Updated COVID boosters approved ahead of potential fall surge

This past week, the FDA and CDC signed off on updated COVID-19 vaccines to boost protection against newer variants of the virus, in an effort to limit an anticipated seasonal surge in infections this fall. Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The FDA and CDC signed off this past week on updated COVID-19 vaccines to boost protection and limit the anticipated seasonal surge this fall, an important turning point in the fight against COVID.

    Joining us to talk about that and more is Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the Co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. It's great to have you with us. And Dr. Hotez, the retooled COVID vaccines are now authorized for everyone ages 12 and older. But does everyone ages 12 and older need a booster?

    Dr. Peter Hotez, Baylor College of Medicine: Well, it's 12 and older for Pfizer and 18 and older for Moderna. And the answer is yes. And here's why, it looks as though protection from the mRNA either primary immunization series of two shots, or even after a booster starts to wane or decline even against hospitalization protection. So, the point is, everyone's going to need a booster, which means that if you've not got obviously if you've not gotten vaccinated, you need to get vaccinated. But if you've been vaccinated but not boosted yet, now's the time to do it.

    And even if you've gotten a single booster, you need two boosters. And by the way, if you're over 15 have gotten two boosters, and more than four — two to four months out, you're going to need a third booster as well, a fifth immunization. And the reason is twofold. One, it'll dramatically reduce their likelihood that you'll be hospitalized or have to go to an ICU with COVID-19. Second, the existing lineage is still with us, the BA.5. So, this gives added protection against the BA.5 because it's getting the original and the BA.5 subvariant.

    And then the last reason which people don't talk about a lot is we don't really know what's coming down the pike. We don't know what's going to happen later this fall or into the winter. And whether you will see it a brand-new variant of concern that we haven't seen before. And the thinking is by having a booster that gets both the original lineage and BA.5, it kind of hedges your bets and gives you multiple shots on goal, two shots on goal to make it more likely it'll protect against whatever's coming down the road.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Got it. I want to ask you about monkeypox, because cases across the country are on the decline. But looking at the data, black and Hispanic people are more likely to get monkeypox but less likely to be vaccinated. It's not entirely clear what's driving the differences. But this isn't the first disease to see the same sort of inequity that was the case at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, what needs to change to prevent this from happening with the next outbreak of another disease?

  • Dr. Peter Hotez:

    Well, we have to expand awareness and the importance of getting vaccinated. So, you're right, Geoff, the — we're not getting that steep, sharp uptick in the number of cases, but it's still increasing, although it's not as not as sharp. And probably that's happening because of some modulation of behavior and the fact that now, we have a few 100,000 doses of vaccine administered, but we still have a long way to go. So, we really need to reach communities of color about the importance of getting vaccinated.

    And I know the Biden administration is working very hard on that. But it's still been tough to do. And on top of that, Geoff, you have the other piece that we don't talk about enough is that black and brown communities are getting specifically targeted now, by anti-vaccine activist group. They're being very predatory and targeting those groups. And so, countering their effects is going to be really important.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And I also want to ask you about what's happening in Argentina, health officials there are investigating an unexplained pneumonia outbreak, three people have died this past week. What more do you know about it?

  • Dr. Peter Hotez:

    Well, it's 11 cases. It's in a part of Northwest Argentina, near Salta. So, it's fairly focal and it's presenting with what's called bilateral pneumonia, meaning white out on both lungs on chest X-ray. And so, it — we don't know what it is yet. It's not even necessarily an infectious disease pathogen but the fact that they're presenting with fever and shortness of breath makes me think that's a high likelihood.

    So likely a viral pneumonia but we also know that coronaviruses are widespread among the bat populations in both Brazil and Argentina. And therefore, we have to worry about yet this could be another new coronavirus. So, the virus has been sent to a reference laboratory in Argentina. Hopefully by this week, we'll have some identification and then can take appropriate action.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Dr. Peter Hotez, thanks as always, for your time.

  • Dr. Peter Hotez:

    Thank you, Geoff.

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