New COVID subvariant arrives

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The Midwest may seem eager to put the days of COVID behind it, but an Omicron subvariant’s recent increase in prevalence nationwide proves the pandemic is not over. 

Last Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the BA.2 Omicron variant now accounts for about one-fourth of new COVID-19 cases nationwide. 

The week before, it accounted for one in 10 new infections. 

CBS News reported BA.2 is most prevalent in the Northeast U.S., some locations being nearly 1,000 miles away from Monroe County. 

Yet, BA.2 is on the rise in the U.S. as the overall number of COVID-19 cases are continuing to subside. 

“Although the proportion of infections with BA.2 is increasing in the U.S., COVID-19 cases are now declining, so it is likely that absolute numbers of BA.2 infections are not increasing as quickly as they might seem from just looking at the proportion that are BA.2,” Dr. Deborah Dowell, the CDC’s COVID response chief medical officer, recently said. 

She had also said the severity of BA.2 mirrors that of the original Omicron variant, as does its reaction to vaccines. Medical experts continue to state booster doses are essential to preventing serious illness from Omicron. 

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said because of a recent report he saw showing approximately 35 percent of COVID-19 cases in Illinois are attributed to the new subvariant, he assumes it is here in Monroe County. 

Yet, it might not pose a huge threat, he said. 

“It’s basically just Omicron that transmits a little easier. We’re waiting to see if people who have had Omicron will pick up this BA.2 variant,” Wagner said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal in the U.S. I think a lot of people have been exposed to Omicron, which may give them protection from this.” 

Wagner was careful to note this is subject to change as new research emerges. 

Other countries are being hit hard, as BA.2 accounts for the large majority of cases worldwide. 

The situation is especially fluid in China, which has long subscribed to strict pandemic mandates. 

On Sunday, the New York Times reported the majority of over 32,000 reported cases in the last few weeks across 24 provinces were BA.2 cases. Some areas are returning to lockdowns. 

Vaccine news

Just last week, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve emergency use authorization for a fourth dose, or a second “booster,”  for seniors ages 65 and older. 

The company often cites two studies done in Israel.

“These data showed evidence that an additional mRNA booster increases immunogenicity and lowers rates of confirmed infections and severe illness,” a press release said.  

Also last week, Moderna asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for a fourth dose in adults ages 18 and older, making its scope broader than Pfizer’s second booster request. 

“The request to include adults over 18 years of age was made to provide flexibility for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and healthcare providers to determine the appropriate use of an additional booster dose of mRNA-1273, including for those at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities,” a March 17 press release said. “This submission is based in part on recently published data generated in the United States and Israel following the emergence of Omicron.”

As of press time, neither have reached FDA emergency use authorization. 

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 61 percent of Monroe County’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated (two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of J&J) and 10,705 booster doses have been administered, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported. 

Data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force often shows approximately 60 percent of COVID-positive individuals who are hospitalized in the region are not vaccinated. 

The Monroe County Health Department will host pediatric Pfizer clinics (ages 5-11) this Wednesday, March 23 and Wednesday, March 30 from 2-4 p.m. It will host adult Pfizer and Moderna clinics Thursday, March 24 and Thursday, March 31 from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; Friday, March 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Monday, March 28 from 1-3:45 p.m. and Tuesday, March 29 from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. 

All clinics will be at the health department office, 1315 Jamie Lane, Waterloo. Appointments are recommended, but not required. To make an appointment, call or text 618-612-6695.

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