Does COVID vaccine protect against symptoms of new 'FLiRT' variant?

(Nexstar) – Two new COVID-19 variants are circulating, posing the threat of a summer surge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking the new variants, known scientifically as KP.2 and KP.1.1, since at least early 2024. Since then they have continued to rise to prominence, and have earned the nickname “FLiRT”. “Because of their mutation.

The latest data shows that KP.2 is the dominant strain in the US, comprising about 25% of tests that have been sequenced. By the end of April KP.1.1 makes up about 8%. Both are sublineages of the JN.1 lineage of the Omicron variant, which has been the main Covid variant for nearly three years.

Health officials say both FLiRT variants are considered identical to JN.1, with early data suggesting only a few changes in their spike proteins.

With the threat of the virus spreading as the summer months approach, it may raise concerns about whether the last vaccine dose you received is still protecting you. Ultimately, it depends on when you received your last dose.

In the fall, an updated COVID vaccine was released. The CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get the updated vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Novavax. In February, a federal vaccination committee voted in favor of recommending an additional dose for people 65 and older. The CDC says people ages 6 months to 4 years need multiple doses.

Previously, health officials had said COVID vaccines would provide protection against the virus for “several months.” In a February update on the latest vaccine booster made available in September, the CDC said that although it was effective (from September to January), they expected protection “to wane over time” as seen with previous doses. Was.

However, because the FLiRT variants are relatively new, there is not enough data to show whether the vaccine or immunity from a recent case of COVID will provide effective protection against them.

Speaking to TODAY, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said laboratory studies so far have shown that vaccines and immunity can provide only partial protection. Late last month, the World Health Organization recommended that future formulations of COVID vaccines should be based on the JN.1 variant, a close relative of the FLiRT off-shoot that has been most common in the US over the past few months .

As of Thursday, the CDC is reporting minimal COVID activity in wastewater across the country, and virus-related hospitalizations and deaths, as well as COVID-19 cases of patients visiting emergency departments. The rate of positive tests has gone down.

A CDC spokesperson told Nexstar that the agency is “working to better understand.” [KP.2 and KP.1.1]”This could have a potential impact on public health,” but notes that based on laboratory testing, “the overall level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission remains low at this time.”

“This means that while KP.2 is proportionally the most dominant variant, it is not causing an increase in infections because transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is low,” the spokesperson said. “Based on current data there are no indicators that KP.2 will cause more severe disease than other strains. CDC will continue to monitor community transmission of the virus and how vaccines perform against this strain.

It is too early to say whether a new Covid vaccine will be made for the summer months. While the CDC has recently eased guidance around COVID, the agency still recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get an updated COVID vaccine in the fall if He hasn't done this before. Health experts are also encouraging testing if you have symptoms or are exposed, stay home if you are sick, practice good hygiene, and wear a mask and maintain social distancing when in public.

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