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COVID infections here hold steady through June

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of July 7, 2022)

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally held relatively steady during the month of June – neither surging nor receding, but inching up to 65 people per day testing positive through a lab that reports to the Florida Department of Health — plus an unknowable number of positive results on at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Last Friday’s state report showed 464 weekly cases, only 5 cases more than on the June 17 weekly report and up only slightly from the 433 cases on the June 3 report. At the state level, Florida started the month with 74,389 weekly cases, and ended it at 74,481 weekly cases – a difference of little more 1/10th of 1 percent.

Locally, hospitalizations have fluctuated very little over the past month as well, with total new hospitalizations as reported by the CDC hovering in the low 20s, and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital reporting in-house covid-positive patient numbers each week in the high teens.

Going into the July 4th holiday weekend, Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller said: “We have 17 COVID positive patients in-house. None of which is in the ICU.”

With several highly contagious virus variants swirling around the globe, closer and closer to home, and clinical research showing somewhat diminishing effectiveness of each additional booster shot in vulnerable populations, public health officials predict that this somewhat stable trend might be the proverbial calm before the next covid storm this fall.

In the face of that, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week gave Pfizer and Moderna the green light to push forward with preparations to mass-produce a new version of the COVID-19 vaccine targeting the new Omicron subvariants. The FDA invited the drug makers to present their data and keep testing these tweaked vaccines.

The FDA released a statement on June 30 saying, “The COVID-19 vaccines that the FDA has approved and authorized for emergency use have made a tremendous difference to public health and have saved countless lives in the U.S. and globally. However, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has evolved significantly, with recent surges around the world associated with the rapid spread of highly transmissible variants such as omicron.”

But officials don’t want un-boosted people to wait for the modified vaccine to get their next shot. The new vaccine would only be given as a booster — not as a first or second dose. Sixty-eight percent of Indian River County residents age 5 and older are considered “fully vaccinated” with a two-dose regimen or one Johnson and Johnson dose, but have not gotten a booster shot.

Ninety-five percent of local seniors age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, but only 43 percent of those people have received at least one booster shot.

“We encourage those who are currently eligible for a booster to get one,” the FDA said.

“As we move into the fall and winter, it is critical that we have safe and effective vaccine boosters that can provide protection against circulating and emerging variants to prevent the most severe consequences of COVID-19. Following a thorough discussion on June 28, 2022, an overwhelming majority of the advisory committee voted in favor of including a SARS-CoV-2 omicron component in COVID-19 vaccines that would be used for boosters in the U.S. beginning in fall 2022.

“We have advised manufacturers seeking to update their COVID-19 vaccines that they should develop modified vaccines that add an omicron BA.4/5 spike protein component to the current vaccine composition to create a two component (bivalent) booster vaccine, so that the modified vaccines can potentially be used starting in early to mid-fall 2022.”

Very preliminary results from clinical trials of modified vaccines with an Omicron BA.1 component have already been reported and appear promising, but the FDA wants a continued stream of new data this summer.

“Manufacturers will also be asked to begin clinical trials with modified vaccines containing an omicron BA.4/5 component, as these data will be of use as the pandemic further evolves,” the statement concludes, adding that the FDA has been planning to guide the development of modified vaccines after seeing how the virus has rapidly mutated over the past two-plus years.