US bets on omicron boosters heading into 3rd COVID-19 fall: 4 updates

As the fall and winter months approach, health officials are anticipating omicron-targeting booster doses will help stave off infection and severe illness. 

"It's going to be really, really important for people to get this updated, new, very specific COVID vaccine because I think it's going to help a lot in preventing infections, and I think it is going to help in keeping people out of the hospital," White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, said in a recent interview, CNBC reported Sept. 1. 

While the nation will likely see some level of surge during the colder months and holiday season, health officials anticipate it will not be as severe in nature as the past two years given existing levels of immunity, the availability of treatments and soon, updated boosters. For reference, COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record highs in January; the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Jan. 20 was nearly 160,000.

Three more updates: 

1. Cases have largely held steady for the past few weeks, HHS data compiled by The New York Times shows. The daily average for new cases on Sept. 1 was 89,730, down 7 percent from two weeks ago. However, this is likely an undercount because many positive results from at-home tests are not included in the data. Hospitalizations were down, though deaths were up about 8 percent from two weeks ago, with a daily average of 513 people dying from COVID-19 on Sept. 1. 

2. The CDC signed off on updated boosters targeting omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 on Sept. 1. The agency signed off for Pfizer's updated shot to be administered among people 12 and older, and Moderna's shot for adults 18 and older. The FDA issued emergency use authorizations for the bivalent vaccines Aug. 31 and they are expected to be ready within days. 

"The updated COVID-19 boosters are formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variant," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD. "They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants." 

3. BA.5 appears to be plateauing as BA.4.6 makes gains. The highly transmissible BA.5 omicron subvariant remains dominant, though CDC variant proportions estimates suggest it is starting to plateau. For the week ending Aug. 27, the strain made up 88.7 percent of cases. A week earlier, it made up 88.2 percent. Meanwhile, another omicron offshoot, BA.4.6, now accounts for 7.5 percent of cases, the latest estimates show. That is up from 6.7 percent for the week ending Aug. 20.


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