Now is an ideal time to ensure that elderly and immunocompromised Americans are well-protected against COVID-19 as new variants spark an increase in cases overseas, a news report states.
Most Americans have been vaccinated or exposed to COVID-19, and effective treatments are available, so it is unlikely that the U.S. will ever again experience the high rates of severe illness and death of the early pandemic, according to Yahoo News. But trackers have recently seen a convergence of variants emerging across the world that can better skirt the immune system than prior variants.
In the United Kingdom, for example, infections from a particularly wily variant called BQ.1.1 have doubled each week, “a rate of growth that far exceeds other leading sublineages,” the news outlet reported.
This, plus waning immunity, could create a variant wave in North America by the end of November, one expert said. The U.S. is already seeing the variant BA.4.6 become more prominent, with more than 14% of cases attributed to it last week.
Experts are most concerned about variants BQ.1.1 and XBB, which are more effective at evading the human immune system defenses than any variant previously tested, Andrew Romano, of Yahoo News, added. This could mean more transmission, leading to more breakthrough infections in the vaccinated and in previously exposed patients.
New variants could also mean the loss of important monoclonal antibody treatments, which tend to target specific variants and become obsolete when new variants arrive on the scene. Federal health officials have already cautioned clinicians that the pre-exposure antibody treatment Evusheld may not hold up against BA.4.6, for example.
Vaccination and exposure will be protective, but to best prepare for the latest variants, seniors should keep up with regular COVID-19 booster shots. If they become ill, the use of antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid and Legavrio, the news outlet reported.
“As earlier vaccine protection wanes, the ranks of the susceptible may grow rather than shrink over the winter,” Romano wrote.
The uptake of vaccines among seniors stands at 93% for the initial series of doses, 45% for two recommended booster shots, and fewer than 5% for Modernas’ or Pfizers’ updated bivalent boosters that target BA.5.
More than 300 Americans continue to die from COVID daily. “Without boosters — and with more evasive variants — it’s likely to slip further,” the news outlet stated.