US officials offer hopeful tone on Covid as winter approaches

Federal health officials expressed optimism on Tuesday that the country is better prepared to deal with a surge in Covid-19 infections this winter compared to a year earlier, and they renewed their calls for Americans to receive an updated booster shot ahead of the holidays.

While the trajectory of the virus remains uncertain, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the administration hopes the combination of infections and vaccinations has created “enough community protection that we weren’t going to see a rehearsal”. from what we saw last year around this time,” when a brand new variant, Omicron, appeared seemingly out of the blue.

As families gather for Thanksgiving, officials have been watching a new Omicron subvariant, XBB, with some trepidation. This subvariant, which has caused a wave of infections in Singapore and India, appears much better able to evade antibodies created by previous infection or vaccination. Antibody protection, which is the body’s first line of defense against the virus, “is diminished in multiple ways with XBB,” Dr. Fauci said during a White House briefing.

But he said officials were encouraged by data showing the spike in XBB infections in countries like Singapore was not accompanied by a commensurate increase in hospitalizations. Experts have long said that other parts of the immune system can step in to ward off serious illness if the virus evades antibodies.

Federal officials have stressed the importance of boosters to help fortify the country against a potential surge in cases, but Americans have so far been slow to embrace the new vaccines. Nearly three months after the administration rolled out the updated doses, only about 35 million people have received one of the new vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.


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