We've come a long way since the original Omicron variant was surging through the U.S. this past winter, creating a record high number of infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), daily COVID cases are falling around the country, with new reported infections down more than 8 percent from the week prior.
But we're certainly not in the clear yet. The agency's data shows that there is still an average of more than 100,000 cases being reported every day. Of the new cases, 59 percent are being caused by the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1, and the rest of the infections are coming from other highly infectious subvariants, like BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5. As these variants spread throughout the country, one of the nation's top COVID advisers has a new warning for those most worried about their protection against the coronavirus. Read on to find out what he is suggesting for those "very concerned" about their immunity.
Recent research shows breakthrough infections could become increasingly common.
The likelihood of breakthrough COVID infections might be even higher with two risings Omicron subvariants: BA.4 and BA.5. One study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed but was released May 26 as a preprint on bioRxiv, found that these two subvariants are about three times more resistant to immunity from vaccinations. As a result, the researchers said they are substantially "more likely to lead to vaccine breakthrough infections."
And that's not the only research pointing to a similar concern. A June 2 study published in Science Immunology found that even vaccinated individuals who already had a breakthrough infection with the original Omicron variant could be at risk. According to the study, breakthrough Omicron cases appeared to produce immunity against subvariant BA.2 and previous variants. But these individuals did not show enhanced levels of protection against BA.4 and BA.5.
One of the nation's top virus experts just gave a new warning about protection.
With this knowledge, it's likely time for a new strategy. During a new interview with Fox-affiliate WFTX-TV in Southwest Florida, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, confirmed that lasting protection against this virus is hard to achieve. "Coronaviruses, historically, do not give lasting immunity, and that's the reason why with the common cold coronaviruses, we can get maybe a couple times a year," he told the news outlet.
According to Fauci, a new vaccine is likely the next step needed. "You want a vaccine that if you administer it in a nasal or oral way, it will give you enough upper airway protection that not only will you prevent infection, you will prevent transmission. And that's the major full court press that we're putting on now in the scientific community," he said.
One vaccine manufacturer just released data on its revised vaccine.
Major vaccine manufactures such as Pfizer and Moderna have been working to update their existing formulas and create new ones since the original Omicron variant first hit this past winter. On June 8, Moderna released new clinical data on its revised vaccine mRNA-1273.214, which it describes as an "Omicron-containing bivalent COVID booster candidate." According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the company anticipates that the revised booster will offer "more durable protection against variants of concern" than its original booster, based on its preliminary data.
The company said it hopes that this new booster will be available to those in the U.S. by the late summer, with Bancel calling the shot the "lead candidate for a fall 2022 booster." But as The New York Times noted, Moderna has not released any data on how its new booster protects against BA.4 or BA.5. According to the newspaper, Moderna President Stephen Hoge said during a June 8 presentation that researchers are still gathering data on these subvariants. Hoge revealed that a very small sample has already suggested that antibodies created by the updated shot are two to threefold lower against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants compared to the original Omicron.
Fauci said new boosters might be needed before substantial data is released.
Even though BA.4 and BA.5 are not the dominant variants in the U.S. right now, some vaccine experts have said that it might be better to have a new booster formulation that protects against these latest subvariants because of how quickly they are spreading—not against the original Omicron or other subvariants that have already been overtaken or are likely to be soon. But according to The New York Times, Moderna and Pfizer do not have enough time to conduct more clinical trials in people and still roll out new shots before the fall. This could mean that regulators might have to approve updated boosters based on data from laboratory tests and trials involving animals instead.
When asked if Americans would accept a booster formulation that has not undergone lengthy human trials, Fauci told The New York Times that it might be the only option for those worried most about vaccine effectiveness. "People who really are very concerned about protecting themselves will," he told the newspaper. At the same time, Fauci told WFTX-TV that current COVID vaccines still provide significant protection against hospitalization and death, even as their effectiveness against infection wanes.