Reinfections raise risk of long COVID symptoms

A federal study funded by the National Institutes of Health analyzing the electronic health records of a cohort of more than 1.5 million individuals found that the severity of coronavirus reinfections was similar to those of the initial infection in most patients and most commonly occur between 300 days and up to 500 days after the previous COVID-19 infection. The researchers found that the number of long COVID diagnoses also increased in frequency following reinfection with more recent variants, including most omicron offshoots.

With “no alternative,” federal officials push ineffective drug

Despite the Food and Drug Administration’s warning to immunocompromised Americans last week that the drug Evusheld is unlikely to neutralize XBB.1.5, the coronavirus omicron subvariant that is currently estimated to account for 28{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e} of circulating variants in the U.S., the National Institute of Health said on Tuesday that clinicians should still use it for now. “In the United States, the prevalence of subvariants likely to be resistant to tixagevimab plus cilgavimab (Evusheld) is more than 91{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e},” the agency said in an update, noting it is unlikely to be effective at preventing COVID-19 in the vast majority of individuals. “However, no alternative options for (pre-exposure prophylaxis) are available, and clinicians could still administer tixagevimab plus cilgavimab after considering an individual patient’s risks and the regional prevalence of the resistant subvariants.”

XBB.1.5 sends hospitalizations soaring on East Coast

COVID-19 hospitalizations on the East Coast have reached 11-month highs, fueled by the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant, according to updated federal data. The most transmissible coronavirus strain yet accounted for 81{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e} of new cases in the New York and New Jersey regions, which saw the biggest uptick, compared to a national proportion estimate of 27.6{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e}. Deaths are also climbing in the region, with weekly fatality reports for both states at their highest levels since February 2022, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy are scheduled to deliver State of the State addresses on Tuesday which are likely to include updates on the state’s ongoing pandemic response.

Republicans change focus of the House coronavirus committee

With the GOP taking control of the chamber, the House’s 12-person coronavirus committee will substantially change tack in the current session. Under a sweeping rules package approved by a 220-213 vote on Monday, the group will now focus on probing the virus’ origins, audit government spending for the pandemic (“including any reports of waste, fraud, or abuse”) and question mandates. The previous Democrat-led committee had put its efforts towards combating COVID-19 misinformation and exploring the nation’s pandemic preparedness. The subcommittee is expected to publish a report by January 2, 2025.

Pfizer rules out generic Paxlovid drug for China

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday clarified that his company is not planning to license a generic version of Paxlovid for China, but is negotiating a price for its COVID-19 antiviral drug. Speaking at J.P. Morgan’s healthcare conference in San Francisco, he disputed previous reports. “We are not in discussions,” Bourla said, according to Reuters. “We have an agreement already for local manufacturing of Paxlovid in China. So we have a local partner that will make Paxlovid for us, and then we will sell it to the Chinese market.”

Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia returning to pre-pandemic levels

Islam’s annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will return to pre-pandemic levels this year after restrictions saw the annual religious commemoration curtailed over concerns about the coronavirus, the Associated Press reports. The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, represents one of the world’s largest gatherings of people. Before the pandemic, the pilgrimage drew millions each year to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day. Speaking on Monday night at a conference about the hajj in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah announced the lifting of the restrictions. “I bring you two bits of good news in this meeting. The first: The return of the numbers of pilgrims to what they were before the pandemic without any age restrictions,” al-Rabiah said, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. “And the second: Allowing any hajj mission from around the world to deal with any licensed company that meets the requirements of the pilgrims of those countries.” In 2019, over 2.4 million people took part in the pilgrimage.

Moderna CEO says virus moving into endemic stage

Modena CEO Stephane Bancel said believes the coronavirus pandemic is winding down and moving into the endemic stage. “It’s tough to look precisely because none of us managed a transition from a pandemic to an endemic before,” he told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo in an interview Tuesday. “But we really think now that we’re moving into an endemic setting.” Bancel added that the updated bivalent vaccine booster is so effective that he anticipates making it a once-a-year shot for older people. “I think we are now getting ready for yet another update in the fall, and we are going to move most probably to annual boosters for people at high risk,” Bancel said.

WHO urges airline passengers to wear masks

Travelers are strongly encouraged to wear masks on international flights to help slow the spread of the highly contagious XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant of COVID-19 in the United States, World Health Organization officials said at a briefing on Tuesday. Catherine Smallwood, the U. N. agency’s senior emergency officer for Europe, said “this should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread COVID-19 transmission.” XBB.1.5, which was first detected in the U.S. in October, has been labeled as the most transmissible coronavirus subvariant yet and was sequenced in about 28{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e} of COVID-19 cases in the country last week. It is growing in proportion in Europe and other parts of the world. “Countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing,” Smallwood said, adding “travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.”

No link between vaccine and newborn anomalies, study finds

There is no substantial evidence linking COVID-19 vaccination or coronavirus infection in pregnant women to congenital anomalies in their newborns, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Public Health Scotland. For the paper published last week in Nature, the authors analyzed the electronic health records of babies whose mothers had received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after December 2020. They found that of the 6,731 babies whose mothers were vaccinated in the pregnancy exposure period, 153 (2.3{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e}) had any anomaly and 120 (1.8{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e}) had a non-genetic anomaly, compared to the 20,193 babies of unvaccinated women in the study, where 467 had any anomaly (2.3{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e}), and 375 (1.9{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e}) had a nongenetic anomaly. The rates were similar between infected and non-infected mothers. “This supports current policy and clinical advice that vaccination can be given at any stage of pregnancy and to women planning to become pregnant, and that vaccination remains the best way for women to protect themselves and their babies from the known risks of SARS-CoV-2 infection in late pregnancy,” the researchers wrote.

No more remote voting in GOP-led House

With the GOP taking control of the House in Washington, lawmakers now have to vote in person — no more voting by proxy from home, a practice that the Democratic-controlled body had instituted as the pandemic surged, and the death toll along with it. Under the proxy system, members assigned their vote to another lawmaker who then announced on the House floor how the absent lawmaker was voting on a particular bill.

Republicans had opposed the change from the start, though many used proxy voting after it went into effect. Hewing to their campaign promise, they made sure the new House rules provide no option for remote voting. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House majority leader, said ending proxy voting would increase collaboration and speed up the voting process.

Paxlovid not included in China’s national insurance

Chinese health care authorities declined to include the lifesaving COVID-19 treatment drug Paxlovid in a national reimbursement list that would have allowed patients to get it cheaper, saying it was too expensive. The oral medicine developed by New York-based drugmaker Pfizer, has been widely sought after in China since a surge of infections recently started sweeping through the country. Although it is supposed to be prescribed by medical professionals, people have scrambled to purchase it on their own through any means they can — including buying generic Indian versions of the drug online, according to local media reports. Health care policymakers can leverage bulk purchases to lower prices in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies that, in turn, can net a steady source of revenue. A drug must be on the reimbursement list to be covered by the national insurance scheme. China will include two other Chinese-made COVID-19 drugs on its list, the National Healthcare Security Administration said in a statement Sunday.

No serious COVID vaccine complications in kids who had MIS-C, study says

Children and adolescents who had multisystem inflammatory syndrome and then received a COVID-19 vaccination did not report serious complications, including myocarditis or reoccurence of MIS-C, in a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The findings, published Jan. 3 in JAMA Network Open, demonstrate that receiving a COVID vaccine is safe after having MIS-C, answering a lingering question from some families and health providers, according to a news release from NIH. MIS-C is a rare and potentially fatal immunological reaction that can occur after infection with SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The study enrolled 385 patients age 5 or older with prior MIS-C who were vaccine-eligible, making it the largest of its kind examining COVID vaccination in this age group, the release said. Among participants vaccinated after MIS-C, mild adverse reactions — mostly arm soreness and fatigue — were reported in 49{fc1509ea675b3874d16a3203a98b9a1bd8da61315181db431b4a7ea1394b614e}, similar to the general population, according to the release. There were no reports of serious complications, the researchers said.

Wife of “American Horror Story” crew member sues over his death

The wife of a Massachusetts man who worked on the crew of  “American Horror Story” is suing the companies involved in the movie over his death. In a lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Boston, the Associated Press reports, Patricia Woodward alleged that Twentieth Television, Ryan Murphy Productions and the Walt Disney Co. failed to follow their own COVID-19 safety protocols when filming in Provincetown in early 2021. Actors and other employees “openly flouted and violated the COVID-19 safety protocols,” and the companies failed to take “adequate corrective action to enforce compliance,” the complaint says. Paul Woodward worked as a  van driver, shuttling crew between the hotel and various filming sites. He tested negative when he began working on the project in February 2021. He left the project for the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms in mid-March and died of COVID-19 on April 18 at the age of 67, according to an obituary.