By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
With COVID-19 restrictions loosened and mask mandates dropped, summer travel surged becoming the season of ‘revenge travel’. But there are reports and concerns that the next COVID wave could be on a collision course with holiday travel and holiday gatherings. Yet, many Americans have resumed activities without masks, and act like the pandemic is a thing of the past.
“We’ve gotten so used to it, right? We’re so used to people always being in the hospital with COVID. We’re so used to hearing of people dying from complications of COVID, that this is just part of it,” explained Jason G. Newland, MD, M.Ed., pediatric infectious diseases physician and professor in the Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He’s also vice chair of Community Health and Strategic Planning for the Department of Pediatrics.
Dr. Newland believes a lot of people have let their guard down without realizing some alarming facts based on statistics in the United States alone.
“There’s over 350 people dying a day of COVID-19 as of October 19th, 2022. Now, that’s way better than when it was at 400. But when you’re having 12,000 people die in a month, that’s a lot of people dying in a month from a virus,” he said.
Newland explained the updated (bivalent) COVID-19 vaccine boosters are important as they add Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein components to the current vaccine composition, helping to restore protection that has waned. The updated boosters target recent Omicron variants that are more transmissible and immune-evading.
Newland stressed the importance of the new boosters for older adults ages 50 and older, especially ages 65 and older as they are higher risk for severe disease and hospitalization. He strongly recommended the bivalent booster for everyone, including children ages 5 and up.
“Over 1,700 kids have died of COVID-19 in our country. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot when we’ve had over a million (deaths). But let’s put it in context, influenza kills 150-200 kids every year. Right now, the pandemic isn’t even three years old and we’re well above that,” he said.
Newland believes the vaccines and the updated booster help reduce transmission from one person to the next.
“The data shows vaccinated people less likely to shed (the virus) as well. So, you just reduced the risk of transmitting to others if your whole family is vaccinated,” he explained. “So you have to say that those families that have been vaccinated, have been less likely to end up in the hospital and also less likely to give it to other people.”
Which Newland said has not been made clear to the public. Newland strongly recommends that children and teenagers get the bivalent booster, not only for themselves, but also to benefit older adults.
“If I have a family that’s vaccinated, they are less likely to get it,” he said. “Even if it’s 60% effective against symptomatic disease, if they’re not getting it, they can’t pass it.”