Amid climbing Mass. COVID-19 instances, well being specialists urge booster pictures

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“Getting that third dose should be a top priority for anyone who’s had two,” Sax said.

Sax and other health officials are monitoring Europe, including the UK, which hit a record nearly 5 million cases Sunday, largely due to the BA.2 subvariant, according to the Associated Press.

As of Friday, state health officials reported about 1,440 new confirmed cases and 10 new confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. More than 1.5 million cases have been reported in the state and the virus has killed 19,006 people since the pandemic began in early 2020.

In Massachusetts, state data showed a 7-day moving average of about 970 new cases as of March 30, up from about 600 cases earlier in the month.

“We expect an increase in cases; all signs point to a new wave. But that alone is nothing to worry about,” said Matthew Fox, professor of epidemiology and global health at Boston University School of Public Health. “What we want to see is how big the increase is [we are] will see. The hope is that this will be a shorter and smaller wave than the previous ones.”

Nearly three-quarters of new coronavirus cases reported in New England from March 20-26 are of the more transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2, up from more than that, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention half of the previous week.

dr David Hamer, a physician at Boston Medical Center and a professor in Boston University’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine, said people need to be on their guard.

“While Omicron and BA.2 appear to cause less severe disease, there are still unvaccinated people in our midst and they are at risk of getting quite sick and we need to encourage social behaviors that reduce the risk of transmission,” Hamer said .

In February, as case numbers plummeted following the Omicron surge, state health officials dropped a recommendation that healthy and fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public spaces and lifted the requirement to wear masks in schools.

Andrew Lover, a professor of epidemiology in the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, said state sewage data is a key predictor of the presence of the virus.

Sewage data collected from more than 40 communities, including Boston, last showed spikes in coronavirus concentrations in mid-February, according to data from the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority.

Given the trends in Europe and the slow increase in cases here, Lover expected the state to see a surge of new infections.

“It might be harder for us to see a new wave of BA.2 with more limited availability of tests across the state, so the Boston subway sewage will be our best early warning signal,” Lover said in an email .

Fox said in an email that people shouldn’t panic about an increase in cases. He noted that there is access to vaccines and better treatment for COVID-19, and officials are better equipped to respond to the surge in new infections.

People “should be willing to make some changes to our lives if it’s necessary (which means it should be more serious than we hope),” Fox said. “That could mean bringing masking back for the duration of the wave and reducing our contacts.”

While about 77 percent of Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated, rates of new vaccinations have leveled off, according to state data. And only 55 percent of the state’s fully vaccinated residents have received booster shots since the CDC approved them in the fall.

These trends are reflected in national immunization data, which suggest immunizations have plateaued, even though only two-thirds of the US population received either both doses of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s two-shot vaccine, or Johnson’s single-dose vaccine & Johnson receive the CDC.

Hamer said in an email that he strongly encourages people who have not yet received their booster to get the vaccine and that the state should develop strategies to make it easier to access the booster.

“It is important to facilitate access and communication about the importance of booster vaccination, especially when depicting serious illness and hospitalization,” Hamer said.

Sax said people who received the J&J vaccine should still receive two doses of the vaccine made by Moderna or Pfizer.

“Giving people that third dose … is really crucial. The words ‘fully vaccinated’ are misleading – for Omicron that means 3 doses, not two,” said Sax.

In an online post published Friday, Sax raised concerns that the omicron surge has emboldened much of the country to “move on” from the pandemic, ending health measures like vaccination mandates and leaving masks at home.

But Omicron resulted in a “staggering number” of hospital admissions and deaths, Sax wrote, and hospitals turned to intensive care beds for COVID patients and took measures like delaying nonessential surgeries and pausing patient care to respond to the crisis.

“We can hope that case numbers will be lower during the BA.2 omicron surge – and they could be – but we cannot count on it,” Sax wrote.

John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected]