Friday Morning Medical Update: New COVID Variant


The University of Kansas Health System

Dr. Gregory Poland, vaccinologist, director, Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group. The COVID bivalent booster is doing its job. It prevents infection at a rate of about 40-50 percent, but the real value is that it prevents severe disease, hospitalization and death. It’s highly effective and that’s the reason to get this booster. In the last 10 days, the Mayo Clinic has seen a 30 percent increase in COVID cases, COVID hospitalizations, and COVID admissions to the ICU, and that’s post-Thanksgiving as we go into Christmas.

Very, very concerned that we’re going to be in a position where we’re not going to be able to offer optimal medical care. In the state of Minnesota, of our pediatric ICU beds, only two are open because of RSV and flu. Also very concerned about a new variant called XBB – the most immune-evasive variant we’ve seen to date.

“I don’t want to be dramatic about this, but I also want to be very honest about it. The rapid rise of these sub variants means that there are very likely people listening to our voice today that by Christmas time are not going to be able to enjoy Christmas with their family or are going to end up in the hospital, or God forbid, not with us. So it’s really important that people sort of shake off this COVID fatigue and lethargy and take action to protect themselves. We are not helpless here.” (10:45)

With the exception perhaps the most immunocompromised, we should say that there is no reason today that anybody should die of COVID if they take the appropriate steps.

Monoclonal antibodies are no longer effective. We’re down to the three antivirals and if necessary, convalescent plasma, that’s it. So we really need people to take this very, very seriously. Big Pharma and the federal government are not putting additional money into monoclonal antibody research for COVID.

“I’ve never really seen this in my career before as a vaccinologist as we’ve gone from mutations where we had single strains or lineages to a swarm of sub variants vying for dominance.” That means for monoclonal treatments, by the time you develop and license a monoclonal, the variants have moved on, and that’s happening because we’re not getting vaccinated.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer, The University of Kansas Health System Now for the first time since the pandemic started, senior citizens make up more than 90 percent of the deaths, so take care when traveling this holiday to see grandparents. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a report finding the number of COVID deaths for people who are vaccinated has gone up in the fall of 2021. Three in 10 adults vaccinated and boosted still died of COVID. In April of this year, that number jumped to nearly six in 10 deaths. It’s an age group that was first in line for the vaccines and last summer, people over 65 made up roughly 58 percent of deaths. One contributing factor in the spike can be found in the numbers from late November, showing that only 1/3 of people over the age of 65 have received the bivalent boosters.

Dr. Jessica Kalendar-Rich, geriatrician, The University of Kansas Health System How you’re moving and how healthy you are overall, those things are really going to impact your outcomes, regardless of your age. However, we are definitely seeing a higher risk for older adults. (7:14) We really saw on a huge national level, the negative consequences of isolation for those older adults and we knew that those consequences existed and were possible. (8:21) We saw a lot of decline in other faculties from that isolation. We know that older adults are really in need of socialization of increased contact with other people of again that like getting up and moving around to prevent all kinds of increased complications. (8:40) The best way to protect the older adults from any mental health consequences both of COVID and of the isolation and of anything else that exists is really ongoing interaction with people, right with people within your family if that’s the option, the options with people outside your family. We have to keep that communication and socialization going in order to maintain our mental health and in order to maintain our health overall. (9:57)

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control and prevention, The University of Kansas Health System FDA just authorized COVID Omicron vaccinations for children as young as six months. This is certainly needed. It can be somewhat confusing though because of the ages and different types of vaccinations, so it is very important to talk with your pharmacist or your pediatrician.