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Professor of public health Dr. Amira Roess shares why it is imperative we all get the latest COVID vaccine
The decreasing temperatures usher in our third fall and winter with the addition of COVID to cold and flu season. Despite feelings of normalcy returning, health professionals are still wary and continue to stress the crucial nature of preventative measures to protect against the illnesses that rise during this time of year. In addition, the country has seen a spike in RSV cases and the region is reporting a strain on the local pediatric hospitals, with several reporting they are nearing capacity.
Amira Roess, epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Global and Community Health, recently shared all the need to knows regarding the bivalent vaccine. Currently, only about seven percent of individuals ages five years and older are vaccinated with the updated booster, and she was quoted in Teen Vogue and AFAR Magazine to provide her expertise and comment about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
As Dr. Roess remains a foremost expert on infectious diseases, she provides further detail about the importance of remaining updated on vaccinations and is available for further comment.
How is the bivalent booster different from other COVID vaccines?
The new bivalent booster is expected to be even better at reducing the chance of infection and, if you do get infected, reducing the duration and severity of COVID-19. Bivalent refers to the booster having an mRNA component from the original strain of COVID in addition to the omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5. These are two of the variants currently circulating as well as one of the older variants. The new booster is anticipated to provide greater protection against variants that are closely related to those that the booster is formulated from and protect against future strains.
Why should those who are eligible get the new booster?
COVID-19 vaccines have consistently shown that they reduce the chance of severe infection and death. We now have a vaccine that is tailored to target the newer variants. Stay up to date on your vaccines. Vaccinated individuals have a much lower chance of severe illness. Once you are eligible to get the new booster then get it. Getting the booster will give your body a chance to develop antibodies and increase your protection against infection and severe disease.
The FDA has also recently approved the booster vaccine for people five years and older. Those who are eligible are recommended to receive one bivalent mRNA booster dose after completion of any FDA-approved or FDA-authorized monovalent primary series or previously received monovalent booster dose(s).
For this year, our models cannot adequately predict when the peaks of COVID will be or how bad they will be, but the last two and a half years have shown us that we should expect peaks.
If we wish to avoid severe rises in cases, it is imperative for more people to receive the newest dose.
Should we still mask even if we are vaccinated with the booster?
It is a good idea to wear a mask when you are in crowded indoor settings with people you don't know, especially if you are vulnerable to severe infection. During periods of high transmission in your community consider wearing a mask when you're in crowded areas. And if you are symptomatic wear a mask and limit your interaction with others while you are infected, especially members of your community who are immune compromised or elderly. Wear the best quality mask that you have access to. The more effective masks are the N-95 or K-95 (or equivalents).
Is COVID still considered worse than the flu?
Overall, more than four times as many individuals are infected with the COVID-19 virus than with the flu virus. Flu did not disrupt life, businesses, health care, school, and other aspects of life the way COVID-19 does. The sheer number of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and have to isolate is many times more than that due to flu. I think these are reasons why it's hard to say that the pandemic is over. It's still infecting and killing more people than other infectious diseases in this country.
The disparities in health care access are also still very troubling and will continue to lead to higher rates of severe illness and death among minoritized and low-income populations. Effective treatments will continue to be out of reach for poor individuals and those who are ignored by the medical system furthering the difference in severe illness and mortality rates.
Is the pandemic over?
For segments of our population the pandemic is over. For healthy young adults and healthy children, the pandemic has been over for quite some time. They have the lowest COVID-19 disease severity and death rates compared to other groups.
For others, the pandemic is still disrupting day-to-day life. Older individuals and people with underlying conditions remain the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and to them the pandemic will never be over. For those who live with vulnerable individuals the pandemic is still very real. We are continuing to see about 400 COVID-19 deaths per day. We are continuing to have at least 50,000 cases a day, and we know we are severely undercounting cases.
The end of the pandemic would mean that we would evenly distribute therapeutics and high-quality health care to infected individuals no matter what their race or ethnicity or income level. The end of the pandemic would mean that we would have a functioning public health infrastructure that has resources uniformly distributed across the country, across the world, regardless of the income status of the population it serves. That had never been our past. It's certainly not our present, but I do hope it becomes our future.
Dr. Amira Roess specializes in infectious diseases, especially reducing the transmission of diseases that spread between animals and humans, including coronaviruses like MERS-CoV and SAR-CoV-2, the latter of which causes COVID-19. She has expertise in emerging zoonotic infectious diseases and interventions to reduce the transmission and impact of infectious diseases.
She is a professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at George Mason University's College of Public Health Department of Global and Community Health. Prior to joining academia, Dr. Roess served as the Science Director for the Pew Commission on Industrial Food Animal Production at Johns Hopkins and was an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer at the CDC. She has served as a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and Westat Inc.
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George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public research university, enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility. In 2022, Mason celebrates 50 years as an independent institution. Learn more at http://www.gmu.edu.
About College of Public Health at George Mason University
The College of Public Health at George Mason University is the first and only College of Public Health in Virginia combining public health transdisciplinary research, education, and practice in the Commonwealth as a national exemplar. The College enrolls more than 1,900 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students in our nationally recognized programs, including six undergraduate degrees, eight master’s degrees, five doctoral degrees, and six professional certificate programs. The College is comprised of the School of Nursing and the Departments of Global and Community Health, Health Administration and Policy, Nutrition and Food Studies, and Social Work.