Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on Monday that a COVID-19 vaccine booster specific to the BA.5 omicron subvariant — which is currently dominant in the U.S. — is the “best guess” for dealing with the virus this fall amid the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic.
Appearing on Hill.TV’s “Rising,” Fauci reiterated that it is difficult to predict how SARS-CoV-2 will mutate and noted that the U.S. is currently in a “BA.5 mode,” with roughly 80 percent of cases caused by the subvariant.
The BA.5 subvariant is able to better evade the immune protections offered by vaccines and prior infections than other strains. Its rise has led health experts to call for the development of next-generation COVID-19 vaccines that would be “variant proof.”
Both Pfizer and Moderna have said they are working on BA.5 specific boosters that should be ready by the fall.
Fauci said the Food and Drug Administration will likely authorize these updated boosters heading into the fall, adding that they would be bivalent vaccines, meaning that they would target BA.5 along with the ancestral strain of COVID-19.
“That’s a pretty good estimation of what we will be seeing in the fall,” said Fauci. “There’s always the possibility that you’re going to have the evolution of another variant and hopefully if that occurs it will vary off from the BA.5 only slightly in the sense of being a sub-sub-lineage of it and not something entirely different.”
When dealing with what he described as a “moving target,” Fauci said this approach was the “best guess” as the U.S. heads into the fall, a time when some experts have predicted the U.S. will see another surge in cases.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that cases have begun to rise in recent weeks.
Fauci also reflected on other aspects of the pandemic while on Hill.TV:
At this point in the pandemic, he said the data was clear that “high quality” and “well fitted” masks were effective at preventing the transmission and acquisition of viruses. He specifically pointed to N96 and KN95 masks as examples of effective protection.He still keeps an open mind to criticisms and comments after more than 40 years in government work, saying, “I always take criticism seriously, analyze it and see if there’s anything I can learn and do better from the criticism. Sometimes it’s outlandish but sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in that.”Fauci also pushed back again on speculation that the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) might have funded gain-of-function research that could be liked to the COVID-19 pandemic.”Any card-carrying virologist who knows about viral evolution will tell you that it would be molecularly impossible for those viruses that were worked on to be turned into SARS-CoV-2 by accident or by intent,” said Fauci. “They are evolutionarily so far from SARS-CoV-2 that that would be impossible. Yet when you talk about research that was funded by the NIH people make an inappropriate conflation of those experiments with SARS-CoV-2.”