New versions of omicron variant gaining ground in US
Omicron COVID-19 subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 represent an increasing number of new infections in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though it’s unclear what the impact will be.
New estimates from the CDC show that for the week ending June 4, the two subvariants combined accounted for 13 percent of all new U.S. cases. That’s an increase from the combined 7.5 percent estimated for the week ending May 28.
During the week ending June 4, BA.5 accounted for an estimated 7.6 percent of cases and BA.4 accounted for 5.4 percent of cases, up from 4.2 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, the previous week.
There are also regional differences in the rise of the new subvariants. In the southern region comprising Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, BA.4 and BA. 5 account for about 22 percent of all infections.
Data on BA.4 and BA.5 is limited, though early evidence suggests they are more infectious and may be able to evade some of the immunity people have acquired from being infected with other variants. There isn’t evidence to show they cause more severe disease.
It’s still unclear what the rise in the new variants means for the trajectory of the U.S. pandemic, though some public health experts think BA.4 and BA.5 will soon become the dominant subvariants and prolong the current wave of infections. The majority of cases right now are being driven by the omicron subvariants BA.2.12.1 and BA.2.
COVID-19 cases have risen in the U.S. to around 100,000 per day, though the real number could be as much as five times higher given that many cases go unreported.
COVID funds shifted due to stalemate
© The Hill, Greg Nash
The consequences of a lack of COVID-19 funding are starting to be felt.
The White House said Wednesday it is cutting funds from some areas of its COVID-19 response to shift money to vaccines and treatments, given that new funding remains stalled in Congress.
The administration is cutting money from areas like testing and research on next-generation vaccines to move that into buying more vaccines and treatments.
In the shift, $5 billion will go toward buying updated vaccines for the fall, $4.9 billion will go toward buying an additional 10 million courses of the Pfizer treatment Paxlovid and $300 million will go to buying more monoclonal antibody treatments.
Still a vaccine shortage: Even with the shift in funds, there will still not be enough money to buy updated vaccines for all Americans for the fall, unless Congress provides more funding, the White House said.
Prospects on the Hill not looking great… Asked last month if he would allow a vote on reinstating Trump-era rules at the southern border in order to get COVID-19 funding moving, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) deflected by telling reporters, “We’ll see what the House sends over.” But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday the problem is getting 60 votes in the Senate, and that the House passing the funding first would not “magically” solve the Senate’s problem.
Moderna: Updated vax better against omicron variant
Moderna on Wednesday said that a new version of its vaccine provided a superior immune response against the COVID-19 omicron variant, making it the lead candidate for a booster shot this fall.
The company released results on an updated, “bivalent” vaccine that includes both the original vaccine and an updated version specifically designed to target the omicron variant, the company said.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the updated vaccine is “our lead candidate for a Fall 2022 booster.”
“We are submitting our preliminary data and analysis to regulators with the hope that the Omicron-containing bivalent booster will be available in the late summer,” he said.
The potential problem: The virus is evolving quickly, and the original omicron strain is no longer what is circulating most widely in the United States. Two new subvariants of omicron, known as BA.4 and BA.5, are on the rise, and it is unclear how well the updated vaccine performs against them.