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Coronavirus update: Subvariants are proliferating

FDA places limitations on the J&J vaccine

COVID-19 variants concept
Photo (c) Aitor Diago - Getty Images
COVID-19 ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 81,711,387 (81,621,102)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 997,023 (996,713)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 516,292,773 (515,017,808)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 6,248,147 (6,245,407)‌

COVID-19 subvariants increasing faster than primary variants

First, it was new strains of the coronavirus we had to worry about. But since the appearance of the Delta variant in mid-2021, we’ve had the Omicron variant and its multiple subvariants. At last count, scientists have identified BA.1; BA.1.1; BA.2; BA.2.12.1; BA.3; and the most recent, BA.4 and BA.5.

“They all differ from each other by having different mutations in the spike protein,” which is the part of the virus that penetrates host cells and causes infection, Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, told Kaiser Health News.

The numbers associated with the names are important. Generally, the higher the number following “BA” in the subvariant’s name, the more transmissible that subvariant is. For instance, BA.2 is thought to be about 30% to 60% more transmissible than previous subvariants. 

FDA limits the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is modifying its emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Going forward, it is only approved for people 18 and older for whom other vaccines aren't appropriate or who otherwise wouldn’t get vaccinated.

The change was prompted by research showing that there is a risk of a rare and dangerous blood clotting condition called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the vaccine.

“We recognize that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine still has a role in the current pandemic response in the United States and across the global community,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Our action reflects our updated analysis of the risk of TTS following administration of this vaccine and limits the use of the vaccine to certain individuals.”

Omicron less likely to produce ‘long COVID’

There have been fewer reports of “long COVID” cases in recent months, and we may be able to thank the Omicron variant for that. An analysis of case data suggests that infections caused by the Omicron variant are less likely than those caused by the Delta strain to produce long-lasting symptoms.

The analysis shows that the chance of fully vaccinated adults infected with the BA.1 subvariant developing long COVID is about 50% lower than people whose infection was caused by the Delta variant.

The analysis was conducted by the British Office for National Statistics (ONS). It showed the prevalence of self-reported long COVID for fully vaccinated adults infected with the Delta variant was 16%, compared to 9% for Omicron BA.1. 

Around the nation

  • Pennsylvania: Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez has revealed that at least 41 clergy members in the Diocese of Pennsylvania tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a clergy conference last week. The conference was held in Cape May, N.J.

  • North Carolina: New cases of COVID-19 are slowly rising throughout the state, and emerging subvariants of the Omicron variant are getting most of the blame. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that BA.2 is still the predominant strain in North Carolina, making up 91% of the positive cases sequenced. 

  • New Jersey: Public health officials report that the coronavirus' BA.2 variant continues to spread rapidly through the state. However, they say it's not causing anywhere near the severe outcomes that the Delta and Omicron variants did in the past year. Hospitalizations are up, but they're below worst-case predictions.

  • Ohio: Cuyahoga County is the first area in Ohio to return to a high COVID-19 transmission status. However, the virus is ticking up in several areas of the state. Federal data shows that there are 91.33 cases per 100,000 people this week.

  • Nevada: State health officials report a sharp upturn in new COVID-19 cases, an increase of nearly 58%. Washoe County reported 258 cases and two deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 152 cases and one death.

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