Last week on May 5th, the World Health Organization announced the end of the global emergency for COVID-19. However, this does not mean that COVID is over. Due to rapid transmission, spread, and mutations of the virus, COVID is now an endemic disease. “Endemic” is defined as a disease that is constantly present and occurring in a community. This means COVID is not going to go away. The initial emergency of identifying the virus, treating cases, developing treatments and vaccines is over but the World Health Organization, CDC and FDA continue to all work together so that we can try to stay ahead of the new variants on the horizon. COVID response systems in place in the USA are also being maintained. We may feel like we are “done” with COVID, but unfortunately, COVID is not done with us…
Approximately 1,000 people per week are still dying of COVID in the United States. The Omicron variant XBB.1.5 that has been the main variant for the last 6 to 9 months is still causing the majority of cases (67%), but there are two new variants that are starting to displace it. Variant XBB.1.16 is up to 12.5% of cases in the US, and the mutations in this version have given the virus increased transmissibility and more infectious capability. Up and coming variants XBB.1.9.1 and 1.9.2 are at 9% and 4% respectively, with the viral mutations for these also conferring more of a transmission advantage, meaning that the virus is more easily able to spread from person to person. The CDC continues to track this data weekly- see this link for more information: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-summary
Because of the now endemic nature of COVID, the CDC has simplified vaccine recommendations.
Monovalent vaccines will no longer be used in the USA.
Anyone 6 years and older who got a monovalent vaccine should get a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine regardless of when they completed their monovalent vaccine series.
Individuals 6 years and older who have already received a bivalent mRNA COVID vaccine do not need to take any action currently; more recommendations about an updated vaccine in the fall will be announced over the next few months.
Certain individuals (immunocompromised or 65yo and older), are allowed to get a second bivalent vaccine dose if needed; check with your healthcare provider.
For young children, multiple doses of the COVID vaccine are still recommended, but vary by age, vaccine and which vaccine(s) were previously received.
Check with their healthcare provider for more information.
The CDC and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (AICP) will be meeting in mid-June to review current and emerging variants and determine what the next composition of the COVID vaccine should be to provide the best protection. They are anticipating that a new vaccine will be available by the autumn. This type of decision process is similar to what is done for the yearly flu vaccine. Of note, I do not recommend getting both the COVID vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time- I recommend separating these vaccines by several weeks.
In the meantime, with summer travel starting soon and these new variants having increased transmissibility, I highly recommend wearing a mask anytime you’re in a crowded indoor public space, including on public transportation and airplanes. An N95 mask (without a vent) is still the best protection for yourself and those around you. And as always, please be considerate of those who have chosen to wear a mask!