Roundup: Novavax, Different Type of COVID-19 Vaccine, is Approved; Boosters vs. Omicron Subvariants; and the Health of ‘Weekend Warriors’

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July 22, 2022


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CDC, FDA Approve Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine That Uses ‘Protein Subunit’ To Fight Virus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finalized approval of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine as the fourth primary series option for adults, ages 18 years and older, seeking protection against serious illness from the coronavirus.

The approval came just days before news broke Thursday of President Biden testing positive for COVID-19. The president, who is 79 years old, has started taking Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment made by Pfizer, White House officials announced. He is fully vaccinated and experiencing only mild symptoms, officials said.

“The fact that President Biden is completely vaccinated and double-boosted is in his favor for not progressing into a more serious case of COVID-19,” said Sergio Segarra, M.D., chief medical officer at Baptist Hospital, part of Baptist Health South Florida. “It reminds us all that we should maintain our vaccination status and get boosted as a way to reduce the risk of complications from COVID-19.”

Earlier in the week, the CDC’s director, Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., endorsed a CDC advisory panel’s recommendation to approve Novavax. The CDC action was preceded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) endorsement. The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine will be available in the coming weeks, U.S. officials say.    

It is the first so-called “protein subunit” vaccine to fight COVID-19. The vaccine provides “harmless proteins of the COVID-19 virus, alongside another ingredient called an adjuvant, that helps the immune system respond to the virus in the future,” explains the CDC. In contrast, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines deliver genetic instructions for the body to make copies of the spike protein. The lesser-used Johnson & Johnson vaccine option uses a cold virus to deliver those instructions.

The CDC states that vaccines using protein subunits have been used for more than 30 years in the U.S., beginning, starting with the first licensed hepatitis B vaccine. Other protein subunit vaccines currently in use in the U.S. include those to protect against influenza and whooping cough (acellular pertussis).

Nearly 77 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 are already fully vaccinated. However, an estimated 27 million adults still have not gotten a single shot yet, according to CDC data from June. U.S. public health officials say Novavax’s vaccine would potentially appeal to unvaccinated people who would prefer a shot that is not based on the messenger RNA technology, or mRNA, used by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

“We have expanded the options available to adults in the U.S. by recommending another safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” stated Dr. Walensky, the CDC director. “If you have been waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine built on a different technology than those previously available, now is the time to join the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated. 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.”


CDC: COVID Booster Shots Provided ‘Substantial Protection’ Against Illness from Omicron Subvariants

Among adults with healthy immune systems, two booster shots of the COVID-19 – or a third and fourth dose – provided “substantial protection” against serious illness during the initial Omicron variant phases earlier this year, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The new findings, combined with other recently published data showing people infected with the BA.2 Omicron subvariant may also have antibodies that can protect them from the currently dominant BA.5, suggest that currently available COVID vaccines may provide protection against serious illness from the more contagious BA.5.

The CDC said researchers examined VISION Network data on more than 214,000 emergency department/urgent care visits and more than 58,000 hospitalizations with a COVID-19–like illness diagnosis in 10 U.S. states from mid-December 2021 through mid-June 2022.  The goal was to evaluate effectiveness of 2, 3, and 4 doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) among adults with healthy immune systems.

The study found that when BA.1 was the predominant variant, vaccine effectiveness was 61 percent for two doses against COVID-19-associated hospitalizations. Vaccine effectives increased to between 85 percent and 92 percent after getting a third/booster dose. When BA.2 became predominant, vaccine effectiveness with two doses was 24 percent against COVID-19-associated hospitalizations and increased to between 52 percent and 69 percent after a third/booster dose.

The CDC concludes: “Given recent increases in deaths and hospitalizations associated with the BA.5 variant, everyone should stay up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations, including additional booster doses for those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised and adults over 50.”


Even ‘Weekend Warriors’ Live Healthier, Longer Lives, Compared to Sedentary People, Major Study Finds

Even people who are physically active just a couple of days a week – so-called “weekend warriors” – lead healthier lives compared to those who don’t exercise regularly or at all, new research has found. These weekend warriors usually pack their active lifestyles into a two-day period, instead of spreading out their exercising throughout the week as recommended by U.S. guidelines.

There was no significant difference in the health benefits, measured as “all-cause or cause-specific mortality,” between those who exercise regularly throughout the week and weekend warriors, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The primary factor: Both groups were getting the same amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes — spread out over a week — of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both. Prime examples of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise are brisk walking at a pace of at least 2.5 miles per hour, or cycling slower than 10 miles per hour, says the AHA.

The guidelines also state that adults should additionally do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Researchers from several universities, including the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston and the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil, reviewed data on 350,978 U.S. adults surveyed between 1997 and 2013. They compared their exercise habits with how likely participants were to die of causes, such as cancer and heart disease, to determine which exercise routines were most beneficial.

They found that those who met the weekly exercise recommendations were less likely to die early than their sedentary counterparts, regardless of whether they were active throughout the week, or during long weekend routines.  

The study’s authors: “Most importantly, these findings suggest that whether the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity is spread out during the week or concentrated into fewer days, there may be no significant difference in health benefits. For people with fewer opportunities for daily or regular physical activity during their work week, these findings are important.”

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