TAMPA, Fla. — A surge in COVID-19 cases this fall and winter depends on multiple factors.
“The big question is, of course, does another variant pop out of somewhere?” asked Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor for the USF College of Public Health.
That’s the question that has made it difficult for scientists to predict what will happen in the coming months.
“Where a lot of our variants have popped up on are places where we haven’t done a lot to vaccinate individuals and that are places that you know are kind of neglected. I don’t think that situation has changed much in the past two years, and I would expect another variant, of course, to pop up,” said Roberts.
The next question would be: what does that variant look like, and does it evade our existing immunity?
“Most of the people got sick within the last year from COVID whether it was omicron or one of the omicron spin-offs,” said Roberts.
The second-factor experts believe will impact the possibility of a surge is how effective the new COVID-19 booster shots are and if people will actually get them.
“So then that’s the other side of the story is really behavioral. The virus does not exist in a vacuum, it exists with a host, and the host is us. So what we do affects what the virus does. So the question becomes, how many people continue to stay up to date with their vaccines?” said Roberts.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 48.5% of people got their first booster dose, and only 34% of people who are eligible for a second booster got their second dose.
“The number of people that are updated is not very high. Especially amongst some of the younger groups,” said Roberts.
Health officials are hoping the numbers will be higher for the updated COVID shots.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC gave the new Moderna and Pfizer boosters a thumbs up last week.
The shots provide protection against the original COVID Wuhan strain and the most dominant mutations in the United States right now, omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.
Since the onset of the pandemic, researchers have seen significant surges in the fall and winter months.
Some health officials believe that will be the case again this year. Others think a surge is still likely but won’t be as severe as ones in the past.
“It’s hard to predict, but those are things to watch. Watch what the virus does, watch what the population does,” said Roberts.