As kids went back to school, the number of COVID-19 cases started to tick back up, up about 21% in the past week. Now the variant known as BA.2.86 is among several that health officials are watching closely, and new booster vaccines are being developed to combat the latest variants.
Moderna is conducting a trial on an updated vaccine that is expected to be ready for the fall. The company said it “showed a significant boost in neutralizing antibodies against EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants.” The company announced the vaccine research earlier this month after the World Health Organization classified EG.5 a variant of interest when it became the dominant strain in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FL 1.5.1 was starting to surge at the time.
EG.5 is called the Eris strain while FL 1.5.1 is called Fornax and BA.2.86 is called Pirola.
Eris is a viral descendent of XBB 1.5, which is known as Kraken, and is a form of the omicron variant. Fornax is also an XBB variant, Forbes reported.
Pirola is a different omicron descendant, The Washington Post reported. It is considered “highly mutated” and can avoid immunity when compared to the XBB versions. It is a ‘variant under monitoring,” by the WHO, ABC News reported. Vaccine developers said they expect the new vaccine to work.
Pfizer and Novavax are also developing XBB-targeted vaccines, The New York Times reported.
NBC News earlier this month said that the Pfizer version could be approved by the end of August.
When will you be able to get them and when should you?
The vaccines have not yet been approved for use, so doctors are saying that you may want to wait to get a COVID-19 booster until the new ones are, which may be late September, The Washington Post reported.
Earlier this month, the clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hosptial, Dr. Paul Sax, told the Times, “For most people right now, it seems to me waiting makes more sense.”
The currently available boosters may not protect enough against the new variants, since the previous booster targeted the original COVID-19 strain and the BA.5 Omicron variant, both of which have stopped circulating, the Times reported.
“Once you’re boosting with the variant that is closest to what’s actually circulating,” you’ll have more protection, Dr. David Boulware, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School specializing in infectious diseases, told the newspaper.
By waiting you’re also giving your body the chance to fight back when cases are expected to peak which has been typically between December and February.
ABC News reported that it is a personal decision that has to be made, but that they should wait for the updated vaccines.
“If you’re in a low-risk category and don’t have consistent interaction with high-risk family or friends, waiting for the updated booster may be the right call,” Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News. “It is a highly individualized decision and unfortunately there isn’t perfect data on this.”
Federal health officials are also telling people that they should consider COVID-19 vaccines like a flu shot, an annual vaccination for all ages, The Washington Post reported, keeping in mind that there have been surges in the spring and summer.
How will they be distributed?
Once the vaccines are approved, they won’t be purchased by the federal government, so that means doctors, hospitals and pharmacies will have to buy their own, the Post reported. For people with insurance, they should be available about a week or so after the Food and Drug Administration and CDC approve their use.
Most insurance plans are expected to cover the vaccines, so there should not be an out-of-pocket fee. But CNBC reported that it all depends on a person’s individual insurance plans. Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, director of infectious diseases at New York-Presbyterian Queens, told CNBC that all someone has to do is ask the pharmacy workers if they go to a local drugstore to get their shot.
For people without insurance, the government is looking to pay for those through a new proposed program, the Post reported. Their vaccines may not be available until mid-October at the earliest.
Are there other illnesses doctors are watching for this year?
The short answer is yes.
In addition to the expected surge of COVID-19, doctors said there could also be outbreaks of flu and R.S.V this fall, The New York Times reported. The location and timing of the surges are still unknown but last year, the flu peaked in December, instead of the typical February. It caused as many as 58,000 deaths last season.
R.S.V. peaked earlier than the flu, but lasted longer, according to the Times. It targets older adults, people who are immunocompromised and young children, the newspaper reported.