Q&A: Is a fall spike in COVID cases coming?

Coronavirus

(NewsNation) — Some experts are predicting a surge in COVID-19 cases could hit the U.S. this fall, meaning another booster shot might be recommended for all Americans.

Dr. Anthony Harris, CEO and medical director at HFit Health, joined NewsNation “Prime” to talk about the latest developments on the COVID front.

COVID cases in the U.S. are on the rise once again, thanks in large part to the omicron subvariant BA.2. The subvariant was first detected by New York state health officials last month. Experts say it appears to be spreading more quickly than the primary strain of omicron before it.

Q: What should we know about this latest variant?

Harris: What we do know about this variant is that it’s 1.5 times more infectious than the original variant omicron. And we knew how tremendous omicron was spread nationwide. And not only are we dealing with BA.2, we’re now dealing with BA.4 and BA.5, which was recently detected last month as well on the 29th and 30th, respectively, of March. So now we’re dealing with a number of subvariants of omicron that are infecting the nation. And we are unfortunately on the rise again, with not just infections, but we also under rise again with hospitalizations.

There’s evidence and history to show that this is nothing new, unfortunately. If we look at the seasonality of omicron, now pegged to seasonality of the flu and pneumonia, we’re currently in week 17 of our flu season. Our last peaks occurred at weeks 16 and 31 during 2020 and 2021 were weeks one and 36. And now we experienced our first peak during this season on week three. Again, we’re in week 17. So there may be definitely more to come.

Q: The World Health Organization is estimating that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the first two years of the pandemic. 

This is more than double the current official death toll of over 6 million. Are you surprised by this uptick?

Harris: Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by this. The projections were kind of across the board, right? We have projections of 2 million dead here in the U.S. at the end of this pandemic. And certainly, we’re not out of this pandemic yet. And so, unfortunately, we’re seeing the propensity for vaccination, not what we thought it would be before we started vaccinating. And we’re seeing unfortunately, the vaccine not be as persistent in resisting of just infections as well as resisting severity and hospitalizations as we had hoped.

If we look at the most recent publications here, in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 20 weeks is what is expected before we started to see a tailing off of the effectiveness of vaccines. And so, unfortunately, as we may have heard, this fall, there may be a recommendation for a fourth shot, meaning another booster for the masses, and that’s to help protect the masses from continuous infection and severity. We were drawing data from Israel showing that certainly, it still doesn’t protect us as much as we hoped.

Q: Is it time for Americans to get another booster or wait for the vaccines to be further developed to combat the new variants?

Harris: It’s a tricky answer, right? So officially, no, it’s not time for the masses to go out and the CDC recommendation is not yet for the masses to get another booster. Now it certainly is for those who are at risk, pre-existing conditions, those who are 65 and older.

We know that once you get that fourth booster, even if it isn’t so far, the ones that have been omicron specific, actually don’t work better against protection than the original vaccines that we’ve had. That’s data coming out of Israel again.

So there is hope. The hope is that the effectiveness of the vaccine against severity hospitalization is still good. I’m not advocating for not getting boosted, right? If the recommendation does come out this fall, yes, you should go get boosted. It’s the same thing. I’m going to tell my mom and tell my family to go out and get boosted because we know it is effective at preventing death. And that’s what’s key because we are still leading the world in many ways in terms of mortality rate here in the U.S.

Q: What is the message for pregnant and breastfeeding women who are reluctant to get the vaccine?

Harris: I don’t like to bring you bad news. But this is alarming news, right. And we have data now just published yesterday. And we know this data is now examining deaths in Latin America, 447 deaths to be specific. And over 86% of these individuals that pass are mothers that lost their lives while trying to give birth within seven days or right after birth. 86% of them were positive for COVID. So the linkage is there for COVID during a period is called Antepartum. And if we look at the numbers for Preeclampsia (a complication of pregnancy) it’s 1.7% Preeclampsia potentially leads to dramatic high blood pressure and liver failure during pregnancy. The risk of severe illness from infection is 3.3%. The risk of mothers that unfortunately lose their lives as a result of COVID during pregnancy is 22 times greater than if you’re a mother without COVID symptomatically.

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