COVID-19: Boosters, the Eris Variant, and Precautions To Take
After a summer reprieve, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. Here’s what you need to know heading into the fall, including a look at the latest variants and upcoming boosters.
With school back in session and the fall flu season fast approaching, it’s more important than ever to be prepared for a new wave of COVID-19 infections.
Since people with diabetes are at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19, it’s extra important to stay on top of the latest research, know your risk, and what to do about it.
Eris variant now the most dominant strain; new Pirola variant under close monitoring
Nicknamed Eris, EG.5 became the dominant COVID-19 strain in August. A descendant of Omicron, Eris is the newest in the line of COVID-19 evolutions following previous ones like the Delta variant.
So far, Eris doesn’t appear to pose a greater public health risk than other COVID-19 variants, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Research shows no indication that EG.5 is a more severe form of the virus.
In late August, the CDC detected another variant called BA.2.86 or Pirola. Pirola differs from previous variants because it contains many mutations, and researchers are working to understand what this means for prevention, vaccination, and treatment. The CDC and WHO are monitoring Pirola closely.
Overall, it’s a good idea to take precautions, especially if you or your loved ones are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
What does the latest research say about COVID-19 and diabetes?
Since the early days of the pandemic, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health conditions have been linked to more severe COVID-19 infections. Age is also an important risk factor to consider.
“COVID-19 still can be serious, particularly in seniors,” said Dr. Anne Peters, professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Clinical Diabetes Programs.
“My personal sense of the biggest risk factors (in order of risk) are age, immunosuppression, obesity, and poorly controlled diabetes,” said Peters. “And then, somewhere on the list, are other comorbidities like kidney failure, heart disease, etc. So if someone falls into a higher risk category I still say be careful, even though I want people to live their lives.”
A 2023 large-scale analysis found that certain factors were linked to death from COVID-19 among people with diabetes. These include higher blood glucose at hospital admission, long-term insulin use, and other conditions like heart and kidney disease. Additional research demonstrates that high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) at hospital admission is linked to worse COVID-19 outcomes.
When should you get your next booster?
On September 12, the CDC officially recommended that everyone aged 6 months and older receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the effects of the virus. Updated boosters will be available from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. While the updated vaccine isn't an exact match for EG.5, Moderna’s early research suggests the new booster will be able to target Eris, as well as the newly identified FL 1.5.1 (Fornax) variant.
However, some experts suggest that people wait to obtain the new booster until later in the fall to maximize its protective effects. Waiting to receive the booster will ensure that it targets the variants that are currently affecting the population. This way, the vaccine will have a better chance of preventing infection as well as severe illness.
If you receive your booster later in the fall, it should also ensure that you are protected when infections are predicted to spike during December and January (booster shots typically take three months to reach full effectiveness). This coincides with the holiday travel season, so you can visit loved ones safely knowing that you’re protected.
What other precautions should you take?
People at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 may want to take additional steps to protect themselves against infection. If you’re worried about COVID-19, experts recommend the following precautions:
Wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask in crowded indoor areas including public transportation, airports, and concerts.
Avoid large crowds.
Choose outdoor dining and activities over indoor spaces.
Make sure rooms in your house, workspace, or school have good airflow.
Take a rapid test if you experience any symptoms and before visiting friends or family who are at high risk of developing complications.
During this time, it’s also important to continue taking care of yourself and your diabetes.
“COVID-19 made us all realize how vulnerable we can be, especially seniors,” said Peters.
“It is why all the good healthy behaviors we promote – healthy diet, exercise, and treating health conditions like diabetes and hypertension – matter so much,” she said. “Also having regular checkups and getting vaccines. There is a lot we can do to be healthy, even with COVID-19.”
Learn more about COVID-19 and diabetes here: