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Vaccine experts urge at-risk groups to get immediate COVID-19 booster as BA.5 micron variants surge

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People at high risk for severe illness who have not yet received a second COVID-19 booster should not wait for the next-generation vaccine against Omicron in the fall, five vaccine experts told Reuters.

The BA.5 Omicron subvariant of the virus is thriving in many countries, including the United States, but current vaccines continue to provide protection against hospitalizations for severe illness and death.

And, as the virus develops, it’s unclear which version will be widely released in the fall, or whether a new vaccine — said to target BA.4/5 in the US and BA.1 in Europe — would be a good match .

A nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022.
(Reuters/Emily Elcorning)

“If you need a booster, get it now,” said Dr. John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, who co-authored an op-ed on the current research topic.

In the United States, regulators have asked Pfizer, along with its partners BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc, to develop vaccine boosters against BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron cousins ​​and the virus of origin. They should be ready by October.

Meanwhile, regulators in Europe have indicated that they will be ready to use the Omicron-based booster available in Europe as soon as possible, which is likely to be the booster for the BA.1 variant that caused the surge. winter.

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U.S. regulators hope that updated vaccines against the original strain and the Omicron variant will provide broader protection for future variants, and believe the closest-to-circulation booster is valuable.

Given the current surge and people’s weakened immunity, experts told Reuters that the best booster for those at risk is at hand.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 30 percent of people 50 and older who are eligible for a fourth dose of the vaccine have received a dose, compared with less than 50 percent of those 50 to 64 years old. 10%. A fourth dose has not been approved for people under the age of 50 or without major risk factors, and there is little support from scientific experts.

Moore said the evidence he’s seen, including at FDA meetings in June and since, suggests that the benefit of the BA.4/5 booster on d-source is “negligible” in preventing infection.

“The public should not see these Omicron-based boosters as some kind of panacea that will change the face of the pandemic and fix everything. It will have a marginal impact compared to the boosters we currently have,” he said.

“Too many people are waiting”

Eric Topol, Ph.D., director, genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said getting a second booster immunization provided an additional benefit compared to a single booster dose documented in five different studies. Survival advantage.

“Too many people are waiting when we have very good evidence,” he said.

Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine, said there is growing evidence that the farther a person travels after the last booster, the less protected they are from infection and serious illness.

“There’s a lot of Covid-19 around, and it’s a very contagious pathogen,” he said.

BA.5 has sparked a wave of new cases globally and now accounts for nearly 82% of all coronavirus infections in the United States.

Wachter is not confident that the reconstituted BA.4/5 vaccine will be ready for deployment within two months. “It seems a little ambitious to me, and even if they stick to the schedule, it may go to the highest-risk groups first,” he said. “I think it might take three or four months for the average person. »

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Pfizer told Reuters it had produced several million doses of the BA.4/5 vaccine.

As for the newly licensed Novavax Inc vaccine, the company has yet to seek approval to use it as a booster.

Moore, who was involved in Novavax’s clinical trial, said that while it’s a good vaccine, the company’s booster is unlikely to hit the market anytime soon. Novavax said it is developing a BA.4/5 booster and aims to have it ready by the fourth quarter.

“Everything in the pipeline takes months,” Topol said. “It’s a more virulent and pathogenic version of the virus, and it’s wise to be as protected as you can. »

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