It is high time for people to get their bivalent COVID booster shots, with widespread availability and a looming potential winter surge of a new Omicron subvariant.
Hey everybody! I know it's out of style to talk about the pandemic or COVID numbers or whatever, but you should go get your boosters anyway. As a member of the media I'm just doing my ethical duty to here to push you toward a public-health good, now that Pfizer and Moderna have updated their mRNA vaccines to include protections against the latest BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron.
I got my fourth shot in September, and it knocked me down the next day for a bit, but otherwise it wasn't so bad!
A new Pew Research poll found that over 45% of Americans are either still completely unvaccinated or are not planning to get the updated booster — 21% said they are not vaccinated, 23% aren't planning to get another booster, and 6% say they only got one shot and will still need another at some point but don't have any immediate plans. 48% say they plan to get or have already have gotten an updated booster — but that isn't nearly enough.
UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong spoke to NBC Bay Area on Monday, and he sounded of two minds about the urgency factor with the booster, given the lull we're in right now with case counts — but he still says people should get the bivalent booster soon.
"I think there are several reasons why people are not getting the current booster," Chin-Hong tells the station. "First of all, there is a low right now so perhaps people are trying to time the booster when there's action in the community and they can get the biggest bang for their buck. If you go too soon, the antibodies peak sooner and you lose them by the time there's a surge."
Also, as NBC Bay Area reports, one case of the new BA2.75.2 subvariant of Omicron has been confirmed in our region by a clinical virology lab at Stanford University, which means it has arrived.
Whether it takes hold and whether it a) causes a major surge like Europe is starting to see now, or b) is able to evade existing immunity even from the new booster shots, remains unknown.
But the updated booster is at least designed for Omicron subvariants, in addition to the original variants of the COVID virus, and experts say that boosters you got 9 or 10 months ago are likely not going to prevent hospitalization in severe cases, especially among older adults, because their protections have now waned.
The BA2.75.2 variant is being called the "most immune-evasive" subvariant so far.
Meanwhile, official COVID case counts across the Bay Area have plateaued in the last several weeks at around 5,000 per week. In San Francisco, average daily cases are down to around 87, or about 10 cases per 100,000 residents. This is still higher than the numbers were showing in mid-September, when UCSF's Dr. Bob Wachter said he would begin dining indoors again, due to some snafu with the state database that was fixed late last month.
Last week, Santa Clara County's health officer Dr. Sara Cody said that, looking at wastewater surveillance and official counts, the real number of COVID cases in the county was likely two to three times higher than the official count is showing.
Photo: Adam Gethin