After two months of a steady decline, COVID cases are climbing once again again in the U.S. In just the last week alone, infections increased by nearly 20 percent as of April 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) That’s higher than the 5 percent uptick for the prior week-to-week change—indicating that the rate of new infections is getting larger over time. The rising numbers can be largely attributed to the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, which has already overtaken its predecessor and is estimated to be causing more than 85 percent of new cases in the U.S., per the CDC.
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Not all progress is lost, however. During an April 17 interview on Fox News Sunday, Ashish K. Jha, MD, the new White House COVID response coordinator, stressed that there are still positive trends to take note of in terms of the current COVID situation in the U.S. “If you look across the country, infection numbers are still low by historical averages. And hospitalizations … are at the lowest level of the pandemic. So that’s the good news,” he told correspondent Mike Emanuel.
But according to Jha, experts are “carefully” watching the recent increase in COVID infections to see if it ends up translating into a rise in severe disease. When discussing what exact protection measures need to be taken amid the spreading BA.2 subvariant to try to prevent this outcome, the virus expert said there is “pretty compelling” data from Israel in terms of a second booster.
“When people got that second booster shot four months after their first booster, what we saw was a substantial reduction, not just in infections, but in deaths,” he explained to Emanuel. Jha noted that the data is only for those over the age of 60, but both the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated their authorizations and recommendations on March 29 to open eligibility for anyone over the age of 50 who received their initial booster at least four months ago to get a second booster shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
According to Jha, everyone over the age 50 should be weighing the option of getting another dose right now. “I think people over 60 should be getting it,” he said. “Fifty to 59? I think it’s dependent on risk profile. Talk to your doctor. It’s much more of a close call. But for people over 60, I think people should be getting that second booster.”
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The CDC’s updated guidance only said that people over the age of 50 “may choose” to receive a second booster, stopping short of explicitly saying they should get it. This could be because there is “no clear evidence that vaccine protection against severe illness is waning in healthy adults with functioning immune systems,” Michael Daignault, MD, an emergency physician and chief medical advisor to Reliant Health Services, recently told Reuters.
Gregory Poland, MD, a former FDA vaccine advisory panel member and head of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, also told the news outlet that there is no certainty on how long protection from a second booster might last, making it hard to recommend that people over 50 with no pre-existing conditions get the shot now. In fact, Poland said protection from a fourth shot is likely short-lived, so healthy people might want to time their dose for when they are taking a trip, going to a high-risk event, or experiencing more of a surge in cases.
Meanwhile, some notable virus experts have gone ahead and giving the green light for all older adults—regardless of any potential risk factors and despite the lack of clear data for some age groups. “I recommend you go and get the [fourth] shot if you’re over 50,” White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, said during an April 11 interview on MSNBC’s The ReidOut. “Very clear recommendation.”
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