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Variants, Vaccines and Preventative Treatments

Variants, Vaccines and Preventative Treatments

With SMH Infectious Disease Specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD

** NOTE: This content was compiled April 5, 2022. Information related to COVID-19, vaccines and treatments is continually evolving. For the most up-to-date info, we recommend visiting the CDC’s website and the FDA website.

What do we know about the BA2, or so-called Stealth Omicron variant?

It is a sub-variant of the Omicron variant. Some people call it “Stealth Omicron” because it is harder to track. BA.2 can only be found by genomic sequencing, which some countries do more of than others.

We know BA.2 is more contagious - about 50 to 60% more transmissible than the original Omicron - and that it is now the dominant strain of sequenced cases across the world.

While not as deadly as Delta, Omicron and its variants remain a serious health threat, especially to the elderly and others at high risk due to underlying or immune-compromising conditions.

The good news is that COVID-19 vaccination and boosters continue to provide significant protection against severe disease, hospitalization and deaths.

With masking and other health precautions being relaxed, should we expect another surge as we are seeing in Europe and Asia?

It is still too early to predict. The variant is being monitored very closely at local, state and national levels. We are still learning about its characteristics. For example, reinfection rates – we do not know yet to what extent BA.2 is reinfecting people who had the original Omicron.

But what we are seeing in other countries is a reminder that the virus continues to cause harm, particularly among unvaccinated, under-vaccinated and vulnerable populations.

What advice do you have for people regarding vaccinations and boosters?

While virus levels are low, now is the time to protect yourself as much as possible, especially if you are elderly, immune-compromised or have underlying health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes or other chronic diseases that place you at greater risk.

The effectiveness of the vaccines we received in 2021 are waning, so the best way to protect yourself is to ensure you are up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccinations/boosters.

By now you should have received the primary 2-dose mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series, plus a third (booster) dose. Those who opted for the 1-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine also should have had a booster with an mRNA vaccine.

A second booster (fourth dose) of the mRNA vaccine was recently approved by the FDA for anyone age 12 or older who is moderately or severely immunocompromised. It also was approved for anyone age 50 or older.

Recommendations on the timing of the second booster can vary depending on your medical history and risk factors. Dr. Gordillo recommends anyone age 60 or over, and anyone age 50 to 60 with comorbidities, get a fourth booster as soon as possible (you are eligible at least 4 months after receiving your first booster dose).

If you are a healthy 50- to 60-year-old and have no comorbidities that put you at greater risk, the second booster is optional. People should consider their personal risk factors when deciding if and when to get the fourth dose (i.e. co-morbidities, their age, others in their household, viral prevalence in their community etc). The initial vaccine series, along with the first mRNA booster, continue to offer strong protection for healthy individuals under age 60.

Going forward, what’s next in the battle against COVID-19

COVID-19 will be with us for a while yet. Just like influenza, there will be more variants. Whether they will be more contagious or more severe, we cannot predict.

The good news is that COVID-19 medications are now available through Sarasota Memorial Hospital and local pharmacies.

Sarasota Memorial is administering monoclonal antibody treatments to newly diagnosed, high-risk individuals with mild to moderate symptoms. The antibody therapy, which has been reformulated to address emerging variants, can help reduce the severity of the disease and prevent hospitalizations if given within 5-7 days of your first symptoms. SMH also has a limited supply of Evusheld, the first FDA-authorized drug to prevent COVID-19, for high-risk people who aren't adequately protected by vaccination alone. For information, visit smh.com/COVID-19.

Several local retail pharmacies also have supplies of new oral anti-viral medications, including Pfizer’s anti-viral drug Paxlovid, which also can decrease hospitalization. But to be effective, the medications must be taken within 5 days of your first symptoms.

So if you develop COVID-19 symptoms, do not wait to get tested or treated. A new federal website makes it easier for people to find testing and treatment sites in their local communities, and a toolkit with resources to keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19. Visit covid.gov to learn more.

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Posted: Apr 8, 2022,
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