‘There are reasons to be optimistic’ about new COVID boosters, expert says

As cases of COVID-19 tick up once again, vaccine companies are in the middle of producing updated booster shots that may be available to the public soon.

For the week ending July 29, COVID-19 hospital admissions were at 9,056. That’s an increase of about 12% from the previous week.

It’s a far cry from past peaks, like the 44,000 weekly hospital admissions in early January, the nearly 45,000 in late July 2022, or the 150,000 admissions during the omicron surge of January 2022.

Nonetheless, for medical professionals, any surge in cases is reason for vigilance.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who develops and promotes public health strategies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said “there are reasons to be optimistic” about the new shots and how helpful they may be.

“I think there’s reason to believe this could be quite effective in protecting people through the virus season,” Sharfstein said.

The boosters are expected to be ready sometime in late September, or mid-October, before the busy holiday travel season. Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax all say they are working on the updated vaccines.

Sharfstein said data from those drug companies needs to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. If approved, boosters would be available in the pharmacies shortly after.

As the virus has evolved many times over the last few years, these new boosters will be specifically aimed at COVID variants most common at present.

“It’s the XBB strains are going to be in this new booster,” Sharfstein said. “That family of strains is still circulating very widely now.”

In addition to hospitalization, many health officials believe infections are on the rise. But the data is scant. Federal authorities ended the public health emergency in May, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and many states — no longer track the number of positive test results.

Since early June, there have been between 500 to 600 weekly deaths from COVID. The number of deaths appears to be stable this summer, although past increases in deaths have lagged behind hospitalizations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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