Posted on September 07, 2022 in: Professional Practice
Hundreds of thousands of newly designed COVID boosters bound for Michigan could significantly tamp down a fall infection surge, according to data modeling.
But even with new booster shots revamped to stop the latest variants, there is still plenty of uncertainty: Will people take the boosters? And even if lots of Michiganders roll up their sleeves, could the coronavirus evolve enough to duck even the newly redesigned boosters?
“We really don’t know what the properties of a new variant will be. There's a lot of wiggle room in what could happen,” said Marisa Eisenberg, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who works on the COVID-19 modeling that the state uses. “A lot hinges on whether or not the booster matches” any new variants.
Her work has helped inform the Scenario Modeling Hub, a national effort combining more local, short-term forecasting models to forecast longer-term U.S. trends.
According to those forecasters in July, Michigan would have experienced 41,817 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic by the end of 2022 as long as an early booster matches variants. (Michigan already has 31,121 deaths, as of Tuesday.)
As it became clear that a new booster would arrive early in September, forecasters lowered that estimate to 40,167 deaths by Dec. 31, or more than 1,600 fewer deaths, assuming the new vaccine protects against any newer variants.
Even with the challenges of battling an ever-evolving virus, Eisenberg and others who spoke to Bridge Michigan Tuesday were clear: It’s better to get the new booster than skip it.
“It's still better to go ahead and get the booster because you're building your immunity to a wider range of COVID variants than what you had before … and that will build the rest of your immunity,” she said. “It’s worth doing.”
The two new boosters are the first redesigned COVID vaccine — one by drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech, and the other by Moderna. The effectiveness of the original vaccine had waned over time; the two new shots are tailored to target BA.4 and BA.5, the subvariant now responsible for nearly all U.S. COVID infections.
The vaccines were fast-tracked and given the sign-off both by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week before they were fully tested on humans. That prompted concern among some scientists, but CDC officials said waiting could make the new vaccine “outdated.”