In light of down-trending COVID numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) has recently relaxed some restrictions, including indoor masking—much to the relief of many Americans. Now, officials are standing by to see if this change will have an effect on infection rates, but it feels like we’ve been here before. There have been a number of instances when it seemed like the pandemic might finally be subsiding—only for things to take a turn for the worse. Even with vaccines, boosters, and a better understanding of how the virus operates, evolving COVID variants are unpredictable, and surges frequently follow their arrival. With that in mind, virus experts are gearing up for their next move ahead of a possible surge. Read on to learn more about when we can expect to see a major uptick in cases.
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Spring is underway and summer is certainly on the horizon, but virus experts are wary of chillier weather—what is commonly referred to as “cold and flu season”—and how COVID will come into play.
In an April 6 conversation for Bloomberg’s Balance of Power podcast, top White House COVID advisor Anthony Fauci, MD, spoke with host David Westin on the future of the pandemic. According to Fauci, cooler temperatures come fall could lead to a surge in COVID cases.
With cold and flu infections, experts can look back at history to make informed decisions and predict what to expect in the coming seasons. But with COVID, which has now been part of our lives for over two years, officials are still navigating “uncharted waters,” Fauci said on the podcast.
During his appearance on Balance of Power, Fauci addressed a question from Westin—who has been vaccinated, boosted, and infected with the Omicron variant—about a fourth booster, which Fauci said would not be necessary in Westin’s case. “Right now, I think with three shots and infection, it is very unlikely that you’ll need a booster for the immediate future,” Fauci said. “I wouldn’t run out and get your fourth dose right now, having been infected.”
What vaccinated folks do need to realize, however, is that COVID immunity wanes over a matter of months, Fauci said. Unlike immunity to measles, which lasts a lifetime, the existing COVID vaccines and boosters provide temporary immunity, and that’s a big part of the reason why experts are concerned about a potential uptick this fall.
“That’s the wild card in this, is to be able to predict accurately what level of immunity over time will prevent us from getting either a large surge or a surge associated with hospitalizations,” Fauci said.
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Also on April 6, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, also known as VRPAC, held a meeting to discuss whether the existing COVID vaccines need to be updated to ensure effectiveness. Another hot topic of discussion was the schedule and strategy for effective booster shots.
According to Stat, who live-blogged the all-day meeting, the panel did not establish a clear plan for approving additional COVID vaccines to tackle new variants, nor was it decided if and when people will need an additional dose. The panel echoed Fauci’s concern about a surge later in the year, as well as transmission rates, potential future strains, and waning immunity to the virus.
Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are conducting studies of vaccines to target the Omicron variant, but officials will need to review data before they’re approved for use, a briefing document for the April 6 FDA meeting said. Instead of continually adding more and more booster shots, there is a need for new therapeutics to be approved that reduce more serious cases—those that result in hospitalization or death.
During the meeting, Ofer Levy, MD, PhD, director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that while the mRNA vaccines were “a godsend,” new and improved vaccines may be needed. “I don’t think a lot of people have gotten that message,” Levy said, as reported by STAT.
Ongoing conversations and a lack of conclusion necessitate another meeting, according to Peter Marks, MD, PhD, the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA. “This discussion today is a much larger discussion,” Marks said, via Stat. “It’s a discussion of what do we do for the entire population, and what do we do when we think the virus may have evolved further?”
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