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Ok, so what about *another* booster?

By July 25, 2022Blog


The highly infectious Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, are making their way around Washington. (Boy do we know it; Some of our staff have gotten sick!)

Unfortunately, hospitalizations are back on the rise—our “plateau” from two weeks ago did not hold. The death rate has slightly increased too, and now is at 1 person per 100,000 people every day. The good news is, the death rate is still 1/6th what it was during the Omicron peak of January 2022 thanks to increased protection from vaccines and improved treatments, like the life-saving antiviral Paxlovid.

Amidst this latest wave, there’s renewed energy to approve a 2nd booster (or 4th total COVID shot) for all adults. It will certainly help those who receive it, but will the booster make a real difference in the overall pandemic?

📊 Washington’s COVID-19 Weekly Snapshot

COVID cases 😷

Title: 7-Day case rate per 100,000 population from 6/25/2022 to 7/2/2022. 36 of 39 counties have had 100+ cases per 100 thousand people. The only counties that don’t fall into this category are San Juan and Whitman counties with 50 to 99.99 cases per 100 thousand people; and Garfield county with 0 to 10 cases per 100 thousand people.

Hospitalization rates 🏥

A line graph stemming from January 2020 to June 2022 that covers the weekly rate of new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people. The highest spike was around February 2022, at above 25. There have also been 4 other spikes, at rates of approximately 18 (Nov. 2021), 8 (May 2021), 10 (April 2021), and 7 (March 2020). Since May 18th, 2022, the line again trends upward after a dip in hospitalization rates, and begins to plateau at the beginning of June, then rises at the end of June. The line now sits at 9.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 people with the most recent data point being July 2nd.

As we mentioned up top, COVID’s Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants are spreading around Washington and the country. The most worrying trend is Washington’s own rise in hospitalizations, which is likely a factor of the overall case count being very high even though we don’t have good data on case counts anymore since many people test at home but don’t report or don’t test at all these days.

Public health officials stated that while BA.4 and BA.5 have the same level of severity as previous Omicron variants, they’re more infectious and better evade immunity.

We don’t have a clear idea of when this wave will end. As always, we urge you to take reasonable precautions where possible, especially wearing a mask in crowded indoor areas and even when hanging out with friends outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.


🤔 2nd Boosters: Good, but will they make a difference in the overall pandemic?

Let’s get one thing straight: Boosters are good. Multiple studies show that boosters reduce the risk of Omicron’s severe illness and hospitalization. The linked studies aren’t new; They were conducted months ago on Omicron and on other previous variants.

With a rapidly-mutating virus like COVID, we don’t yet know the 2nd booster’s effectiveness against the now-dominant BA.4 and BA.5 variants. There is also a possibility that if vaccine makers produce “bivalent” boosters—meaning they’d include protection against the original Omicron and BA.4 and BA.5—there might be a new variant by the time that booster arrives for everyone.

Regardless, boosted individuals (people with three COVID vaccinations under their belt) are less likely to experience hospitalization from BA.4 and BA.5. Whenever the 2nd updated booster shot (making a total of four shots) is produced, it will have some degree of positive effect in preventing severe illness from future variants.

Currently, health departments are only recommending a 2nd booster for adults over 50 years old and for immunocompromised people over the age of 18. The Biden Administration and the FDA are making it a priority to approve a 2nd updated booster for all adults, with The Washington Post reporting that it may occur in the next two weeks.

But even with this upcoming approval, it’s not clear it will make much of a difference in the overall spread of COVID, even if it helps each individual who decides to have it. If current trends hold, the number of Americans that would get a second booster (if one is authorized for all adults) is likely to be a smaller share of the population. Right now, only half of fully-vaccinated Americans (those eligible) have received the first booster shot (so their 3rd total). As for the eligible 50+ year-old Americans who could have a second booster, only just over a quarter decided to. Our own state is similar: Only 57.7% of eligible Washingtonians (ages 5+) have received a single booster shot (or 3 total shots).

Why might people be reluctant to get their 1st booster, let alone their 2nd? There are many reasons, but the overriding factor is social distrust.

An image with the title "Change in Americans' Confidence in Major U.S. Institutions, 2021-2022." Respondents were asked, "Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one—a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little." There are bar graphs that indicate the percent of respondents who answered “a great deal” or “quite a lot” for each institution for each of the 2021 and 2022 surveys. Small businesses received 70% in 2021 and 68% in 2022. The military received 69% in 2021 and 64% in 2022. The police received 51% in 2021 and 45% in 2022. The medical system received 44% in 2021 and 38% in 2022. The church or organized religion received 37% in 2021 and 31% in 2022. The public schools received 32% in 2021 and 28% in 2022. Organized labor received 28% in 2021 and 28% in 2022! Banks received 33% in 2021 and 27% in 2022. Large technology companies received 29% in 2021 and 26% in 2022. The US Supreme Court received 36% in 2021 and 25% in 2022. The presidency received 38% in 2021 and 23% in 2022. Newspapers received 21% in 2021 and 16% in 2022. The criminal justice system received 20% in 2021 and 14% in 2022. Big business received 18% in 2021 and 14% in 2022. Television news received 16% in 2021 and 11% in 2022. Congress received 12% in 2021 and 7% in 2022.

Americans’ trust in major institutions and each other has been trending down for decades, but it’s now reaching an all-time-low since the records began.

According to the recent Gallup poll depicted above, the US medical system lost 6 percentage points in trust this year, putting it at 38%. That’s still better than trust in The Presidency, which is down to 23%. And Congress, which is down to 7%. With messages about 2nd boosters largely coming from Biden and the medical system, it doesn’t exactly look like people will be too receptive.

These Gallup findings are similar to a recent Pew Research poll that shows middling and declining faith in most institutions’ responses to the pandemic—besides local hospitals. People who believe the CDC is doing an “excellent” or “good” job responding to the pandemic declined from 79% in March 2020 to 52% in May 2022.

In our next Endemic, we’ll share our take on why social trust and faith in institutional pandemic response has declined so much.


🙏 COVID-19 Resources

What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @WACommAlliance.
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