American hospitals brace for new Coronavirus cases surges amid the highly contagious Omicron variant. In addition, doctors warn of another challenge: the two leading drugs to combat the virus are unlikely to work against the new variant. For over a year, antiviral drugs from Eli Lilly and Regeneron have been considered the go-to treatments for preliminary Coronavirus because of their ability to curb severe disease and keep patients out of the hospital.
However, both drugmaker companies warned that laboratory testing suggests that their treatments will be much less effective against the Omicron strain, which contains several mutations that make it difficult for antibodies to attack the virus. In addition, the companies say they can instantly develop new antibodies against Omicron, so those are not likely to launch for at least many months.
Some of the monoclonal antibodies still work, but the ones made from Regeneron and Eli Lilly do not.
— CrushCovid (@HumansBeatCovid) December 18, 2021
Furthermore, a third antibody from the United Kingdom drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline seems the best to combat Omicron. But unfortunately, the Glaxo coronavirus drug is not broadly available in the United States, accounting for the federal government buying and distributing a small part of the millions of shots. As a result, American health officials are now regulating scare drug supplies to states.
Delta Variant Still Accounts for 95% U.S. Cases
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant of COVID-19 still accounts for over ninety-five percent of United States cases. However, agency leaders say the Omicron variant is spreading swiftly than any previously detected variant and will become the dominant strain countrywide within weeks.
Antibodies are laboratory-formulated versions of human proteins that help the human immune system defend against viruses and other infections, and health workers administer them through injection or infusion. According to companies, Glaxo’ dug, made with Vir Biotechnology, which exclusively developed to bind to a part of the virus possible to transmute.
Drugmakers and outside researchers’ initial laboratory-simulated findings of Omicron show encouraging results. However, the United States Department of Health and Human Services stated that the supply of the Coronavirus drug is minimal, and further shots of the product will not be available until the 3rd week of January.
After halting doses distribution last month to sustain supply, Health and Human Services are now shipping fifty-five thousand shots of the drug, called sotrovimab, to state health departments, with the shots arriving as soon as Tuesday. Another thirty hundred thousand doses expected in the first month of next year. The drug agency further clarifies that it is distributing the COVID drug to various states based on their levels of infections and hospitalizations.
States Should Conserve the Drug for the Highest Risk Patients – HHS
Moreover, the Health and Human Services recommends states save the drug for the highest risk patients who are most possibly to contract the Omicron variant, may based on laboratory testing that can classify the variant or higher levels of Omicron spread in local populations, identified as twenty percent and higher.
High-risk patients include senior citizens and severe health issues like heart disease, immune system disorders, diabetes, and obesity. According to federal statistics, before the pause in dose shipments, Glaxo’s drug accounted for around ten percent of the 1.8 million antibody shots supplied to state health officials between mid-September and late November.
The drugmaker further says that it is on course to manufacture two million shots by May, under agreements with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and many other nations. In addition, the drugmaker is working to enhance manufacturing capacity next year. So, the loss of two major antibody drugs puts even more focus on a pair of highly awaited antiviral pills that American regulators are likely to authorize soon.
First Anti-COVID-19 Pills in The U.S.
The anti-Coronavirus pills from Merck and Pfizer would be the first treatments the U.S. national can take at home to curb severe illness. Specifically, Pfizer’s drug has shown a strong effect, reducing hospitalizations and deaths by around ninety percent in high-risk patients. A virologist at Johns Hopkins University, Andrew Pekosz, said that if the drug rolled out successfully and effectively, this has a huge possibility to make up for antibody treatments.
The shrinking toolbox of drugs is a painful reminder that the Coronavirus still dominates in the United States, even with over two hundred million Americans are fully vaccinated against the disease. Scientists globally are racing to understand the new variant, including whether it causes more or less severe illness and how easily it avoids protection from the previous infection, immunization, and antibody drugs.
Christmas Travel will Fuel Omicron Spread
The top United States infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says that Christmas travel will increase the Omicron spread, even among the fully vaccinated. Further, he told the Meet the Press program of NBC News that there is no doubt about the Omicron variant that it has an extraordinary capability of spreading.
Countries across the world are tightening preventive measures as the Omicron spreads. In Europe, Germany and France are among those countries which introduced travel restrictions, and the Netherlands enforced a strict lockdown over Christmas celebrations. Governments globally are also speeding up Coronavirus vaccination programs after researchers said the booster shot could provide about eighty-five percent protection against severe illness.
How to Detect Omicron Variant?
- Conduct PCR Test
- The test looks for three genes relating to parts of the coronavirus: spike, nucleocapsid, and envelope or outer shell
- If the “S” gene is detected, it could be Omicron
- Full gene analysis used to confirm the test