Sept. 18, 2022 -- Americans should get the new Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine before Halloween to boost their immunity levels ahead of a potential surge in infections this winter.

Ideally, people should get a shot between mid-September and mid-October but “no later than the end of October for maximum protection” ahead of the holidays, Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told ABC News after getting his own vaccination on Friday.

Those who recently contracted the coronavirus should wait about 90 days, or three months, before getting the updated vaccine, he said.

Jha described the new vaccine as a vital factor in the forecast for a potential surge in coming months. Some models show a large surge, he noted, while others show only a “modest bump” due to people getting an updated vaccine in the next two months.

“If you go get these vaccines, you actually can influence what happens,” he said. “There is nothing fated about what’s going to happen. If a large proportion of Americans go out and get these vaccines, it will have a significant beneficial effect on keeping infections low.”

So far, the federal government has made 30 million vaccines available to states for distribution out of an overall order of about 170 million doses, ABC News reported. As of Friday, 25 million doses have shipped, and Jha said he’s pleased that some states are already submitting reorders.

The most recent numbers on how many people are taking the updated shot will be available in coming days, he said. Although 84% of ages 5 and older have received at least one vaccine dose and 72% are considered fully vaccinated, only 49% have gotten a first booster shot, according to the latest CDC data.

The updated bivalent shot, which targets the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants and the original COVID-19 strain, could be the only shot that Americans need for the next year, similar to an annual flu shot, even if another new variant takes over, Jha said.

“I feel very confident, based on everything we have, that for the average-risk person, even an Omicron-like variant is unlikely to lead us to suggest that [young, healthy] people are going to benefit from a second shot within a year,” he said. “I think that is both unrealistic and not necessary.”

The CDC approved the new booster at the beginning of September, and shots began rolling out after Labor Day weekend. The Pfizer version is available to ages 12 and older, and the Moderna version is available to ages 18 and older. The CDC and FDA are expected to approve shots for children under age 12 this fall, ABC News reported.

Right now, about 62,000 COVID-19 cases are being reported daily, marking the lowest level seen since early May, according to the data tracker by The New York Times. Cases are flat or falling in nearly every state.

Hospitalizations are also declining, with about 32,000 patients in hospitals and 4,000 in intensive care units, the data tracker shows. About 465 deaths are being reported each day.

At the same time, national COVID-19 wastewater levels have begun to increase again after declining at the end of the summer, which could signal another uptick is on the way, according to ABC News.

About 50% of wastewater sites in the U.S. have reported an increase during the past two weeks, up from 40% of sites reporting increases last month. The uptick seems to be happening across the country, with the Northeast reporting the highest levels of any region.

“Increase in virus concentration found in wastewater has [predictably] been a key indicator of a forthcoming COVID surge. In fact, given the challenges in case estimation and the decline in testing, wastewater surveillance may be one of the last remaining high-quality datasets public health can rely on,” John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News.

“While there are important caveats in how these data are collected and integrated, we should still take this signal as a warning that we are not out of the pandemic,” he said.

Show Sources

ABC News: “Best to get new booster before Halloween, White House COVID coordinator Dr. Jha says.” “National COVID-19 wastewater levels signal viral uptick ahead of fall.”

CDC: “COVID Data Tracker: COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”

The New York Times: “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, updated Sept. 18, 2022.”

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