shot she was so tired she slept for 15 hours, whereas with the J&J she was just "a little tired and sore afterwards."

(She cautioned, however, that she's generally "a fairly sleep deprived person," so it's unclear whether that fatigue was all a result of the shot.)

She said it felt like "when you've been sick for a while, and then the fever breaks and you know that you're on the mend."

Arm pain and swelling

By far the most common side effect felt after a third COVID-19 dose is arm pain at the injection site.

Fatigue and other muscle aches (myalgia) are also common in the week after a third mRNA injection.

Data that Pfizer presented to the CDC this week also suggested that more people may have swollen lymph nodes after a third dose of the vaccine than with a first or second, but that is temporary, and only happened about 5% of the time in their trials.

graph of third dose side effects showing arm pain as the most common
More than 21,000 people who've received a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine shared their side effects with the CDC.

Health officials are not sold on the widespread need for boosters yet

The new CDC recommendations of who should get a Pfizer booster shot include people who:

  • are 65 or older
  • live in a long term care facility (like a nursing home)
  • are 50-64 years old with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe COVID-19

The CDC is also suggesting that other adults who've had Pfizer, if they wish, may receive a third shot at least six months after their initial vaccination course if they:

  • are 18-49 years old with underlying medical conditions
  • or are 18-49 years old and are at increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission "because of occupational or institutional setting" (e.g. healthcare workers, prisoners, and other frontline workers)

The CDC stresses adults under the age of 50 should make their decision about a booster "based on their individual benefits and risks."

Independent advisors to the CDC were torn about recommending booster shots to younger adults who are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 at work, like healthcare workers, frontline workers, and prison guards.

They said that giving out boosters isn't going to end the pandemic. Getting more people vaccinated would help more.

The areas of the country that are hardest hit by the virus, with more hospitalizations and more deaths, are the places where large numbers of people remain without a single shot.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A leading US disease expert says there’s ‘no doubt in my mind’ vaccinated people are helping spread Delta

singer on stage in crowded room
Gretchen Gustafson of White Ford Bronco interacts with the crowd during a show at Union Stage on June 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. DC recently lifted capacity restrictions for bars, nightclubs, and venues.
  • Vaccinated people are well protected from severe illness and death, even with the Delta variant surging.
  • But it is possible for fully vaccinated people to catch asymptomatic case of COVID-19 and spread it to others.
  • A top disease modeler, who advises the White House, said vaccinated people should still wear masks.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The US is celebrating robust COVID-19 vaccine coverage.

Strangers are standing shoulder to shoulder in bars, fans are singing at packed indoor concerts, and travelers are flying in numbers not seen since before lockdowns began in 2020.

"While the virus hasn't been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives," President Biden said on July 4th, as hospitalizations, cases, and deaths trended down. "America is coming back together."

Yet, a quiet new wave of severe COVID-19 infections is brewing, fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant.

"We actually have states where hospitalizations are going up more than cases," Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told Insider, stressing CDC data may mask the virus's true spread.

"CDC guidance is not to test the vaccinated [unless they're symptomatic], so we're probably missing a bunch of transmission in vaccinated individuals."

Delta is spreading quickly in the US

a crowded line of travelers with rollerbags waiting at john wayne airport in california
Travelers wait at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California on June 30, 2021.

Drilling into state-level data reveals how quickly Delta has spread.

"We have 14 states where transmission has started to go back up," said Murray, who is the lead modeler at the IHME, which the White House has leaned on for disease projections throughout the pandemic.

That's "due to the Delta variant, and the fact that everybody's stopped wearing a mask and just basically stopped most precautions," he added.

Disease modelers at Scripps estimate that Delta could now be responsible for around 60% of COVID-19 cases across the US.

Vaccines prevent serious illness

COVID-19 vaccines don't prevent every infection. They are designed to better defend your body against the virus. The US-authorized vaccines do that very well - even against Delta.

Some vaccinated people get a mild, cold-like illness, with a headache and a runny nose. Others could get infected but never know it, becoming silent spreaders.

Delta wreaks far greater havoc among the unvaccinated. Hospitalizations are trending up in several US states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, and Mississippi, according to IHME's data. Those are some of the same places where vaccine rates lag.

a map of the US showing the number of adults vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, county by county, with areas of low coverage highlighted in the southeast and Midwest
The share of American adults who've had at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine varies dramatically by region and county.

How Delta can move through a semi-vaccinated population

Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King's College London, previously told Insider that, while there's no evidence Delta is more deadly, it is more infectious, and "because of that extra stickiness, it's going to still keep breaking through the vaccine group."

More than half of Scotland is fully vaccinated, and 71% of Scots have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Yet the country is suffering its worst wave of infections yet.

"You cannot explain the explosive epidemic in Scotland, in a pretty highly vaccinated population, if they're not playing a role in transmission," Murray said of the vaccinated.

Delta versus our vaccines

A recent real-world study from the UK suggests Pfizer's vaccine is about 88% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 with Delta - markedly lower than the 95% efficacy against the first-detected COVID-19.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, too, may be less effective at preventing symptomatic infections with Delta, according to early lab studies by those companies.

What's clear is that all three US-authorized vaccines maintain strong protection against severe disease and death, even with the Delta variant.

While natural immunity may help (and federal estimates suggest more than one third of Americans have had COVID-19), Russia is an example of how prior infections can't halt Delta's spread.

Masks work

Murray says IHME is investigating COVID-19 outbreaks in US groups "that are 90%-plus vaccinated."

"That could only be occurring if they're transmitting amongst each other," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

It's just one reason many infectious disease experts still wear face masks indoors.

"In our models, we see that even modest mask use combined with vaccination can really put the brakes on even the Delta variant," Murray said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A leading US disease expert says there’s ‘no doubt in my mind’ vaccinated people are helping spread Delta

singer on stage in crowded room
Gretchen Gustafson of White Ford Bronco interacts with the crowd during a show at Union Stage on June 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. DC recently lifted capacity restrictions for bars, nightclubs, and venues.
  • Vaccinated people are well protected from severe illness and death, even with the Delta variant surging.
  • But it is possible for fully vaccinated people to catch asymptomatic case of COVID-19 and spread it to others.
  • A top disease modeler, who advises the White House, said vaccinated people should still wear masks.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The US is celebrating robust COVID-19 vaccine coverage.

Strangers are standing shoulder to shoulder in bars, fans are singing at packed indoor concerts, and travelers are flying in numbers not seen since before lockdowns began in 2020.

"While the virus hasn't been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives," President Biden said on July 4th, as hospitalizations, cases, and deaths trended down. "America is coming back together."

Yet, a quiet new wave of severe COVID-19 infections is brewing, fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant.

"We actually have states where hospitalizations are going up more than cases," Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told Insider, stressing CDC data may mask the virus's true spread.

"CDC guidance is not to test the vaccinated [unless they're symptomatic], so we're probably missing a bunch of transmission in vaccinated individuals."

Delta is spreading quickly in the US

a crowded line of travelers with rollerbags waiting at john wayne airport in california
Travelers wait at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California on June 30, 2021.

Drilling into state-level data reveals how quickly Delta has spread.

"We have 14 states where transmission has started to go back up," said Murray, who is the lead modeler at the IHME, which the White House has leaned on for disease projections throughout the pandemic.

That's "due to the Delta variant, and the fact that everybody's stopped wearing a mask and just basically stopped most precautions," he added.

Disease modelers at Scripps estimate that Delta could now be responsible for around 60% of COVID-19 cases across the US.

Vaccines prevent serious illness

COVID-19 vaccines don't prevent every infection. They are designed to better defend your body against the virus. The US-authorized vaccines do that very well - even against Delta.

Some vaccinated people get a mild, cold-like illness, with a headache and a runny nose. Others could get infected but never know it, becoming silent spreaders.

Delta wreaks far greater havoc among the unvaccinated. Hospitalizations are trending up in several US states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, and Mississippi, according to IHME's data. Those are some of the same places where vaccine rates lag.

a map of the US showing the number of adults vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, county by county, with areas of low coverage highlighted in the southeast and Midwest
The share of American adults who've had at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine varies dramatically by region and county.

How Delta can move through a semi-vaccinated population

Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King's College London, previously told Insider that, while there's no evidence Delta is more deadly, it is more infectious, and "because of that extra stickiness, it's going to still keep breaking through the vaccine group."

More than half of Scotland is fully vaccinated, and 71% of Scots have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Yet the country is suffering its worst wave of infections yet.

"You cannot explain the explosive epidemic in Scotland, in a pretty highly vaccinated population, if they're not playing a role in transmission," Murray said of the vaccinated.

Delta versus our vaccines

A recent real-world study from the UK suggests Pfizer's vaccine is about 88% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 with Delta - markedly lower than the 95% efficacy against the first-detected COVID-19.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, too, may be less effective at preventing symptomatic infections with Delta, according to early lab studies by those companies.

What's clear is that all three US-authorized vaccines maintain strong protection against severe disease and death, even with the Delta variant.

While natural immunity may help (and federal estimates suggest more than one third of Americans have had COVID-19), Russia is an example of how prior infections can't halt Delta's spread.

Masks work

Murray says IHME is investigating COVID-19 outbreaks in US groups "that are 90%-plus vaccinated."

"That could only be occurring if they're transmitting amongst each other," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

It's just one reason many infectious disease experts still wear face masks indoors.

"In our models, we see that even modest mask use combined with vaccination can really put the brakes on even the Delta variant," Murray said.

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What parents should know about rare cases of heart inflammation in young people after a COVID-19 vaccine

Malikai McPherson, 16, gets a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine in Florida.
A nurse gives Malikai McPherson, 16, a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at Health First Medical Centre in Florida.
  • The CDC acknowledged Wednesday that mild heart inflammation may be a rare side effect of COVID-19 vaccination.
  • The condition, called myocarditis, is more common in young men and teenage boys, especially after their second dose.
  • COVID-19 is still a greater threat to the heart, though, which is why health experts recommend vaccination.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Federal disease investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are keeping an eye on cases of myocarditis and perocarditis after vaccination against the coronavirus.

They're keeping an especially close watch on teenage and young adult men who've been administered two doses of Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines.

According to data reviewed by independent advisors to the CDC this week, it looks like they might be at slightly increased risk for developing the conditions, which can cause some chest pain in the week after vaccination.

The good news is that it is both exceedingly rare and mild.

Here's what parents need to know.

Higher rates among young men and boys

a chart of myocarditis cases showing more occurring in the first five days after a dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Myocarditis cases have occurred after Moderna and Pfizer's mRNA vaccines, and are more common among male teens after their second dose.

According to CDC, the rate of myocarditis is 5 per million doses for females from 12-39 years old, and 32 per million for males in the same age category, during the 21 days after a COVID-19 vaccination.

So far, the CDC has identified 29 cases of myocarditis or pericarditis among 12 to 39 years olds, in the 21 days after their first or second dose.

a chart showing all 29 chart-confirmed patients have been discharged home

Rare cases which merit delaying shot 2

Public health leaders have high confidence the vaccines are safe, which is why they're recommending full COVID-19 vaccination, even for young men.

"As physicians, nurses, public health and health care professionals, and, for many of us, parents, we understand the significant interest many Americans have in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially for younger people," the the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, American Medical Association, and 14 other leading medical and public health associations said in a joint statement Wednesday.

"The facts are clear: this is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination. Importantly, for the young people who do, most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. In addition, we know that myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe."

There is one exception: anyone who had myocarditis after their first COVID-19 shot may wait to get a second.

COVID-19 is more dangerous to the heart

teenagers wait and play games after getting COVID-19 shots
David Morales, 15, (L) and brother Daniel Morales, 14, (R) play games on their phones in a waiting area after receiving a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on May 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Eliot Peyster, a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, estimates the incidence of myocarditis from a COVID-19 vaccine is about "100 times lower" than from COVID-19.

Cardiologist Paul Cremer from the Cleveland Clinic, estimates that "maybe 10% to 25% of patients will have evidence of cardiac injury" after severe COVID-19.

More older adults across the US are now vaccinated, and better shielded from severe disease and COVID-19 variants, while young, unvaccinated people are hospitalized for COVID-19 at higher rates.

Concerned parents: look out for these symptoms

Most cases of myocarditis surface in the first five days after a COVID-19 shot is administered. You should see a doctor if you notice:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart

"Patients can usually return to their normal daily activities after their symptoms improve," the CDC says. "They should speak with their doctor about return to exercise or sports."

The bottom line, says Dr. Tom Shimabukuro from the CDC's COVID-19 vaccine safety team, is that "this is still a rare event," far less common than the heart inflammation that can accompany a COVID-19 infection.

"Patients generally recover from symptoms and do well."

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The top Delta variant symptoms reported in the UK are a runny nose and headache – because most people affected are very young or partially vaccinated

people walk past a sign on oxford street in london which encourages 2 meters of social distancing
Oxford Street in central London on June 7, 2021.
  • The Delta variant has taken over in the UK where the most common symptom reported is now a headache.
  • Most people who are getting COVID-19 in the UK are quite young, and not fully vaccinated.
  • Health experts are worried Delta could hit less vaccinated areas of the US very hard.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Delta variant first identified in India has taken over in the UK, where it's now responsible for over 95% of infections. Delta's also coming for the US fast, already accounting for more than 20% of sequenced cases, with a doubling time of about two weeks.

But King's College epidemiologist Tim Spector says don't be surprised if it shows up with different COVID-19 symptoms than those we've come to expect.

His latest research suggests that a headache and a runny nose are now two of the leading indicators of a COVID-19 infection across the UK, especially among the young and the partially vaccinated.

Spector's research draws on daily illness data from more than a million people across the UK, who log into his ZOE app every day and report on how they're feeling. ZOE's research suggests about 19,000 people in the UK now catch COVID-19 every day. Most of them are young, and most are also not fully vaccinated.

"It's evolved to be more infectious, which is what many viruses do," Spector said, noting that the Delta variant may be roughly twice as infectious as its early predecessors, with each person who catches it transmitting to about six others.

"There's no hard evidence yet that it's more lethal or fatal, but because of that extra stickiness, it's going to still keep breaking through," he said.

Milder symptoms

daily new cases of COVID in the UK by vaccination status, with unvaccinated infections increasing

According to ZOE's latest data, from June 19, the COVID-19 case rate in the UK is now highest in the 20 to 29 age group.

"We're seeing this mainly in young people who are unvaccinated, they are three quarters of the cases," Spector said. "There's hardly anyone who's over 60 who's getting it without a vaccine."

Most of the people who test positive for COVID-19 in the UK are also weathering the traditional signs of a bad cold - headaches, runny noses, and sore throats - rather than the earlier tell-tale COVID-19 symptoms: shortness of breath or loss of taste.

It's tough to know, though, if the Delta variant is truly becoming a milder disease, or if this is just how COVID-19 presents among the young, the healthy, and those with vaccine protection.

"Our hope is it'll get milder," Spector said. "So it will just become like a cold."

daily prevalence rates by age group for COVID-19 in the UK, with the 20-29 age group skyrocketing
Now that most of the older adults in the UK are vaccinated, COVID-19 is becoming a disease of the young.

The 'most able and fastest and fittest' variant

Disease watchers at the World Health Organization agree with Spector - yet another reason to get more of the world's most vulnerable people vaccinated fast.

"The Delta variant is the most able, and fastest, and fittest," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said on Monday, stressing that vaccines are still "highly protective against hospitalization and death," even with variants in play.

"This particular Delta variant is faster, it is fitter, it will pick off the more vulnerable more efficiently than previous variants," Ryan said. "And we can protect those people now."

In the UK, nearly three quarters of adults have had both COVID-19 shots, giving them strong armor against severe COVID-19 disease and death. But so far only 16 US states have gotten 70% of adults any vaccine protection.

"This virus isn't going to give up easily." Spector said. "I don't think we can be too complacent, particularly in areas of the US that have high non-vaccination rates."

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stressed in a White House COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday that "nearly every death" from COVID-19 in the US is now preventable. But time could be running out to ramp up protection, and the race with increasingly fitter variants is not over.

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