Global COVID-19 cases plateau, but deaths rise

Woman reading and wearing N95 respirator
Woman reading and wearing N95 respirator

Matthias Berg / Flickr cc

Global COVID-19 activity stayed high and largely even last week, as deaths rose, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in its latest weekly update on the pandemic.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday signed off on its advisory committee's recommendation for the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine primary series in those ages 18 years and older.

Regions reflect evolving epi patterns

After 5 weeks of increasing cases, the pace of new infections plateaued last week, the WHO said. It received reports of nearly 6.3 million new cases. The five countries with the most cases were the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

Different regions of the world reflect different patterns, with cases on the rise in the Western Pacific, the Americas, and Southeast Asia. Rising cases in the Western Pacific were led by jumps in Japan and South Korea. In the Americas, the rise was fueled by more modest increases in the United States and Brazil. And in South and Southeast Asia, some of the countries experiencing rises are India, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The WHO received reports of 11,000 deaths last week, with the global rise fueled by increases in three regions: Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Americas.

Based on its monitoring of sequenced samples, the proportion of BA.5 Omicron subvariants continues to climb and makes up 53.6% of samples, as proportions of BA.2, BA.2.12.2, and BA.4 decline. BA.5 has now been detected in 100 countries.

BA.2.75, first identified in India, is one of the subvariants the WHO is monitoring. The agency said the first sequences were reported in May, and though the virus has nine additional mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, it's not clear if they increase transmissibility or disease severity. So far, BA.2.75 sequences have been reported in 15 countries.

At a WHO briefing today, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said global COVID cases have nearly doubled over the past 6 weeks.

He warned countries to be prepared, as the virus continues to evolve. "Countries that have dismantled some parts of their pandemic response systems are taking a huge risk. All countries have gaps," Tedros said.

"Now is the time, when hospitals are not full, for all countries to address those gaps in surveillance, immunity, workforce, supplies, and resilience."

CDC director endorses Novavax

Shortly after the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimously recommended the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine yesterday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, accepted the group's recommendation.

In a statement, she said the vaccine will be available in the coming weeks and provides a more familiar type of vaccine technology for adults. Walensky added that protein subunit vaccines have been used in the United States for more than 30 years, beginning with the hepatitis B vaccine. Vaccines against flu and whooping cough also use the technology.

Adding another safe and available vaccine expands the options for adults, she said. "With COVID-19 cases on the rise again across parts of the country, vaccination is critical to help protect against the complications of severe COVID-19 disease."

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