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COVID-19 cases keep climbing. Should you get a booster shot?

Not so fast, experts say, advising that it may be better to wait for the latest update to the vaccine expected this fall

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A Salt Lake County Health Department employee prepares Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots at a free vaccine clinic in Taylorsville in 2022.

A Salt Lake County Health Department employee prepares Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots at a free vaccine clinic at the Sanderson Community Center in Taylorsville on Nov. 9, 2022. Is it time for another COVID-19 booster shot?

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

With COVID-19 cases climbing, is it time for Utahns to get a booster shot?

After all, fewer than 16% of all Utahns have gotten the updated dose of coronavirus vaccine, first made available a year ago for those 6 months and older and formulated against both the original and newer variants.

But experts say it may be better to hold off for now.

“The answer is to wait until the fall, unless you haven’t gotten any COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. Leisha Nolen, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, told the Deseret News.

Nearly three-quarters of Utahns have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and just over 64% completed the initial series of shots released in late 2020, the same year the pandemic began, according to state data.

Fall is when the federal government is expected to roll out a new booster targeted solely at a newer version of the virus, the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant nicknamed Kraken that was dominant earlier this summer.

Experts estimate the updated monovalent vaccines being developed by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax that still need federal authorization will be offered to the public in late September or early October, The New York Times reported.

“For most people right now, it seems to me waiting makes more sense,” Dr. Paul Sax, the clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told The New York Times.

Because protection against COVID-19 is highest during the first three months following a vaccination or infection, waiting “will increase the odds that your defenses against the virus will be strongest when cases are expected to peak,” the newspaper said.

“Case numbers are increasing now, but they’re not at exceptionally high levels,” Sax said. “I can’t imagine, though, that they won’t go up again in November, December or January, as they did every single year in the past three years.”

In Utah, the seven-day average case count rose nearly 41% for the week ending Aug. 17, from about 68 cases to almost 96. More than a quarter of the sewage treatment sites monitored throughout the state are showing increasing levels of COVID-19.

Another advantage to getting a COVID-19 booster shot later in the year is that it will be “a better match” for current strains, The New York Times said, helping people avoid not only severe illness, but possibly even getting sick from the virus.

Dr. David Boulware, a professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said he’s “somewhat optimistic” that the new vaccine will help prevent not only severe disease but also infection.

“Once you’re boosting with the variant that is closest to what’s actually circulating,” you will most likely regain some protection against infection, Boulware told The New York Times.

Last year’s updated booster shot zeroed in on earlier omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. A second booster dose was authorized earlier this year for those who are older or medically vulnerable.

What’s circulating now are also versions of the omicron variant that sent case counts soaring to record levels in Utah and around the world in early 2022, overwhelming mass testing sites and hospitals.

That includes the Eris subvariant that makes up the largest percentage of cases in the U.S.

Even the newest, the ”alarming” highly mutated coronavirus variant now dubbed Pirola but labeled BA.2.86 by scientists, is an omicron subvariant, although it’s a different lineage than this fall’s booster shot will target.

But Forbes magazine noted this week that while there might be concern the coming COVID-19 vaccines won’t protect against Pirola, a Pfizer report “said evidence shows their new monovalent boosters should offer some protection against BA.2.86.