Covid-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in the United States, bringing the virus back into the spotlight after a reprieve during the winter months. Americans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of updated boosters, which could be available as early as next week. Despite concerns about a potential surge in cases, new data suggests that the situation may not be as dire as initially feared.
According to a tracker from The New York Times, daily hospital admissions of Covid-19 positive patients have increased by 29% over the past two weeks. However, it's important to note that these numbers are still lower than at any other point in the pandemic prior to this spring. While the exact timeline is yet to be confirmed, Pfizer (PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and Novavax (NVAX) are expected to release updated boosters that could be accessible at U.S. pharmacies in the coming weeks.
Scientists have been closely monitoring a new variant known as BA. 2.86, which has emerged in several countries since late July. Initial concerns were raised due to significant genetic differences between this variant and the strains currently dominant worldwide, posing potential challenges to existing immune defenses.
Recent data released by various research labs, however, suggests that BA. 2.86 may not be as problematic as initially thought. An academic laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Center for Virology & Vaccine Research, led by Dr. Dan Barouch, conducted tests that showed stronger-than-expected antibody responses to this variant. While these results have yet to be published, one of the study's scientists shared a summary on social media.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the former White House Covid-19 response coordinator, cited the findings from the Barouch lab's study and expressed confidence that the updated boosters would offer good protection, even against the BA. 2.86 variant.
In summary, Covid-19 hospitalizations have increased in the U.S., but not to the levels seen earlier in the pandemic. The arrival of updated boosters from Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax is eagerly awaited. Additionally, recent data suggests that the BA. 2.86 variant may not be as concerning as initially feared, with existing immune defenses potentially providing sufficient protection.
Updated Boosters Targeting COVID-19 Variants
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases prompted the development of updated boosters targeting specific variants. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directed Pfizer and Moderna to focus on a variant called XBB.1.5, which was responsible for the majority of cases in the United States at that time. However, this particular variant has since been replaced by two new variants called EG.5 and FL.1.5.1.
U.S. regulators anticipate that the vaccines will be available in "mid-to-late September" this year. To discuss COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC has scheduled a meeting of its vaccine advisory committee on September 12. This timeline suggests that doses could begin arriving at pharmacies by late next week.
One lingering question is whether the CDC will recommend the boosters for the general population, as they have in previous years, or if they will limit their recommendation to older adults. European regulators have already recommended Pfizer's updated booster for individuals aged six months and older.
Pfizer and Moderna stocks have experienced declines this year, but Moderna's shares have seen a 13% increase since mid-August when concerns about the virus began to rise. Last month, both companies attempted to manage expectations regarding the uptake of this year's vaccine. Now, investors are considering whether the surge in cases will lead to higher-than-expected vaccine sales.
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