Throughout the pandemic, the novel coronavirus has proven to be a formidable foe as far as predicting how it will evolve and affect us differently. Each new major variant—and even certain subvariants—have come with a serious set of concerns about whether our current defenses against COVID-19 will hold up. The Omicron variant has been no exception, with its BA.5 subvariant quickly rising to dominance over the past two months and now being responsible for 88.8 percent of current cases nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from the week ending on Aug. 13. But fortunately, health experts are optimistic that there are ways the public can shore up protection against the constantly changing threat. These include Anthony Fauci, MD, chief COVID adviser to the White House, who recently said doing one thing will slash your “risk of infection and severe disease.” Read on to see how you can better your odds against the virus.
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After nearly two and a half years of living with the pandemic, the public is more than ready to put the virus firmly behind them and resume a normal life. But during an Aug. 17 video conference interview with the Grio, Fauci pointed out that the U.S. was currently undergoing a “summer surge” that has kept case numbers shockingly high.
“If you look at the infection rate now as late into the summer as mid-August, we’re still seeing well over 100,000 documented cases every day,” he said. “And since so many people get infected and get the home test and never report that they’re infected, the actual number of infections is probably multifold, more than just 100,000 a day.”
He added that despite being unable to pinpoint actual case counts, death rates have remained very high at about 400 per day for months, telling the Grio he found that “very disturbing.” But he went on to explain there’s a way for people to potentially avoid such outcomes.
The top COVID adviser went on to address how Black Americans are still experiencing disproportionately worse infection rates, severe disease, and death from COVID-19 than the white population in the U.S. Fauci said that the disparity is likely tied to underlying health issues such as hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. He also pointed out that Black Americans face a greater risk of exposure due to holding a higher percentage of jobs that force them to interact with the public, per the Grio. But, fortunately, he pointed out that there will soon be a new way to help safeguard against serious illness.
“If the African American population or anybody … want to diminish their risk of infection and severe disease, stay heads up for the availability of this updated bivalent BA.5 vaccine,” Fauci said.
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The original release of safe and highly effective vaccines over a year and a half ago helped provide the first significant protection against COVID-19. But as more time has passed since the initial doses and the virus has changed to evade the immunity the shots offer, officials have spoken about the need to shore up the body’s defenses with a supplemental dose. The latest versions of the shot—known as a bivalent vaccine—will be targeted to specifically protect against both the original strain of COVID and the BA.5 subvariant, The Washington Post reported. The updated booster should be available as early as mid-September.
In an interview with The Hill’s Rising on July 25, Fauci emphasized the importance of the latest shot. “As we get into the fall, you’d want to boost with a BA.5 [vaccine]—so that if you get BA.5 or something closely related to that, you will enhance the immunity against that particular variant,” he said.
However, he pointed out there are still unknowns when rolling out such a shot. “There’s always the possibility that you’re going to have the evolution of another variant,” Fauci said. “And hopefully, if that occurs, it will vary off from the BA.5 only slightly—in the sense of being a sub-sub-lineage of it, and not something entirely different. That’s the situation you always face when you’re dealing with a moving target.”
Fauci recently expressed concern that large portions of the public could be vulnerable without additional protection. During an appearance on Los Angeles radio station KNX News’ KNX In Depth on Aug. 2, he said that a potential fall or winter spike of COVID-19 might catch many off-guard with their immunity.
“There are enough people who don’t fall into [high-risk] categories, that if they don’t get vaccinated, if they don’t get boosted, they’re going to get into trouble,” he warned.
Research has shown that Americans may be lagging regarding staying on top of their shots. Data from the CDC shows that while 67.2 percent of the U.S. population received all required shots for their initial vaccine doses, only 48.2 percent have taken the first booster. And only 32 percent of those aged 50 or older who are eligible to receive a second booster have decided to get the shot.
Fauci emphasized that focusing on the protection the shots could provide is essential. “Right now, we have boosters that are very effective in diminishing any aspect of the infection. A virus like BA.5, which is the most prevalent circulating virus, is so transmissible that it often breaks through the protection of vaccine,” he told KNX News. “But the vaccines and the boosters still do a very good job at preventing you from progressing to severe disease.”