By Jondi Gumz
It’s hard to believe yet another Covid-19 Omicron subvariant could be more contagious than BA.4 and BA.5 but a new subvariant, BA.2.75 has been spotted in India, where it appears to be spreading faster than others, with two cases on the West Coast.
One factor driving up case counts is “reinfections.” About 12% of cases in the United Kingdom are people getting Covid for a second or even a third time as the coronavirus evolves.
A study published in June by Beth Israel Deaconess researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing 27 vaccinated and boosted people with 27 unvaccinated people who had the BA.1 or BA.2 variant found the antibody protection for both groups was high against the original variant and much less against the current subvariants.
However, the unvaccinated with a prior infection had more antibody protection than the vaccinated.
This is a small study, yet it explains second (or third) cases, such as U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who tested positive for a third time.
One more Santa Cruz County resident has died, bringing the total to 267. The last five deaths were people who were vaccinated, according to the county dashboard, all 65 and older with medical conditions.
It’s possible reinfections are pushing up active case numbers in California and locally.
Santa Cruz County cases are on a rollercoaster, 1,715 on May 23, then 1,472 on May 26 and 1,705 on June 13, then 2,000 on June 27, and 1,871 on June 30, then 2,040 on July 11.
Cases jumped after Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and Fourth of July but the high of 180 on July 5 is low compared to 1,312 on Jan. 20.
Santa Cruz County updates the numbers on Mondays and Thursdays.
On Tuesday, the state reported 16 people hospitalized with Covid in Santa Cruz County, down from 27 last month, and none are in intensive care.
With 57,000+ county cases, natural immunity may be a factor.
California reports 79.4% of the population have had at least one shot.
On the CDC Covid tracker, Santa Cruz County reports 91.4% of residents age 5 and up have at least one shot and 83.3% fully vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated means having two shots (Pfizer or Moderna) or one Johnson & Johnson shot. All were developed for the initial Wuhan Covid-19 strain, which is no longer circulating.
Santa Cruz County is rated “medium” transmission by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its COVID tracking map. Hotspots are Monterey County, Santa Clara County, much of California and Montana, parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and Florida all rated high risk.
Subvariants of omicron (and waning immunity from vaccines) are behind the latest wave of cases.
The CDC said BA.4 comprises 36.6% of new cases and BA.5 15.7%. These subvariants have boosted cases — snaring people who were vaccinated.
Among them: Actress Mayim Bialik, entertainer Weird Al Yankovic, and Bill Gates. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, actor Hugh Jackman and Broadway star Sutton Foster, all shared they got a second case.
California hospitalizations from Omicron peaked in January, then plummeted and have been rising slowly but steadily.
The state reports 4,200+ people hospitalized and the Department of Public Health explains about half are due to Covid, with the other half coming to the hospital for another reason and testing positive.
The state reports test positivity, 23% in January, fell to 1.7% before rising to 16.1% and hospitalizations — 20,000 in January — dropped to 950 before rising.
Workplace rules in California require unvaccinated and vaccinated workers to be treated the same; no mask mandate for the unvaccinated. Employees testing positive can return to work masked five days later.
$3.2 Billion Deal
On June 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told Covid vaccine-makers that any changes to booster shots for fall must target Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which account for 52% of new virus cases in the U.S.
The FDA announcement came a day after the Biden administration said it had a $3.2 billion deal to buy 105 million doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for adults and children for fall. Some of the adult shots will come in one dose instead of two. Deliveries are expected in “early fall.”
On July 4, citizen journalist Bernadette Pajer and her husband took the opportunity of a hometown parade to enter a truck with signs to spread the word about Children’s Health Defense, which sees no evidence of a need to vaccinate children. She hosts a radio show, “Informed Life Radio,” 3-5 p.m. Fridays on KKNW 1150 AM.
“Courage is contagious,” Pajer said. “Find a buddy.”
On July 5, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff struck down the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Covid-19 student vaccine mandate. He found that only the state — not a school board — can require students to be vaccinated to attend in-person school.
Beckloff sided with the father of a 12-year-old who sued.
Attorney Arie Spangler, representing the father, said the ruling “confirms that individual school districts do not have the authority to impose vaccination requirements in excess of statewide requirements.”
Spangler said parents can connect with Let Them Breathe, a 501c3 nonprofit founded by Sharon McKeeman, a California mother of four, to educate families on their rights and ensuring students have access to meaningful education during uncertain times.
California Parents United, a 501c4 nonprofit parents rights group, plans a fundraiser at Aug 27 at Armitage Winery on Canham Road in Scotts Valley.
In Santa Cruz County, students will go back to school in mid-August – Aug.15 for Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
In California’s school guidance for 2022-23, masks and vaccination are not required but are recommended.
Misinformation Bill Hearing
AB 2098, declaring it is “unprofessional conduct” for a doctor to give patients “misinformation” or “disinformation” about Covid-19, risks, prevention, treatment and vaccines, passed the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee by 9-4 vote and is scheduled for hearing by the Appropriations Committee on Aug. 1.
Unprofessional conduct charges can result in discipline by the Medical Board.
The California Medical Association and seven more doctor associations are in support, and more than two dozen groups are opposed, including Protection of the Educational Rights of Kids and Children’s Health Defense California Chapter.
President Biden’s Sept. 9 order requiring 3.5 million federal employees to be vaccinated for Covid-19 is on hold until September. The 17 judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will take up the matter.
Feds for Medical Freedom, which has about 6,000 members, contends the president overstepped his authority. Attorney Bruce Castor Jr., representing the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, said the Constitution doesn’t allow president to bypass Congress except in wartime.
Oral arguments are tentatively set for the week of Sept. 12, according to the Epoch Times.
Young Children & Covid
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for children 6 months to 5 years old, joining seven countries that offer vaccines to the youngest.
The seven are China, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Chile, Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela.
Eligibility starts at age 2 in Cuba and Venezuela, and age 3 in Chile and Argentina, Bahrain, Hong Kong and China.
A Chile-based study of 500,000 children, not yet peer-reviewed, found the vaccine was 38% effective in preventing infections in kids ages 3-5 during the Omicron wave.
As for preventing hospitalizations, it was 64.5% effective and preventing intensive care unit admission 69% effective.
In Santa Cruz County, parents who want their children under 5 to receive Covid-19 vaccines should contact their doctor.
Covid has claimed the lives of many elders, those 85 and older with medical conditions, but relatively few children, 442 children age 4 and under, according to the federal Centers for Control & Prevention.
More than 1 million people in the U.S. have died of Covid, so young children represent a tiny percentage of deaths.
In June, the American Association of Pediatrics reported that in 46 states plus Puerto Rico, the percentage of child Covid cases resulting in death was 0.00%-0.02%.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in April found 18% of parents of children under 5 plan to vaccinate them immediately, with 38% waiting to see about side effects, 27% saying definitely not, and 11% saying they would do so only if required for school or day care.
Could it be that young children represent an untapped windfall for the drug-makers?
It all depends on whether these vaccines are added to the CDC vaccine schedule for children. See https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html
At a press event filmed and posted on Twitter, President Biden said Dr. Ashish Jha, who heads White House Crisis Response, is “the guy that’s running the CDC for me these days basically.”
The CDC was expected to analyze data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System for “safety signals” from Covid-19 vaccines.
This database, https://vaers.hhs.gov/, is where health care providers are to report adverse events after a vaccine. It was created after Congress passed a law in 1986 protecting vaccine manufacturers from civil personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits resulting from vaccine injuries.
An early briefing document said, “The CDC will perform Proportional Reporting Ratio (PRR) data mining on a weekly basis or as needed.”
This would compare the proportion of an adverse event after getting a specific vaccine vs. the same adverse event after another vaccine. A higher rate would serve as a safety signal to trigger investigation.
On June 21, Josh Guetzkow, a PhD at Hebrew University, posted the CDC response to his Freedom of Information Act request asking about this data mining.
FOIA Officer Roger Andoh’s June 16 letter said that “no PRRs were conducted by CDC. Furthermore, data mining is outside of the agency’s purview, staff suggest you inquire with FDA.”
Guetzkow called PRRs “one of the oldest, most basic and most well-established tools of pharmacovigilance.”
Test to Treat
Santa Cruz County offers “Test to Treat” sites, including the three OptumServe testing sites, open to anyone regardless of insurance or documentation status. To make an appointment, visit https://lhi.care/covidtesting/. The closest is the county office, 500 Westridge Drive, Watsonville.
According to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, cases in local schools peaked at 4,407 on Jan. 27, dropped to 44 on April 1, rose to 1,025 on May 23 and dropped to 442 on June 11, and now 260.
The 14-day positivity rate, 12.25% on January, dropped to .79%, and is up to 7.64%.
The Santa Cruz County Office of Education has completed 534,000 tests with Inspire Diagnostics.
For those who test positive and are at risk of severe illness, the CDC recommends asking your doctor for a prescription for Paxlovid, pills developed by Pfizer for higher risk individuals age 12 or older and given emergency use authorization by the FDA in December. Lagevrio, produced by Merck, also got emergency use authorization for mild to moderate Covid.
Paxlovid side effects are: www.fda.gov/media/155051/download
Summer Travel Mess
More than 820,000 flights have been delayed this year, according to FlightAware. More than 100,00 flights were canceled.
A shortage of pilots and air traffic controllers is creating problems. JetBlue reduced its summer schedule by 10 percent.
For travelers, check the on-time performance of a flight before booking.
To read Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizzelle’s ruling on airline passenger masks, see https://ecf.flmd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2021-01693-53-8-cv
For those staying home, three new restaurants in Aptos await: Restaurant Malik Williams, Venus Spirits Cocktails + Kitchen and Four Streams Kitchen.
Omicron Less Deadly
The Omicron variants are less deadly than the Delta variant, which raged in 2021.
Santa Cruz County reported 42 Covid deaths after Omicron, compared to 225 as of Dec. 15, before Omicron.
One statistic is similar: 79% to 81% of those who died had medical conditions.
Why do people fear Omnicron?
They may have a medical condition (diabetes, obesity, asthma, high blood pressure).
Half of Americans do, so they are at higher risk for severe Covid illness.
So are people 85 and older.
In a 2022 report in the Journal of American Medical Association online, Dr. Matthew Oster of the CDC reported the government’s VAERS database received 1,991 reports of myocarditis after one dose of mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine and 1,626 met the CDC’s definition for probable or confirmed myocarditis.
Oster’s conclusion: “The risk of myocarditis after receiving mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines was increased across multiple age and sex strata and was highest after the second vaccination dose in adolescent males and young men. This risk should be considered.”
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart, which can lead to clots, a stroke or heart attack.
Public health officials say the scientific consensus is that Covid vaccines are safe, but some are skeptical about relying on science from drug-makers, which saw profits rise in 2021.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar invoked the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, a 2005 law allowing him to provide legal protection to companies making or distributing critical medical supplies such as vaccines unless there’s “willful misconduct” by the company. This protection lasts until 2024.
The June 30 deadline for members of the National Guard and Reserve to get vaccinated has passed. At least 11% of the troops are unvaccinated and could face penalties but it’s unclear what will happen next.
After mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were mandated for the military in 2021, cases of heart attack, pulmonary embolism, cancers, and myocarditis spiked dramatically, according to the Defense Military Epidemiological Database queries by the whistleblowers.
The Department of Defense response: A database glitch affected data from 2016-2020.
T he Santa Cruz County Office of Education offers drive-though testing for students, staff and families at:
Cabrillo College, Aptos, Parking Lot K, Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Santa Cruz County Office of Education, 399 Encinal St., Santa Cruz, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Booster shots: https://myturn.ca.gov/
Vaccine providers: www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirusvaccine.
Local information: www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus or (831) 454-4242 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Total COVID cases: 2,040
COVID Deaths: 267
As of July 11
85 and older: 116 • 75-84: 62 • 65-74: 47 • 60-64: 15 • 55-59: 4 • 45-54: 10 • 35-44: 8 • 25-34: 5
Yes: 217 • No: 50
Yes: 33 • No: 234
White 154 • Latinx 90 • Asian 16 • Black 3 • Amer Indian 1 • Hawaiian 1 • Another 2
Men: 136 • Women: 131
At facility for aged: 117 • Not at a facility: 150