More patients are reporting a loss of smell with infections from omicron BA.5, Covid-19 vaccination is effective against severe illness and death across all weight groups, and more in this week's roundup of Covid-19 news.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of new Covid-19 cases worldwide increased for the fifth week in a row, although deaths have remained relatively stable. As of Tuesday, there were 5.7 million new infections confirmed in the previous week (a 6% increase from the week before) and 9,800 deaths. WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that pandemic is still a global emergency and that he was "concerned" about the recent surges in cases around the world, many of which are being driven by the highly infectious omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. "The virus is running freely, and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden," he said. "New waves of the virus demonstrate again that COVID-19 is nowhere near over." In addition, while vaccines and other therapeutics have put the world in a better place than where it was in the early days of the pandemic, "we should not take them for granted," Tedros said. "As the virus pushes at us, we must push back." (Francis, Washington Post, 7/13; Associated Press, 7/14)
- In several U.S. states, including Alabama and Mississippi, low demand has led to relatively few orders for Covid-19 vaccines for children under age five—a situation that many health experts worry is a "warning sign" of growing ambivalence among parents about vaccinating their young children, Politico reports. "Never before have we had a vaccine available for young children that has been in billions of people before it was given to a young child," said Kawsar Talaat, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "The distrust in government, the distrust in public health and the distrust in science is growing and is very, very worrisome." So far, roughly 2,671,800 children under five, or less than 15% of those eligible, have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose since it was first authorized by FDA and CDC in June. This low demand for pediatric vaccines has led many states, particularly in the Southeast, to limit their vaccine orders. For example, CDC data shows that several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, have ordered enough vaccines to cover only a single dose for less than 20% of their under-five population. To increase vaccination rates among young children, CDC is working with pediatricians and other health care providers to educate parents about common Covid-19 and vaccine misperceptions. "While we try to be reassuring … we also need to be very understanding of the families who say, 'I just need a minute. I want to think about it,'" said Sara Oliver, who leads the work group of CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. "Giving space for people to have very reasonable questions answered is how we get those numbers up." (Mahr/Gardner, Politico, 7/14)
- Patients may be losing their sense of smell more often from infections by the omicron subvariant BA.5 than previous subvariants, according to numerous anecdotal reports. So far, research suggests that the risk of losing one's sense of smell has decreased with every subsequent coronavirus variant and subvariant. According to a recent study, the alpha variant was half as likely as the original coronavirus to cause smell loss. This risk decreased to 44% during the delta wave before falling even further to 17% during the first omicron wave this past winter. However, many health care providers say their Covid-19 patients are reporting more instances of smell loss during this current wave of cases from BA.5. "What I am seeing in my corner of the world is a spike," said Valentina Parma, a psychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center. "There seems to be more requests than earlier this year but still significantly less than with delta." So far, the evidence has largely been anecdotal, and there is currently not enough data to definitively say whether BA.5 is responsible for more loss of smell among Covid-19 patients compared to the original coronavirus. "I have talked to people overall about losing their taste and smell lately and it seems that there is an uptick, but the data isn't there yet," said Lora Bankova, an allergist and immunologist Brigham and Women's Hospital. (Sullivan, NBC News, 7/13)
- Covid-19 vaccines are protective against severe illness and death in individuals across weight groups, according to a study published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. For the study, researchers analyzed data on 9,171,524 adults in the QResearch database between December 2020 and November 2021. Participants were divided into four BMI groups: underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obesity. The average age of the participants was 52, and the average BMI was 26.7. In total, 19.2% were unvaccinated, 3.1% had received one dose, 52.6% had received two doses, and 25% had received three doses. Overall, the researchers found that vaccinated participants across all weight groups had significantly lower risks of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 two weeks after their second dose compared to unvaccinated participants. However, when comparing vaccinated participants across BMI groups, the researchers found that the risk for severe Covid-19 was higher for those who were underweight (BMI below 18.5) and those who were severely obese (BMI of 40 or higher). "Our findings provide further evidence that COVID-19 vaccines save lives for people of all sizes," said Carmen Piernas, one of the study's authors from the University of Oxford. "Our results provide reassurance to people with obesity that COVID-19 vaccines are equally as effective for them as for people with a lower BMI, and that vaccination substantially reduces their risk of severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19." In addition, Piernas noted that the findings "highlight the need for targeted efforts to increase vaccine uptake in people with a low BMI, where uptake is currently lower than for people with a higher BMI," since they are also at risk for severe Covid-19. (Monaco, MedPage Today, 6/30)
- Maternal death rates significantly increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open. For the study, researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics to determine maternal mortality rates between 2018 and 2020. Overall, maternal deaths increased 33% after March 2020, much higher than the 22% overall estimate excess deaths expected from the pandemic. In addition, late maternal mortality increased by 41%. Before the pandemic, the maternal death rate was 18.8 per 100,000 live births, but during the pandemic, the death rate increased to 25.1 per 100,000 live births. According to the researchers, the largest increase in maternal mortality rates was observed in Black and Hispanic women, who saw a 40.2% and 74.2% relative change in mortality rates during the pandemic, respectively. In comparison, white women saw a 17.2% relative change in maternal mortality rates during the same time. "Future studies of maternal death should examine the contribution of the pandemic to racial and ethnic disparities and should identify specific causes of maternal deaths overall and associated with COVID-19," the researchers wrote. (Short, MedPage Today, 6/28)