Formally known as AY.4.2, the “delta plus” subvariant includes two new mutations to the spike protein, A222V and Y145H, which allow the virus to enter the body.The AY.4.2 subvariant has been detected in at least five cases in the U.S.: in Washington, D.C., California, North Carolina, Washington state and Massachusetts.Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said it could be 10%-15% more contagious than delta.
U.S. health officials are keeping a close eye on an emerging Covid-19 subvariant, dubbed “delta plus,” that some scientists say may be more contagious than the already highly transmissible delta variant.
Formally known as AY.4.2, delta plus includes two new mutations to the spike protein, A222V and Y145H, which allow the virus to enter the body. Those mutations have been found in other Covid variants, so it’s unclear how dramatically those changes affect the virus.
Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said it could be 10%-15% more contagious than delta, which first appeared in India and spreads easier than Ebola, SARS, MERS and the 1918 Spanish flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Delta has an R-naught, or reproductive rate, of eight or nine, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, meaning that every person who has Covid will spread it to up to nine other people. The “wild type” or original strain of Covid had an estimated R-naught of about three. Someone infected with the delta variant carries 1,000 times the viral load of the original Covid strain.
India’s Ministry of Health reported in June that delta plus was more transmissible than the delta variant, adding that the subtype binds more strongly to lung cell receptors and could even reduce the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments.
The mutation has been detected in the U.S., but there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in delta plus cases nationwide, Walensky said at a White House Covid briefing Wednesday.
“We particularly monitor for sublineages that could impact therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines,” Walensky said. “At this time, there is no evidence that the sublineage AY.4.2 impacts the effectiveness of our current vaccines or therapeutics.”
The AY.4.2 subvariant has been detected in at least five cases in the U.S. since August: in Washington, D.C., California, North Carolina, Washington state and Massachusetts, according to Outbreak.info. The website collects data from GISAID, a global genomic database on Covid and influenza cases.
Top health authorities have cautioned for weeks that more powerful and potentially vaccine-resistant Covid variants could develop as long as widespread outbreaks continue to occur, fueled by billions of people worldwide who remain unvaccinated. White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in August that the U.S. could be “in trouble” if another mutation surpassed delta, asking the unvaccinated to get their shots in hopes of curbing a surge that crushed the nation’s health-care systems this summer.
Delta plus could also eventually affect the age groups eligible to receive Covid booster doses, Dr. Peter Marks, the Food and Drug Administration’s lead vaccine regulator, said Wednesday night. The FDA and CDC have authorized Covid boosters for a wide array of adults in the U.S. from all three manufacturers in the U.S.: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
“The exact age of that will be based on what we see of the emerging situation, which is quite dynamic right now because we continue to see reports of new variants coming up,” Marks said. “And we’re also seeing changes in the epidemiology of Covid-19 in our country right now with new hotspots coming up even as certain places die down.”
Concerns over delta plus are running high in the U.K., where officials are battling a surge in cases and facing a renewed health crisis. Delta plus cases represented roughly 6% of all sequenced Covid cases as of the week beginning Sept. 27, according to the latest data from the country’s Health Security Agency. The sublineage is “increasing in frequency” in the U.K., the agency noted, and doctors from the National Health Service Confederation in London are calling for a return to stricter Covid protocols heading into the winter.
But global health leaders are urging the public not to panic. Though the emergence of a Covid subtype isn’t the same as an entirely new variant evolving, keeping track of delta’s progression could allow the medical community to better understand the mutation, Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, Covid-19 incident manager at the World Health Organization’s regional branch for the Americas, said at a briefing Oct. 6.
“Looking to these additional changes, it may help researchers to track the variants on a fine scale,” Aldighieri said. “But they do not imply any functional or biological difference.”
— CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt in London contributed to this report.
Biden Tries to Reassure on COVID as He Sells Spending Plan
President Joe Biden on Tuesday went to Minnesota to pitch his completed infrastructure deal and a giant social spending bill that he’s still trying to get passed, but also found himself reassuring the nation he would fight the evolving COVID-19 threat without resorting to “shutdowns and lockdowns.”
Biden met with students at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount in a garage space with a bulldozer, backhoe and cargo truck before delivering a speech criticizing GOP lawmakers for opposing his social services and climate spending bill that would expand health care coverage, enhance job training for students at community colleges, and offer child care benefits for middle and low income Americans.
The pill from drug maker Merck could become the first U.S. authorized at-home treatment for the coronavirus.
Biden has been eager to build momentum for his agenda, but he finds himself once again forced to divert attention to battling the virus—this time because of global concerns about the spread of the omicron strain of the virus.
“This new variant is a cause of concern, but not a cause to panic,” Biden said.
He said that on Thursday, he would detail his plan for how “we’re going to fight COVID this winter, not with shutdowns and lockdowns” but “with more widespread vaccination, boosters, testing and much more.”
Biden came to the suburban Minneapolis tech college looking to tout his $1 trillion infrastructure plan and making the case for an addition $1.75 trillion spending bill, which he is still trying to get through the Senate. The legislation includes $5 billion for community colleges to expand workforce training programs.
“Technology moves so rapidly,” Biden told students. “You’ve got to get an education to make it work.”
The trip came as Biden, who in addition to facing the threat of the new omicron strain of the coronavirus is also batting high levels of inflation as vital parts of his agenda are still await congressional approval. Biden also needs to get Congress to move to temporarily fund the government and preserve its ability to borrow as the debt limit could be breached in December.
Biden holds out the infrastructure package, containing money for roads, bridges, broadband, water systems and a shift to electrical vehicles, as evidence that he can work across the political aisle. The measure passed with solid Republican support..
Biden won Minnesota in last year’s presidential election with 52.6% of the vote. He’s visited the state’s second congressional district, a potentially vulnerable seat in the midterms that narrowly went to Democratic Rep. Angie Craig in 2020.
The president noted that Minnesotans saw first-hand the need to invest in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure in August 2007 when a portion of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 and injuring more than 140 more.
“No more talking, time for action,” Biden said. “This law makes significant investments in our roads and bridges.′
The president has recently been in close contact with the heads of several major retailers, including Target, which is headquartered in the state, as he attempts to resolve supply chain challenges that have clogged ports and caused consumers to wait longer for electronics, furniture and other goods.
The supply chain challenges have contributed to prices in October rising 6.2% from 12 months ago, the highest pace in 31 years. The White House National Economic Council issued a report Monday suggesting that there has been progress on addressing the problems, with a decrease in long-dwelling containers waiting at ports and an increase in retail inventories.
CDC Strengthens Advice for Boosters as Omicron Variant Spreads Globally
All adults should get COVID-19 booster shots when they’re eligible, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, striking a much stronger tone than its recommendations just a few weeks ago.
The new advice was issued days after the new omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in southern Africa. The variant’s constellation of mutations suggests the virus could evade the immune system or spread more easily than previous variants do, although it will take time to determine its impact.
“Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot … when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series,” the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement. Anyone who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot at least two months ago would also qualify.
The CDC only earlier this month recommended that people ages 50 and up, as well as those in long-term care facilities, should get a booster. The agency said at the time adults ages 18 to 49 may choose to get a booster, based on their risk.
US Expected to Toughen Testing Requirement for Travelers
The Biden administration is expected to take steps in the coming days to toughen testing requirements for international travelers to the U.S., including both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, amid the spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The precise testing protocols were still being finalized ahead of a speech by President Joe Biden planned for Thursday on the nation’s plans to control the COVID-19 pandemic during the winter season, according to a senior administration official who said some details could still change. Among the policies being considered is a requirement that all air travelers to the U.S. be tested for COVID-19 within a day of boarding their flight. Currently those who are fully vaccinated may present a test taken within three days of boarding.
“CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s plans before the announcement, said options under consideration also include post-arrival testing requirements or even self-quarantines.
The expected move comes just weeks after the U.S. largely reopened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 8.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, which has been identified in more than 20 countries but not yet in the U.S., including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said more would be known about the omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.
The pill from drug maker Merck could become the first U.S. authorized at-home treatment for the coronavirus.
On Monday, as he sought to quell public concern about the new variant, Biden on said that in his Thursday remarks, “I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter — not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”