The White House launches omicron-specific boosters ahead of the dreaded winter covid surge

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The White House on Tuesday announced a six-week push ahead of the winter travel season to increase recall uptake in senior citizens, minority communities and rural areas, who have suffered disproportionately from serious illnesses and deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

Anthony S. Fauci, who is President Biden’s chief medical adviser, pointed out that vaccine effectiveness declines over time and that the coronavirus is an unusual foe due to new variants emerging every few months. He pointed to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing recently authorized omicron-specific boosters protect against new variants.

“It’s clear now, despite some initial confusion,” he said.

Fauci — in his last briefing before his scheduled retirement in December, after more than four decades in government battling HIV/AIDS and Ebola and serving as the face of the scientific community during the coronavirus pandemic — urged the public to get the injections: “The final message I give you from this podium is that please, for your safety, for that of your family, get your updated covid-19 vaccine as soon as you are eligible.

The Biden administration has faced growing frustration with its two-pronged booster launch.

The United States has spent nearly $5 billion to buy 171 million bivalent boosters from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and Moderna. But efforts to market the shots to the American public have been limited, and uptake of the recall has remained slow since it was approved on Aug. 31. The CDC estimates that only about 11 percent of people ages 5 and older get it a bivalent booster.

The new CDC study represents the first published efficacy estimates based on real-world data for divalent booster shots. Previous studies have measured whether bivalent vaccines increase levels of virus-blocking antibodies in people’s blood.

Tuesday’s findings confirmed the importance of getting to new shot to boost immunity against coronavirus as it continues to evolve and produce immune variants. Last winter’s wave of omicrons made the original monovalent mRNA vaccines less effective against symptomatic infection, prompting a rush to create new vaccines incorporating components of the omicron strains, BA.4 and BA.5. The new boosters — the only shots available in pharmacies and doctor’s offices across the country — appear to offer only a modest boost in protection against infection.

“That’s a huge volume of data in a short period of time,” said Francesca Beaudoin, a clinical epidemiologist at Brown University. Overall, she said, the study shows that “there is a real but very modest benefit of the bivalent vaccine among people who have already been vaccinated, are healthy, and are presenting” for injections.

Moderna says the new booster increases protection from omicron subvariants

But Beaudoin and others described the study as “disappointing” because it doesn’t shed light on key questions like the new boosters’ ability to protect against serious disease.

This raises questions about the goal of bivalent vaccines, said Paul Offit, director of the vaccine education center and professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“The only reasonable goal is to prevent serious disease, a goal that has largely been achieved with monovalent vaccines,” Offit said, who has previously expressed skepticism about booster shots. “We’re still waiting for a shred of proof that this bivalent vaccine or any bivalent is better than what we had.”

Meanwhile, the virus continues to evolve so fast that the BA.4 and BA.5 variants are no longer dominant.

“This should be a cautionary tale about what happens when you try to chase these variants,” Offit said.

Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said during Tuesday’s press conference that updated vaccines will likely be in demand at some point next year. A universal vaccine that affects all variants is needed for the long-term management of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“We’re at a point where this virus continues to evolve very, very rapidly,” Jha said.

The United States lags behind in some virus-related technologies and more resources are needed, Jha said. “All I can say is that Congress must do its job and step up and protect the American people.”

Pfizer says the new booster shot boosts antibodies that fight homicrons

The CDC study, which drew on data from the Increasing Community Access to Testing program, designed to make testing more available in areas of high social vulnerability, included more than 350,000 tests in nearly 10,000 retail pharmacies between Sept. 14 and Sept. Nov. 11, among adults who reported symptoms consistent with covid-19. Upon registration, participants reported their vaccination history, current symptoms, and previous infection.

The CDC researchers then calculated the vaccine effectiveness, the measure used to establish the reduction of disease among the vaccinated. people compared to those who remain unvaccinated. The study found that the bivalent boosters provided significant additional protection against symptomatic infection in people who had already received at least two injections of the monovalent vaccine. The benefit of the bivalent boosters increased the longer after a person’s last monovalent dose.

Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, also noted that the study does not address the issue that shaped Biden. recent administration strategy.

“It doesn’t prove that bivalents are any better than the original boosters,” Gounder said.

But most people ask a simpler question: “Should I get a booster?” — and the new study backs up the answer, Gounder said, “Take it.”

Carolyn Y. Johnson contributed to this report.

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