With cases of COVID-19 back on the rise in Arizona and across the country, epidemiologists and experts are asking if yet another Omicron surge looms on the horizon.
In Arizona, nearly 5,500 new cases were recorded over the past week. There were 41 new deaths related to COVID-19 in Arizona, bringing the state total to 30,320. These statistics were published by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) on the COVID-19 data dashboard.
Two new versions of the Omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5, are currently causing a surge of cases in South Africa, which has been the harbinger for European and American surges since the Omicron variant appeared on the scene. According to National Geographic, both are more transmissible than the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, which is the force behind the current surge sweeping the U.S., specifically in the Northeast. From Alex Sigal, virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute and at the University of KwaZulu-Natal:
If you were unvaccinated, what you got is almost no immunity to BA.4 and BA.5. There might be some immunity that may be enough to protect against severe disease, but not sufficient to protect against symptomatic infection.
But a dwindling number of people across the world have not become infected with COVID-19 in any of its variant forms throughout the pandemic. The Washington Post reports that scientists are now looking to this group that now represents less than half of the U.S. for clues in the pursuit of COVID-19 prevention. From András Spaan, a clinical microbiologist and fellow at the Rockefeller University:
What we are looking for is potentially very rare genetic variants with a very big impact on the individual.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called out Pfizer during a news briefing for marketing their antiviral COVID-19 drug, Paxlovid, at too high a price. According to studies, the drug may cut the risk of hospitalizations and death up to 90%, but the prohibitive cost has driven an unequal distribution of antivirals. Via Associated Press:
We remain concerned that low- and middle-income countries remain unable to access antivirals.
But as more doctors prescribe Paxlovid, new concerns are arising about its efficacy in the long-term. According to Modern Healthcare, the drug is associated with a small number of patients relapsing several days after taking the five-day regimen of antiviral pills. Fro, Dr. Michael Charness, who reported on a 71-year-old vaccinated patient who saw his symptoms subside and then return nine days into his illness:
The ability to clear the virus after it’s suppressed may be different from omicron to delta, especially for vaccinated people.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last Friday that it would limit the authorized use of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine to adults 18-years and older for whom other vaccines are not clinically appropriate, according to an FDA news release. The J&J vaccine is associated with a risk of thromobisis with thromocytopenia syndrome (TTS).
The White House is raising alarms about the potential for more COVID-19 surges this fall and winter, and is coordinating contingency plans for how it will provide vaccines to the American public if Congress fails to pass further spending bills for vaccine production and distribution, the New York Times reports. While the Biden administration has asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency aid to continue the pandemic response, but Republicans have blocked most efforts to pass such a bill.
One of the regularly cited reasons for Republican opposition to increased COVID-19 spending is the White House’s consideration of removing Title 42, which was first instated under President Donald Trump in March 2020. According to AZCentral, Title 42 was used to rapidly expel migrants due to coronavirus concerns, and has led to thousands of people being forced to leave the U.S., even without the potential to seek asylum. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that ending Title 42 would require approval from Congress:
There are a range of ideas out there in Congress — Democrats, Republicans, others — some who support a delay of Title 42 implementation, some who strongly oppose it. And there are a range of other ideas of reforming our immigration system. This would all require congressional action. We’re happy to have that conversation with them.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) Office of Health Policy published a data point last week about hospitalization cost-savings through Medicare fee-for-service and COVID-19 vaccination rates among Medicare beneficiaries. According to the analysis, claims data suggests that COVID-19 vaccinations led to a total savings of $2.6 billion from reduced hospitalizations for beneficiaries from January to May 2021.
Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation last Friday that would limit his successors’ power to implement a state of emergency due to public health concerns. The bill would require the governor to obtain permission to extend a state of emergency past 120 days if it is related to a public health emergency, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. From bill sponsor Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale):
All across the country, governors invoked their emergency powers, many times in perpetuity, to unilaterally make decisions that would have otherwise had to go through the legislative process. Sadly, this abuse of power was arbitrarily used to take peoples’ liberties from them. I sponsored this bill to make sure it never happens again.
Arizona is currently the only state where rural vaccination rates are greater than those of more populated counties, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Associated Press, the reason for this difference is clear — Indigenous Tribal communities like the Navajo Nation. Native Americans make up a significant portion of five of the seven counties designated as rural in the CDC report.