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Hope and Trepidation Exist Together Surrounding COVID-19 in the New Year

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What is the Status of COVID-19, Vaccines and Treatment Options in 2022?

By Andy Wheaton PharmD., manager of pharmacy benefits at Network Health
Originally published on 1/6/2022 at 1:15 p.m.

The new year is always a time of reflection and thought. The hard time reset offers us a chance to think about the last twelve months and how our experiences during that time can help us do the kinds of things and be the kinds of people we want to be over the next twelve.

2021 – A mixed year for public health

Last year was a year of highs and lows for our health-related to COVID-19, with the mass availability of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters for Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Toward the end of the year, antivirals were in development to treat severe COVID-19 symptoms, meaning we may soon be better equipped to treat breakthrough infections.

It was also a year, however, that saw concerning variants of COVID-19 develop and spread. The year ended with the new omicron variant (SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.529) overcoming the delta variant as the dominant strain around the world. According to researchers, the omicron variant has about 30 mutations in the spike protein domain, which is the main reason for the omicron being more transmissible when compared to delta and other variants.

Which leaves us here – January 2022. What is important to know about COVID-19 right now? Let’s take a look.

As a primary note, our frequently updated COVID-19 and coronavirus vaccine page is a great resource for vaccine information and what you need to know about COVID-19 and prevention/treatment steps. You can find it by clicking here.

COVID-19 vaccines, boosters and antivirals in 2022 – What do I need to know?

As the Omicron variant emerges as the dominant strain, pharmacists are seeing clinical data that indicates a need for booster vaccinations that provide continuing immunity and help prevent hospitalizations or death related to the disease.

If you received a vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna and five months (for Pfizer-BioNTech) or six months (for Moderna) has passed from your primary vaccination series (two shots), experts recommend you get a booster vaccination. Please note age considerations for those under 18 years old, which vary by manufacturer.

If you previously received Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine and two months or more have passed since your primary vaccination, experts recommend you get a booster vaccination from either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

Both the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working on plans to allow 12-15-year-olds to receive a booster vaccine.

For children aged six months to five years, Pfizer-BioNTech is continuing with clinical trials demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the vaccine with this age group. Following an adjustment to the vaccine clinical trial, approval for those in this age group is expected sometime in 2022.

You can learn more from the CDC by clicking here.

Beyond the vaccines, which work to prevent COVID-19, there are currently two oral drugs approved under emergency use authorization for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19. Candidates must have a positive COVID-19 test and be at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.

  • Paxlovid (Pfizer)
    • Authorized for individuals 12 years of age and older
    • Should be initiated within five days of symptoms onset
    • Requires a prescription
    • For more information, please visit the FDA page by clicking here.
  • Molnupiravir (Merck)
    • Authorized for individuals 18 years of age and older
    • Should be initiated within five days of symptoms onset
    • Requires a prescription
    • For more information, please visit the FDA page by clicking here.

COVID-19 testing in 2022 – What do I need to know?

With COVID-19 infections on the rise again, testing is an important part of limiting the spread of the virus and keeping people safe from severe complications.

Currently, two types of tests are in use and widely available.

  1. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test (also called molecular test)
    1. Performed in a laboratory or health care setting
    2. Uses a sample of cells from nose, mouth or throat, collected via a swab
    3. The sample is treated with an enzyme solution and amplified/multiplied
    4. This test can differentiate between different variants or strains, which makes it helpful in tracking the spread of the new Omicron variant and the still-prevalent Delta variant.
    5. Results can take days, due to demand and processing time.
    6. Valued for accuracy and specificity of results
  2. Rapid antigen test
    1. Performed at home
    2. Uses a sample of cells from your nose, collected via a swab
    3. The sample is placed into the test kit. The liquid from the kit reacts with the sample to produce a result, generally a colored line or other sign that indicates positive/negative
    4. Results take about 15-30 minutes
    5. Accuracy is about 80% in detecting COVID-19 among those with symptoms and about 50% among those who take the test without symptoms.
    6. Learn more

COVID-19 quarantine in 2022 – What do I need to know?

On Monday, December 27, 2021, the CDC updated official recommendations for the quarantine/isolation period members of the general population undergo once they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Former guidance was that such individuals should isolate/quarantine for 10 days. This number has been updated to only 5 days if they are asymptomatic or if symptoms are resolving (such as no fever for 24 hours). Those individuals must still wear a mask for 5 days following isolation/quarantine to help minimize the risk of infecting others.

Although this decision was met with some controversy, public health and science data suggests that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of the illness.

Part of the reason, in fact, that the virus has been able to infect so many people is that data suggests it is typically its most infectious 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms and within the 2-3-day window after the onset of symptoms.

For more information, you can read the CDC’s statement and official guidance by clicking here.

COVID-19 and the flu – How getting vaccinated for both is a public health win for everybody

Beyond the current spike in COVID-19 cases, flu cases are continuing to increase, which could create a so-called twindemic, adding excessive pressure to an already overstretched healthcare system.

One way to help ensure your winter is as comfortable and safe as possible is to get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.

Unfortunately, we’re far from out of the weeds on a need for immunizations beyond the one for COVID-19. Flu cases are increasing and experts think the remaining months of winter could be especially severe. This makes the flu vaccine more important than ever in staying safe feeling well into the spring and summer.

Reminder that the COVID-19 vaccine does not provide immunization against the seasonal flu. So, even if you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccination and booster, we recommend you schedule an appointment for the flu shot as well.

COVID-19 symptoms vs. the flu

While COVID-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses and require separate vaccines, the symptoms can overlap in a way that may make it hard to tell what you’ve caught. 

Here are some things to look out for.

The following symptoms are shared by both COVID-19 and the flu.

  • Fever/feeling feverish
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain/body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

One of the biggest indicators between the two is a loss of taste or smell that is typically seen with COVID-19 and very rarely a symptom of the flu.

In addition to a recommended test, one of the notable ways to differentiate the two illnesses is the duration and timing of symptoms.

For the flu, symptoms generally last from one to four days following infection.

For COVID-19, symptoms typically endure about five days after being infected but can range from two to fourteen days.

The CDC has a great page they’ve published comparing the flu and COVID-19. You can view it by clicking here.

One thing is for sure, getting vaccinated against both gives you the best chance of having a healthy and strong winter and 2022.

A safe and healthy 2022 begins with awareness and focus on public health

At Network Health, our mission is to create healthy and strong Wisconsin communities. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and unusually active flu season are making it a challenging year to be in the work of public health, but it’s one that we can all emerge from closer to one another and having overcome dangerous conditions by working together.

For more information about how we’re working to help keep our members and our communities healthy, contact us today.

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