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What happens with the new variant? How long do boosters last? : Goats and soda : NPR

A booster shot is given on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

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Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

What happens with the new variant? How long do boosters last? : Goats and soda : NPR

A booster shot is given on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

We regularly answer frequently asked questions about the coronavirus. If you have a question you’d like us to consider for a future article, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject: “Weekly questions on the coronavirus”. See an archive of our FAQs here.

I heard it was another new variant of SARS-CoV-2. Say it’s not true!

Yes, it’s true. Viruses mutate, new variants appear. This has happened many times with SARS-CoV-2 since the start of the pandemic in 2020. And it’s happening again. In mid-August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced, “A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 called BA.2.86 has been detected in samples taken from people in Denmark and Israel. At least two cases have been identified in the United States. This variant is remarkable because it has multiple genetic differences from previous versions of SARS-CoV-2.

In fact, there are 35 mutations on the Spike protein compared to the variants currently in circulation. That’s as big a difference as there was between the original virus and the omicron variant identified in November 2021.

The Spike protein is what the virus uses to enter our cells. These mutations could potentially help the virus evade the protection provided by COVID vaccinations and previous infections, says Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist and scientific consultant to the CDC, who writes the blog “Your Local Epidemiologist.”

The CDC and the World Health Organization are taking a closer look.

There is not yet enough data to assess the potential for this variant to cause a wave. But the CDC said Wednesday that “based on what [it] It is now known that existing tests used to detect and drugs used to treat COVID-19 appear to be effective” for the variant.

The CDC also believes that BA.2.86 may be more likely to cause infection in people who have had COVID-19 in the past or who have received COVID-19 vaccines, as mutations on the spike protein could allow it to evade our immune system despite previous vaccinations. and having had COVID-19. Scientists are currently evaluating the effectiveness of the new booster, which is expected to be approved by mid-September.

And companies that do antigen tests, vaccines, and treatments are testing them to see if they work on the variant.

If it is concluded that this variant poses a significant risk of triggering waves of cases due to its mutations, it will be given its own name. That name, next in the Greek alphabet for COVID variants, would be pi.

I have a 66-year-old friend who has never stopped wearing a mask and still refuses to go to restaurants, movies, or even socialize indoors. He received the last reminder. Are these extreme precautions still justified at this stage?

“It’s complicated,” says Dr. Waleed Javaid, an epidemiologist and director of infection prevention and control at downtown Mount Sinai in New York City. “Some people have refused to wear a mask, and others refuse to unmask it. Part of it comes down to knowing your risks, like if you’re traveling in a crowded space.”

Javaid says we need to empathize with the needs of others. “We don’t know the risks of others. Some people may have serious illnesses, immunocompromised conditions, cancers or transplants – and don’t share this information with friends or relatives.”

Andrew Pekosz, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, says “it is still very, very clear that hospitalizations and deaths from COVID – currently on the rise – are driven by certain parts of the population. : “People over the age of 65, those with underlying medical conditions, people undergoing cancer treatment, solid organ transplant recipients, and immunocompromised people.” In my opinion, if you do part of those groups, that should more than justify taking a few extra precautions if you want to minimize your risk,” he says. “And I think we as a society need to be a little more tolerant of individuals who feel the need to take these steps to protect themselves.”

When it comes to case counts, the end of the COVID-related public health emergency means that a lot of case data is no longer being collected. But in the United States, emergency room visits are still counted and are increasing. U.S. hospitalizations are also still being reported and have been rising steadily since July, based on CDC data. For the week ending August 12, there were 12,613 new hospitalizations due to the virus, compared to 10,370 the previous week.

How long will it take for the new booster, which will arrive in the fall, to confer protection? One week? 10 days?

First, news alert: A meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has been set for September 12 to discuss the COVID-19 recall update, likely to be followed by the very quick adoption by the CDC director of his recommendation and to make recommendations on who should get the updated photo. Pharmacies and medical practices are already preparing to give the shot.

Now back to the immunity you can expect. “It takes up to two weeks to get the best protection [from a vaccine]”, explains Dr. Javaid. Andrew Pekosz says that for COVID, vaccines may even work a little faster because of the previous immunity people have from vaccines and having had the virus. “In ten days you will detect an increase in your immunity and in two weeks you should be at pretty good levels that would protect you from COVID-19 infection and particularly severe COVID-19,” says Pekosz.

When does COVID vaccine and booster protection wane?

“We don’t have long-term data yet,” says Dr. Javaid. “Multiple factors are involved. There are patient-related factors, diseases, immunocompromised conditions and the ability to mount an immune response depending on drugs – like steroids – that suppress the immune system. There are also viral factors , as if the virus is mutating enough to evade our immune system.”

In general, explains Javaid, being vaccinated will provide some degree of protection against infection that can last for months or even years, due to the body’s immune memory. This means that vaccinated people will likely have milder symptoms than unvaccinated people. And so far, says Javaid, vaccines have held up well against serious diseases.

There are three vaccines this fall: the flu vaccine, the COVID booster due in the fall, and the RSV vaccine. Can I have them all at once?

You can get the flu shot and the hair loss booster without any interference on the effectiveness of either, says Matthew Frieman, research professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. . “In fact,” says Frieman, “vaccines combining the two are in clinical trials.”

Dr. Javaid points out that children receive vaccines that combine protection, such as against mumps, measles and rubella (German measles), without any problems.

The CDC also endorses pooling the flu and COVID vaccines and says you can even get them in the same arm, though giving them each in a different arm can help reduce the short-term pain that can accompany vaccination.

As for the timing… The new boosters aren’t here yet. October is considered the best month to get a flu shot because protection may decline during flu season, which ends in May or June. So assuming the new booster is available by then, you can opt for a double iron.

Then there are new, recently approved vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is also a fall virus and is most dangerous for very young children and the elderly. One vaccine is recommended for people aged 60 and over and is available now, and another has just been approved for pregnant women to protect their babies from RSV from birth. There is also a treatment for infants that works like a vaccine to protect them.

But there is no data yet on whether people over 60 can receive the RSV vaccine simultaneously with COVID and influenza vaccines. You might want to talk to your doctor about when to get the RSV vaccine if you’re in a risk group, suggests immunologist Pekosz.

I am over 65. Does it impact recall immunity?

In older people, the body may not be as aggressive in producing antibodies as in younger people, says Dr. Javaid. “That’s why it’s a good idea to ask your doctor if the CDC recommends more frequent boosters for your age or for people in certain risk groups.”

Pekosz adds that for an average person over the age of 65, “the immune response from the vaccine should last four to six months in terms of protection against severe disease.”

And everyone should consider the updated booster when it becomes available, Pekosz says, “because the variants that are currently circulating are very different from those that were in the last COVID-19 vaccine.”

The CDC advises that people exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID wear a mask for at least 10 days and that people who test positive themselves wear a mask for at least 5 days. A reader asks if 5 days is enough for an infected person?

Dr. Javaid says that if you are exposed to COVID-19 and do not develop symptoms immediately, it is a good idea to stay masked for the duration recommended by the CDC, because if you develop the virus in the coming days, your contagiousness is highest in the early days, and you can’t know when that might happen.

There is also news about home testing. On this week’s reporters call, the CDC said there are funds to send tests to libraries and public health departments, so check to see if free tests are available. Also check prices, as online and retail stores can sometimes offer discounts on at-home testing.

Fran Kritz is a Washington, DC-based health policy reporter and regular contributor to NPR. She also reports for the washington post And very good health. Find her on Twitter: @fkritz

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