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Dr. Jha warns of BA.5 infection risk: people should make sure they are boosted

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, at a White House briefing last month.DOUG MILLS/NYT

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, on Monday reiterated that people who are 50 years old and older should get a COVID-19 shot if they haven’t had one this year.

Speaking on WBUR-FM’s “On Point” show, Jha said the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, which now accounts for most COVID-19 cases across the nation, poses an increased risk for reinfection to people who’ve had a previous case of COVID-19 as well as people who haven’t been vaccinated recently.

“If you were infected three, four, or five months ago, your protection against reinfection is very, very low. If you have not been vaccinated recently, if you got vaccinated last year, you have a high risk of breakthrough,” said Jha, former director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and former dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

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“I think everybody in America who is 50 years of age and above - if they have not gotten a shot in the year 2022, they need to go out and get one now,” he said.

The CDC recommends two booster shots for everyone 50 and above and one booster for those 5 to 49.

Jha also emphasized the importance of people who are eligible for only one booster getting that shot. “This is a vaccine that requires three shots in my mind, and it is absolutely critical that they get it,” he said.

“Here is the bottom line that people need to know, which is the things that we know that have been working for us as a country - keeping up to date on vaccinations, using treatments, using the tests that we have - they all work for BA.5. ... Our tools continue to work and if we use them effectively, we can continue to minimize the impact on serious illness and death,” he said.

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Keeping “up to date” on vaccinations means getting all the shots that you’re recommended to get.

Jha also emphasized that if people get a shot now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to get a new shot later this year.

“People say, ‘Well if I get a shot now, will I still be eligible for an Omicron-specific booster later in the fall or winter?’ And the answer is yes. Getting ... the vaccine shot now protects you for the rest of the summer into the fall and does not preclude you from getting another booster later in the year,” he said.

At a news conference last week that included Jha and other officials, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the vaccines still work against BA.5 as well as they did against other subvariants

“The vaccine effectiveness against severe disease, fortunately for us, is not reduced substantially or at all, compared to other Omicron subvariants,” he said.






Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.