The orderly succession of individually dominant variants we’ve come to expect over the last two years — think Alpha, then Beta, then Delta, then Omicron — may also be a thing of the past. Instead, what scientists are seeing now is a bunch of worrisome Omicron descendants arising simultaneously but independently in different corners of the globe — all with the same set of advantageous mutations that help them dodge our existing immune defenses and drive new waves of infection. Experts call this “convergent evolution” — and right now, there’s a “fairly unprecedented amount” of it going on, according to Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London. (Romano, 10/13)
Last year, the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the covid-19 virus caught many people by surprise and led to a surge in cases that overwhelmed hospitals and drove up fatalities. Now we’re learning that omicron is mutating to better evade the immune system. Omicron-specific vaccines were authorized by the FDA in August and are recommended by U.S. health officials for anyone 5 or older. Yet only half of adults in the United States have heard much about these booster shots, according to a recent KFF poll, and only a third say they’ve gotten one or plan to get one as soon as possible. In 2020 and 2021, covid cases spiked in the U.S. between November and February. (Gounder, 10/14)
The U.S. has extended the Covid public health emergency through Jan. 11, a clear demonstration that the Biden administration still views Covid as a crisis despite President Joe Biden’s recent claim that the pandemic is over. (Kimball, 10/13)
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced Thursday that they now have data in adults one week after a 30-microgram booster that targets both variants. It is called a bivalent vaccine because it addresses two variants. Two groups of 40 adults each, one age 18-55 and the other over 55, both tolerated the new shot as well as earlier ones and had no unexpected side effects. (Weintraub, 10/13)
Scientists have identified an immunity gene variant in people with strong responses to Covid-19 vaccines who were less likely to get breakthrough infections, a finding that could improve future shot design. (Loh and John Milton, 10/13)
On one level, the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic over the past two and half years was a major triumph for modern medicine. (Stern, 10/13)
This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.