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COVID cases rising in US

By MINGMEI LI in New York | | Updated: 2024-01-05 11:30
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COVID cases are rising in the United States, and one variant seems to be fueling the virus' spread, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

JN.1, as the variant is known, now accounts for about 44 percent of COVID cases in the US, up from 8 percent just a month ago, according to the CDC.

JN.1 also has rapidly spread across the world in recent weeks. It accounted for 27 percent of genetic sequences submitted to a global virus database called GISAID in the week that ended Dec 3, up from 10 percent in the week that ended Nov 19.

"We are seeing JN.1 quickly become the dominant version of the COVID virus, which tells us it is more transmissible," Dr Mandy Cohen, the director of the CDC, told NBC News. "The good news is we don't see an increase in severity."

Americans are now facing a new round of respirational aliments, including COVID and influenza.

COVID is attributed to around 1,200 deaths weekly in the US, which is one-third of the rate in 2022 and one-eighth of that in 2021.

Hospitalizations due to COVID have increased by 17 percent in the week leading up to Dec 23, with around 29,000 new hospital admissions, compared with 39,000 in the same period last year and 61,000 in 2021, according to The New York Times.

Official data is limited because the CDC stopped tracking the number in May. Current numbers are based on wastewater data, positive tests, emergency department visits, hospitalization rates and death data trends.

Health authorities are now advising all people, regardless of their risk level for severe illness, to get vaccinated against both COVID and flu; utilize masks and air purifiers to avert infections; seek testing and treatment; and remain at home if they fell sick.

As of Dec 23, however, about 19 percent of adults have received the most recent COVID vaccine; roughly 44 percent have taken the annual flu shot, and just over 17 percent of adults age 60 and older have been vaccinated for RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Florida's surgeon general on Wednesday called for a halt to COVID vaccines, claiming that the shots could contaminate patients' DNA.

In a Florida Department of Health bulletin, Dr Joseph Ladapo said the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC hadn't properly assessed a risk that "DNA fragments" in widely administered mRNA vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech can cause "contaminate integration with human DNA".

Ladapo had first raised the issue in a Dec 6 letter to the FDA.

"The FDA's response does not provide data or evidence that the DNA integration assessments they recommended themselves have been performed," Ladapo, Florida's highest-ranking health official, said Wednesday.

"DNA integration poses a unique and elevated risk to human health and to the integrity of the human genome, including the risk that DNA integrated into sperm or egg gametes could be passed onto offspring of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine recipients," he said. "If the risks of DNA integration have not been assessed for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, these vaccines are not appropriate for use in human beings."

In response, the FDA said Wednesday: "The FDA stands firmly behind the safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality of the approved and authorized COVID-19 vaccines, and respectfully disagrees with the Florida Surgeon General's opinion. With over a billion doses of the mRNA vaccines administered and following very careful review of all the available scientific evidence, the FDA has not identified safety concerns related to the sequence of, or amount of, residual DNA."

Dr Ashish Jha, a former White House COVID-19 response coordinator and dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, said Ladapo's claim of DNA fragments is "scientific nonsense''.

"People who understand how these vaccines are made and administered understand that there is no risk here," Jha told The Washington Post.

"We've seen this pattern from Ladapo that every few months he raises some new concern, and it quickly gets debunked," he said, referring to a claim by Ladapo in September that the latest release of COVID boosters hadn't been tested on humans, and that he attributed life-threatening conditions reported in Florida and elsewhere to the COVID vaccines, leading the FDA to issue a rebuttal.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, appointed Ladapo in 2021, and both have opposed the vaccine, suggesting that the shots cause serious harm. Florida has the lowest vaccination rate in the US.

Florida became the first state to recommend against the COVID-19 vaccine for healthy children, contrary to the CDC's recommendation that most Americans 6 months and older receive booster shots.

Ladapo's latest contention is "very irresponsible'', John Wherry, a vaccine expert and director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Post.

The Harvard-educated Ladapo is associated with a group called America's Frontline Doctors, which has pushed bogus COVID-19 cures, according to a Time magazine investigation.

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