Graham Kilmer

Widespread Immunity Key To Fighting Next COVID-19 Variant

Maintaining immunity through vaccination, boosters important before next dominant variant emerges says Dr. Ben Weston.

By - Oct 13th, 2022 01:32 pm
Dr. Ben Weston receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Ben Weston receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The next COVID-19 variant needs to be fought before it arrives, and the best way to do that, according to a top Milwaukee public health official, is to strengthen immunity at the population level through vaccination.

Recently, Milwaukee County has experienced stable, even declining disease burden. But other parts of the world are beginning to see new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations from the disease increase as new variants emerge. If this sounds familiar, that’s because this pattern has played out before during the pandemic

“We cannot ignore substantially rising levels throughout much of Europe, where both cases and hospitalizations are increasing as the latest variants jockey for front-runner status,” said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, during a media briefing Tuesday.

In Milwaukee County, the latest data shows only 61.3% of all county residents are fully vaccinated and only 58% of booster-eligible people have received one. This puts Milwaukee well below the U.S. as a whole for vaccination (79.7%), but ahead for boosters (49.1%).

“We as a country have failed to effectively communicate the importance and the benefits of maintaining immunity through boosters,” Weston said.

Weston said that COVID-19 fatigue is likely affecting the turnout for boosters, which he said is a common and understandable reaction as more people want to live their lives without thinking about the disease. “Maintaining immunity at a population level is key to moving forward to living our lives and avoiding future surges from the pandemic,” said Dr. Ben Weston.

If you are 12 years or older, and it’s been three months since your last dose, Weston said, now is the time to get a booster. New boosters were recently approved for use by the federal government that target both the original COVID-19 variant and the highly contagious sub-variants known as BA.4 and BA.5. These new bivalent vaccines, as they are called, have replaced the original boosters.

These new boosters are still mRNA-type vaccines like the original vaccines. “What has changed is simply the recipe to not only protect against the original COVID strains, but the latest, most prevalent and most contagious variants.”

Weston said he is confident in the safety of the vaccines, noting that the original vaccines were safely administered to hundreds of millions of people.

Immunity from vaccination continues to be the safest and most reliable way to protect oneself against the disease. He noted that new variants did have an effect on past vaccines efficacy, and that some studies indicate a combination of vaccination combined with immunity from prior infection may provide the strongest immunity. But, he said, the vaccines have proven “most effective at the most important aspect, which is preventing severe disease, and hospitalization.”

Locally, the stable disease burden is due to immunity through vaccination and infection, Weston explained. But in the past new variants have upended stable disease burdens. “At some point that will happen, and we want to be ready and the way to be ready is to keep our immunity high.”

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Categories: Health, MKE County

One thought on “Widespread Immunity Key To Fighting Next COVID-19 Variant”

  1. Colin says:

    Not a single mention of masks in the article. Kinda stunning. Such an easy method and NOBODY can handle it seemingly.

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