The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recommending the use of updated COVID-19 vaccines for the fall, saying the vaccine composition should be updated to a monovalent COVID-19 vaccine with an XBB-lineage of the Omicron variant.
The FDA, after taking into consideration the COVID variants in circulation and immune response data, advised manufacturers they should develop vaccines with a monovalent XBB 1.5 composition.
What local experts say
Local health departments are continuing to offer the bivalent booster and encouraging local residents to get vaccinated, while also reporting a drop in interest in the vaccines.
“What we’re doing right now is continuing to offer the bivalent vaccine here in the clinic and to recommend that people who haven’t gotten the bivalent booster to get the bivalent boost to protect against severe illness and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Becky Thomas, medical director at Public Health – Dayton and Montgomery County.
The challenge now is learning to live with COVID on a regular basis as the virus hasn’t settled into a predictable seasonal pattern like with influenza, Thomas said.
“This new vaccine that’s coming out will be a closer match to the circulating variants that we see in the community now and the ones that are predicted to be prevalent in the fall and then the winter when people gather more indoors,” Thomas said.
The Clark County Combined Health District is also watching for updates on fall COVID vaccines.
“However, it’s still too early yet for us to determine whether we’ll have these new vaccines available come later on this fall or not, as there are a number of logistical and procedural considerations as it relates to getting the new formula from the state of Ohio,” said Nate Smith, communications coordinator for the Clark County Combined Health District.
“Greene County Public Health continues to provide COVID-19 vaccines to those wishing to receive them and encourages residents to stay up to date on recommended vaccines,” said Laurie Fox, public information officer of Greene County Public Health. They also encourage those age 65 and older to get a second bivalent (updated) booster at least four months after receiving their initial bivalent booster.
Butler County has seen a decrease in demand for the COVID vaccine, especially compared to previous years, said Erin Smiley, health promotion director for the Butler County General Health District.
It was a decrease the health district expected due to local residents having gained immunity from natural infections, vaccinations, or both, but immunity can wane overtime, Smiley said.
“The data is clear that the COVID vaccine are effective at protecting people from getting seriously ill, but that immunity decreases over time. In order to keep cases low and prevent a spike in the fall and winter, it will be important that people stay up to date with the bivalent booster,” Smiley said.
The Butler County General Health District is offering adult vaccine clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-11 a.m. and 1–3 p.m. The district also offers regular childhood vaccine clinics every Monday and Wednesday, as well as a Back to School Clinic for eligible children on Aug. 25 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Butler County Educational Service Center.
Ohio has seen a dramatic difference this year compared to the same time frame last year, with 132,826 COVID cases representing only about 18% of what Ohio saw during this same time frame in 2022 between Jan. 1 and June 21. In that time range in 2022, there were 738,056 cases, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
“We’re very pleased that the numbers are much lower than they were this time last year,” Thomas said.
COVID data between Jan. 1 and June 21, 2023 from the Ohio Department of Health
Locally, Montgomery County has seen approximately 6,858 cases between the beginning of the year to Wednesday, June 21, compared to 39,836 in the same time frame in 2022. Other counties saw similar drops, according to state data.
“COVID transmission, hospitalizations and deaths are all down compared to this time last year,” Smith said. Clark County went from approximately 10,000 cases in the first six months of 2022 to only more than 1,000 cases in the same time frame in 2023.
Butler County also dropped from approximately 30,000 cases in the first six months of 2022 to slight more than 4,000 in the first six months of 2023.
“Daily cases of COVID-19 have been on a steady decline since June 2022 when they were in double and triple digits; now as of June 20, cases in Greene County are down to four to five cases per day. The availability of vaccine throughout the region has helped with this decrease in daily cases,” said Fox.
COVID data between Jan. 1 and June 21, 2022 from the Ohio Department of Health
Since more people have access to at-home tests, public health officials suspect the number of cases may be higher than what is reported. Immunity gained from vaccination and/or infections is also contributing to lower numbers.
“Population wise, I think we’re seeing a high degree of immunity from the people who have had the infection and people who have immunized. Those two things together are resulting in much lower numbers,” Thomas said.
The latest strains of the virus have also been less infectious than previous strains.
“Another point is that recent mutations of the virus, including subsequent strains of the Omicron variant are less virulent than previous strains,” Smith said.
Vaccinations are still stressed as the most important tool in avoiding catching COVID.
“Vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself,” said Dan Suffoletto, public information manager at Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County. “If you haven’t been vaccinated at all yet, there’s still time.”