Health officials in the UK and across the European region are seeing early signs of rising COVID activity, patterns that US experts are closely watching as a harbinger of what’s to come over the next few months.
Disease modeling experts have warned of a surge in infections in northern hemisphere countries as cooler weather brings more people indoors, schools resume and immunization coverage wanes.
UK sees surge in hospital admissions and tests positive
In the UK, Susan Hopkins, MBBCh, chief medical officer at the Health Security Agency, said in a statement yesterday that COVID-19 rates are still low but data over the past 7 days shows a rise in hospital admissions and a rise in those reported positive tests the community.
“For those eligible, now is the time to get your fall booster. Getting a booster gives your immune system time to build up your protection against serious illness from COVID-19 as we head into winter,” she said.
Virologists are closely monitoring the steady diversification of the Omicron variant. The BA.5 subvariant is still dominant, but scientists have identified new sublineages that carry mutations that could allow them to partially escape immunity from BA.5-induced immunity.
Thomas Peacock, PhD, a virologist at Imperial College London, told the London-based company Guardian that BA.2.75.2 and BQ.1.1 still account for less than 0.5% of samples sequenced in the UK, but they are growing rapidly. Peacock said an autumn and winter COVID wave could be fueled by a mix of variants.
In a snapshot of COVID activity in the European region, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said it had observed increasing transmission over the past two weeks. COVID continues to spread in some countries, particularly affecting people aged 65 and over. Although levels are still low, the rising activity is beginning to affect hospital and intensive care unit indicators, with limited reported impacts on mortality.
“Changes in the population mix after the summer break are likely to be the main reason for these increases, with no evidence that they are caused by changes in the distribution of circulating variants,” ECDC said, adding that the epidemiological patterns it sees are consistent with previous forecasts.
Postponement of US Omicron variants; 4.4 million got new boosters
In the United States, the proportions of omicron subvariants continue to shift, with BA.5 slipping back slightly over the past week from 84.6% to 83.1%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its today weekly update with.
The proportions of two subvariants are increasing, although their numbers are still small. The concentrations of BA.2.75 increased from 1.0% to 1.4% and BF.7 increased from 1.6% to 2.3%.
Nationally, COVID markers are still trending down, the CDC said in a review today. The 7-day moving average for new daily cases is 54,186, down 10.6% from the previous week. The weekly average for new hospitalizations for COVID fell 9.9% last week and weekly deaths fell 12.2%.
Since the first week of September, when doses of the new updated booster were rolled out, 4.4 million people have received it, the CDC said.
In other U.S. developments, an inspector general investigation into delays and disruptions in SARS-CoV-2 testing early in the pandemic found issues with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency authorization (EUA) process and suggested the FDA make changes to to improve them prepare for the next public health emergency.
The Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted the investigation based on a request from congressmen interested in the availability and effectiveness of diagnostic and serological tests.
In a Sept. 21 report, the OIG said problems with the CDC’s first test revealed weaknesses in the federal testing approach, although the FDA was slow to recognize that testing by public health labs was more limited than expected.
The FDA used its EUA agency to step up COVID testing, but sometimes at the expense of testing quality, with some problematic tests coming to market, the OIG noted. It added that the FDA’s decision to allow all EUA requests from test developers resulted in many low-quality submissions.