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COVID-19 Update 7/20: Cases, Novavax, Nasal Vaccines, and More

July 20th, 2022 | 4 min. read

By Steve E. Bishop, M.D.

COVID-19 Update 7/20: Cases, Novavax, Nasal Vaccines, and More

In this COVID-19 update, Dr. Bishop discusses the recent increase in cases, explains the science behind the newly approved Novavax vaccine, and more. Watch the video below or read on for the full recap. 

COVID Infection Rates Up

First of all, the COVID infection rates are up pretty much all over the place, including here in Virginia.

Last time I checked, our percent positivity rate was sitting around 20% or so and looks like that's about the same today. We have plateaued off at around 20% to 23%.

Now that, of course, is just the numbers that are being reported to the health department, which are any test that's done in a doctor's office or an official lab.

That doesn't include any positive tests that are on home tests. Those are not getting reported to the health department at this time. And so, those are not getting counted in those numbers.

I suspect there's a significant under-reporting of the number of cases that are actually out in the community, and I think you are seeing that also in the hospital census data, which is up a little bit.

There are more people in the hospital here in Virginia this week than there have been in the last couple of weeks and the last few months, actually.

There are about 711 people that are hospitalized with confirmed COVID, and about 24 of those are requiring actually ventilator support. 82 of them are in the ICU, and that is up some from the last few weeks and definitely from the last couple of months.

I think it just reflects the sheer volume of cases going on right now. There is significant spread in the community.

Novavax Vaccine Approved

Given that cases are up, it's fitting that we talk about vaccinations again at this point. We have a new vaccine that is going to be released.

The FDA and CDC approved the Novavax vaccine, and here is a link to an article about this vaccine

I think this is an interesting vaccine for a number of reasons. I'm glad we have another option available.

This vaccine does not use mRNA technology. It's different than the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines that are on the market. It's different than J&J, too.

This one is actually using much older, more commonly used vaccine technology that we've been using for decades.

The Novavax vaccine takes a piece of the protein, the spike protein, produces it in the lab, and then puts that spike protein into the vaccine, and that's injected into the person.

We make flu vaccines this way. We make hepatitis B vaccines this way, and others as well. Those are the two most common ones.

But this relies on a method that's much more tried and true and much older. It doesn't use mRNA or any DNA technology in the actual vaccine that's administered itself. It just gives you exposure to the protein, the spike protein portion of it from the virus directly in the vaccine, which again, is very similar to how a lot of our flu vaccines and our hepatitis vaccines function.

It appears to be quite safe. Appears to be pretty effective. Now, some of the testing that's done on it showed about 90% efficacy in terms of preventing symptomatic COVID, which is great. 

But that's against the original alpha variant of the virus because there's been a delay between the initial testing and now. There were some lab studies showing that it does still produce antibodies against Omicron, so that's great news as well. 

I think this is an important development. It's another new tool in our ability to fight the virus. If you were worried about getting a vaccine because of the mRNA technology and you were waiting for a more sort of traditional vaccine, it's here. It's ready for you. It appears to be safe. It appears to work.

It's a two-shot series like the other ones given about three weeks apart. You can stretch that up to eight weeks, according to the CDC. And they think you probably might require a booster after a few months, but we're not sure on that just yet.

It hasn't been approved for boosters, just the two-shot primary series.

So again, a new tool, a new option for folks that is out there for vaccination.

If you've been waiting for a more sort of traditional vaccine, it's here, and it should be available soon in your community, so just check around your local health department, talk to your doctor's office, if you are interested in getting that, and they can probably help point you in the right direction.

COVID Isn't Going Anywhere

Just as a general comment, I think this is just a good time to remember that this virus isn't going anywhere.

We're going to continue to struggle with this for the indefinite future.

So learning how to reduce your personal risk by either vaccination or avoidance of high-risk situations, and then making sure you have access to treatment when — and I say when, not if — but when you get COVID at some point as we likely all will eventually.

I managed to avoid it for two-and-a-half years myself and recently acquired it. Was not feeling great for about a week or so. Have recovered at this point. Despite being vaccinated, did acquire it. And that is true for a lot of people, unfortunately.

So again, the vaccinations, while they are very effective in the short term at preventing infection and very effective over the long term in preventing severe disease, including hospitalization and death, you may still acquire the virus and get sick.

And that, unfortunately, is just a limitation of the vaccine technology that we have at this time.

Long term, I'm hoping that eventually there's going to be more trials and more information on nasal vaccines because I think that might actually give us a better shot at reducing transmission.

I know I've talked about that a few times on this Facebook page in the past. The nasal vaccines provide us with more mucosal immunity, which is the portal of entry for the virus.

That may be something that's an important strategy in the coming months and years, but for now, we have the vaccines.

We have the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines that we've had for a while, and now the new Novavax vaccine for those who were waiting for a more traditional vaccine type.

I would encourage everybody to go ahead, and if you haven't been vaccinated yet, please do so.

And then just be careful out there, and remember, COVID isn't going anywhere, unfortunately. We have to figure out how to best protect ourselves for the long term.

Booster Protection

"How long do the boosters generally offer protection? Thinking about getting another booster soon."

Yeah, good question. It appears that they provide some enhanced protection from infection for a few months, maybe three, maybe four months, and then it starts to wane off after that.

The protection from hospitalization and severe disease is much longer, but that protection from symptomatic illness seems to only be a few months at most, unfortunately.

And again, I think it's just a limitation of the injectable vaccine technology that we are coming up against here.

When is the next update? 

Our next update will be Wednesday, August 24 at 1:00 p.m. on Facebook live. We will post a blog recap as always shortly thereafter. 

Steve E. Bishop, M.D.

As a board-certified internist and concierge doctor in Richmond, VA, Dr. Steven Bishop is passionate about helping his patients improve their lives through better health. He helps healthy adults adjust their lifestyles as they age and helps patients with complex medical diseases manage and improve their health.