With a new omicron subvariant on track to becoming the dominant COVID strain in the country, you might have some questions about how protected you are.
Will the bivalent COVID booster work against this more contagious strain, known as XBB.1.5 and dubbed Kraken? What about COVID treatments like monoclonal antibodies and medications like Paxlovid?
Here’s what we know:
Pfizer and Moderna’s bivalent COVID boosters were designed to provide some protection against the original COVID strain, as well as omicron. The shots were created long before XBB.1.5 began circulating in the country and in South Florida.
XBB.1.5 made up about 28 percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 7, up from 2 percent in the beginning of December, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The World Health Organization considers this new mutated strain to be more contagious, “incredibly transmissible,”
and slightly better at evading immunity, both from previous infections and vaccination. However, this omicron descendant still shares many similarities with previous omicron subvariants.
As a result, the bivalent boosters should still provide some protection against this subvariant, said Dr. Raj Palraj, an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic’s College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, who also works in the Mayo Clinic Health System in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.
“It may not prevent us from getting the infection, but hopefully you can reduce the severity of the infection,” and avoid hospitalization, said Palraj, who is an infectious disease specialist.
READ MORE: The new, more contagious omicron subvariant is in Miami-Dade. Here’s what to know
Just like the COVID-19 vaccines, bivalent boosters are available at South Florida retail pharmacies including Publix, Walmart, Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Mas, Walgreens, CVS and Navarro Discount pharmacies. There are also still some COVID-19 vaccine sites in Miami-Dade, including at Tropical Park.
To find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you in Miami-Dade, visit miamidade.gov/vaccine.
“Miami-Dade County is still offering COVID tests and vaccines at no cost to our residents at multiple locations, to keep our community safe and healthy. We are not lowering our guard when there are still COVID variants impacting residents and visitors alike,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “That’s why I continue to invite all Miamians to get the latest updated vaccine, so we can each stay healthy this new year and protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Broward’s health department is also operating one COVID-19 vaccine site at the Broward Library Branch, 751 Southwest 121 Ave. in Davie. For hours of operation, visit broward.org/CoronaVirus/.
READ MORE: What’s the COVID risk in Miami and the rest of Florida? Here’s how to check
One of the COVID treatments is Paxlovid, which doctors can prescribe to people 12 and older who have mild-to-moderate COVID and are considered to be high risk for severe disease, including hospitalization or death.
Paxlovid, an antiviral drug in pill form, is still effective against the new subvariant, according to Palraj.
Another treatment, Evusheld, however, may not be.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration earlier this month announced that it doesn’t expect Evusheld, which the agency authorized under emergency use to be given to immunocompromised people who didn’t get an “adequate response” to COVID vaccinations, to work against XBB.1.5. It’s too similar to other variants not neutralized by Evusheld, the FDA said.
“This means that Evusheld may not provide protection against developing COVID-19 for individuals who have received Evusheld and are later exposed to XBB.1.5,” the FDA said. “However, we are awaiting additional data to verify that Evusheld is not active against XBB.1.5.”
READ MORE: What’s the COVID situation in Miami and why are Florida hospitals full of patients?
The FDA in late November revoked its emergency use authorization of bebtelovimab, made by Eli Lilly, because it wasn’t expected to be effective against newer omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1., which are some of the prominent strains in the country. (XBB.1.5. could soon outpace them.)
Eli Lilly’s bebtelovimab was the last remaining COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment available in the U.S. under emergency use authorization as newer variant strains made other monoclonal antibody treatments ineffective.
Patients ill with COVID should speak with their doctor about their treatment options.