WASHINGTON — The White House issued a blunt message to all Americans over age 50 on Tuesday: get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"If you have not gotten a vaccine shot in the year 2022, go get one now. It could save your life," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.
The urgency is due to the explosive spread of the latest Omicron variants — BA.4 and BA.5 — now responsible for more than 80% of all new COVID cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"BA.4 and BA.5 are our most immune evading variants yet," said Dr. Celine Gounder, editor-at-large of Kaiser Health News.
COVID transmission levels are currently high in much of the West, the Southeast and parts of the Northeast. Many of those cases are reinfections. In the past, it was expected that if a person contracted COVID in the past 90 days, they were protected against reinfection.
"The virus is mutating so quickly and rapidly," Gounder said. "It is changing so dramatically, your immune system will have a harder time fighting off this current wave. We are already seeing an increase in hospitalizations. The good news is that fewer people are ending up in the ICU."
Doctors are urging vigilance.
"My biggest concern is that people are just exhausted with COVID, and that they're not going to do the other things that we know will prevent infection and transmission – things like masking, opening windows," Gounder said. "I am worried people are tired of taking those extra steps."
The CDC and Food and Drug Administration may soon update their guidance on boosters for all Americans. In the meantime, health officials are expecting COVID cases to keep rising in the coming weeks, and recommend that you get tested before gathering indoors or visiting high-risk people this summer.