As Omicron continues to be responsible for nearly all new COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts, experts shared advice on how people can apply the latest news about Omicron to their daily life. Jason Maley, MD (Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC), discussed whether people can get long COVID if vaccinated and boosted.
Amid a new pandemic surge, experts stress that “flurona” – a term coined to describe what happens when a person tests positive for the flu and COVID-19 at the same time – is not a new disease or a new variant of COVID-19. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) said both [flu and COVID-19] are common and it is not unexpected that some people would be infected at the same time.
In this opinion piece, Westyn Branch-Elliman, MD (Infectious Disease, BIDMC) and other infectious disease experts discuss how moving to remote learning is an approach rooted in misunderstandings about how viruses spread and a refusal to acknowledge what has been learned two years into the coronavirus pandemic – evidence shows closing schools is not an effective way to contain the virus and is, in fact, harmful to children and how there are better ways of keeping the community safe than taking in-school learning away from children.
Based on the quick rise and precipitous drop of Omicron in South Africa, Harvard experts are cautiously hopeful about a possible decline of the surging COVID variant in the very near future, even as they warn of dramatic case spikes, overloaded hospitals, and slowly rising deaths in the interim. During a media call Tuesday, coronavirus experts at MassCPR, including Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC), discussed how important key questions remain unanswered and that the experience in South Africa — whose population is much younger than that of the U.S. — may not be mirrored here.
Ai-ris Yonekura Collier, MD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discussed how a single SARS-CoV-2 infection isn’t enough to keep someone safe long-term. But layered on top of vaccination, Collier explained an infection can coax out “almost what you would call a boosted response.”
Though the Omicron variant tends to be milder, it is spreading so explosively across the U.S. that many hospitals expect it to rival or surpass previous records for admitting COVID patients. In Boston, two major hospitals, including BIDMC, project that their load of COVID patients could well reach the heights of last winter’s surge in coming weeks. Jennifer Stevens, MD (Critical Care Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC), who leads modeling for BIDMC, said hospitalization rates are challenging everyone in health care in a way not seen before.
A report from BIDMC researchers posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review, examined drugstore rapid COVID-19 tests and PCR tests, finding the rapid test might yield a negative result in 15 minutes while failing to detect virus particles but those same particles might pose no risk of transmission in the very short term. James E. Kirby, MD (Clinical Microbiology, BIDMC) said people with low viral loads and negative antigen tests may become infectious a day or two or three days later, therefore, to be most effective, antigen tests should be used immediately before an event or contact with those at greater risk from infection.
Officially, adults are eligible for a booster two months after the J&J vaccine and six months after your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna. But doctors and scientists are shifting their recommendation a bit about the timing of the booster after the mRNA vaccines. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discussed how in the setting of a new variant — and wanting a higher degree of protection for the holidays – he thinks that clinical judgment could involve boosting a bit earlier but cautioned against speeding up the booster too much.
Amid surging COVID-19 infections, Massachusetts hospitals are seeing fewer severely ill COVID patients, and those who do need intensive care are generally recovering more quickly. Richard Schwartzstein, MD (Critical Care Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC) said the reports are encouraging but that “no one should be blasé” about it as there are patients – a vast majority unvaccinated – getting as sick or dying, despite these advanced therapies. A snapshot of COVID-positive patients in BIDMC’s ICUs over two days last week underscored that point: fewer than half were vaccinated.
During a live-streamed hearing of the Legislature’s COVID-19 Oversight Committee, health care and medical experts told Massachusetts lawmakers Thursday that the Omicron variant has the potential to significantly drive up case counts this winter, even among the fully vaccinated. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) said there's no question that Massachusetts will see an increase in breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated if Omicron becomes the dominant strain, and that he remains optimistic that vaccines will continue to be highly effective in preventing severe disease.
The Boston Globe profiles Dan Barouch, MD, PhD...
Research from South Africa, Sweden, and Germany shows that Omicron does cause a loss of immune protection – but potentially not a complete. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC), commented on how T cells also play an important role in protection against severe disease, and how in the weeks ahead, more clarity will also emerge from studies assessing the T cell response to Omicron.
Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discusses work his lab is doing to help test various COVID-19 vaccines against the new variant Omicron.
A critical part of the effort to assess whether vaccines retain their effectiveness against the new Omicron virus variant is for scientists to gather the blood samples—specifically, serum, the portion of blood that remains after it has clotted—previously taken from people who received COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials or from real-world use of the vaccines. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) commented on how his lab is running these tests on serums from people vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well as the shots from Pfizer and Moderna.
This Boston Globe piece provides a snapshot of South Africa’s COVID situation as Omicron takes hold, including how while data collected on the efficacy of the protection provided by existing COVID vaccines against Omicron is still being studied, some experts including Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC), believe the antibodies and immune cells stimulated by vaccines for the coronavirus will still provide some protection.
Researchers at BIDMC studied 65 people who had received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine and found that six months after the second dose, people who received Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines may get as much benefit from a Johnson & Johnson booster shot as a Pfizer one. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) said there is early evidence to suggest that a mix-and-match boosting approach may provide individuals with different immune responses against COVID-19 than a homologous boosting approach.
In a few weeks, researchers expect to understand more about how well vaccines fare when they do battle with the new variant. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) said there will be a lot of unfiltered information coming out over the next couple of weeks but that he thinks the scientific community has engaged very quickly and is hopeful a scientific consensus will emerge.
In a pair of papers and a guest editorial published in Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, a team of nurse-scientists at BIDMC shared their experiences nearly doubling the hospital's intensive care unit capacity; identifying, training and redeploying staff; and developing and implementing a proning team to manage patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome during the first COVID-19 surge. Sharon O'Donoghue, DNP, RN (Nursing, BIDMC) discussed how nurses at BIDMC were preparing for the projected influx of highly infectious, critically ill patients – and how they planned and strategized for these patients’ arrival.
Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) and members of his lab spoke with the Boston Globe about the first minutes and hours after they learned about the new Omicron variant on the Thanksgiving holiday. The researchers are part of a global effort to understand the fast-spreading variant.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has arrived in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) told the Boston Globe last week that the variant has features that warrant concern, but there’s so much unknown that it’s not a reason to panic as of today.