It's not too late to get the latest COVID-19 booster shot.
Whether it's the bivalent vaccine from drug maker Pfizer or from Moderna, the shots offer more protection against symptomatic infection, public health officials reiterated at a White House briefing on Tuesday.
However, since the vaccines debuted in September, only 13% of American adults have gotten the updated boosters, which target both the original COVID-19 strain and the BA.5 version of the Omicron variant.
“Please, for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you're eligible,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said at the briefing. It could be the 81-year-old Fauci's last appearance at a White House briefing before his retirement from government at the end of 2022.
The White House says it's planning a six-week campaign to encourage boosters, especially for seniors, the Associated Press reported.
The government authorized the boosters before they knew that they would be effective — but now the data is in showing that they do work well at preventing severe illness, officials said.
“Certainly, as we enter the holiday season, personally I would want the most possible protection if I'm seeing my parents and grandparents,” said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Dr. Ruth Link-Gelles, who led a study testing the vaccine's effectiveness. “Protection against infection there is going to be really helpful, because you potentially would stop yourself from getting a grandparent or other loved one sick.”
CDC researchers analyzed about 360,000 COVID tests that were administered at pharmacies nationwide for people with symptoms between September and November, comparing the results of those who'd gotten the new shots against those who hadn't.
They found that getting the booster added between 30% and 56% more protection against getting COVID-19.
Test results varied based on how many times a person had previously been vaccinated, how long ago, and their age. People who'd never had a prior booster got the biggest boost from the new bivalent shot, the AP reported.
But even those people who'd received a prior booster earlier in the summer still had 30% to 40% more protection with the bivalent vaccine, versus those who didn't get the new shot.
“We think about it as the additional benefit or incremental benefit of getting one more dose, and in this case that one more dose is a bivalent,” Link-Gelles explained.
Even as newer mutated strains dominate, the original vaccine still offers some protection against getting severe disease and death, although the BA.5 surge has diminished that effect. That's why boosters targeted to newer variants are important, the health officials said.
There's not just COVID to worry about this fall: The U.S. medical system is already feeling the effects of a strong and unusually early flu season, as well as the spread of other respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
A winter surge of COVID may put people who've never had a COVID vaccine most at risk.
Of course, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate, and newer subtypes related to BA.5 are now dominant in the population. However, both Pfizer and Moderna have cited preliminary antibody evidence suggesting the new shots may offer at least some protection against any new Omicron subtypes that have started spreading since the shots' release.
The new boosters are safe and effective, public health officials emphasized, but too many Americans may still not believe that.
“You can decide to trust America's physicians or you can trust some random dude on Twitter,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, said at the briefing.
Fauci said that “as a physician, it pains me” that people are refusing vaccination because of the U.S. political divide, the AP reported.
The World Health Organization has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: Associated Press