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UAB doctor: New boosters important despite claims that “pandemic is over”

Dr. Michael Saag said vaccines remain the most effective way to prevent hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.

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New COVID-19 boosters are rolling out across the country that could serve to further suppress the pandemic.

But with hospitalizations and deaths down, and President Joe Biden declaring “the pandemic is over,” many are questioning whether getting a new booster is really necessary.

“We have a problem in this country where we’re in a hyper-politicized situation where simple public health messages all filtered through the lens of where it came from, whether it appears to be coming from a left-sided perspective or right-sided perspective,” said Dr. Michael Saag, associate dean of global health at UAB’s School of Medicine. “It’s messed everything up, frankly.”

The new boosters work by combining the original vaccine with a new piece targeted specifically at BA.5, the primary strain of COVID currently circulating.

Some critics have expressed concern about how quickly the new boosters were created and without human trials. 

Saag explained that scientists created the new vaccine similar to how flu shots are tweaked every year to match the most prevalent strain, and said millions of patient experiences with the original COVID boosters inform doctors as to how people will respond to the new doses.

The speed at which scientists have been able to combat COVID-19 is unprecedented, Saag added.

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“It’s miraculous what we’ve been able to do with Covid,” Saag said. “We have no AIDS vaccine after 40 years; in 11 months, we got Covid vaccines that work ridiculously well.”

The introduction of Paxlovid to treat COVID-19 has also provided a safety net for people who get the virus, further tempering hospitalizations and death, while also contributing to the wane of urgency to get new vaccines.

For people who test COVID-19 positive, Saag said timing is key to making Paxlovid effective.

“Paxlovid is a great treatment for people who have just developed symptoms of COVID,” Saag said. “If you can get Paxlovid within two to three days of onset of symptoms it works incredibly well, including vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.”

COVID-19 is a two-stage infection, Saag said, with the virus replicating heavily in the first five to seven days before attacking the immune system. Paxlovid is designed to attack COVID in its first phase.

A study of Paxlovid results showed that the treatment is 89 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

Saag said the best course of action is two-fold: get the new booster, test early and get Paxlovid as soon as possible if COVID-positive.

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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