One of the new COVID-19 vaccines that could be on the market as early as next week appears to offer strong protection against the latest subvariant, experts say — a reassuring sign as manufacturers and public health officials s are trying to stay on top of the ever-swirling situation. corona virus.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are concerned that the unusually high number of mutations seen with BA.2.86, dubbed Pirola, may make the strain more easily able to infect those who have already caught the coronavirus or received a vaccine formulation. older.
Wednesday saw the arrival of updated vaccine data that doctors have been eagerly awaiting. And the results were promising.
This year’s version of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna “generates a strong human immune response against the highly mutated BA.2.86,” said Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of the Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company, in a statement. “These data confirm that our updated COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be an important protective tool heading into the fall vaccination season. »
Data from clinical trials suggests that the next formulation generated a strong antibody response against circulating variants, including BA.2.86, according to the vaccine maker.
The upcoming fall vaccines have been designed against the version of the coronavirus that was dominant earlier this year: XBB.1.5, informally known as Kraken. But questions swirl around how much protection this formulation might offer against the much more mutated BA.2.86.
“This is very good news,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, said of the Moderna data. “I think that should reassure people.”
At first, there were fears that BA.2.86 might be more immune than even previous members of the sprawling Omicron coronavirus family. But so far, this strain has yet to chart a clear path to dominance, either locally or globally.
BA.2.86 is not yet widespread enough to be listed on the CDC’s variant tracking system. To achieve this, a variant must account for more than 1% of cases nationwide over a period of at least two weeks.
As of last week, there have been no cases of BA.2.86 in California, “and at this point there is no evidence that this strain causes more severe disease,” according to Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Public Health.
New York-based Pfizer and German partner BioNTech are also planning their own updated COVID-19 vaccination, as is Maryland-based Novavax.
Nationally, the most dominant Omicron subvariant right now is EG.5, also known as Eris. This strain accounted for about 21.5% of infections nationwide between Aug. 20 and Saturday, according to CDC data. New fall vaccines are expected to work well against EG.5, experts say.
Doctors generally expect newly updated COVID-19 vaccines to be available as early as next week.
A key milestone will take place on Tuesday, when the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets. A vote from that meeting, followed by a formal recommendation from CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen, would effectively open the door for clinicians to begin administering one of the three manufacturers’ new vaccines.
NBC News reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could greenlight new COVID recalls as early as Friday. However, as a general rule, clinicians wait for further action from the CDC before administering the injections.
Clinicians say getting an up-to-date injection will be especially important for people at higher risk of severe disease. Most people hospitalized with COVID-19 are elderly people who are not up to date with their vaccinations.
Insured people will be able to receive the new COVID vaccine for free, and uninsured children will be able to receive the vaccine for free through the federal Vaccines for Children program.
Uninsured adults can get the free COVID shot at some health clinics and pharmacies, as well as from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. LA County will post a list of locations as it becomes available.
COVID-19 levels are rising in California and across the country, though they remain near all-time lows. However, the rise in infections is proving very disruptive in some settings. Higher rates of coronavirus transmission are driving more COVID-19 outbreaks in Los Angeles County, with nursing homes, schools and workplaces reporting increases in recent weeks.
Coronavirus levels are also rising in Los Angeles County wastewater, but are still far from last winter’s spike. According to the most recent available data, most wastewater levels in the county were 26% off last winter’s peak. This is an increase from early July, when viral concentrations in sewage were just 8% of the winter peak.
Despite the increase in coronavirus transmission, there has yet to be a corresponding increase in deaths from COVID-19, which remain at one per day in Los Angeles County. Rising infections could lead to higher deaths, but Ferrer said it’s also possible that deaths will remain low, which “could reflect a reduced risk of death associated with higher vaccination rates and the use of strong drugs” such as Paxlovid.
Health officials say it’s always prudent to take reasonable steps to avoid getting infected. Ferrer suggested people wear masks on public transportation and in health care settings, and urged those who are sick to stay home.