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Yes, Omicron-specific boosters are coming in the fall – NBC Chicago

As highly transmissible omicron subvariants circulate in the Midwest and the United States, a new coronavirus booster vaccine will seek to loosen their grip.

Following recommendations established by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines will be adjusted to better target the omicron COVID variant.

The booster shots could be handed out in October or November, according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

“Once we know what those guidelines look like — the FDA and the CDC are stepping in — we would have time for a possible recall campaign in the fall,” Arwady said. “I’m guessing that fall booster campaign will be in October, maybe November. It takes about three months to start producing, distributing, etc. doses that have this updated composition.”

The Biden administration announced on July 29 that it had reached an agreement with Moderna to buy 66 million doses of the company’s improved COVID-19 vaccine, which is enough for anyone who might want the booster in the winter.

The order for the bivalent vaccine follows an announcement last month that the federal government had obtained 105 million doses of a similar vaccine from rival drugmaker Pfizer. Both orders are expected to ship in the fall and winter, assuming regulators approve of their effectiveness.

However, Arwady noted the difficulties of this possible development.

“It has been complicated because these subvariants keep emerging. Neither company has developed the specific vaccine for BA.4, BA.5 because that just emerged in the last couple of weeks,” Arwady said last Tuesday. “There’s this question of when to draw the line when it takes about three months for vaccines to be produced and distributed, but also wanting to make sure it’s the best possible match.

Last Tuesday, Arwady said the common omicron strains, BA.4 and BA.5, are evolving rapidly, with the latter two being significantly more infectious.

“The majority of cases we see are either BA.4 or BA.5, and as a reminder, BA.4, BA.5 are more contagious,” Arwady said.

In addition to being even more contagious than previous variants, scientists are tracking a mutation in BA.4 and BA.5 that may help it evade some immunity and cause reinfections.

A genetic trait reminiscent of the pandemic past, similar to the so-called “delta mutation”, appears to allow subvariants “to escape pre-existing immunity from vaccination and prior infection, especially if you’ve been infected in the omicron wave,” said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas. This is because the original strain of omicron that swept the world didn’t have the mutation.

This genetic change is bad news for people who caught the original omicron and thought it made them unlikely to get COVID again soon. Although most people aren’t sure which variant caused their illness, the original omicron caused a giant surge of cases late last year and early this year.

Long lab data suggests that prior infection with the original omicron is not very protective against reinfection with the new mutants, although the true risk of being reinfected, regardless of variant, is unique to each person and each situation.

With these two variants, Arwady noted that in some cases people previously infected with omicron “early” have been reinfected with BA.4 and BA.5, including cases in Chicago.

“With BA.4, BA.5, we started to see examples, even of people who were infected with omicron early on, starting to occasionally get re-infected with BA.4 or 5,” she said.

However, COVID vaccinations continued to prevent serious hospitalizations and deaths, Arwady said.

Over 23 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Illinois since vaccinations began in December 2020. Over 69% of Illinois residents are fully vaccinated against COVID, and over 76% are receiving at least one dose. About 54% are also boosted.

NBC Chicago

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