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Your COVID Questions Answered

Some good information on common questions about COVID.

I found the information below from the New York Times to be very helpful.

Our reporters answer your questions about Covid

After a winter surge, infections, hospitalizations and death rates dropped steeply and, for a time, remained reassuringly flat.

But in the past week, President Biden extended the U.S. Covid public health emergency by 90 days. The C.D.C. decided against immediately lifting mask mandates on airplanes and public transit. In New York, two highly contagious versions of Omicron subvariant BA.2 are circulating rapidly. Around the U.S., cases are now rising.

Trying to make sense of it all? We can help.

Last week we asked you to send your questions about the future of the coronavirus. Thank you to almost 250 readers who asked about boosters, variant testing, research into treatments, vaccines for young children and more. We took your questions to our Times reporters on the Covid beat. Here are some of their answers. We’ll feature more in upcoming newsletters.

It was suggested we might want to hold off on second boosters because effectiveness will wane by fall. I’m 73, relatively healthy, and want to stay that way. Should I get it now or wait? — Jan Henderson, Northville, Mich.

Apoorva Mandavilli, science and global health reporter: Timing the vaccines for maximum protection is indeed key. The ability of the vaccines to prevent infections drops off sharply but protection against severe illness lasts longer for all ages. It takes about a week for the booster to kick the immune system into gear. So, for people younger than 60 and in relatively good health, it may be OK to time a vaccine dose for the next surge or a trip to see vulnerable relatives. But for older adults and others at high risk, experts recommend a second booster shot now. With numbers rising nationwide, they say, you’ll want to be protected against infection, not just severe illness, and a second booster shot will extend the longevity of the shield by at least a few weeks.

I’m a registered nurse/massage therapist and rapid test clients before sessions. I’m a bit confused on if/when I should start testing someone if they had the first Omicron variant. Also, if you’re exposed but don’t contract a variant, can you still have enough virus to pass to another person, if you both are boosted? — Michele, Conn.

Emily Anthes, health and science reporter: If you’re not infected with Covid, don’t worry about spreading it. Just keep in mind if you’re exposed, it will likely take several days before you know if you’ve caught it. Great question on when to test clients but I’m afraid my answers won’t be completely satisfying. There’s still much we don’t know about the BA.2 version of Omicron that’s now spreading quickly. So far, evidence suggests an earlier version of Omicron will protect you from BA.2 in the short term, especially if you’re vaccinated and boosted, but we don’t know for how long. Reinfections have been documented. Personally, I’d rely on other factors regarding testing. Are you high-risk or immunocompromised? Do you live with someone who is? Have your clients had recent exposures? If so, I’d absolutely have them keep testing, even if they recently had Covid. And if test supply isn’t an issue, I’d probably ask them to continue testing regardless, at least now when the virus is still circulating at pretty high levels.

Will there ever be a vaccine to encompass protection for known variants as well as future variants? Is there any hope of eradicating Covid or putting it behind us, like polio?— Shelley Padnos, Mich.

Apoorva: We will most likely not be free of this virus for the foreseeable future. But there are certainly ways to reach a point where it doesn’t control our lives to the same extent. It’s extremely hard to eradicate viruses. The only time we’ve succeeded is with smallpox, which produced dramatic, hard-to-miss symptoms. Polio has not been eradicated worldwide. The same is true of measles. The coronavirus is likely to become like flu, mutating yearly and requiring vaccine tweaks. A way to exit that dynamic is with a pan-coronavirus vaccine to protect against all future variants. Such vaccines are being developed but are still in early stages. The bigger issue is that as long as we have large, unvaccinated swaths of the population, in the U.S. or elsewhere, we leave the door open to new variants.

If you assume there will be many new Covid variants, should research focus shift to treatment rather than vaccines? — Mike R., Toms River, N.J.

Knvul Sheikh, health and wellness reporter: We will most likely require a combination of preventative measures and treatments. Vaccines remain highly effective in reducing chances of severe disease, though they don’t completely prevent transmission and infection by variants. Several studies also suggest getting vaccinated and boosted reduces risk of long Covid and might improve long Covid symptoms among those not vaccinated when first infected. Overall, prevention is simply more cost effective than treatment.

But a number of medications now authorized to treat Covid can help keep mild to moderate cases from turning serious. There can be extra challenges, though, compared to vaccines. With antiviral pills, for instance, you must test positive early in your infection, meet eligibility criteria, have access to a prescribing doctor and be able to find the drugs. Only a few of those barriers — eligibility, drug supply — will ease with time, according to Dr. Albert Ko, a physician and epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. He adds that wider antiviral use could also lead to the virus mutating and developing antiviral resistance, especially if treatment alternatives are limited.

Will a strategy for future variant vaccines provide faster access to vaccines for children under 5? We’re still isolating for the sake of our 3-year-old twins. — Katy Spartz, Dallas, Tex.

Apoorva: After months of bumpy starts and stops, a vaccine for the youngest children may finally be on the horizon. In mid-March, Moderna announced results from a vaccine trial in children 6 months to 6 years old. Results were tepid: The vaccine was only about 40 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness. But the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both show diminished effectiveness against infection with the Omicron variant even in adults. Moderna said it would request an emergency authorization for its vaccine from the F.D.A. and that’s now imminent. In February, Pfizer-BioNTech said two vaccine doses didn’t adequately protect the youngest children from infection with the Omicron variant. The companies are waiting to see how well three doses of the vaccine worked in young children before seeking F.D.A. authorization. Results are expected in a few weeks.
Eric Holdeman is a nationally known emergency manager. He has worked in emergency management at the federal, state and local government levels. Today he serves as the Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR), which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). The focus for his work there is engaging the public and private sectors to work collaboratively on issues of common interest, regionally and cross jurisdictionally.