By Lily H-A
The most recent wave of COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, peaked in January in the US. The rate of COVID-19 cases at that point was by far the highest in the US to date. Cases dropped rapidly over the next couple months. However, as of April 2022, cases have begun to rise again in many parts of the country, though less steeply than before. This is likely due to a “sub-variant” or slightly different version of the omicron variant called BA.2 (the version of omicron that caused the earlier, larger wave was called BA.1). BA.2 seems to be slightly more contagious than BA.1, but does not seem to be more severe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data in April 2022 estimating that 58% of Americans now have antibodies showing that they have been previously infected with the coronavirus. This number is even higher in children. Your immune system makes antibodies specifically targeted to the coronavirus when you get infected, and these antibodies remain in your body for a period of time. It is likely that these antibodies provide some protection for people who have them, but unclear how much protection or for how long. Antibodies from prior infection seem to be less effective than vaccination in preventing future illness. The strongest protection seems to be from “hybrid immunity,” when people have antibodies both from vaccination and from prior infection.
It is difficult at this point to predict the course that the coronavirus will take in the future. New variants of the coronavirus are certain to evolve over time. How they affect the population will depend on how much immunity there is (from vaccination and from prior infection), how much that immunity protects against the new variant, how contagious the new variant is, and other factors.
In April 2022, the CDC released data showing that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the US in 2021 (the same as in 2020). As of April 2022, over 990,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US. By the time you receive this issue, it may have passed 1 million.
On April 18, 2022, a federal judge in Florida struck down the CDC order requiring masks on public transportation and airplanes, after a lawsuit from multiple states. The justice department has appealed this decision.
The CDC still requires masks to be worn in congregate settings like shelters, jails and prisons, as well as in health care facilities. These policies were not affected by the recent court decision. Mask policies are changing fast, though, so this may change. Many states and cities that still had mask mandates for indoor settings like stores and restaurants have recently rolled them back. Data still show that masks are very helpful for preventing coronavirus infection and preventing
spreading it to others, especially N95 and KN95 masks.
Some people are now eligible to get a second booster dose, as of April 2022. Booster doses can only be Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The people currently eligible are:
- People 50 or older who got their first booster at least 4 months ago
- People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, over 12years old, and got their first booster at least 4 months ago
- People who got 2 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least 4 months agoThe data showing benefit from a second booster dose (compared to just one booster dose) are still limited, so at this point it is only recommended for people in those higher-risk categories. Data continue to show that the vaccines are very safe and that being vaccinated (especially with a booster dose) provides good protection against serious illness and death.Vaccines are still not available for children under 5 as of April 2022. Both Moderna and Pfizer have asked the FDA to approve their vaccines for children under 5, and the FDA will likely make a decision within the next few months.TreatmentsSome of the treatments previously approved by the FDA for COVID-19 are no longer approved, because data showed they were not effective against the omicron variant. As of April 2022, there are several targeted treatments for COVID-19 that are currently approved, but many of these drugs still have limited supply and availability in the US. These treatments include:
- Paxlovid (antiviral): This drug is recommended for people outside of the hospital at high risk for severe disease who were recently diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Remdesivir (antiviral): This drug was originally only approved for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but is now approved for patients outside of the hospital who are at high risk for severe disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends remdesivir if paxlovid is not available.
- Molnupiravir (antiviral): This drug is less effective than paxlovid and remdesivir but is recommended for high-risk patients if other antivirals are not available.
- Bebtelovimab (monoclonal antibodies): This is a newer monoclonal antibody recommended for non-hospitalized patients at a high risk of developing severe disease when other approved drugs are not available or not clinically appropriate.
- Evusheld (monoclonal antibodies): The NIH recommends this treatment as a preventative measure (like vaccination) for people who are immunocompromised and cannot produce a strong immune system reaction to the vaccine, or who cannot be vaccinated due to severe adverse reactions to the vaccine. It is not recommended for people who are currently infected with the coronavirus.