Friday, October 28, 2022

New fast spreading Covid variant arrives in Australia

A rapidly-spreading new “nightmare” Covid variant has hit Australia’s shores but experts say we should not panic.

The XBB strain, which is resistant to vaccines and antibodies from previous infections, emerged in Singapore a few weeks ago. Within a week, it went from making up one fifth of the country’s Covid cases to more than a half.

In Australia, there were 31,636 new cases of Covid reported in the week to October 25 — an increase of 2.2 per cent.

In NSW, there were 10,050 cases of Covid reported in the week ending October 27 — an increase of 13.7 per cent. There were 820 people in hospital and 16 deaths.

NSW detected 21 cases of XBB variant in the week ending October 15 and it made up 6.4 per cent of PCR tests subject to genomic analysis, a tenfold increase since the first cases were found on October 1.

In Victoria, cases surged by 24.7 per cent to 8537 in the week ending October 28 and hospitalisation rose 20.3 per cent to 172 patients. Seven lives were lost on average each day to Covid.

“Surveillance shows the presence of multiple Omicron subvariants in Victoria including rapid growth of (the Omicron subvariant) BQ. 1 and XBB in the past month, with a combined prevalence of approximately 10 per cent in wastewater and clinical sample,” Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said in his latest update.

“Continued growth at these rates would see these subvariants overtake BA. 5 as the dominant varian.”

In Queensland, there were 4447 cases of Covid reported in the week to October 25, with 105 people in hospital and 18 people dying.

These jurisdictions do not report Covid variants.

Australian National University infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon said so far, there was no evidence XBB was “more virulent, as judged by hospitalisations and deaths”.

And Deakin University infectious diseases expert Professor Catherine Bennett stressed Australians would have a stronger hybrid immunity to new variants, unlike the lead up to last Christmas when the Omicron and Delta strains ran wild.

“More than half the population has been both vaccinated and had an infection, and that does put you in a more resilient position in when facing future waves,” Professor Bennett said.

Professor Collignon estimated “80 per cent of Australians have had Covid”.

“We won’t see the same high hospitalisation and high death numbers that we saw between December and July, because that’s when all the variants were circulating and people were basically getting infected for the first time,” Professor Collignon said.

Around 64 per cent of current Covid cases analysed in Australia are of the Omicron subvariant BA. 5 — down from 71 per cent of cases at the end of September.

Researchers in China found XBB can escape the antibodies generated by a BA. 5 infection.

This means it is also likely to outwit the latest bivalent vaccines which protect against Omicron, as well as the original Wuhan variant.

Infectious disease specialist Maria Van Kerkhove, who works on the Covid-19 response at the World Health Organisation, posted a video to Twitter last week raising concerns about the XBB variant.

“We do know that this recombinant has a significant growth advantage, all of the sub-variants of Omicron are showing increased transmissibility and properties of immune escape,” Dr Van Kerkhove said.

Another new variant, detected in NSW, was the BQ. 1.1, which made up 3.3 per cent of cases that were subjected to genomic testing. In the US, surveillance showed BQ. 1.1 was spreading, accounting for 11 per cent of recent cases.

All up, the World Health Organisation has detected more than 300 variants of Covid that are circulating.

Dr Van Kerkhove expressed concerns, shared by Professors Collignon and Bennett, that systematic surveillance of Covid was declining.

“Surveillance has declined, testing has declined, sequencing has declined and that in turn has limited our ability as an organisation with our expert networks around the world to assess these,” Dr Van Kerkhove said.

Professors Collignon and Bennett are calling for a co-ordinated national Covid surveillance program involving regular sewage testing and tracking of patients with upper respiratory conditions presenting to hospitals and GPs.

Older Australians and immunocompromised Australians are entering a period when their fourth Covid vaccine is beginning to wear off 3-4 months after they received it and are being urged to mask up.

Health Minister Mark Butler said last week the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation – ATAGI – was not likely to provide advice on whether the elderly and immunocompromised should have a fifth Covid vaccine until next year.


CDC Pushed for COVID-19 Boosters Without Clinical Trials

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pressured U.S. regulators to clear COVID-19 boosters without clinical trial data, according to newly released emails.

CDC officials relayed to counterparts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early August 2021 that they wanted authorization for Moderna and Pfizer boosters as data began showing that the vaccines weren’t working as well as initially promoted.

The conversation took place on a call that was described by Dr. Phil Krause, a top FDA official, to several other FDA workers.

“Take a deep breath before reading this next paragraph. On that call, the CDC evidently stated that they will assemble all the data they are aware of on third dosing in this setting and send it to us in the hope that we will (very soon) authorize the third dose for immunocompromised as part of the EUA,” Krause wrote in the Aug. 5, 2021, email (pdf).

EUA stands for emergency use authorization.

All of the COVID-19 vaccines were authorized under emergency conditions at that time.

No boosters had been authorized and no clinical data were available for the boosters.

The emails show that “the CDC wanted the booster approved without a trial,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, wrote on Twitter.

The CDC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Krause was responding to Doran Fink, who also works for the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, charged with evaluating vaccines.

Fink sent along a post that had been made to an infectious diseases forum regarding whether doctors should be giving additional vaccine doses to patients with compromised immune systems despite the lack of authorization.

Dr. Richard Nathan of Idaho had written that other countries, including Israel, had cleared boosters.

“Pfizer recommends it and I trust their guidance over the turmoil at our federal agencies. With millions of doses of vaccine set to expire, you should do what you think is best for your patients. I can’t believe you would get pushback from anyone. Keep in mind, nearly everyone in this group is six to seven months out from the second dose of the vaccine and many have significant daily exposure to the virus,” Nathan wrote.

Fink said the post “accurately reflects more widespread thinking that I am hearing in other forums as well,” including among doctors who advise the CDC on vaccines.

“Providers are losing confidence in FDA/CDC to do the right thing for their patients,” Fink said.

Less than two weeks later, the FDA authorized boosters for certain people, including immunocompromised persons.

The agency said that “a thorough review of the available data” concluded the group “may benefit” from a third dose.

The only data cited on efficacy were from two studies, one conducted by French researchers and another by Canadian researchers. Pfizer and Moderna hadn’t completed trials.

“As we’ve previously stated, other individuals who are fully vaccinated are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine at this time,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s top official said.

But just weeks later, Woodcock and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s top official, signed onto a joint statement saying that vaccine protection was waning and that boosters “will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”

In September 2021, the FDA and CDC authorized Pfizer boosters for many other Americans. The authorization was expanded to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, and virtually all other Americans, later in the year.

Krause and Dr. Marion Gruber resigned from their positions because of opposition to the booster strategy.

Judicial Watch obtained the newly published emails as part of ongoing litigation against the Biden administration for not properly responding to a Freedom of Information Act request.

An earlier tranche of emails showed that Gruber was “very concerned” in late August 2021 about pressure from companies such as Pfizer over vaccine authorization.

“We need to be given time to consider their data and cannot be pushed by these companies and, for that matter the Administration, who try to impose timeless [sic] that make no sense,” Gruber wrote to Dr. Peter Marks, a top FDA official.

“These FDA records further document top officials’ concerns about the controversial COVID-19 booster shots,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “That it has taken months and a federal lawsuit to uncover this critical material is a scandal.”




No comments: