Saturday, December 25, 2021

South Africa STOPS contact tracing and quarantine

South Africa has announced it will stop contact tracing and end quarantine for asymptomatic cases because containment of the virus is 'no longer viable'.

Promising graphs today highlight how the country's Omicron outbreak has faded after just a month - cases appear to have peaked nationally at 26,976 on December 15, and have now fallen for the last five days in a row.

Health authorities in South Africa, where the Omicron strain first took off, said today that contact tracing would be halted with immediate effect, except for large gatherings or self-contained settings.

Isolation for asymptomatic cases was scrapped while mild and severe cases were told to isolate for eight and ten days respectively.

Close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases will no longer have to quarantine whether they are vaccinated or not and are not required to take a test unless they develop symptoms.

South Africa became ground zero for the new variant in late November and saw a meteoric rise in infections, from 670 to more than 20,000 in the space of just three weeks.

But cases appear to have peaked nationally at 26,976 on December 15, and have now fallen for the last five days in a row. On Wednesday they dipped 22 per cent in a week after 21,099 were recorded.

The huge surge in infections raised fears that a deadly wave of hospitalisations would follow, but almost immediately doctors on the frontlines said patients were coming in with milder illness.

But in another promising sign hospitalisations now appear to be levelling off nationally in South Africa, hovering just below 400 admissions a day — compared to a height of 2,000 when Delta took hold.

Admissions dropped yesterday by four per cent, after another 593 were recorded. Deaths are just a fraction of the levels when Delta took hold, with just 99 yesterday.

There are 50 deaths a day on average now, up only slightly on the 20 deaths a day when Omicron was first detected in the country. For comparison, at the peak of the Delta wave there were 600 deaths a day.

South African scientist Dr Michelle Groome said in a press briefing yesterday that infections are now levelling off in three of the country's nine provinces after peaking in Gauteng about a week ago.

Hospitalisations and deaths are expected to rise for another few weeks even as cases fall because of the lag between infection and severe illness.

Figures on South Africa's Covid cases, hospitalisation and deaths are compiled by the country's National Institute for Infectious Diseases.

Its figures show that the seven-day average for Covid cases across the country is now falling, dipping from a high of 20,791 a week ago to 17,440 yesterday.

The country is currently carrying out 58,000 swabs a day, comparable to the numbers done in early December when cases skyrocketed but down 14,000 on a week ago.

South African Covid cases fall AGAIN by 22 per cent on last week fuelling hopes that their Omicron wave is over
Daily Covid cases in South Africa have fallen again by 22 per cent compared to last week's figures, fuelling hopes that the country's Omicron wave is over.

South Africa, whose scientists detected the variant, recorded 21,099 new cases in the last 24 hours, down by nearly a quarter on the 26,976 infections confirmed last Wednesday.

A fifth fewer people were tested for the virus in the last 24 hours compared to the same period last week, but test positivity — the proportion of those tested who are infected — has been trending downwards for nine days.

Hospitalisations have also seen a slight decline, with more than 590 people admitted to hospitals across the country, down by four per cent in a week, data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD), revealed.

But deaths – which lag two to three weeks behind the pattern seen in case numbers due to the delay in an infected person becoming seriously unwell – have risen.

A further 99 Covid-related deaths were recorded on Wednesday, compared to 54 recorded a week ago.

The falling case numbers come despite only 25 per cent of South Africans being double-jabbed and boosters not being dished out in the country.

The number of Covid patients on the country's wards is still rising, however. There wre 9,300 recorded yesterday up from 7,300 a week ago.

More patients are also in ICU and on ventilators, figures show, with 613 now being in emergency units across the country and 239 needing the machines to help them breathe.

Dr Groome said yesterday: 'All indications are that we've seen the end of the — that we've surpassed the peak of infections in Gauteng. This is encouraging and quite optimistic in terms of the decreasing trends in case numbers.

'But I think we really do need to be cognizant that… people are now traveling, and there may be changes in terms of the number of people that may be testing and so some of the lower numbers may be due to the holiday season.'


Can you build ‘super-immunity’ to Covid?

When even the losers are winners

Since its discovery in southern Africa last month, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread across the globe, bringing with it fresh fear, new social restrictions and another chaotic and anxious Christmas season.

Britain has already recorded almost 91,000 confirmed cases of the strain so far and at least 18 deaths, according to the UK Health Security Agency, with those numbers expected to climb over the festive period.

However, much remains unknown about the highly-transmissible variant at this early stage in its development, with more clinical data still needed to determine precisely how it attacks and how it responds to our existing suite of vaccines, which have worked so well against previous strains and helped to keep hospitalisations and deaths low.

Early studies have suggested that a booster jab is crucial to holding off Omicron, which is why governments around the world have been encouraging their citizens to queue around the block for a third shot as a matter of urgency in recent weeks.

This week scientists reported that a booster shot provoked a response from the body’s immune system to the virus within two-to-three days, not weeks, as has previously been thought, swiftly activating the T and B memory cells responsible for hunting down infection and producing antibodies.

“The immunity generated after a booster jab will rise much quicker than the first immune response,” commented Gary McLean, a professor in molecular immunology at London Metropolitan University.

Another interesting new study at Oregon Health & Science University has since indicated that it might indeed be possible to develop “super-immunity” against Omicron in the case of sufferers contracting Covid-19 having had two doses of one of the vaccines.

The study examined the blood of 26 people who had experienced so-called “breakthrough” infections of Covid after being double-vaccinated and found that they developed antibodies that were as much as 1,000 per cent more effective and abundant, therein creating a form of super-immunity, according to the researchers.

While the vaccines are obviously intended to stop recipients from catching Covid in the first place, it is nevertheless still possible for the more pernicious strains like Delta and Omicron to slip past the body’s defences.

In the cases of the double-jabbed people examined as part of the study, that occurrence proved to be surprisingly beneficial by bolstering the robustness of their immune systems.

“You can’t get a better immune response than this,” said the study’s senior author, Fikadu Tafesse, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the university’s School of Medicine.

“These vaccines are very effective against severe disease. Our study suggests that individuals who are vaccinated and then exposed to a breakthrough infection have super-immunity.”

His colleague Marcel Curlin was even more optimistic about the study’s ramifications, commenting: “I think this speaks to an eventual end game.

“It doesn’t mean we’re at the end of the pandemic, but it points to where we’re likely to land: once you’re vaccinated and then exposed to the virus, you’re probably going to be reasonably well protected from future variants.


AstraZeneca Covid booster vaccine 'effective against omicron variant'

A three-dose course of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine is effective against the rapidly-spreading omicron variant, the pharmaceutical company said on Thursday, citing data from an Oxford University study.

Findings from the study, yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, match those from rivals Pfizer-BioNTech which have also found a third dose of their shots works against the variant.

The study on AstraZeneca's vaccine, Vaxzevria, showed that after a three-dose course of the vaccine neutralising levels against omicron were broadly similar to those against the virus's delta variant after two doses.

The company said that researchers at Oxford University who carried out the study were independent from those who worked on the vaccine with AstraZeneca.

"As we better understand omicron, we believe we will find that T-cell response provides durable protection against severe disease and hospitalisations," Mene Pangalos, the head of AstraZeneca's biopharmaceuticals research and development said, referring to a critical component of the immune system that responds to fight infection.

Antibody levels against omicron after the booster vaccine were higher than antibodies in people who had been infected with and recovered naturally from Covid-19, the Anglo-Swedish company added.

Although the early data is positive for the company, AstraZeneca said on Tuesday it was working with its partner Oxford University to produce a vaccine tailored for omicron, joining similar efforts from other vaccine-makers.




Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas to all who come by here

BLOGGING: I expect to blog throughout the Christmas/New Year break -- but probably at a reduced rate.

image from


Two-thirds of new Covid hospital patients in England only tested positive AFTER being admitted for a different illness

In the two weeks to December 21, hospitals in England recorded 563 new coronavirus inpatients — the majority of which are believed to be Omicron now that the variant is the country's dominant stain.

But just 197 (35 per cent) were being primarily treated for Covid, with the remaining 366 (65 per cent) only testing positive after being admitted for something else.

Experts told MailOnline it was important to distinguish between admissions primarily for Covid so that rising numbers do not spook ministers into more social restrictions or scare the public from going to hospital.

England's incidental hospital cases are being driven by London, which has become the UK's Omicron hotspot and where admissions have been rising sharply.

Just over four in 10 new Omicron hospital patients in London were admitted for a different ailment, MailOnline's analysis suggests.

There were 523 more 'Covid admissions' resulting in an overnight stay in the two weeks to December 21, after Omicron became dominant in the capital earlier this month.

Admission rates for Covid in the capital are one factor ministers are keeping an eye on before potentially pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is considered to be a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak.

The rising number of so-called 'incidental cases' - people who are only diagnosed with the virus after going to the NHS for a different ailment - is in line with the picture in South Africa.

Studies in the epicentre Gauteng province have shown up to three-quarters of Omicron patients there were not admitted primarily for the virus.

Dr Raghib Ali, a Cambridge University clinical epidemiologist, said: 'If you've got very high prevalence of Omicron in the community then there is a higher chance anyone who comes to hospital for any reason, even people with broken legs, will have Covid.

Omicron Covid IS milder, three major studies confirm
Omicron is milder than Delta and far less likely to put someone in hospital, three major studies in England, Scotland and South Africa have confirmed.

One paper by 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson found the mutant strain was up to 45 per cent less likely to lead to hospitalisation than Delta, based on 300,000 people in England.

A similar study in Scotland found the risk of being hospitalised was 65 per cent less with Omicron than with Delta — but it was based on 15 hospitalised cases.

University of Edinburgh researchers said Omicron was as severe as Delta they would have seen around 47 people in hospital in Scotland, yet so far there are only 15.

The UK studies came after a major analysis of 160,000 infections in South Africa found an 80 per cent reduced risk of hospitalisation with the new variant compared to its predecessor.

All the evidence now points to Omicron being milder than former variants, confirming claims South African doctors have made for weeks.

But the researchers are still unsure if Omicron is intrinsically milder than past strains and they believe built-up natural and vaccine immunity is probably doing the heavy lifting.

Professor Ferguson — dubbed Professor Lockdown for gloomy modelling that spooked ministers into restrictions — said he was 'cautiously optimistic' on the back of all three studies.

Recorded case rates of Covid across the UK rose above 100,000 on Wednesday for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Ministers have stressed the Government keeping new Covid data in constant review, with health minister Gillian Keegan saying yesterday: 'There is uncertainty. We can’t predict what the data is going to tell us before we’ve got the data.'


The Fickle ‘Science’ of Lockdowns

‘Follow the science” has been the battle cry of lockdown supporters since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Yet before March 2020, the mainstream scientific community, including the World Health Organization, strongly opposed lockdowns and similar measures against infectious disease.

That judgment came from historical analysis of pandemics and an awareness that societywide restrictions have severe socioeconomic costs and almost entirely speculative benefits. Our pandemic response, premised on lockdowns and closely related “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” or NPIs, represented an unprecedented and unjustified shift in scientific opinion from where it stood a few months before the discovery of Covid-19.

In March 2019 WHO held a conference in Hong Kong to consider NPI measures against pandemic influenza. The WHO team evaluated a quarantine proposal—“home confinement of non-ill contacts of a person with proven or suspected influenza”—less indiscriminate than the Covid lockdowns. They called attention to the paucity of data to support this policy, noting that “most of the currently available evidence on the effectiveness of quarantine on influenza control was drawn from simulation studies, which have a low strength of evidence.” The WHO team declared that large-scale home quarantine was “not recommended because there is no obvious rationale for this measure.”

A September 2019 report from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security reached a similar conclusion: “In the context of a high-impact respiratory pathogen, quarantine may be the least likely NPI to be effective in controlling the spread due to high transmissibility.” This was especially true of a fast-spreading airborne virus, such as the then-undiscovered SARS-CoV-2.

These studies drew on historical experience. A separate 2006 WHO study concluded that “forced isolation and quarantine are ineffective and impractical,” based on findings from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. It pointed to the example of Edmonton, Alberta, where “public meetings were banned; schools, churches, colleges, theaters, and other public gathering places were closed; and business hours were restricted without obvious impact on the epidemic.”

Using data from a 1927 analysis of the Spanish flu in the U.S., the study concluded that lockdowns were “not demonstrably effective in urban areas.” Only in isolated rural areas, “where group contacts are less numerous,” did this strategy become theoretically viable, but the hypothesis wasn’t tested. While the study found some benefits from smaller-scale quarantines of patients and their families during the 2003 SARS outbreak, it concluded that a fast-spreading disease, combined with “the presence of mild cases and possibility of transmission without symptoms,” would make these measures “considerably less successful.”

Medical historian John Barry, who wrote the standard account of the 1918 Spanish flu, concurred about the ineffectiveness of lockdowns. “Historical data clearly demonstrate that quarantine does not work unless it is absolutely rigid and complete,” he wrote in 2009, summarizing the results of a study of influenza outbreaks on U.S. Army bases during World War I. Of 120 training camps that experienced outbreaks, 99 imposed on-base quarantines and 21 didn’t. Case rates between the two categories of camps showed “no statistical difference.” “If a military camp cannot be successfully quarantined in wartime,” Mr. Barry concluded, “it is highly unlikely a civilian community can be quarantined during peacetime.”

A Johns Hopkins team reached similar conclusions in 2006: “No historical observations or scientific studies” could be found to support the effectiveness of large-scale quarantine. The scientists concluded that “the negative consequences of large-scale quarantine are so extreme . . . that this mitigation measure should be eliminated from serious consideration.” They rejected the modeling approach for relying too heavily on its own assumptions—circular reasoning that confuses a model’s predictions with observed reality.

Even at the outset of Covid-19, the unwisdom of lockdowns guided mainstream epidemiology. When the Wuhan region of China imposed harsh restrictions on Jan. 23, 2020, Anthony Fauci questioned the move. “That’s something that I don’t think we could possibly do in the United States, I can’t imagine shutting down New York or Los Angeles,” Dr. Fauci told CNN. He likely had the scientific literature in mind when he advised that “historically, when you shut things down, it doesn’t have a major effect.”

What caused the scientific community to abandon its aversion to lockdowns? The empirical evidence didn’t change. Rather, the lockdown strategy originated from the same sources the WHO had heavily deprecated in its 2019 report: speculative and untested epidemiological models.

The most influential model came from Imperial College London. In April 2020, the journal Nature credited the Imperial team led by Neil Ferguson for developing one of the main computer simulations “driving the world’s response to Covid-19.” The New York Times described it as the report that “jarred the U.S. and the U.K. to action.”

After predicting catastrophic casualty rates for an “unmitigated” pandemic, Mr. Ferguson’s model promised to bring Covid-19 under control through increasingly severe NPI policies, leading to event cancellations, school and business closures, and ultimately lockdowns. Mr. Ferguson produced his model by recycling a decades-old influenza model that was noticeably deficient in its scientific assumptions. For one thing, it lacked a means of even estimating viral spread in nursing homes.

The record of Mr. Ferguson’s previous models should have been a warning. In 2001 he predicted that mad cow disease would kill up to 136,000 people in the U.K., and he chastised conservative estimates of up to 10,000. As of 2018 the actual death toll was 178. His other missteps include predicted catastrophes for mad sheep disease, avian flu and swine flu that never panned out.

We evaluated the performance of Imperial’s Covid-19 predictions in 189 different countries at the first anniversary of their publication, March 26, 2021. Not a single country reached the predicted mortality rates of their “unmitigated spread” or even the “mitigation” model—the latter premised on social-distancing measures similar to what many governments enacted. Even Mr. Ferguson’s extreme “suppression” model, which assumed a strict lockdown curtailing public contacts by 75% for over a year, predicted more deaths than occurred in 170 of 189 countries. Imperial predicted up to 42,473 Covid deaths in Sweden under mitigation and 84,777 under uncontrolled spread. The country, which famously refused to lock down, had some 13,400 deaths in the first year.

Despite the failed predictions of these models, the Imperial team rushed a study to print in the journal Nature in June 2020, claiming that lockdowns had already saved 3.1 million lives. It remains the most heavily cited pro-lockdown study in epidemiology, despite its premature claims and its circular reliance on its own model to arrive at this figure.

In reality, lockdown stringency is a poor predictor of Covid-related mortality. Our examination of the 50 U.S. states and 26 countries found no discernible pattern connecting the two—a basic expectation if lockdowns performed as “the science” often insists.

So why did public-health authorities abandon their opposition to lockdowns? Why did they rush to embrace the untested claims of flawed epidemiological modeling? One answer appears in the Johns Hopkins study from 2019: “Some NPIs, such as travel restrictions and quarantine, might be pursued for social or political purposes by political leaders, rather than pursued because of public health evidence.”




Thursday, December 23, 2021

Omicron IS milder, another study finds: New variant is 80 PER CENT less likely to lead to hospitalistion than Delta, according to real-world South African research

People who catch Omicron are 80 per cent less likely to be hospitalised than those who get Delta, a major study from South Africa suggests.

The real-world analysis, of more than 160,000 people, comes ahead of a similar UK Government report expected to show Britons are also less likely to be severely ill with the variant.

Omicron sufferers were also 70 per cent less likely to be admitted to ICU or put on a ventilator compared to those with Delta, according to the study led by South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

South African doctors have insisted for weeks that Omicron is milder since raising the alarm about it on November 24 and accused the UK of panicking about Omicron.

But the researchers at the NICD who carried out the study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, said it still doesn't answer whether Omicron is intrinsically weaker than Delta.

'It is difficult to disentangle the relative contribution of high levels of previous population immunity versus intrinsic lower virulence to the observed lower disease severity,' the researchers concluded.

Built-up immunity from three previous waves of the virus and vaccines are believed to be doing most of the heavy lifting in keeping patients out of hospital this time around.

Up to 70 per cent of South Africans are believed to have had Covid before and only around a quarter are double vaccinated, with boosters not widely available yet.

Omicron cases in South Africa yesterday fell for the fourth day in a row, while the UK's daily cases have been flat at around 90,000 for six days.

South Africa's hospital admissions are hovering at below 400 per day, on average, and dropped by 5 per cent in a week yesterday. In the UK, hospital rates have been mostly flat since late summer, with around 900 per day.

That's despite gloomy Government modelling warning that 1million Britons could be catching the virus daily by the end of the year.

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, described the South African study as important and said it was the first properly conducted study to appear in pre-print form on the issue of Omicron versus Delta severity.

But Professor Hunter said its main weakness was that it compared Omicron data from one period with Delta data from an earlier period.

Omicron continues to fade in ground zero South Africa
Daily Covid cases in South Africa have fallen for the fourth day in a row as Omicron continues to fade in the variant's epicentre.

Data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 15,424 South Africans tested positive in the last 24 hours, down by a third on the nearly 24,000 cases confirmed last Tuesday.

A fifth fewer people were tested for the first in the last 24 hours compared to the same period last week, but test positivity — the proportion of those tested who are infected — has been trending downwards for eight days.

But hospitalisations and deaths – which lag two to three weeks behind the pattern seen in case numbers due to the delay in an infected person becoming seriously unwell – have risen.

More than 630 people were hospitalised across the country, up only 5 per cent in a week but the highest daily number in the country's fourth wave.

The previous record was last Wednesday when 620 people were hospitalised. Meanwhile 35 deaths were recorded, a 46 per cent uptick on last Tuesday.

The falling case numbers come despite only 25 per cent of South Africans being double-jabbed and boosters not being dished out in the country.

The analysis was carried out by a group of scientists from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and major universities including University of the Witwatersrand and University of KwaZulu-Natal.

They used data from four sources: national COVID-19 case data reported to the NICD, public sector laboratories, one large private sector lab and genome data for clinical specimens sent to NICD from private and public diagnostic labs across the country.

They compared data on Omicron infections in October and November with data about Delta infections between April and November, all in South Africa.

A case was considered to be Omicron if the positive test did not detect part of the virus' cell - a tell-tale signal for Omicron due to its extensive mutations - and a high amount of the virus in the sample.

And a hospitalisation was linked with a positive case if a person was admitted to hospital between seven and 21 days of testing positive.

A patient was considered to have severe disease if they were admitted to ICU, required mechanical ventilation, received an oxygen treatment, fluid leaked into their lung or died.

Their study, which has not been peer-reviewed and was published on pre-print website medRxiv, found that among the 10,547 Omicron cases identified between October 1 and November 30, 261 (2.5 per cent) were admitted to hospital.

For comparison, among the 948 non-Omicron cases in the same period - almost all of which would have been Delta, which was behind 95 per cent of cases before Omicron emerged - 121 people were hospitalised (12.8 per cent).

After adjusting for other factors, the researchers said shows that those who caught Omicron had a 80 per cent lower risk of requiring hospital care.

Among those hospitalised with either strain in the nine-week period, the severity of illness was the same, with 317 of the 382 patients (83 per cent) discharged by December 21.

But comparing Omicron hospitalisations with Delta hospitalisations earlier this year, the scientists found Omicron patients were less likely to suffer from severe disease.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,734 people in South Africa have been hospitalised whose test was genomically sequenced as either Alpha, Beta, Delta or Omicron.

The researchers also found that Omicron patients had much higher viral loads compared to Delta infections, echoing recent studies and data that the strain is more transmissible.

The researchers noted that around seven in 10 South Africans had already been infected with Covid by November when Omicon hit, while a quarter of its population is double-jabbed.

It is 'difficult to disentangle' how much previous infection and vaccines contribute to high levels of immunity against hospitalisation and severe illness from Omicron and how much is due to Omicron itself being less severe, the experts said.

Because there is no difference in Covid severity among Omicron and Delta patients hospitalised in the last two months, it is likely that the reduced severity of Omicron 'may be in part a result of high levels of population immunity' due to previous infection or vaccination, the researchers said.

It comes after a separate real-world study of 78,000 Omicron cases in South Africa found the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus.

As a crude rate, Omicron is led to a third fewer hospital admissions than Delta did during its entire wave — 38 admissions per 1,000 Omicron cases compared to 101 per 1,000 for Delta.

The study also found two doses of Pfizer's vaccine still provide 70 per cent protection against hospital admission or death from Omicron, compared to 93 per cent for Delta.

While this is more protection than many scientists initially feared, it still leaves 30 per cent of people vulnerable to severe Omicron disease, four times as many as Delta.

Waning immunity from two Pfizer doses was found to offer just 33 per cent protection against Omicron infection, explaining why the country has seen a meteoric rise in case numbers.


Single vaccine for all COVID variants undergoing human trials

Scientists at the US Army’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are expected to announce the results of human trials of a single vaccine for all COVID variants in coming weeks.

Defense One reported that Dr Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch, said Phase 1 of human trials of the “Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle” COVID-19 vaccine had positive results.

The trials tested the vaccine against Omicron and other variants, the US publication reported. The human trial followed successful animal trials completed earlier this year.

The new type of vaccine has been under development by the US Army since early 2020 when the Army lab received its first DNA sequencing of the COVID-19 virus.

Researchers believe the vaccine will potentially protect not only against the virus and variants responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also against other respiratory viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

The “Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle” (SpFN) vaccine employs the common protein ferritin in the form of a soccer ball-shaped “platform”.

The platform has 24 “faces” onto which are attached replicas of the spike proteins used by some viruses, including coronaviruses, to break into cells.

Delivering spike replicas via vaccines teaches the immune system to recognise and attack them in case of infection.

In lab experiments, antibodies induced by the vaccine protected mice from what would otherwise have been lethal doses of the virus that causes COVID-19 and also of the virus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak, researchers said on in Cell Reports on December 7.

“Presenting multiple copies of spike in an ordered fashion may be the key to inducing a potent and broad immune response,” said study leader Gordon Joyce of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland said at the time.

The vaccine would remain stable at a wide range of temperatures, he said, making it especially useful in areas without specialised storage equipment.


Doctor Says He Was Fired for Trying to Treat COVID-19 Patients With Ivermectin

A Mississippi doctor said he was fired for attempting to treat COVID-19 patients with ivermectin, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat parasites, although the hospital in question said he was not an employee but instead was an independent contractor.

Dr. John Witcher, an emergency room physician at the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Yazoo City, said was “told not to come back” after taking several COVID-19 patients off Remdesivir, which is approved by the FDA to treat the virus, and allowed them to use ivermectin.

“I was very surprised that I was basically told to not come back at the end of the day,” Witcher said on the Stew Peters podcast. “These patients were under my direct care, and so I felt like taking them off Remdesivir and putting them on ivermectin was the right thing to do at the time.”

Baptist Memorial told news outlets that Witcher “no longer practices medicine as an independent physician” at the Yazoo City facility, adding that he was an independent contractor, not an employee at the facility.

The hospital system said that it follows “the standards of care recommended by the scientific community and our medical team in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19” such as vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments.

But Witcher said that he was working at the Baptist Memorial emergency room when three new COVID-19 patients arrived on Dec. 10. They were prescribed Remdesivir, but Witcher said that he has concerns about the drug.

“I was there at the hospital for three days straight in the ER and so I felt like this would be a good opportunity to try ivermectin on these inpatient patients that I had been following very closely and just see how well it worked,” Witcher remarked.




Wednesday, December 22, 2021

‘Negligible benefit’: Experts urge South Africa to end quarantine and contact tracing

Leading South African doctors advising the government’s Covid-19 response have called for quarantine and contact tracing to be stopped immediately, saying the measures are of “negligible public health benefit”.

The Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19, co-chaired by Professors Koleka Mlisana and Marian Jacobs, wrote to South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Thursday to argue that existing quarantine and contact tracing protocols were “outdated” and no longer effective containment measures.

The MAC pointed out that only a very small proportion of Covid-19 cases were detected through testing, as up to 84 per cent of cases were estimated to be asymptomatic.

“It stands to reason that if the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed, then the vast majority of case contacts are also not diagnosed,” Profs Mlisana and Jacobs wrote.

“This means that quarantining and contact tracing are of negligible public health benefit in the South African setting.”

South Africa introduced a 14-day quarantine period for “high risk” contacts of Covid-19 patients in early 2020. This was later reduced to 10 days.

“Since then, several changes to the Covid-19 situation have occurred,” they wrote. “The proportion of people with immunity to Covid-19 (from infection and/or vaccination) has risen substantially, exceeding 60-80 per cent in several serosurveys.

“We have learned more about the manner in which Covid-19 is spread, and also now have to contend with variants of concern whose epidemiology differs from that of the ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2.

“Crucially, it appears that efforts to eliminate and/or contain the virus are not likely to be successful. Therefore, it is critical that the role of containment efforts like quarantine and contact tracing is re-evaluated.”

The MAC also said the definition of “high risk” contact – those who “had face-to-face contact or [were] in a closed space with a Covid-19 case for at least 15 minutes” – was “based on an outdated understanding of the transmission dynamics” of the virus.

“The definition concentrates on droplet spread while ignoring aerosol spread, which can occur over distances greater than 1-1.5 metres, and also does not require as close a temporal association with the index case,” they wrote.

“In addition, it ignores the increased intrinsic transmissibility of subsequent variants of concern compared to the ancestral strain, as well as the fact that pre-existing immunity (from vaccination and/or natural infection) further changes the transmission dynamics.”

The experts said quarantining was not feasible in many social settings, and had a “substantial economic and social burden”.

Those include “significantly depleting” staffing levels at healthcare facilities and other frontline roles such as police, and “significantly reducing economic and governmental activities due to high levels of staff absenteeism”.

“We propose that quarantining be discontinued with immediate effect for contacts of cases of Covid-19,” they wrote.

“This applies equally to vaccinated and non-vaccinated contacts. No testing for Covid-19 is required irrespective of the exposure risk, unless the contact becomes symptomatic.

“We further propose that contact tracing be stopped.

“Since quarantining of contacts of cases no longer serves a public health role, identifying contacts of Covid-19 cases equally serves very little role. In addition, contact tracing is impractical once the Covid-19 caseload rises, and is extremely burdensome in its use of human and financial resources.”

The letter came as Mr Phaahla announced that South Africa would remain under modified “level one” lockdown restrictions over Christmas, amid concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant, News24 reported.


Daily Covid cases in South Africa have fallen for the fourth day in a row as Omicron continues to fade in the variant's original centre

Data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 15,424 South Africans tested positive in the last 24 hours, down by a third on the nearly 24,000 cases confirmed last Tuesday.

A fifth fewer people were tested for the first in the last 24 hours compared to the same period last week, but test positivity — the proportion of those tested who are infected — has been trending downwards for eight days.

But hospitalisations and deaths – which lag two to three weeks behind the pattern seen in case numbers due to the delay in an infected person becoming seriously unwell – have risen.

More than 630 people were hospitalised across the country, up only 5 per cent in a week but the highest daily number in the country's fourth wave.

The previous record was last Wednesday when 620 people were hospitalised. Meanwhile 35 deaths were recorded, a 46 per cent uptick on last Tuesday.

The falling case numbers come despite only 25 per cent of South Africans being double-jabbed and boosters not being dished out in the country.

It raises hopes that the UK's Omicron wave will also be short-lived, with Britain also having a layer of protection in its booster programme.

It comes as UK scientists wait for data on how deadly the Omicron surge will be, with uncertainties about how severe it is and how well vaccines protect against serious outcomes.

But promisingly, cases already appear to be plateauing in the UK, with around 90,000 daily infections recorded for the last six days.

That's despite gloomy Government modelling warning that 1million Britons could be catching the virus daily by the end of the year.

Boris Johnson today said no to Christmas curbs because there is 'no evidence' on Omicron to justify it.

The NICD confirmed 55,877 people had been tested across South Africa in the last 24 hours and 15,424 (27.6 per cent) tested positive.

And test positivity dropped to 27.6 per cent, which is the lowest figure recorded in 10 days and marks the eighth day of infection rates trending downwards.

Britain's daily Covid cases have plateaued for the fifth day in a row as an expert claimed that the Omicron wave may have peaked already.

There were 90,629 infections in the past 24 hours across the UK, up 52 per cent on last Tuesday's toll but down slightly on the figure yesterday — despite wild projections of up to a million daily infections by New Year,

Cases have remained flat since last Friday when they hit a peak of more than 93,000.

In London, which has become a hotbed for Omicron, the wave also appears to be slowing. A total of 20,491 cases were recorded in the capital today, down slightly on yesterday's tally of 22,750.

The slowing statistics may be behind Boris Johnson's decision not to bring in tougher restrictions before Christmas , with the Prime Minister claiming today there was 'not enough evidence to justify' them.

Gloomy Government modelling presented to ministers last week said the mutant variant was doubling every two days and was infecting up to 400,000 daily by the weekend.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that Mr Johnson had made the right decision because cases 'look like they've peaked'.

He said: 'It's not all doom and gloom, it does look like Omicron has stopped growing. The numbers over the last few days seem to have plateaued and maybe even be falling.

'It's a bit too soon to be absolutely sure about that, but if it is the case Boris Johnson will breathe a sigh of relief. We have to be a little bit careful because it's only a few days.

'And because we're getting closer to Christmas there is nervousness that people may not come forward for testing because they don't want to test positive and miss out on meeting relatives.

'Omicron overtook the other variants around December 14 so most of any changes from there on would be down to Omicron. So if it was still doubling every two days that would have shown and we should have been at 200,000 cases yesterday and certainly more than 200,000 cases today.

'But the fact it has been around 91,000 raises the point that it might actually have peaked. But it will probably take until at least Wednesday to get an idea of a day that is not affected by the weekend. But I am more optimistic than I was a few days ago.'

Some 3.3million people in the country have tested positive since the pandemic began, but the true figure will be many millions more as not everyone who catches the virus is tested.

The majority of the new cases were recorded in Kwazulu-Natal (4,009), followed by Western Cape (3,324), as the virus spreads away from the ground zero Gauteng.

The province, which is home to Johannesburg and is where Omicron was first spotted, recorded the third-most cases (3,316).

Meanwhile, 633 people were hospitalised in the last day, up 5.7 per cent in a week, bringing the country’s total number of hospitalisations since the pandemic began to 459,844.

A total of 9,023 people are currently receiving hospital care.

And a further 35 Covid deaths were recorded, up 45.8 per cent on last Tuesday when 24 fatalities were registered.

The data from the country suggests the outbreak is fading around a month after it was first detected, while ministers and scientists in the UK are panicking about the impact the wave will have over the coming weeks.

And the UK has strengthened its response to the variant through its booster campaign, while third jabs have not been dished out in South Africa and just 23 per cent of its population are vaccinated.

However, UK experts have warned Britain's older and denser population is more susceptible to a big and deadly outbreak.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whity last week said he expected to see the UK's daily cases rise extraordinarily due to Omicron, but also 'come down faster than previous peaks', mirroring South Africa's experience with the strain.

Professor Whitty told MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee last week: 'I think what we will see with this is — and I think we’re seeing it in South Africa — is that the upswing will be very incredibly fast even if people are taking more cautious action.

He added: 'It’ll probably therefore peak really quite fast.

'My anticipation is it may then come down faster than previous peaks but I wouldn’t want to say that for sure.'

It comes as Britain's daily Covid cases have plateaued for the fifth day in a row as an expert claimed that the Omicron wave may have peaked already.

There were 90,629 infections in the past 24 hours across the UK, up 52 per cent on last Tuesday's toll but down slightly on the figure yesterday — despite wild projections of up to a million daily infections by New Year.

Cases have remained flat since last Friday when they hit a peak of more than 93,000.

In London, which has become a hotbed for Omicron, the wave also appears to be slowing. A total of 20,491 cases were recorded in the capital today, down slightly on yesterday's tally of 22,750.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that Mr Johnson had made the right decision because cases 'look like they've peaked'.

He said: 'It's not all doom and gloom, it does look like Omicron has stopped growing. The numbers over the last few days seem to have plateaued and maybe even be falling.

'It's a bit too soon to be absolutely sure about that, but if it is the case Boris Johnson will breathe a sigh of relief. We have to be a little bit careful because it's only a few days.




Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Nasal spray developed by Australian scientists STOPS cancer patients catching Covid with a bigger trial to find if it can be the next weapon to fight the pandemic

Another one of those evil nasal sprays. But this one uses a well recognized therapeutic ingredient so will be harder to dismiss

A trial for a nasal spray that has prevented cancer patients getting Covid-19 could be a new weapon to fight the pandemic.

Some 175 patients have tested the drug by taking daily doses of a nasal spray containing cancer drug interferon developed by scientists at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

None of the participants in the C-SMART trial have contracted Covid so far, despite several waves of the virus plunging Melbourne into six lockdowns.

Scientists are seeking more volunteers to take part in the free trial, which will be expanded to Austin and St Vincent's hospitals in Melbourne, along with Westmead Hospital in western Sydney.

Anyone with a past or current cancer diagnosis is eligible to take part in the four month trial.

Scientists hope the nasal spray will be an extra protection for vulnerable patients until better preventions are developed.

'We have not had any patient on the trial actually report back to us that they have developed Covid infection,' National Centre for Infections in Cancer director Professor Monica Slavin told the Herald Sun.

'But we have had about 10 per cent of people on the trial sending in a swab due to some sort of viral illness.

'We know that there are groups of patients, because of the immune system being suppressed, that don't make a good response to the vaccination.'

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing for the trial, which began a year ago.

Scientists were forced to press pause on the trial for five months earlier this year when access to chemicals and sending samples of the drug for testing were hampered by international border closures.

The expanded trial will determine whether the drug can also prevent other respiratory viral illnesses.

Studies have shown cancer patients make up 10 per cent of severe Covid-19 cases, and about 20 per cent of those who die from it, according to the trial's website.

They are also more likely to rapidly develop severe infections and be admitted to ICU compared to cases without cancer.


Moderna says booster significantly increases antibodies against Omicron

Moderna announced Monday that a booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine significantly increases antibody levels against the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

A 50 microgram jab — the authorized dose for a third shot — saw a 37-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies, the vaccine maker said.

Moderna also tested a 100 microgram booster dose, which increased antibody levels 83-fold. The first two shots of Moderna’s vaccine are both 100 micrograms.

The company said the higher booster dose was generally safe and well-tolerated, although there was a trend toward slightly more frequent adverse reactions.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel called the data “reassuring” but said it will continue to “rapidly advance an omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future.”

However, for now, the drugmaker said the current version of its vaccine – mRNA-1273 — will continue to be its “first line of defense against Omicron.”

“What we have available right now is 1273,” Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told Reuters.

“It’s highly effective, and it’s extremely safe. I think it will protect people through the coming holiday period and through these winter months, when we’re going to see the most severe pressure of Omicron,” he added.

The data, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, tested blood from 20 booster recipients with each dose against a pseudovirus engineered to resemble the Omicron variant, the company said.

Antibody levels were measured on day 29 post-boost.

Burton said it would be up to governments and regulators to assess whether they want the enhanced level of protection that a 100 microgram dose might provide.

US regulators authorized Moderna’s 50 microgram booster in October.


Ancient Greek drug used to treat gout could reduce the risk of death from Covid-19 by as much as 50 per cent, study claims

A drug used to treat gout could hold the potential to cut the risk of death from Covid-19 by as much as 50 per cent, a new study claims.

Colchicine is an ancient drug derived from the Colchicum family of plants, which was first used for its special healing properties by the ancient Greeks.

It began to be widely used from about the first century AD as a treatment for gout and other inflammatory conditions, and is one of a few medicines that have survived into modern times, according to experts from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Four controlled studies, involving 6,000 coronavirus patients, have been published into the effects of the drug, with each showing a 'clear benefit' from its use.

The Israeli researchers analysed the studies, finding 'significant improvement in severe coronavirus indices and, most importantly, there was a decrease in mortality by about 50 per cent compared to those who were not treated with colchicine.'

This is an important discovery, as the drug is cheap and requires just half a milligram dose per day, according to the researchers.

However, previous studies have found mixed results on the use of the drug, with some finding a significant benefit, as was the case here, and others finding none.

An Indian study from November found no benefit to using the drug to treat Covid-19.

What is colchicine? The 30p drug used to tackle gout

Colchicine is used to treat and prevent systemic inflammation, a feature of gout and the worst cases of coronavirus

Colchicine is a medicine for treating inflammation and pain. The pills are typically prescribed to treat flare-ups or attacks of gout

It is also used to prevent increased flare-ups of gout when a patient first starts on a medicine like allopurinol – taken to manage the condition in the long term.

Colchicine is also prescribed to prevent flare-ups of symptoms of familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) – an inherited inflammatory condition.

The usual dose for gout is one 0.5mg tablet, taken two to four times a day. Patients are advised to avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice while taking colchicine.

Some patients find it is gentler on their stomach if they take the tablets with or after food.

It is not usually recommended in pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

For this new research, Prof Ami Schattner came at it from a different perspective, focusing on all patients treated in controlled trials with the ancient drug for any purpose over the past 20 years, rather than just treated for Covid-19.

Of the studies he reviewed, four focused on coronavirus and involved 6,000 patients, finding each saw a 'significant improvement' when using the drug.

Schattner says colchicine working to improve the outcome of Covid-19 patients is 'an important discovery that could significantly contribute to improving the morbidity and mortality of many patients, if confirmed in further studies.'

This is because, as well as being cheap, it is well-tolerated by patients with minimal side effects such as bouts of diarrhoea in 10 per cent of patients.

The studies used by the Israeli team were conducted around the world, including in Canada, Greece, Spain and Brazil.

They were all double-blind placebo studies, which make them more accurate, according to Schattner.

Further randomised trials are needed, involving the drug and Covid-19 patients, to confirm the results of this 'preliminary study', said Schattner.

He said that it is likely going to lead to an expansion of the use of low-dose colchicine in the treatment of coronavirus patients, and says there is 'no reason' that couldn't start now.

In November, an Indian research team from GMERS Medical College Gotri in Gujarat performed a meta-analysis of six studies that tested colchicine's ability to prevent severe cases of the virus.

'Colchicine does not reduce the risk of mortality, need for ventilatory support, intensive care unit admission or length of hospital stay among patients with Covid-19,' researchers wrote.

'There is no additional benefit of adding colchicine to supportive care in the management of patients with Covid-19.'

Four of the studies also researched whether the drug could reduce Covid-19 related hospital stays.

The combined results found no difference in mortality rates among people who used colchicine and those that did not.

In March a large British trial halted enrolments to test colchicine as a potential treatment for patients hospitalised with Covid-19.

This was after a sub-study of the trial found that the medication did not have any effect on the patients.

However, Schattner says his results are 'very promising' and worth exploring further.

'Even though initial data on the effect of colchicine on coronavirus patients is very promising, more patients need to be in randomised controlled trials,' Schattner told the Jerusalem Post.

'But that would not prevent me from using the drug already in patients with high risk, to hopefully lower their chances of developing severe disease.

'The drug is low-cost for the patients and the community,' he said. 'By using it in corona patients, we have nothing to lose and much to gain.'

A few gout drugs have been pointed to as potential Covid-19 treatments since the pandemic began.

Drugs used to treat gout often have anti-inflammatory properties, which can also reduce some of the side-effects of Covid-19.

Previous studies identified colchicine as a drug that could reduce inflammation related to Covid-19 and help patients.

Another anti-inflammatory drug used to treat gout, probenecid, has also showed a promising ability to combat Covid-19, though further research is needed.




Monday, December 20, 2021

Japan’s Vaccination Policy: No Force, No Discrimination

Japan’s ministry of health is taking a sensible, ethical approach to Covid vaccines. They recently labeled the vaccines with a warning about myocarditis and other risks. They also reaffirmed their commitment to adverse event reporting to document potential side-effects.

Japan’s ministry of health states: “Although we encourage all citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, it is not compulsory or mandatory. Vaccination will be given only with the consent of the person to be vaccinated after the information provided.”

Furthermore, they state: “Please get vaccinated of your own decision, understanding both the effectiveness in preventing infectious diseases and the risk of side effects. No vaccination will be given without consent.”

Finally, they clearly state: “Please do not force anyone in your workplace or those who around you to be vaccinated, and do not discriminate against those who have not been vaccinated.”

They also link to a “Human Rights Advice” page that includes instructions for handling any complaints if individuals face vaccine discrimination at work.

Other nations would do well to follow Japan’s lead with this balanced and ethical approach.

This policy appropriately places the responsibility for this healthcare decision with the individual or family.

We can contrast this with the vaccine mandate approach adopted in many other Western nations. The United States provides a case study in the anatomy of medical coercion exercised by a faceless bureaucratic network.

A bureaucracy is an institution that exercises enormous power over you but with no locus of responsibility. This leads to the familiar frustration, often encountered on a small scale at the local DMV, that you can go round in bureaucratic circles trying to troubleshoot problems or rectify unfair practices. No actual person seems to be able to help you get to the bottom of things—even if a well-meaning person sincerely wants to assist you.

Here’s how this dynamic is playing out with coercive vaccine mandates in the United States. The CDC makes vaccine recommendations. But the ethically crucial distinction between a recommendation and mandate immediately collapses when institutions (e.g., a government agency, a business, employer, university, or school) require you to be vaccinated based on the CDC recommendation.

Try to contest the rationality of these mandates, e.g., in federal court, and the mandating institution just points back to CDC recommendation as the rational basis for the mandate. The court will typically agree, deferring to the CDC’s authority on public health. The school, business, etc., thus disclaims responsibility for the decision to mandate the vaccine: “We’re just following CDC recommendations, after all. What can we do?”

But CDC likewise disclaims responsibility: “We don’t make policy; we just make recommendations, after all.”

Meanwhile, the vaccine manufacturer is immune and indemnified from all liability or harm under federal law. No use going to them if their product—a product that you did not freely decide to take—harms you.

You are now dizzy from going round in circles trying to identify the actual decision-maker: it’s impossible to pinpoint the relevant authority. You know that enormous power is being exercised over your body and your health, but with no locus of responsibility for the decision and no liability for the outcomes.

You are thus left with the consequences of a decision that nobody claims to have made. The only certainty is that you did not make the decision and you were not given the choice.


People who get breakthrough COVID-19 infections after being fully vaccinated have 'super immunity' with antibody levels rising as much as 2,000%, study finds

A new study finds that those who get a breakthrough COVID-19 infection after being fully vaccinated may acquire 'super immunity' from another infection.

The small study compared 26 vaccinated staff at Oregon Health & Science University who had breakthrough infections to people who were vaccinated but never got the coronavirus.

The breakthrough group saw a surge in antibodies.

'The increases were substantial, up to a 1,000 percent increase and sometimes up to 2,000 percent, so it's really high immunity,' said study author Fikadu Tafesse, a molecular microbiology and immunology professor at OHSU in Portland, Oregon.

'It's almost "super immunity."'

Cases of Omicron, thought to be more infectious than other variants - almost doubled from Friday to Saturday, with the variant confirmed in all but six US states.

Meanwhile, a Columbia University study found that patients given a booster shot of either Pfizer or Moderna had 6.5 times fewer antibodies for Omicron than the original virus - meaning boosters alone may not be as protective.

The efficacy of a regular course of the three vaccines approved in the US waned significantly after six months in a study conducted by the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California

'The bottom line of the study is that vaccine provides you with foundational immunity for whatever comes next,' Tafesse told USA Today, cautioning that no one should purposefully seek to get infected with COVID-19.

Various studies show that being infected and getting a dose of a COVID vaccine is very effective against COVID, but this is one of the few that consider the reverse scenario.

'This is one of the first that shows a breakthrough infection following vaccination generates stronger immunity than prior infection or vaccination alone,' said Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California at San Francisco.

She warns that getting the virus first isn't recommended because 'we cannot predict who will get very ill with COVID.'

'What we're saying is, we know life happens. If you happen to be exposed to the virus, you'll have this amazing immune response,' Tafesse said. 'It mirrors the immunity response we get to the booster.'

Getting a booster may provide crucial protection against Omicron, according to a study by a team at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California released last month.

The Pfizer-BioNTech jab - which is far and away the most commonly used in the US - saw its effectiveness drop from 87 percent in March to 43 percent in September.

Moderna's shot held up the best, and is the only one of the three to still be more than 50 percent effective.

The shot's effectiveness has still fallen greatly, though, from 89 percent in March to 58 percent in September.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients are especially at risk with just 13 percent efficacy against contracting the virus.

Meanwhile, Columbia University study looked at people given a booster of one of the two mRNA vaccines and found that boosted people had 6.5 times fewer antibodies for Omicron than the original virus.

It was less of a drop than that of people who only got a normal two-dose course. There was a 21-fold drop in neutralizing antibodies against Omicron after two doses of Pfizer compared to the original strain and a 8.6-fold drop with Moderna's jabs.

The study has not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

Omicron already accounts for about three percent of cases nationwide and 13 percent of cases in the New York/New Jersey area, according to recent modeling data from the Centers for Disease Control.

On Saturday, New York state reported that the number of Omicron cases in New York City - the epicenter of the first wave of the pandemic - was 192, though there are likely more, New York Magazine reports.

On Saturday, New York reported 21,908 cases of COVID-19 throughout the state, a slight uptick from Friday's 21,027 new cases, which was already a new single-day record.

The CDC maintains that vaccines continue to be effective against the worst outcomes of COVID-19.

'With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters,' the CDC says.

The agency says Omicron will 'likely' spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, but it's not known how much easier it spreads than the Delta variant, which sent cases soaring late this summer.

Santacon - which sees thousands of costumed revelers trawl the bars of the East Village and Lower East Side - could have contributed to the rise of cases in New York City.

Mark Levin, the chair of the city's health commission, said the December 11 event could've been a factor. 'Manhattan unfortunately now has highest covid rate in NYC,' he tweeted Saturday. 'This is partly because we test more. But this should serve as a warning about how much Omicron is out there.

'Be especially cautious about indoor gatherings where masks come off. (And yes SantaCon may partly be to blame.)'

On social media, many said that they had tested positive since attending SantaCon, and others reacted with fury to the event having been held in the first place.

As of Saturday morning, there were 830 cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant confirmed by DNA sequencing across the country, a 97 percent increase from Friday morning's tally.

In reality, the true number of Omicron cases is much higher, as only 1 to 2 percent of all cases are sequenced for variant markers, but the testing data shows a disturbing national trend.

Testing has now confirmed the presence of Omicron in every US state except for Oklahoma, Montana, North and South Dakota, Indiana and Vermont, though the eventual confirmation of the highly transmissible variant in every state now seems assured.

On Sunday, Joe Biden's chief medical advisor contradicted the vice president, who had claimed that no one saw the Omicron variant coming. 'We did. We definitely saw variants coming,' said Dr. Anthony Fauci, after being read Kamala Harris's quote.

On Friday, Harris told the Los Angeles Times: 'We didn't see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not - upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn't see Delta coming. 'We didn't see Omicron coming. And that's the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.'

Fauci said that Harris was mistaken - but he accepted that Omicron's potency had not been forecast. 'What was not anticipated was the extent of the mutations and the amino acid substitutions in Omicron, that is really is unprecedented and came out of nowhere,' Fauci told CNN's Jake Tapper, on State of the Union.

'When you have a virus which has 50 mutations. 'To me that is really quite unprecedented so that is something you would not have anticipated.




Sunday, December 19, 2021

We cannot stop the spread of COVID, but we CAN end the pandemic: Protect the old and vulnerable, forget lockdowns - and learn to live with the virus

By Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. This is about what I have been saying all along

The arrival of the omicron variant has led some politicians and public health grandees to call for a return to business closures and 'circuit-breaker' lockdowns.

The variant has been found worldwide, including in the US and the UK. The variant has already surpassed delta – dominant before omicron – in the UK.

Early reports from South Africa confirm that the variant is more transmissible but produces a milder disease, with a lower chance of hospitalization and death upon infection.

My message is this: we can’t stop the spread of COVID, but we can end the pandemic.

In October 2020, I wrote the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) along with Prof. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Prof. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University.

The centerpiece of the declaration is a call for increased focused protection of the vulnerable older population, who are more than a thousand times more likely to die from COVID infection than the young.

We can protect the vulnerable without harming the rest of the population.

As I stated above, we do not have any technology that can stop viral spread. While excellent vaccines protect the vaccinated versus hospitalization or death if infected, they provide only temporary and marginal protection from infection and disease transmission.

The same is likely true for booster shots, which use the same technology as the initial doses.

What about lockdowns? It is now abundantly clear that they have failed to contain the virus while wreaking enormous collateral damage worldwide.

The simplistic allure of lockdowns is that we can break the chain of viral transmission by staying apart.

Only the laptop class -- those who can just as easily work from home as in the office -- can abide by a lockdown in actual practice, and even they have trouble.

Essential workers who keep society going cannot afford the luxury, so the disease will keep spreading.

Will the same policies that failed against a more virulent strain succeed in containing a more transmissible strain? The answer is self-evidently no.

The harms of lockdown on children and the non-elderly are catastrophic, including worse physical and mental health and irretrievably lost life opportunities.

Lockdowns imposed in rich countries mean starvation, poverty, and death for the residents of poor countries.

There is, however, a good alternative to lockdown. The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) calls for a return to normal life for low-risk children and non-elderly adults.

The principles at the heart of the GBD are as important today as they were a year ago. In fact, they are more important now because we now have technological tools that make focused protection of the vulnerable much more straightforward than it was a year ago.

First and most importantly, the vaccine.

Because unvaccinated older people face such a high risk for a poor outcome on infection, and because the vaccine is so effective at blunting severe disease and death, vaccinating older people is the top priority if life-saving is to be the top priority.

But to preserve doses, they should be reserved for those who have not previously had COVID and were vaccinated more than 6 to 8 months ago.

According to a careful study conducted by Swedish scientists, vaccine efficacy versus severe disease also starts to wane around that point, so boosting before then does not provide a substantial benefit.

Second, we should make available effective early treatment options.

During Florida’s summer wave, Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted the use of monoclonal antibodies – an FDA-approved treatment – by patients early in the course of the disease, an action that saved many lives.

Safe and inexpensive supplements like Vitamin D have been shown effective. Promising new treatments from Pfizer and a new antibody treatment for the immunocompromised by Astra Zeneca promise to become more widely available. Until that happens, they should be preserved for use by the most vulnerable when sick.

Third, the widespread availability of inexpensive, privately conducted, rapid antigen tests in the UK has empowered everyone to make wise choices that reduce the risk of infecting vulnerable people. So far, the FDA says that these tests work to detect omicron.

Even if you have no COVID-like symptoms, these tests accurately read whether you harbor the virus and pose a risk of spreading it to close contacts. With this test in hand, anyone can check if it is safe to visit grandma before heading over to her care home. It is a perfect tool for focused protection of the vulnerable. US COVID policy should focus on making these tests cheaper and more widely available, as they are in the UK.

Finally, since the virus very often spreads via aerosolization events, upgrades to ventilation systems in public spaces will reduce the risk of older people participating in everyday social life outside the home.

It is no accident that COVID disease spread is so rare on airplanes since they are all outfitted with excellent air filtration systems. Upgrading other public facilities, such as other public transportation systems, would reduce the risk of infection for the vulnerable.

There are some hopeful signs that the political and ideological winds are shifting, while other developments signal a return to failed strategies.

Colorado's Democrat Governor Jared Polis recently declared that the widespread availability of vaccines spells ‘the end of the medical emergency,’ and he is resisting calls to impose new statewide mask mandates.

Yet on the coasts, in California and New York, elected officials are renewing mask requirements for all – regardless of health or vaccination status.

The end of the pandemic is primarily a social and political decision.

Since we have no technology to eradicate the virus, we must learn to live with it. The fear-based lockdown policies of the past two years are no template for a healthy society.

The good news is that with the new and effective technologies available and the focused protection ideas outlined in the GBD, we can end the pandemic if only we can muster the courage and political will to do so.

In Sweden and many US states that have eschewed lockdowns, the pandemic is effectively over, even as the virus continues to circulate.

As normal society resumes, the vast majority will find that living with the virus is not so hard after all.


Many omicron cases at Cornell in fully vaccinated: official

Cornell University is seeing an uptick in coronavirus cases and has detected the “highly contagious” omicron variant on campus, particularly in fully vaccinated individuals, according to campus officials.

Between Dec. 7 and 13, the Ivy League school in Ithaca, New York, reported 883 students testing positive for COVID-19, its online dashboard shows.

“Virtually every case of the Omicron variant to date has been found in fully vaccinated students, a portion of whom had also received a booster shot,” Joel M. Malina, the school’s vice president for university relations, said in a statement provided to McClatchy News.

On Dec. 13, Cornell’s COVID-19 testing lab found “evidence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in a significant number of Monday’s positive student samples,” university President Martha E. Pollack said in a letter to the campus community.

Out of the students infected with COVID-19, the school has “not seen severe illness” as of Dec. 14, Pollack assured.

The on-campus population of Cornell is 97% fully vaccinated, according to its virus data tracker that has recorded 26,008 students and 13,311 faculty and staff members who are fully vaccinated.

Pollack noted that the evidence of omicron, first identified by South African researchers on Nov. 24, is “preliminary.”

“PCR testing has identified its hallmark (the so-called S-gene dropout) in a substantial number of virus samples,” Pollack said. “While we must await confirmatory sequencing information to be sure that the source is Omicron, we are proceeding as if it is.”


Omicron easier on the lungs, British study suggests

Omicron may be less efficient at replicating in the lungs than previous COVID variants, British laboratory research has suggested.

A study conducted by scientists at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease found that mutations on the virus’s spike protein, which make it able to evade antibodies, may also reduce its ability to attack the lungs and cause severe disease.

“We demonstrate significantly lower infectivity of lung organoids and Calu-3 lung cells,” says the Cambridge preprint, which was posted late on Friday night.

“These observations highlight that Omicron has gained immune evasion properties whilst compromising on properties associated with replication and pathogenicity [harm].”

The study was led by Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge and a contributor to Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

“The Omicron spike protein induces relatively poor [lung] cell-cell fusion compared to Wuhan and Delta,” said Gupta, announcing the findings on Twitter. “The difference is significant.”

Gupta said the findings could point to Omicron causing less severe disease but said more work was needed.

“In summary this work suggests that Omicron does appear to have become more immune evasive, but that properties associated with disease progression may be attenuated [weakened] to some extent,” he said. “The significant growth of Omicron nevertheless represents a major public health challenge”.

Scientists are rushing to understand if Omicron is more severe in unvaccinated people than previous variants. The signals are mixed.

Early data on hospital admissions and deaths from South Africa suggest that Omicron is so far doing significantly less damage there than previous waves. A hospital group reported last week that 29 per cent fewer adults were being admitted to hospital than in the Delta wave, and far fewer of those required intensive care.

On the other hand, there was a 20 per cent jump in the number of children being hospitalised, and a double dose of Pfizer vaccine was shown to be just 70 per cent effective at preventing hospital admissions, falling further in the old.

Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, warned against “overinterpretation” of the South African data last week, noting its population was much younger and with more prior exposure to COVID than our own.

“The amount of immunity for this wave because of prior Delta wave and vaccination is far higher than it was for their last wave and, therefore the fact they have a lower hospitalisation rate this time is unsurprising.”