We don’t fully know. If you were vaccinated and caught Omicron, odds are pretty good you still have some protection against this new variant. But the reality is we just don’t know enough about this variant or immunity to know how protected you are, or how long that immunity will last. A study published this week showed reinfection occurring, but at relatively low rates. The greater concern is variants that might come later. BA.2 itself, although 1.5x as transmissible as Omicron (which itself is much more transmissible than Delta), doesn’t appear to be much more severe, luckily.
An increasing number of experts believe the next surge has started and that we’re next. Previously, COVID has followed a similar pattern - spiking in Asia and Europe before the US. So there’s definitely reason to believe we may see another surge come soon. There’s some chance that the fact that nearly 45% of the entire United States population caught Omicron can help provide some immunity for us, but we’re also vaccinated at a much lower rate than China or Europe where we’re seeing cases spike now. 90% of people in China are fully vaccinated, and 93% of Brits have had at least one dose - we’re closer to 76% with at least one dose. All in all, we are preparing for another surge based on these numbers, even while we hope it doesn’t happen.
This year’s flu vaccine isn’t a perfect match against the dominant strain circulating this season. Although this season’s shot does include a version of the main strain that’s circulating this year, it’s picked up some mutations (sound familiar?), leading to a slight vaccine mismatch. But experts tell us that even a less- than-perfect flu shot gives us protection against severe illness from the flu, and prevents hospitalizations and deaths (you know this drill).
The WHO selects the strains to be included almost a full year ahead of the flu season, and it’s a high-stakes guessing game based on what’s circulating that year in other parts of the world. Flu shots have improved over time - now generally covering four different strains compared to three in previous years. One theory about this year’s mismatch, according to Dr. William Schaffner of NFID and Vanderbilt University, says that we have less natural immunity to flu this year because of our lack of exposure to it last year during lockdown. Even in a year with a not-so-great match, the flu shot prevents people from getting very sick and dying of the flu, so everyone should get a flu shot to stay safe, keep their workplaces open, and protect their families and communities.