COVID-19 is back, and it’s making headlines in the United States. The virus is spreading at a rate that reminds us of the challenging times in 2020 and during the Delta variant wave in 2021. To combat this return, the World Health Organization (WHO) urges those at higher risk to roll up their sleeves for booster shots.
Let’s start with the numbers, and they’re concerning. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are rising, creeping closer to the levels we saw at the beginning of the pandemic and during the Delta variant surge. Data from wastewater surveillance and Biobot Analytics paints a worrisome picture.
650,000 Americans Contracting COVID Daily
According to Jay Weiland, a leading expert, “a staggering 650,000 Americans are contracting the virus every day.” To put that in perspective, that’s roughly one person in every 46.
“Take note: J.P.’s model based on U.S. wastewater indicates the current wave for infections is approaching the level of the ancestral, Alpha, and Delta waves,” cautioned Eric Topol on Twitter.
Unfortunately, the road ahead doesn’t look too promising. Weiland predicts that over the next six weeks, an additional 7% to 10% of the U.S. population may get infected. So, while there is hope for improvement, we might not see a significant drop in cases until later this fall and winter.
Alarm Is Rising
The WHO isn’t standing idly by. They’re closely monitoring the global COVID situation, and it’s raising alarm bells. Infections, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions are climbing in many countries.
Maria Van Kerkhove, who heads the technical COVID-19 response team, emphasizes the significance of vaccination and seeking immediate medical care. Interestingly, her advice takes an unexpected turn: she suggests booster shots for individuals at high risk, even if these boosters aren’t the most recent ones available.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken swift action. They’ve given the green light for everyone aged six months and older to receive updated COVID boosters tailored to target the XBB Omicron strain.
Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax boosters have all received approval from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The FDA has also given its approval for Moderna and Pfizer, and Novavax is likely on the way.
Vaccine Is “Safe and Effective” for All Ages
“It is clear that the vaccine remains safe and effective at all ages,” reassures Dr. Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association.
Health experts want to drive home one point — boosters are crucial. They help slow the spread of the virus and protect against severe cases. The American Medical Association estimates that these booster shots could prevent thousands of hospitalizations and deaths in the years to come.
This year’s boosters are specifically designed to battle the XBB.1.5 “Kraken” strain. While it was a dominant force last year, it’s now on the decline. Despite the Kraken’s retreat, these boosters are still expected to offer robust protection against current strains.
Dr. Stuart Ray from Johns Hopkins’ Department of Medicine explains that the vaccine formula “is highly similar” to what’s currently available, providing defense even against highly mutated strains.
Virus Variants Developing Concerning Mutations
There’s a growing number of virus variants developing concerning mutations, such as F486P, F456L, and L455F. These tweaks make the virus more infectious and better at evading our immune system’s defenses.
These mutations, known as “flip” mutations, are becoming a real headache. With almost 20% of wastewater samples showing these mutations, they could become a significant concern this fall and winter.
COVID-19 isn’t going away just yet. We need to stay vigilant and continue getting vaccinated to beat this virus. The WHO’s booster recommendation and the CDC’s approval of updated boosters give us a fighting chance to manage the pandemic’s impact.
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