US renews push for COVID boosters as data shows it’s protecting
Americans who have received the updated COVID-19 booster shots are better protected against symptomatic infections than those who have not — at least for now, U.S. health officials said Tuesday.
Updated boosters rolled out by Pfizer and rival Moderna in September have been a tough sell for vaccine-weary Americans. So far, only about 13% of American adults have received a “bivalent” vaccine that targets the omicron strain as well as the original coronavirus. On Tuesday, White House officials announced new pressure for more Americans to get the latest snaps.
In the first look at whether the new vaccines actually worked, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked people with coronavirus-like symptoms who sought to get tested at pharmacies nationwide between September and early November. The researchers compared the vaccination status of those who ended up having COVID-19 with those who did not.
The new booster targeting omicron added 30% to 56% protection against symptomatic infection, depending on how many previous vaccinations a person had, for how long, and their age, the CDC concluded.
The people who benefit the most are those who had never received a booster before, only two doses of the original COVID-19 vaccine at least eight months earlier, said Dr. Ruth Link-Gelles of the CDC, who has led the study.
But even people who received a summer booster of the original vaccine before seeking the new fall formula were 30 to 40 percent more protected than if they had skipped the latter vaccine, she said.
“We think of it as an added benefit or added benefit of getting one more dose, and in this case, that one more dose is a bivalent,” Link-Gelles said.
The updated boosters target the BA.5 omicron strain which until recently was the most common type. The original COVID-19 vaccines offered strong protection against severe disease and death, regardless of variant, but protection against mild infections proved to be temporary. The CDC’s analysis only tracked the first few months of use of the new boosters, so it’s too early to know how long the extra protection against symptomatic infection lasts.
But “certainly we are entering the holiday season, personally, I would like the most protection possible if I see my parents and grandparents,” Link-Gelles said. “Infection protection is going to be really helpful, because you could potentially save yourself from making a grandparent or other loved one sick.”
To that end, the Biden administration has announced a six-week campaign urging people — especially the elderly — to get the boosters, saying the shots could save lives as Americans gather for the holidays.
Even critical illness protection slipped when BA.5 was dominant, which is why health officials strongly urged seniors and other high-risk people not to ignore the new recall.
Adding to the uncertainty, the coronavirus is still mutating and now BA.5’s parents are on the rise.
Earlier this fall, Pfizer and Moderna published lab tests showing that getting an updated booster boosts virus antibody levels, including against BA.5. The companies point to preliminary antibody evidence that the new vaccines may offer at least some protection against even newer omicron subtypes, even if they don’t match exactly.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.