January 5, 2023

Clinical Reports

  • Virological characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 XBB variant derived from recombination of two Omicron subvariants
    • In late 2022, the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron subvariants have highly diversified, and XBB is spreading rapidly around the world. This phylogenetic analyses suggested that XBB emerged by recombination of two co-circulating BA.2 lineages, BJ.1 and BM.1.1.1 (a progeny of BA.2.75), during the summer of 2022 around India. In vitro experiments revealed that XBB is the most profoundly resistant variant to BA.2/5 breakthrough infection sera ever and is more fusogenic than BA.2.75. Notably, the recombination breakpoint is located in the receptor-binding domain of spike, and each region of recombined spike conferred immune evasion and augmented fusogenicity to the XBB spike. Finally, the intrinsic pathogenicity of XBB in hamsters is comparable to or even lower than that of BA.2.75. This multiscale investigation provided evidence suggesting that XBB is the first documented SARS-CoV-2 variant increasing its fitness through recombination rather than single mutations.
  • SARS-CoV-2 infection and persistence in the human body and brain at autopsy
    • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is known to cause multi-organ dysfunction during acute infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), with some patients experiencing prolonged symptoms, termed post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2. However, the burden of infection outside the respiratory tract and time to viral clearance are not well characterized, particularly in the brain. Here researchers carried out complete autopsies on 44 patients who died with COVID-19, with extensive sampling of the central nervous system in 11 of these patients, to map and quantify the distribution, replication and cell-type specificity of SARS-CoV-2 across the human body, including the brain, from acute infection to more than seven months following symptom onset. Researchers show that SARS-CoV-2 is widely distributed, predominantly among patients who died with severe COVID-19, and that virus replication is present in multiple respiratory and non-respiratory tissues, including the brain, early in infection. Further, they detected persistent SARS-CoV-2 RNA in multiple anatomic sites, including throughout the brain, as late as 230 days following symptom onset in one case. Despite extensive distribution of SARS-CoV-2 RNA throughout the body, researchers observed little evidence of inflammation or direct viral cytopathology outside the respiratory tract. This data indicates that in some patients SARS-CoV-2 can cause systemic infection and persist in the body for months. 
  • Long-term cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19
    • The cardiovascular complications of acute coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are well described, but the post-acute cardiovascular manifestations of COVID-19 have not yet been comprehensively characterized. Here researchers used national healthcare databases from the US Department of Veterans Affairs to build a cohort of 153,760 individuals with COVID-19, as well as two sets of control cohorts with 5,637,647 (contemporary controls) and 5,859,411 (historical controls) individuals, to estimate risks and 1-year burdens of a set of pre-specified incident cardiovascular outcomes. Researchers show that, beyond the first 30 d after infection, individuals with COVID-19 are at increased risk of incident cardiovascular disease spanning several categories, including cerebrovascular disorders, dysrhythmias, ischemic and non-ischemic heart disease, pericarditis, myocarditis, heart failure and thromboembolic disease. These risks and burdens were evident even among individuals who were not hospitalized during the acute phase of the infection and increased in a graded fashion according to the care setting during the acute phase (non-hospitalized, hospitalized and admitted to intensive care). These results provide evidence that the risk and 1-year burden of cardiovascular disease in survivors of acute COVID-19 are substantial. Care pathways of those surviving the acute episode of COVID-19 should include attention to cardiovascular health and disease.
  • Heart-disease risk soars after COVID — even with a mild case
    • People who had recovered from COVID-19 showed stark increases in 20 cardiovascular problems over the year after infection. For example, they were 52% more likely to have had a stroke than the contemporary control group, meaning that, out of every 1,000 people studied, there were around 4 more people in the COVID-19 group than in the control group who experienced stroke. The risk of heart failure increased by 72%, or around 12 more people in the COVID-19 group per 1,000 studied. Hospitalization increased the likelihood of future cardiovascular complications, but even people who avoided hospitalization were at higher risk for many conditions.

Antiviral Therapeutics and Vaccines

  • Alarming antibody evasion properties of rising SARS-CoV-2 BQ and XBB subvariants
    • The BQ and XBB subvariants of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron are now rapidly expanding, possibly due to altered antibody evasion properties deriving from their additional spike mutations. Here, researchers report that neutralization of BQ.1, BQ.1.1, XBB, and XBB.1 by sera from vaccines and infected persons was markedly impaired, including sera from individuals boosted with a WA1/BA.5 bivalent mRNA vaccine. Titers against BQ and XBB subvariants were lower by 13- to 81-fold and 66- to 155-fold, respectively, far beyond what had been observed to date. Monoclonal antibodies capable of neutralizing the original Omicron variant were largely inactive against these new subvariants, and the responsible individual spike mutations were identified. These subvariants were found to have similar ACE2-binding affinities as their predecessors. Together, these findings indicate that BQ and XBB subvariants present serious threats to current COVID-19 vaccines, render inactive all authorized antibodies, and may have gained dominance in the population because of their advantage in evading antibodies.
  • Comparative effectiveness of third doses of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines in US veterans
    • Vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 has been effective in reducing the burden of severe disease and death from COVID-19. Third doses of mRNA-based vaccines have provided a way to address waning immunity and broaden protection against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. However, their comparative effectiveness for a range of COVID-19 outcomes across diverse populations is unknown. Researchers emulated a target trial using electronic health records of US veterans who received a third dose of either BNT162b2 or mRNA-1273 vaccines between 20 October 2021 and 8 February 2022, during a period that included Delta- and Omicron-variant waves. Eligible veterans had previously completed an mRNA vaccine primary series. Researchers matched recipients of each vaccine in a 1:1 ratio according to recorded risk factors. Each vaccine group included 65,196 persons. The excess number of events over 16 weeks per 10,000 persons for BNT162b2 compared with mRNA-1273 was 45.4 (95% CI: 19.4, 84.7) for documented infection, 3.7 (2.2, 14.1) for symptomatic COVID-19, 10.6 (5.1, 19.7) for COVID-19 hospitalization, 2.0 (−3.1, 6.3) for COVID-19 intensive care unit admission and 0.2 (−2.2, 4.0) for COVID-19 death. After emulating a second target trial of veterans who received a third dose between 1 January and 1 March 2022, during a period restricted to Omicron-variant predominance, the excess number of events over 9 weeks per 10,000 persons for BNT162b2 compared with mRNA-1273 was 63.2 (95% CI: 15.2, 100.7) for documented infection. The 16-week risks of COVID-19 outcomes were low after a third dose of mRNA-1273 or BNT162b2, although risks were lower with mRNA-1273 than with BNT162b2, particularly for documented infection.
  • Time to negative PCR conversion among high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 COVID-19 treated by Sotrovimab or Nirmatrelvir
    • Among the 255 included patients, of whom 199/255 (80%) received ≥3 vaccine doses, 195/255 (76%) received Sotrovimab and 60/255 (24%) received Nirmatrelvir. At day 28, new COVID-19-related hospitalization occurred in 4/193 (2%, 95%CI 1-5%) Sotrovimab-treated patients, and 0/55 Nirmatrelvir-treated patient (p=0.24). One out of 55 Nirmatrelvir-treated patients died (2%, 95%CI 0-10%). The median time to negative PCR was 11.5 days (95%CI 10.5-13) in Sotrovimab-treated patients vs. 4 days (95% CI 4-9) in Nirmatrelvir-treated patients (p<0.001). Viral decay was faster in patients who received Nirmatrelvir (p<0.001). In multivariable analysis Nirmatrelvir and nasopharyngeal PCR cycle threshold value were independently associated with a faster conversion to negative PCR (HR 2.35, 95%CI 1.56-3.56, p<0.0001, and HR 1.05, 95%CI 1.01-1.08, p=0.01, respectively). Early administration of Nirmatrelvir in high-risk patients, compared to Sotrovimab, was associated with a faster viral clearance. This may participate to decrease transmission and prevent viral resistance.
  • The Fc-effector function of COVID-19 convalescent plasma contributes to SARS-CoV-2 treatment efficacy in mice
    • COVID-19 convalescent plasmas (CCPs) are chosen for plasma therapy based on neutralizing titers and anti-Spike immunoglobulin levels. However, CCP characteristics that promote SARS-CoV-2 control are complex and incompletely defined. Using an in vivo imaging approach, researchers demonstrate that CCPs with low neutralizing (ID50 ≤ 1:250), but moderate to high Fc-effector activity, in contrast to those with poor Fc function, delay mortality and/or improve survival of SARS-CoV-2-challenged K18-hACE2 mice. The impact of innate immune cells on CCP efficacy depended on their residual neutralizing activity. Fractionation of a selected CCP revealed that IgG and Ig(M + A) were required during therapy, but the IgG fraction alone sufficed during prophylaxis. Finally, despite reduced neutralization, ancestral SARS-CoV-2-elicited CCPs significantly delayed Delta and Beta-induced mortality suggesting that Fc-effector functions contribute to immunity against VOCs. Thus, Fc activity of CCPs provide a second line of defense when neutralization is compromised and can serve as an important criterion for CCP selection.

Epidemiology

  • Infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 breakthrough infections and reinfections during the Omicron wave
    • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals and reinfections in previously infected individuals have become increasingly common. Such infections highlight a broader need to understand the contribution of vaccination, including booster doses, and natural immunity to the infectiousness of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infections, especially in high-risk populations with intense transmission, such as in prisons. Here researchers show that both vaccine-derived and naturally acquired immunity independently reduce the infectiousness of persons with Omicron variant SARS-CoV-2 infections in a prison setting. Analyzing SARS-CoV-2 surveillance data from December 2021 to May 2022 across 35 California state prisons with a predominately male population, researchers estimate that unvaccinated Omicron cases had a 36% (95% confidence interval (CI): 31–42%) risk of transmitting infection to close contacts, as compared to a 28% (25–31%) risk among vaccinated cases. In adjusted analyses, researchers estimated that any vaccination, prior infection alone and both vaccination and prior infection reduced an index case’s risk of transmitting infection by 22% (6–36%), 23% (3–39%) and 40% (20–55%), respectively. Receipt of booster doses and more recent vaccination further reduced infectiousness among vaccinated cases. These findings suggest that, although vaccinated and/or previously infected individuals remain highly infectious upon SARS-CoV-2 infection in this prison setting, their infectiousness is reduced compared to individuals without any history of vaccination or infection. This study underscores benefit of vaccination to reduce, but not eliminate, transmission.

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