Europe is a telltale indicator. For the past few weeks, cases among people 65 years and older have been on the rise in 19 of the 26 countries reporting data to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Fifteen countries in the group reported rising hospitalizations. Germany, France and Italy have all seen rising caseloads, which often portend a similar jump in the United States a few weeks later. The European center said the main driver appears to be people gathering together inside after summer’s end. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization director general, noted another factor: “Most countries no longer have measures in place to limit the spread of the virus.”
New variants are not yet propelling a wave, but there are new omicron subvariants. They appear to have genetic changes that confer the ability to evade human immunity from vaccines or previous infection. In a paper not yet peer-reviewed, immunologist Yunlong Cao and colleagues at Peking University warned that the new variants mean vaccine boosters and previous infection “may not provide sufficiently broad protection” against the mutated variants and could make existing antibody drugs useless. This could be worrisome if the variant splinters take hold in the population; so far, they have not in the United States, where the older variants BA.5 and BA4.6 still make up 92.8 percent of cases, according to data and modeling by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A wall of immunity, created by the substantial amount of previous infection, might be helping, too.
The new bivalent boosters for those 12 and older are free, widely available and aimed at the prevalent variants. Yet the U.S. public has shrugged. A survey in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation found half of adults had heard “a little” or “nothing at all” about the booster. The Post reports that just over 11 million Americans — or about 4 percent of those eligible — have received a booster shot.
Such hesitancy stems in part from destructive misinformation spread by anti-vaccine campaigns. In recent days, such bad information came from an unexpected source. Florida’s surgeon general, Joseph A. Ladapo, on Friday issued a news release and an “analysis” purporting to show a sizable risk of cardiac-related death among men ages 18 to 39 within 28 days of getting the mRNA booster. Dr. Ladapo claimed risks of the vaccine outweigh the benefits. Researchers soon exposed the “analysis” to be shoddy, based on an extremely small sample, with poor methods, not peer-reviewed, and lacking a named author. But the damage had been done; the message made headlines and spread across social media. That Florida is urging people not to get a potentially lifesaving booster is disgraceful — and deeply irresponsible.
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