Faced with yet another variant of COVID-19, this one said to be faster and more subtle than its predecessors, health officials have changed their calculus and are calling for stronger vaccines to bolster the nation’s arsenal.
There is a renewed push for people over the age of 5 to get out and take their first booster if they haven’t already. Despite significant improvements in hospitalizations and deaths from the third shot, only 48% of Americans received the third vaccine. Data From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials recommend a second booster shot four months after the first booster shot, but only for people age 50 and older and those with weakened immune systems who received the first booster but are considered at high risk.
“My message to people 50 and older is simple. In the year If you don’t get a vaccine shot in 2022 — if you don’t get one this year, please get another shot,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“If you haven’t been vaccinated this year, go now. It could save your life,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control are considering expanding eligibility to include all adults in the next few weeks, Jha said.
But the new urgency to provide secondary boosters to young people has been met with confusion, especially after federal officials previously indicated that shots for non-high-risk people would not be necessary until the fall.
And even for those over 50, advance guidance on the CDC website says that if you’re hesitant to get one in the fall, you should wait until fall to get a second boost. The emergence of the omicron subvariant BA.5 seems to have changed that calculus.
Why does BA.5 change the urgency of booster shots?
BA.5, which is estimated to account for 65% of new Covid-19 cases in the US, became dominant earlier this month, according to CDC data. It has brought many cases and hospitalizations, which may have resulted in death.
Immunity against covid and its vaccine appears to be the greatest immunity difference the world has ever seen compared to past immunity.
That means people with Covid-19 are still at risk of re-infection.
And that decline in protection, combined with a new variant that’s better at getting around the vaccine, poses a renewed threat.
Director of Vanderbilt’s Vaccine Research Program and Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, C. “The frequency of BA.5 infections is increasing in the U.S. For people who haven’t been vaccinated for several months, their immune system is probably going down,” Buddy Creech told ABC.
So who should get it?
Even if you’ve had Covid-19 before and plan to get a boost this fall, experts who spoke to ABC News widely agreed that qualified people should still make sure they’re up, as different vaccines are expected to become available. So far with the Covid-19 vaccines and booster shots.
Dr. Bob Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News: “If I hadn’t found motivation number two, I would have found it today.”
“You could have a painless, free and essentially risk-free intervention that would reduce the risk of mortality, hospitalization, and at least some time of infection while the virus is absolutely rampant,” Vachter said. “That seems like a very easy call to me.”
Vachter says the risks of another booster shot are less than most of the procedures he performs every day while working in the hospital, and it has great benefits.
“The incentive is as safe as we do. So when I think there might be benefits, my chances of giving it are very low,” he said.
What if you recently had covid?
Although the CDC recommends waiting three months after contracting Covid-19 to get vaccinated, experts who monitor BA5 say they think people should consider getting the shot a month or two after recovery.
“I shortened my schedule. If you’ve been infected for a month or more and are now eligible for incentives, I would go ahead and get them,” Wachter said.
Because BA.5 is able to escape earlier infections better than earlier variants, people who have recently had Covid should not consider it as strong a defense as before.
“Anyone who was infected a month ago, the educated guess is that it’s not BA.5, and therefore, as long as you’re immune, it’s not good,” Wachter said.
Dr. Anna Durbin, director of the Center for Immunization Research at Johns Hopkins University, also said that at-risk individuals would wait a month or perhaps two months.
“You want your immune system to cool down a little bit before you give another vaccine, because once it’s cooled down, that’s when the vaccine will have the greatest effect,” she told the ABC.
“That recent infection gives you an immune response that keeps you out of the hospital. It’s a better boost than the vaccine because it’s more in line with what’s currently circulating,” Durbin added.
Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agreed that the need for a booster soon after an infection is over is not urgent, because the added value of a booster shot soon is “relatively small.”
What about incentives coming this fall?
Although the U.S. is expecting a new booster campaign this fall with improved vaccines, many experts have encouraged them to get a boost now against BA.5 and when the new vaccines arrive in a few months.
“There’s a theoretical risk of it going up, but we’ve been at this for two years now, we’ve had people have two, three, four shots – and I think that remains a theoretical risk,” he told the ABC. “I don’t think there’s strong evidence that it’s true.”
Derby said she thinks people who get a boost now will still have a strong impact if the gap between shots is long enough for another boost this fall or winter.
“Now that it’s July, there’s enough of a window between that boost and then the micron-based boost and you should be able to take advantage of that in the fall,” she said.
If health agencies recommend youth empowerment, should they get it?
Experts agree that if the FDA and CDC decide to open up eligibility for a second booster shot for young people, it would be worth re-boosting protection in certain cases.
“I would say the benefits outweigh the risks,” Durbin said.
It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of contracting Covid, though, and people shouldn’t expect how quickly the virus has evolved since the first vaccines were developed.
“We have to be really careful in our messaging and manage people’s expectations, otherwise they don’t want to get more specific incentives for Omicron in the fall and they can prevent infection better than the current vaccine,” Durbin said. .
That said, other experts were more conservative in their advice to young people.
“While the benefits of the vaccine certainly outweigh the risks, I’m not sure it’s more urgent than ever to give young people another boost,” Dowdy said.
“However, in the BA.5 era, hospitalizations in people 70 and older are increasing over time, so the focus on people under 50 is not exactly following what we see in the data.”
And especially for young people who have recently had Covid, Wachter says it also makes sense to wait until fall.
“For someone who’s really at risk, I’d say a healthy young man gets three shots and gets Covid, then I’ll be on the fence and probably wait until fall,” Watter said.
Crick added that although some young Americans are hesitant to get the boost between now and the fall, most people understand the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the importance of staying safe.
“I think they realize that there’s always a new variant of Covid lurking in the shadows and that vaccines are the best defense we have,” Crick said.