COVID 19 latest variant, EG 5
COVID fatigue has set in. People no longer wear masks in public.
But COVID-19 cases are rising once again, fueled by the emergence of yet another new variant, EG 5. The CDC reports that hospitalization rates jumped by 12.5% in July.
This uptick comes even as the public health emergency has ended along with free testing and free vaccines. A study has determined that the majority of Americans will forego new boosters which will be available this fall.
At an August 11 EMS roundtable briefing, a panel of experts answered questions on how we can continue to live with COVID-19. Responses have been edited for brevity.
The new EG 5 variant
Ben Neuman, Chief Virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University
The EG 5 is a variant that’s spreading the fastest right now. Basically, it’s another version of Omicron. At the beginning of COVID, it looked like it should be about 30 mutations per year. If you do the math, we are actually right on schedule.
This variant is spreading, because of changes at the receptor binding site. That is the target of most of the vaccines and of some of the most useful parts of the immune system. When the target changes, you have to change your aim. We should have had an updated version of the vaccine less than a year ago and uptake in the US for the bio Vaillant vaccine is only 17%. One seven, which I found very surprising. That’s a challenge.
The Arturis variant
The Arturis variance, based on one study on nine children in one part of India, was reported to cause more pinkeye. That variant went on to be one of the most common around the world. We did not see a big rise in pinkeye in other places. It’s likely that there were other factors involved in that particular case, maybe people that are genetically similar to each other. For now, there aren’t very distinct symptom profiles for this or any of the other variants.
The only predictable thing is that the more recent your immunity, the more recent your vaccination, the less likely you are to have serious symptoms.
Will the delayed vaccines be effective against EG 5?
The three-step process of vaccine approval begins with a recommendation from the WHO, then FDA looks at the data, and then the CDC acts on it. The WHO made their recommendation in June and the FDA has to look at the data. The new formulation is supposed to be a monovalent against XBB. From the studies, it looks like the vaccine against XBB seems to work against all new variants like EG 5 five and F A. It may be about two months after approval for the rollout nationwide.
Why do hospitalization rates remain relatively stable despite the summer surge of infections?
Peter Chin-Hong MD, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Regional Campuses at the UCSF School of Medicine
There has been a slight uptick in hospitalizations, not a tsunami. In California last year at the same time one year ago, about 440 700 people were hospitalized at one point while this July there were 750 that has risen to 890 – a slight uptick.
There has been a slight uptick in hospitalizations, not a tsunami. In California last year at the same time one year ago, about 440 700 people were hospitalized at one point while this July there were 750 that has risen to 890 – a slight uptick. Cases are going up slightly for several reasons. People are getting together more – there are big concerts – and traveling internationally exposes people – there uptick in cases in Ireland, UK, France, Brazil, South America, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The second reason is that unprecedented heat waves have driven a lot of people indoors. The third reason is more immunologic – people’s immunity is kind of waning. The fourth is speculative at this point, about how EEG five might relate to uptick.
Tools to fight COVID
We’ve become better at knowing what to do once somebody has COVID. As soon as somebody is admitted with COVID we give them antiviral treatment. Because of vaccination or previous exposure to COVID, there is a smaller proportion of people coming in with COVID. The big picture is not as many people are getting ill as in the old days, and we have a lot more tools.
We are still seeing about 300 or 400 deaths per week in the United States, not 2000 a day like we used to. The tragedy is that most of these debts are, are avoidable, because of the tools that we have.
What are the challenges of dealing with Paxlovid and Remdesivir?
Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy as well as Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.
This was a virus that we had not encountered before when it first appeared. Laboratory investigators around the world had to understand how this virus existed and how it multiplied very quickly. What is amazing is that they quickly determined its genetic component, developed rigorous diagnostic tests that could be done at home, developed vaccines, and developed therapeutic agents for COVID infections. Paxlovid, administered particularly to people at high risk, very shortly after they are infected, can reduce their risk of developing severe disease. Like any drug, it has its limitations – for example, drug-drug interactions. You have to be careful about taking Paxlovid if you’re taking certain medications. If you have kidney failure, you have to be careful about Paxlovid dosing, or Remdesivir. Studies still continue on other therapeutic agents.