A new COVID Omicron virus variant named XBB.1.5 began spreading in December and represented 28% of new cases in the U.S. by mid-January. The new mutations in the spike protein increase binding to the virus receptor on human cells and result in higher transmission rates than current circulating Omicron strains.
There is no evidence as yet that XBB.1.5 causes more severe disease, but it is different enough from the vaccine strains used in the first round Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that those who have not had the bivalent vaccine booster are unlikely to be protected from infection or hospitalization. The bivalent booster should protect against serious disease caused by XBB.1.5.
This means that it is imperative that those over 65 years of age get that booster shot as soon as possible. If you did get the bivalent booster as soon as it was available, watch for future guidance on whether you should get another shot 6 months later when immunity wanes in older individuals. The bivalent vaccine is protective against hospitalization and death, data that was missing when the vaccine was approved by the FDA.
A recent study from Israel was carried out from the end of September until mid-December and looked at 622,701 people aged 65 and over who were eligible for the bivalent booster. “Hospitalization due to COVID-19 occurred in 6 bivalent recipients and 297 participants who did not” receive it, the study said. “Death due to COVID-19 occurred in 1 bivalent recipient and 73 participants who did not.”
Almost all of us are tired of dealing with COVID restrictions and many seem to believe (or act like) the pandemic is over. It is not. Table 1 presents data as of January 22nd for COVID cases in the U.S. While the data show lower cases from the post-holiday peak, note that almost 500 citizens are dying every day from COVID. The vast majority of these deaths occur in individuals over 65 years of age. The daily death toll of COVID infections has remained in this range for the last 6 months. For comparison, the CDC data for the 2021-22 flu season recorded 5000 deaths for November through March, or 41 deaths per day. Some think that COVID is just like the flu, but in fact it is more than 10 times as deadly.
About 65% of U.S. citizens over 65 have already got the bivalent vaccine booster. If you haven’t got it yet, get it now.