The JN.1 variant of the COVID virus has spread rapidly since the beginning of December, and is now responsible for over 2 million new infections per day in the U.S. Our family and many of our friends experienced new bouts of COVID during the holidays. Fortunately, most cases were mild, and none resulted in hospitalization. We had received the latest COVID vaccine in September, and one more symptomatic infection was treated with a 5-day course of Paxlovid. Both of these measures are well established to reduce the risk of more severe disease.
A recent study from Kaiser Permanente (https://bit.ly/SP-Kaiser) examined COVID outcomes in Southern California residents who had received the Pfizer-BioNTek XBB.1 mRNA vaccine last fall compared to individuals with no COVID vaccines or those who had received the first-generation vaccines but no updated booster. The study took place last November and December when the incidence of JN.1 was rapidly increasing, and the study included over 4,000 individuals with COVID infection. Those who had received the XBB.1-based vaccine has a 63% reduction in hospitalization. Interestingly, there was no difference in the hospitalization rate between those who were unvaccinated and those who had received the earlier vaccines but no booster. This is not surprising given the upsurge in JN.1 infections during the study period. JN.1 has so many new mutations in the spike protein targeted by the vaccines compared to the COVID viruses circulating at the beginning of the pandemic that antibodies generated by the earlier vaccines no longer recognize JN.1.
Only 31% of Californians over 65 have received the newest COVID vaccine booster. Only 30% of individuals with COVID infections eligible for Paxlovid treatment actually get the effective antiviral medication. According to the CDC, here were 6,000 COVID-related deaths in the U.S. in December. The majority of these deaths could have been prevented by COVID booster shots and/or Paxlovid treatment. This is just unacceptable. If you agree (and I hope you do), please make sure to share these facts with your family and friends. If you haven’t got the newest COVID vaccine, please get it as soon as possible.