The COVID Booster: Possible November peak for some parts of Australia.

The COVID-19 wave currently engulfing Australia might wash away within weeks, with just short of 90,000 cases reported nationwide this week.

That’s around 8500 more than cases than last week’s reported total.

It points to a flattening curve across the country, although Queensland is the only state or territory to report fewer new cases compared to the previous week.

Still, experts estimate the true case figure is at least four times greater than those in government reports. That’s because fewer people are testing when they experience symptoms, as well as a sense of complacency setting in across the globe as the end of the pandemic’s third year approaches.

UNSW epidemiological modeller Dr James Wood anticipates New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state – will likely peak in the first week of December, based on positive laboratory (PCR) test results.

He points to recent outbreaks of the immunity evading XBB.1 variant in Singapore: “This wave was short and sharp, peaking around October 18 and then dropping back almost to pre-wave levels by November 12.”

There are no requirements to submit self-administered rapid antigen test results in Australia, however individuals can submit for a PCR test at certain government clinics.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Covid dashboard1
A graph of case numbers in australia as of 26 november 2022
Graph indicates COVID-19 case numbers based on state government reporting.

News in brief

Childhood booster rates can be lifted by GPs

Family doctors are best positioned to boost low vaccination rates among children according to research from the Australian National University, Melbourne University and UTS, published this week in the MJA. The study notes that childhood COVID-19 vaccination uptake is lower than all other scheduled immunisations, due potentially to safety concerns from caregivers, and misunderstanding the risks of vaccines relative to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The authors found general practitioners are best placed to bridge these knowledge gaps for families, with GP clinics the site of around one third of all vaccine administrations for kids. 60% of all childhood vaccines have been administered in primary care settings, which also includes pharmacies, and GP-led national vaccination clinics and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

Western democracies beset by political mistrust and conspiracies during pandemic

Danish researchers from Aarhus University have found pandemic fatigue enhanced the likelihood of public mistrust in political institutions and the subscription to conspiracy theories. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted 13 rounds of data collection across Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Italy, France, Germany and Hungary. With nearly 50,000 responses taken from these processes, the study concludes that fatigue – defined as a “perceived inability to ‘keep up’ with restrictions” – was likely to increase over time and in association with the severity of restrictive measures by governments. At the same time, reporting on increasing deaths from COVID-19 was usually associated with a reduction in fatigue.

“Our new study shows that we are facing challenges far beyond the domain of health or the radicalisation of some groups,” says senior author Michael Bang Petersen. “Our results are important in this debate, because they demonstrate that citizens do experience fatigue during this type of crisis, in which the government imposes strict but often necessary measures on its citizens. And it turns out that loneliness during the pandemic in particular served to induce fatigue.”

BQ.1.1 resists all known antiviral therapies

A German study has shown antibody treatments approved by the European Medicines Agency and US Food and Drug Administration have no effect on the BQ.1.1 variant currently circulating in many countries around the globe. Published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the study from researchers at Deutsches Primatenzentrum show that while approved therapies are highly effective against the ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2, and others like Cilgavimab, Tixagevimab, Sotrovimab and Bebtelovimab are effective against early Omicron strains like BA.1, BA.4 and BA.5, none are capable of neutralising the BQ1.1 variant, which descends from BA.5.

The study’s senior author Markus Hoffmann says the findings emphasise the need for new therapeutics that meet the challenge of immune-evasive mutations.

“With high-risk patients in mind, we are very concerned about the Omicron subvariant BQ.1.1 being resistant to all approved antibody therapies, particularly in regions where BQ.1.1 is widespread,” he said.

“Physicians should not rely on antibody therapies alone when treating infected high-risk patients, but should also consider administering other drugs such as paxlovid or molnupiravir.”

Casiribimab and Imdevimab, Sotrovimab, tixagevimab and cilgavimab, and regdanvimab were found by the study to be ineffective against BQ.1.1 and are all provisionally approved COVID-19 treatments by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Association.

1 in 8 Canadian adults experienced first-time depression during pandemic

A study of more than 20,000 Canadians has shed light on the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, with 12.9% of those with no history of depression experiencing it for the first time during the pandemic. Almost half of those with a previous depression diagnosis reported having the condition at the time of the study in the latter months of 2020. Andie MacNeil from the University of Toronto is the first author of the study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, believes the results might help health and social workers enhance the way they identify at-risk adults, saying “the high rate of first-onset depression in 2020 highlights the substantial mental health toll that the pandemic caused in a formerly mentally healthy group of older adults.”

Longer reads

Long COVID symptoms not ‘all in the head’

Researchers have found new links between COVID-19 and changes to the brain, with a recent study showing evidence the disorder may correspond to many of the most common neurological symptoms.

Story by Clare Kenyon

Amid COVID wave, experts warn virus isn’t mild, and isn’t over.

Experts predict true case numbers amid the current wave could be between four and six times greater than government reports, due to low test reporting and uptake.

Story by Matthew Agius

PNG COVID research offers insight into vaccination levers for the hesitant

A research survey conducted in PNG at the height of the COVID-19 crisis has cast light on the difficulty of getting health messages across to people in developing countries, but found encouragement from health care workers, families and church leaders could help turn flagging vaccination rates around.

Story by Ian Mannix.

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