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Fauci sees a reduced Covid threat this winter

Federal health officials on Tuesday expressed optimism that the nation is better prepared to weather a surge in Covid-19 infections this winter than it was a year earlier, and reiterated their plea for Americans to get an updated booster shot ahead of the holiday .

While the trajectory of the virus remains uncertain, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the administration is confident that the combination of infection and vaccination has “provided enough protection for the community that we will not see a repeat of what we saw this time last year.” seen,” when a brand new variant, Omicron, appeared seemingly out of the blue.

As families gather for Thanksgiving, the coronavirus appears to pose less of a threat to most Americans than it did a year ago, when Omicron began spreading infections at an alarming rate. At the time, Mr. Biden banned travel from eight African countries and warned Americans not to panic, and later dispatched military medics to hospitals officials feared were being overrun with patients.

Now said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said he was confident for the holiday season as long as Americans continued to be vaccinated and refreshed. “Nothing I’ve seen in the sub-variants makes me think we can’t prevail effectively, especially if people stand up and get their vaccine,” he said at a White House briefing.

That could be an important caveat. Americans are tired of two years of repeated vaccination campaigns and are reluctant to accept the updated booster shots the government rolled out in September. So far, only 35 million people have received one of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s revised recordings. The administration bought enough cans for almost five times as many people.

On average, about 300 Americans still die from Covid-19 a day, although federal health officials say almost every Covid death is now preventable with vaccination and treatment. Other respiratory illnesses, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, are also reappearing after two years of low infection levels.

And where the corona virus is headed remains a mystery. Federal officials have observed with some concern a new sub-variant of Omicron called XBB. The new sub-variant so far accounts for only a tiny percentage of cases in the United States, but it’s cropping up in testing travelers at the country’s major international airports and has caught on in India and Singapore.

dr Fauci said that XBB appeared to be exceptionally agile at dodging the antibodies generated by previous infection or vaccination, which are the body’s first line of defense against the virus. But vaccine experts have long said that when antibodies can’t block the virus, other parts of the immune system can step in to fight off serious illness.

and dr Fauci said he and others were heartened by data showing countries like Singapore where XBB led to increases in infections did not report a corresponding increase in hospitalizations.

dr Fauci, who became a household name during the pandemic and is retiring from government service at the end of the year, made what appears to be his last appearance in the White House briefing room and took the opportunity to urge Americans to catch up on boosters -Recordings.

“My message and my final message – perhaps the final message I give you from this podium – is that for your own safety and that of your family, please get your updated Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you are eligible. said Dr. fauci

The administration will be pushing for the new boosters again in the next six weeks. It announced spending of $475 million to expand immunization efforts at community health centers and other locations, and officials hope to reach more Americans by airing advertisements during the World Cup. The government also warned that care homes must offer residents the updated shots or face enforcement action from regulators.

The push comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided what some experts have called encouraging news about the effectiveness of the new vaccines.

A large new study published by the agency showed that the updated vaccinations increased protection from symptomatic disease in adults by 28 to 56 percent, depending on a person’s age and how long it had been since the last vaccination. The researchers looked at people who received a dose of the revised booster between two and more than eight months after their last dose, and they found greater benefits in those who waited longer.

“Is this a home game? No, but it’s a good baseline success,” said Dr. Peter Marks, the chief vaccine regulator at the Food and Drug Administration, who pushed for development of the new booster shots.

The study, the first to be published to look at the real-world effectiveness of the new shots, looked at 360,000 adults who reported Covid-19 symptoms between mid-September and mid-November. Its importance is limited by the fact that the omicron subvariant that caused the most infections during this period, BA.5, has declined and now accounts for only a quarter of cases in the United States.

“Real-world variants have already evolved,” said Pei-Yong Shi, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Department who has conducted laboratory studies of the updated boosters, both independently and in collaboration with Pfizer-BioNTech.

dr Shi also said it was difficult to measure how well the updated boosters were working because so many people now have some immunity to previous infections, including people who have never been vaccinated or boosted. That can artificially underestimate estimates of the effectiveness of the updated shots, he said.

dr Roby Bhattacharyya, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the CDC study showed the revised boosters were “definitely worth getting.”

Some other experts were more skeptical, saying the new shots appear to offer only moderate protection against symptomatic disease and that while such protection would help in the short term, it was unclear how long it would last.

John P. Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, said the researchers didn’t show whether the updated boosters worked better than the original boosters they replaced — a replacement that cost the federal government significant money. “I personally doubt there would have been much of a difference, if any, but we may never know,” he said.

While Americans’ indoor winter shift and slew of holiday gatherings are expected to push cases up, federal officials are not alone in their cautious optimism. dr Bhattacharyya said he did not expect the virus to cause as much suffering and death this winter as it did a year ago because “we are a more immune population”.

Another study released Tuesday by the CDC underscored the effectiveness of Paxlovid, an antiviral drug recommended for adults with mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19 who are at higher risk of serious illness.

The study found that adults diagnosed with Covid who were prescribed Paxlovid had a 51 percent lower hospitalization rate within 30 days of their diagnosis than those who were not prescribed the drug. The researchers compared almost 200,000 adults who received Paxlovid within five days of their diagnosis to more than 500,000 people who did not receive it in a five-month period through August.

The study found that only 28 percent of people eligible for Paxlovid were prescribed it. Researchers said the drug should be offered to all beneficiaries, especially older adults and people with multiple underlying health conditions. The study did not address how often Covid symptoms reappeared after completing the five-day treatment, a question some providers say are wondering if the course of treatment is long enough.

Kody Kinsley, North Carolina’s top health official, said he hopes the new study would persuade some doctors and patients to use the drug. He said about two-thirds of adults in his state are at high risk of developing serious illness from the coronavirus, but for reasons that are unclear, doctors have been reluctant to prescribe them Paxlovid.

“This has been an ongoing issue and something we’ve been pretty vocal about,” he said, adding, “What we’re hearing from people is, ‘I’m talking to my doctor and my doctor is like, ‘Well, your symptoms are mild so wait it out. And I don’t know if you need it.”‘”

Indeed, he said, the decision on whether to take Paxlovid should be based on how susceptible a patient is to a severe case of Covid-19, rather than the severity of the symptoms.

Zolan Kanno Youngs and Noah Weland contributed reporting.