Jha: COVID-19 death risk 'close to zero' with boosters

While the U.S. keeps close watch on several omicron variants that can more easily evade immunity ahead of an anticipated winter surge, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator believes there's reason to remain optimistic. 

"If you are up to date with your vaccines and if you get treated, if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from COVID-19 is now close to zero," Ashish Jha, MD, told reporters during an Oct. 11 briefing at the White House. 

Dr. Jha said the U.S. is "carefully monitoring the rise of several subvariants," including some that are more immune evasive than BA.5 and render treatments ineffective. 

"The good news is all of these subvariants do arise from a BA.2 or BA.5. That means our updated bivalent vaccines should provide a much higher degree of protection than the original prototype vaccine would have," especially against severe illness, he said. 

CDC variant proportion estimates show BA.5 remains the dominant variant, making up about 80 percent of cases for the week ending Oct. 8. Newer omicron relatives are gaining a foothold: BA.4.6 now accounts for an estimated 14 percent of cases and BF.7 nearly 5 percent. 

Most models from government agencies and academic institutions anticipate a rise in infections from November through January, Dr. Jha said, urging people to get boosted by Halloween in order for the immune system to start generating the benefits before holiday gatherings. 

"My message today from this briefing room is very simple: Don't wait. Get your new flu shot and get your new COVID shot," Dr. Jha said. "If Americans did that, we could save hundreds of lives each day this winter." 


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