Virus Experts Are Warning Vaccinated People Not To Do This
Certain issues could ruin the recent progress the U.S. has made.
Many people in the U.S. are starting to see the light at the end of the COVID pandemic tunnel. Recently, COVID numbers have fallen from the record highs hit in Jan. 2022. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new coronavirus cases have dropped by 42.8 percent in the last week, while new virus-related hospitalizations are down by 35.4 percent. As a result, state officials across the country have even started lifting certain policies put in place because of COVID, like mask requirements and vaccine mandates. But as we enter a new and hopefully better phase of the pandemic, virus experts say it's important not to create certain issues that may hinder our progress.
Vaccine manufacturers have been working on Omicron-targeted boosters since the variant first emerged. But if you're waiting on this formula in order to get an additional dose, experts are advising you not to. Plans for an Omicron booster have been recently delayed, and some experts are now saying it might not even be necessary.
Leana Wen, MD, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, told CNN that fully vaccinated people should not hold off on getting their booster in hopes of receiving an Omicron-specific one instead. She also noted that getting a regular booster now does not mean you can't get the variant targeted booster later on.
"Everyone eligible to receive a booster should do so now," Wen warned. "Here are two key reasons why: First, there is growing evidence that a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna or a second vaccine following Johnson & Johnson is needed to sustain strong protection against COVID-19 … Second, the Omicron-specific vaccines are still in clinical trials. The trials will take months to complete. We don't know yet the results of the trial and whether these variant-specific vaccines will be better than the original vaccines."
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Reuters on Feb. 16 that its Omicron-specific booster could potentially be ready by August. But Bancel said that the company is also still trying to gather clinical data to determine whether the entirely new vaccine would actually offer better protection against COVID than just a new dose of its existing formula. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a small pre-printed study on Feb. 4 that indicated that Moderna's Omicron booster did not provide this enhanced defense.
"What we're seeing coming out of these preclinical studies in animal models is that a boost with a variant vaccine doesn't really do any better than a boost with the current vaccine," David Montefiori, PhD, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center, confirmed to Nature.
Pfizer-BionTech, on the other hand, revealed that its Omicron-targeted booster had just been delayed, Reuters reported on Feb. 16. Ugur Sahin, BionTech's CEO, told the German newspaper Bild that a slower-than-expected data gathering process had held up its production by several weeks. But even when the vaccine is ready, Sahin said the company would then have to assess whether it was still needed.
"If the wave ends, that does not mean it can't begin again," he said, but noting that he doesn't "see the situation as dramatic anymore."
Many virus experts have also recently warned that the U.S. is on the verge of a boosting problem. According to the CDC, only 43 percent of fully vaccinated people in the U.S. have gotten their additional shot. That means "only about half of those eligible to receive a booster dose have done so," the agency says.
Eric Topol, MD, a public health expert who works with the nonprofit Scripps Research, told ABC-affiliate The Denver Channel, that the amount of people actually following through with a booster after their first or second shot right now is "woefully low." If more people do not get optimally protected with an additional dose, the public health expert said it is possible that another variant could emerge and ruin the progress that the U.S. has recently made.
"We are set up for trouble," Topol told the news outlet. "The vaccines hold up really well and then lose their effectiveness. It's a three-shot vaccine and we should be classifying it as such."