By Ana Vasudeo and Zack Kaldveer, Safely Opening Schools

Contrary to what you may heard, the pandemic is NOT over, much as we may wish it so. The US is still experiencing 57,000 infections and over 400 deaths a day (compared to 200 in July of 2021) as a result of this virus. Long Covid is wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of Americans – with no known treatment. And more than 60,000 children were infected with COVID in just one week last month, yet child vaccination rates remain extremely low (7% of 6 months to 4 yr olds with at least 1 shot and only 31% of 5-11 yr-olds fully vaccinated).

The good news: The US is replacing most of its COVID booster shots with new, improved, and updated versions that target the dominant Omicron strains. These new generations of COVID booster shots – offered by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech – are available to most people 12 years of age and older in the U.S. And on September 27th, both companies sought emergency use authorization of their Omicron-targeting boosters for children as young as 5 years old from the FDA. The companies are also expected to apply for approval of the bivalent vaccine for infants and toddlers later this year.

These “super boosters” can be found at a location near you and represent the single, best defense we have against another fall surge. New CDC data on vaccination/boosters found unvaccinated people 50+ were 12 times more likely to die from COVID than those with 4 shots and those with 1 booster were still 2 times more likely to die than those with 2 boosters. Another study just published in JAMA found boosters reduced the likelihood of hospitalization by 59% compared to two shots – and lasted approximately four to five months.

The bad news: Due to widespread disinformation, and a growing false sense of complacency, there’s a “booster hesitancy” epidemic in the US, with less than half of those eligible (2/3’s of Americans have completed their primary series of shots) for a first booster receiving it and only about 1/3 of Americans 50 and older eligible for a second booster getting it. Worse, uptake of first booster doses for children has so far lagged behind that of older age groups: Under 15 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds had received a booster shot as of Sept. 21. Epitomizing America’s booster reluctance, is our country’s abysmal booster rate putting us at 72nd in the world – with every other rich country in the world having at least double our rate (despite repeated studies showing its lifesaving benefits). This is extraordinary given we are the lead manufacturer of this lifesaving technology and were the first to approve them too!

We need to do better. The new booster’s success in preventing the next wave of the virus depends on how many people choose to get them. And we know what happens if we do. A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund found that by simply making COVID booster shots available in September instead of November, we could prevent 137,000 hospitalizations, avert between roughly 7,500-18,000 lives by spring, and save between $63 billion and $109 billion in medical costs.

What schools can do: Schools can help “boost” low vaccination rates among students by working with their selected vaccination provider to offer their own pop-up vaccination clinics! Check out the school guide to hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics and the accompanying CDPH mobile or pop up vaccine request form.

There is no time to lose! The reformulated shots aren’t just meant for the older and more vulnerable. Younger, healthier people often spread the virus to those at greater risk and also get long COVID. The updated boosters reduce their odds of getting infected in the first place (including help prevent Long Covid) and, in turn, spreading the virus to someone more vulnerable.

This pandemic is NOT over – and we’re all in this together. Now isn’t the time to let up, it’s the time to double down! Supercharge your immunity today!