Talking Points

No, it's not over

New Omicron subvariants are headed our way

I was talking to a neighbor the other day about COVID, and he said with vehemence he wasn't getting the new booster. He'd already had COVID twice, despite being vaccinated with the original two shots in 2021. Since COVID hadn't killed him, he said, why bother with more shots? I reminded him that more than 1 million Americans have died of COVID, and that boosters have been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of serious illness. That led him to launch into a riff on "Fauci" laced with conspiracy theories; if that damn Fauci wanted him to get boosted, well, hell, forget it. These views, of course, are shared by tens of millions of people who've absorbed the same deluge of disinformation, and who've bought into the deadly notion that the other tribe gets shots, and ours doesn't. Besides, the pandemic is over, isn't it?

Sorry, but it isn't. COVID deaths and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically, thanks to the immunity produced by hundreds of millions of vaccinations and tens of millions of COVID infections over the past year. But immunity from infection and shots wanes after four to six months, and every winter, indoor gatherings fuel surges of infectious disease. A new swarm of subvariants has evolved to evade immunity, and are spreading rapidly; hospitals in the U.K., Europe, and Singapore are filling up with COVID cases. One of the new subvariants, BQ.1, already makes up 10 percent of new cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. A substantial portion of the millions who may be infected in coming months may develop long COVID — especially those who are unvaccinated or get COVID multiple times. Fortunately, the new "bivalent" booster will help shield people from serious illness, death, and long COVID. But so far, only about 7 percent of 209 million eligible Americans have gotten the new booster, out of COVID fatigue, tribal loyalty, or not knowing it's available. Don't roll the COVID dice. Go get a booster.

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.