BA.2.86 Variant on the Horizon, New Booster May Be Available Next Week
By Dolores Quintana
In a recent call with reporters, the newly sworn-in Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mandy Cohen, has called upon Americans to get the updated COVID-19 vaccination when the new one becomes publicly available. This appeal comes in light of a concerning rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Cohen endeavored to provide context to the surge, highlighting that the current COVID-19 hospitalization rate is approximately half of what it was at the same time last year. According to CDC data, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been steadily climbing over the past few weeks, reaching 15,067 cases for the week ending on August 19th, marking an 18.8 percent increase from the previous week.
Comparatively, at this point last year, the United States was grappling with an average of over 84,000 weekly hospitalizations. Remarkably, more than 96 percent of U.S. counties are currently witnessing low COVID-19 hospitalization figures, with fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 individuals. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the CDC’s ability to track COVID-19 cases has been hampered due to diminished data tracking capabilities resulting from the conclusion of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Anticipated to be available in the second week of September, the latest updated COVID-19 vaccines are designed to combat the current predominant strain of the virus. Cohen has suggested that the next booster shot is likely to become an annual regimen.
Despite the impending availability of this new vaccine in time for the fall and winter respiratory virus season, the likelihood that Americans will take the new booster seems less likely. Last year, only 17 percent of eligible Americans received their free COVID-19 booster shots, according to CDC statistics.
Epidemiologists are closely monitoring a newly identified, highly mutated lineage of the virus, referred to as BA.2.86, which the World Health Organization has recently designated as a “variant under monitoring.” This variant boasts a greater number of mutations compared to previous omicron subvariants and may possess an increased ability to evade existing immunity.