Top Virus Expert Warns Boosted People to Do This "Now"

There may not be time to wait for a better option when it comes to this COVID mitigation measure.

We're getting ready to enter our third summer with the coronavirus. And while many people may be planning for the next few months as though the pandemic is over, COVID is far from done with us. In fact, cases are rising: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of new COVID cases in the U.S. increased by 8 percent in the last week. The country is still seeing nearly 110,000 new infections every single day, with more and more communities experiencing moderate to high levels of virus transmission.

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The high number of daily COVID cases right now likely includes a fair amount of breakthrough infections and reinfections, as Omicron and its subvariants are more likely to bypass the protection afforded by our current COVID vaccines and prior infection. With that in mind, vaccine manufacturers have been working over the past six months on new and revised COVID vaccine formulas. On June 8, Moderna released results on its updated Omicron-containing bivalent booster shot, revealing that the company anticipates "more durable protection against variants of concern" with this updated vaccine.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said that the company is making this vaccine its "lead candidate for a Fall 2022 booster," as early data showed that this Omicron-targeted booster produced 1.75 times as many neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant than its current vaccine. According to Bancel, Moderna will seek authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this booster and hopes to have it available for the public in the late summer.

Pfizer is also expected to have an updated booster available as soon as the fall, Monica Gandhi, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, recently told Bloomberg. This will likely be an important development in the fight against COVID, as the Biden administration recently revealed that it's preparing for a potential fall or winter surge that could infect 100 million Americans later this year, according to The New York Times.

Knowing these new variant-targeted vaccines are on the horizon, should you be waiting to get a second booster? According to Gandhi, that depends on a few factors, especially since our existing boosters do still offer some protection against the current COVID variants. "I would advise—depending on case rates in your area and your age—getting the fourth dose now,"  she told Bloomberg. "And then deciding what to get in the fall."

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In March, the CDC and the FDA authorized a second booster for immunocompromised people and anyone 50 years and older who got their initial booster more than four months prior. Then just two months later, the CDC strengthened their guidance for this additional shot—advising individuals to get their fourth dose as soon as they become eligible.

"Over the past month we have seen steady increases in cases, with a steep and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans," the agency said at the time. "While older Americans have the highest coverage of any age group of first booster doses, most older Americans received their last dose (either their primary series or their first booster dose) many months ago, leaving many who are vulnerable without the protection they may need to prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death."

Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that those more at risk of getting severe COVID should definitely not be waiting for a different vaccine formula if they're already eligible for a second booster. "Higher risk individuals should stay up to date with their vaccines," he warned.

On the other hand, individuals who have moderate to low risk of getting severe COVID might want to consider waiting for an updated booster that targets the Omicron variant—which could possibly arrive this fall. "If you're an average-risk person and completed another booster or your first booster, I think there's no harm in getting it, but there's only marginal value," Adalja said. "I think if and when a more variant-specific or updated vaccination or booster becomes available, that will be valuable."

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