Pfizer, J&J report strong antibody response from booster shots; heart swelling more likely from COVID than vaccine: Latest COVID-19 updates

·11 min read

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are reporting enhanced disease-fighting response from booster shots, an encouraging development in light of vaccines' diminished effectiveness over time as the delta variant of the coronavirus has turbocharged a fourth wave of infections in the U.S.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech plan to submit this week their COVID-19 booster shot for Food and Drug Administration approval for people over 16, the companies said in a joint statement Wednesday.

Phase 3 trial data shows a third dose of their vaccine – called Comirnaty – produced more than three times the neutralizing antibodies against the coronavirus compared with a second dose, the companies said. On Monday, their COVID-19 vaccine became the first one to receive full FDA approval.

Johnson & Johnson also said Wednesday that studies show a booster dose of its vaccine offered a ninefold increase in antibodies compared with the single-shot vaccine on its own.

The company said it was working with federal officials, including the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on next steps to enhance the effects of the vaccine and ready a possible booster shot.

The Biden administration said last week that, starting Sept. 20, it will provide booster shots to people who completed their two-dose regimen of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least eight months before. That time frame will likely be shortened to six months, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

A booster shot has already been authorized for those who are immunocompromised.

A CDC study released Tuesday showed protection from the vaccines may decline over time as the delta variant surges across the country. Once delta became the dominant strain in the U.S., vaccine effectiveness against infection decreased from 91% to 66%.

A second CDC study found that a quarter of COVID-19 infections from May to July in Los Angeles were breakthrough cases, but hospitalizations were significantly lower for those who had been inoculated. Unvaccinated people were more than 29 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people, and about five times more likely to be infected.

Also in the news:

►The Tennessee state health commissioner said pediatric cases of COVID-19 increased by 57% from the previous week and now make up more than one-third of the state’s coronavirus infections.

►Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said all city employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID by Oct. 15.

►A child under age 1 is among the latest reported COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana, which said 11 minors have died of the disease in the state during the pandemic.

►The World Health Organization says the number of new coronavirus cases reported globally appears to be stabilizing at about 4.5 million infections after steadily rising for the past two months, although they've increased by 8% in the Americas.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said requiring vaccination or weekly testing for K-12 teachers and staff and mandating masks inside schools will be among her first actions after being sworn in as governor Tuesday. Hochul also acknowledged on her first day in office that the state has had nearly 12,000 more deaths from COVID-19 than former Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the public.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 38 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 631,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 213.6 million cases and 4.45 million deaths. More than 171.7 million Americans – 51.7% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we're reading: COVID-19 vaccines for young children: When are they coming? And what's the status of clinical trials? Here's what you need to know.

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Much higher chance of myocarditis from COVID-19 than from vaccine, study finds

Risks associated with COVID-19 are much greater than the risks associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

Researchers compared adverse events that occurred in vaccinated people from a health care organization in Israel to events in people with documented COVID-19. Each group had a mean of more than 880,000 people.

They found the vaccinated group had an increased risk of myocarditis -- inflammation of the heart -- occurring in 2.7 per 100,000 people. The vaccine was also associated with an increased risk of swollen lymph nodes, herpes zoster infection and appendicitis.

While researchers did not find an increased risk of those conditions in the infected group, they found a higher risk of myocarditis, occurring in 11 per 100,000 people. SARS-CoV-2 infection also increased patients’ risk for arrhythmia, acute kidney injury, pulmonary embolism, deep-vein thrombosis, myocardial infarction, pericarditis and intracranial hemorrhage – all of which did not occur in the vaccinated group.

About 800 cases of heart inflammation have been confirmed in the U.S. as being linked to mRNA vaccines, making the instances rare but concerning. The CDC says most of those treated for the condition recovered quickly.

-- Adrianna Rodriguez

New Mexico a week away from having to ration care

New Mexico's top health officials have had to establish a waiting list for ICU beds for the first time ever and they're warning that the state is about a week away from having to ration medical care as coronavirus infections continue to climb and nurses are in short supply.

Health secretary Dr. David Scarse said there was a 20% increase in COVID patients in just the last day, and the state is on pace to surpass its worst-case projections for cases and hospitalizations. He said the result may be that “we’re going to have to choose who gets care and who doesn’t get care, and we don’t want to get to that point.”

Data shows 90% of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico since February have been among the unvaccinated, who also accounted for 92% of the hospitalizations and 96.7% of deaths.

89% of federal rental assistance remains unspent as potential eviction crisis looms

About 89% of federal rental assistance approved by Congress remains unspent, despite President Joe Biden's efforts to encourage states and cities to get the money out faster as a potential eviction crisis looms.

The Treasury Department on Wednesday released updated payout figures that show states and cities distributed $1.7 billion to landlords and renters in July, a modest increase from the $1.5 billion distributed in June.

All told, states and cities spent $5.2 billion out of $46.5 billion in rental relief authorized from COVID-19 rescue packages since December – $4.7 billion of which has gone directly to households and the rest toward administrative costs. About 11% of the total allotment of federal funds has now been dispersed.

One of six renters is estimated to be behind on their rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. Yet in many states, landlords and renters have struggled to get approval for funds designed to help renters unable to make payments during the pandemic.

– Joey Garrison

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds sued over two pandemic moves

A group of Iowa residents is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds over her decision to end a set of federal unemployment benefit programs early, claiming eligible recipients like them should get the money.

Reynolds canceled Iowa's participation in three federal pandemic unemployment programs in June, nearly three months before they were due to expire. She's one of 25 Republican governors who rejected the extended jobless benefits, arguing they kept people from returning to work during the pandemic.

In an unrelated legal action, Reynolds was sued by the mother of two school-age children over the state's ban on mask mandates in school.

– Stephen Gruber-Miller and Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register

Demand for COVID monoclonal antibodies treatment skyrockets

For most of this year, the drugs President Donald Trump credited for his quick recovery from COVID-19 have sat unused on government shelves. Now, demand is skyrocketing.

Regeneron, a Tarrytown, New York, company that makes a monoclonal antibody, shipped more than 150,000 doses of REGN-COV2 nationwide this week. In mid-July, it sent out less than 25,000 doses a week.

Demand for sotrovimab, another monoclonal antibody authorized for use against COVID-19, has spiked almost 300% over the last month.

The extra push, said Dr. Howard Huang, who has led Houston Methodist Hospital's monoclonal antibodies effort, likely comes from the surge of COVID-19 cases, better public awareness of the drugs and doctors' successful experiences with them earlier in the pandemic.

On Tuesday, presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said of monoclonal antibodies treatments: "This is a very effective intervention for COVID-19. It is underutilized, and we recommend strongly that we utilize this to its fullest.’’

– Karen Weintraub

Florida’s COVID wave leaves Jacksonville gasping

Florida is awash in COVID-19 infections, and Duval County is struggling to keep its head above water. The reported 1,486 Floridian deaths the week ending Friday are almost 15% higher than the previous worst week, in January. Hospitalizations as of Saturday were almost 70% higher than last winter's peak.

It was all on display in Jacksonville, the Duval County seat. More than 70 people have died of COVID this month at the UF Health Jacksonville trauma center. People have been lining up to receive monoclonal antibody treatments in hopes of preventing serious illness. At schools, parents, teachers and students worry about the potential for the virus' spread.

Jacquelyn Graham-Townes, the funeral director at James Graham Mortuary, said last year they handled funeral arrangements for about five COVID-19 deaths. “Now I’ll do that in a few days,” she said. “I’ve done four in one day. It’s like the floodgates broke open.” Read more here.

– Mark Woods, Nada Hassanein, Emily Bloch and David Bauerlein

Experts renew 'twindemic' warnings as US enters flu season amid rising COVID cases

Last year's influenza season turned out to be the mildest on record, but health experts have renewed warnings that a ‘twindemic’ – in which flu and COVID-19 cases simultaneously rise and overwhelm hospitals – may be possible this year, and they urge Americans to get their flu shot.

Medical professionals say this year may resemble a more typical flu season, as students get back to in-person learning at a time when mask and social distancing mandates in many states are not as strict as earlier in the pandemic. That is especially concerning with COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant rising throughout the country.

“We were worried about the ‘twindemic’ last year and we face the same threat this year,” said Dr. Daniel Solomon, a physician in the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “COVID-19 is likely to continue, and we face the threat of dual respiratory viruses that could put a strain on our health care system.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

New intelligence report falls short on finding COVID-19 origins

The White House received a new classified intelligence report about the origins of the coronavirus Tuesday, but it did not come to a solid conclusion as to whether the virus originated in animals before transferring to humans or was released from a lab, according to news reports.

President Joe Biden had asked the intelligence community in May to step up efforts to investigate COVID-19's origins after officials could not agree on a conclusion. According to The Washington Post, intelligence officials will seek to release portions of the report publicly.

The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials said part of the reason for inconclusiveness was a lack of information from China.

The World Health Organization and China concluded in March that it was "extremely unlikely" the virus escaped from a lab, a theory that emerged from a series of sources with circumstantial evidence, including repeated assertions from former President Donald Trump and his allies, without citing specific evidence.

College students who don't follow vaccine mandates are facing consequences

A handful of schools are charging unvaccinated students thousands of dollars in COVID-19 testing fees to remain on-campus this fall during the pandemic.

And some schools are imposing extra punishments: Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, announced that along with fining unvaccinated students, it would cut off their campus Wi-Fi access. Now, schools are starting to disenroll unvaccinated students.

Last week, the University of Virginia disenrolled 49 students who didn't comply with the school’s vaccine mandate. Xavier University of Louisiana, a private Catholic school in New Orleans, confirmed to USA TODAY that it had also started disenrolling unvaccinated students on Monday, the first day of classes.

Rowan University, a public school in Glassboro, New Jersey, announced Monday that with the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, students have until Sept. 7 to get their first shot. After that day, students who can’t prove vaccination or have a valid declination form are at risk of having their "accounts put on hold, removal from residence halls (if applicable) and eventually, removal from the University." Read more here.

– Lindsay Schnell

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pfizer, J&J report strong antibody response from boosters: COVID news