COVID-19 Weekly Newsletter: Delta Variant a Threat to the Unvaccinated

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Delta Variant Accounts for 20% of Samples Tested

The delta variant, first identified in India a few months ago and now present in 90-plus countries, is more transmissible and deadly than previous variants that have circulated. In the past few weeks, its prevalence has nearly doubled, and it now makes up 20% of samples tested in the United States. Though vaccines being administered in the U.S. have proven to be highly effective for the variant, many fear for those who remain unvaccinated, especially those living in states where vaccination rates are below 50%. Delta variant cluster outbreaks have been noted in Israel, forcing the country to restore restrictions that were already lifted. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky both have encouraged Americans to get vaccinated as it is the most effective protective measure in preventing a third wave from emerging.

Delta Plus Variant Worries Experts 

A new form of the worrisome delta variant, called “delta plus,” has recently been found in multiple countries, including the U.S., Canada, India, Japan and the U.K.  Delta plus has acquired an additional mutation in the spike protein, which is believed to cause this variant to be even more transmissible than the delta variant. This mutation is also believed to allow the virus to bind more strongly to lung cells and is attributed to the reduced effectiveness of monoclonal antibody therapies provided to some hospitalized COVID-19 patients infected with this variant.

21st Century Cures Act 2.0 Draft Includes Study for COVID-19 Long Haulers

U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) released a 21st Century Cures Act 2.0 discussion draft on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. The original Cures law included scores of provisions focusing primarily on medical research and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory issues. The new bill lays out a myriad of policy proposals and includes language that authorizes a long-term study for those impacted by COVID, as well as a learning collaborative to understand the effects of long COVID.

Eviction and Foreclosure Ban Extended to July 31, 2021

On Thursday, June 24, 2021, President Joe Biden extended the eviction ban administered by the CDC to the end of July 2021 to help states use the $46 billion in federal aid intended to help those struggling to pay rent. The Treasury Department released guidance to help alleviate any roadblocks in the disbursement of the funds while the Justice Department has signaled states to implement “anti-eviction diversion practices” to deter landlords from evicting their tenants.

Genomic Analysis Reveals Several SARS-CoV-2 Relatives

A genomic analysis of over 400 bat samples collected in southeast Asia in 2019-2020 revealed several novel coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2 and SARS. The study found a rich diversity of both bats and viruses, expanding our knowledge of the ecology and evolution of bat coronaviruses.

Next Inventions: Personalized Vaccines and All-Purpose Coronavirus Vaccines

Thanks to the intense research and discovery accelerated by the pandemic, the idea of personalized vaccines is now being discussed as a plausible development rather than science fiction. Our individual genetic makeup determines our unique responses to external stressors and predisposition to various medical conditions, as well as specific immune reactions. Combined with the rapidly expanding capabilities of vaccine developers, the power of the human genome’s knowledge could be put to use in creating custom-tailored vaccines. Another future breakthrough may come from an “opposite” direction — using detailed information about the viruses rather than the host. Scientists in government agencies, industry and academia are considering a vaccine that would work against all coronaviruses. In the meantime, experts urge vaccination of as many people as possible using the existing SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in order to counteract the emergence of new viral strains.

Encouraging mAbs Performance in COVID-19 Patients

A new study provides additional evidence that early administration of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) can prevent hospitalization and severe disease in those infected with SARS-CoV-2. Effectiveness is highest when mAbs are given within five days of symptom onset or of positive PCR test. 

Updated Clinical Guidelines for Post-COVID Conditions

The CDC provided updated recommendations for treating post-acute COVID-19 patients based on the latest clinical experience and most current understanding of this disease. The umbrella term “Post-COVID Conditions” applies to a wide variety of ailments that some people experience for weeks and months after an acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. The CDC guideline summarizes best practices for testing, diagnosing and managing these conditions. In the meantime, clinicians continue to study post-COVID effects in the U.S. as well as in other countries, and continue to search for best possible treatments. For example, see the following studies:

Myocarditis Rates Post-COVID Are Many Fold Higher Than Post-Vaccine

Cardio screening of college-level athletes with a recent COVID-19 infection showed increased rates of heart muscle inflammation, or myocarditis, although exact numbers can vary from 0.3% to over 7% depending on the method to diagnose the condition. COVID-19 vaccines have also been associated with myocarditis cases, but at a much lower rate:

  • For mRNA vaccines, about 0.002% for 16 to 39-year-olds, or about 0.001% for 12 to 39-year-olds at three weeks post-second dose
  • For an adenovirus-based vaccine, less than 0.0005% for all ages

FDA Rolling Summary of Products to Combat the Pandemic

The FDA publishes a regularly updated newsletter that summarizes information about SARS-CoV-2 tests and vaccines, as well as drugs, biologics, ventilators and other medical products relevant for COVID-19 containment. 

Global COVID-19 Tracker for Schools

Making informed decisions requires data. For this reason, those considering how and when to return to in-person schooling might find the global COVID-19 tracker a useful resource. The tracker aggregates and presents through maps and graphs the up-to-date information about schools around the world, from pre-primary through high and vocational levels. The site also shares stories, insights and best practices.

Small Informal Gatherings of Unvaccinated Individuals Spurred Transmission

An analysis of COVID-19 cases from January through November 2020 showed that even small informal gatherings could significantly increase transmission. Households celebrating children’s birthdays were particularly impacted.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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