Omicron subvariants: Why federal government is putting second COVID vaccine boosters ‘on hold’ for people under 50

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — As COVID cases increase across the country the federal government is considering whether to change its booster strategy.

“They don’t want to waste a lot of energy on trying to get people to get a second dose when the real energy needs to be on getting the newer preparation. So, that is the choice that’s going down right now. I suspect we will know more in about a week,” Dr. George Rutherford, M.D., UCSF Professor of Epidemiology.

RELATED: With an incoming COVID surge, health officials push urgently for boosters. Do you need one?

A senior administration official confirmed to ABC News that authorizing or recommending second boosters for people younger than 50 years old is currently on hold. This was first reported by the Washington Post. The focus is on getting a vaccine that targets omicron and its subvariants. Dr. Rutherford explained the pros and cons of this strategy.

“It’s totally dependent on when the next vaccine is ready. If it’s not going to be ready until late October then you should push the second vaccine now. If it’s going to be ready much sooner like mid-September that’s only six weeks from now we can easily wait on that,” said Dr. Rutherford.

We asked Dr. Warner Greene, Gladstone Institutes, Senior Investigator and Virologist what he would do.

“If I were up for a booster right now, I would try and hold out,” Dr. Greene.

VIDEO: Omicron BA.5 strain may shorten COVID immunity from 3 months to 28 days, research shows

What’s the difference in protection?

“If you have the new vaccine which contains the BA.5 spike protein, well now you might make some antibodies for some period of time that are really good at neutralizing BA.5 presenting infection with BA.5. So, it’s a more current cutting edge vaccine and ideally. We don’t know, you might get six months of antibody protections. Something like that. That is the hope,” said Dr. Greene.

Luz Pena: “Versus the booster that would give you how much protection?”

Dr. Greene: “Much less. Maybe 50 percent, 30 percent and for a briefer period of time from infections.”

Stanford University’s Infectious diseases expert Dr. Bonilla says people run the risk of getting COVID while they wait to make a decision.

VIDEO: Doctors explain 5 reasons why omicron’s BA.5 will be the ‘worst’ subvariant yet

“The risk is there. The risk of getting infection. The risk of getting some complications. The risk of transmission to other people and the risk of developing long COVID too. But how significant are the risks of long COVID is the one concern we have. Without the second booster we don’t know,” said Dr. Bonilla.

After this phase Dr. Bonilla says there needs to be a bigger focus on a universal COVID vaccine.

“An ideal situation is to try to develop a more permanent vaccine with more durability that covers all the variants including the old coronavirus and the new and possible future ones,” said Dr. Bonilla.

For now, the hope is for the omicron targeted vaccine to be ready by mid-September.

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