If You've Done This, You May Be Most Protected From COVID, New Studies Say
Recent research has uncovered a strong protective measure against the coronavirus.
While the original Omicron variant's spread might have fallen significantly in the U.S. over the past few months, it hasn't exactly vanished. At least four Omicron subvariants are circulating around the country right now, according to New York Magazine: BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the dominant subvariant right now is BA.2, but BA.2.12.1 is quickly gaining its own foothold as cases climb. In just the last week, infections have increased by more than 30 percent in the U.S., according to the CDC. But two recent studies have given new insight into how protected you are from Omicron and its subvariants. Read on to find out more about the latest research.
Officials are pushing people to get boosters to protect against Omicron.
Even as other mitigation measures have been stripped back, officials across the U.S. are still pushing one major form of defense against Omicron and its subvariants: COVID vaccines. "COVID-19 vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging," the CDC says. "This includes primary series, booster shots, and additional doses for those who need them."
Anyone over the age of 12 is eligible for at least three COVID shots (with two initial mRNA shots and a booster), while the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just authorized a second booster for adults 50 years and older who had their initial booster shot at least four months prior. Since immunity gained from the vaccines wanes over time, at least one booster is required for you to be considered up-to-date on your COVID vaccines, according to the CDC.
"The booster shot is effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, including the Omicron variant," Daniel Varga, MD, Hackensack Meridian Health's chief physician executive, confirmed during the height of the original Omicron's surge in late Jan. 2022. "While we have seen more breakthrough infections with Omicron, we're seeing that the booster dose definitely influences the severity of the infection."
But new studies indicate something else might be even more protective.
While vaccines and boosters are important tools against COVID, some people may be even more protected through other means. Two new studies show that a breakthrough infection might be more effective at keeping vaccinated people safe than a second booster shot, Fortune reported.
The first study, which was preprinted April 1 on the bioRxiv server, comes from the German partner behind the Pfizer vaccine, BioNTech SE. According to the study, vaccinated individuals who had breakthrough Omicron cases showed a better B-cell response than those who were boosted but had not been infected. B cells are a type of white blood cell that help your immune system create antibodies in order to fight off infection, Verywell Health explains.
For the other study, researchers from the University of Washington compared blood samples of those who had been vaccinated and then had a Delta or Omicron infection with the following groups: those who had been infected first and then vaccinated, those who had been vaccinated but never infected, and those who had been infected but never vaccinated. According to the study, which was preprinted May 10 on bioRxiv, vaccinated people with breakthrough Omicron cases produced the most protective antibodies against other variants of the virus.
Experts say people who have had Omicron might not need another booster shot now.
These two studies indicate that the millions of vaccinated people who were infected with the Omicron will likely not become severely sick from another variant any time soon, Bloomberg reported. "We should think about breakthrough infections as essentially equivalent to another dose of vaccine," John Wherry, PhD, a professor and director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania who wasn't involved in either study but reviewed the BioNTech study, told the news outlet.
According to Wherry, this means if you've had COVID recently, you could wait before getting another booster shot—even if you're already eligible to get it. Other researchers say that these studies show that the U.S. potentially needs to change its vaccination efforts. "Maybe this is an indication that an updated booster might be a good idea," Theodora Hatziioannou, PhD, a virologist at The Rockefeller University, told Bloomberg.
The CDC has recently advised certain people to consider waiting for a second booster.
The CDC updated its vaccine guidance on May 13, changing its recommendations to now advise some people to consider waiting for a second booster. In a new section titled "If you are eligible, can you wait?," the agency says that eligible people who have had COVID within the past three months can wait to get a fourth dose. You should also consider waiting for this additional booster if you feel that getting it now would make you less likely to want to get another booster in the future, according to the CDC.
"A second booster may be more important in fall of 2022, or if a new vaccine for a future COVID-19 variant becomes available," the CDC now says. While the agency did not elaborate on why the extra dose might be more important later this year, many experts including White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, have warned that the U.S. could see another major COVID surge in the fall.