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CDC warns of early-hitting flu, upper respiratory infections, while expecting COVID variants

Healthcare reporter Anjalee Khemlani examines the warning the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci issued on imminent upticks in flu and upper respiratory disease ahead of the winter months, in addition to the efficacy data on Pfizer's latest BA.5 COVID-19 booster shot.

Video transcript

SEANA SMITH: Well, the CDC saying today at a media briefing that the flu and respiratory viruses are hitting much harder and earlier than in the past. Anjalee Khemlani joins us now with more on this. And I guess, Anj, we've already been-- I guess, heard the warnings that hospitals are beginning to overfill, but what else could we potentially see now over the next couple of months?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, we're definitely potentially going to be seeing COVID still. That's still on the horizon and plays into that threat of the triple-demic, tridemic triple threat, whatever you want to call it. We know that Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, was talking about this in a radio interview recently, and stressing the fact that the country is not really at a good place when it comes to fighting the virus. We're still at more than 400 deaths per day. We're in still in the thousands and tens of thousands of cases per day. And that is still leading the world. So not a good place at all.

And with winter variants or a new variant on the horizon, that is potentially going to fare worse. We know that we've been following the BQ1, BQ11 variants, and they now, combined, make up 35%. And that's an increase from the last time we discussed this. It was 27% before. The CDC now saying it accounts for 35% of cases.

But now, looking at RSV and flu, that is already stressing really the East Coast right now. The mid-Atlantic, New England, Washington area currently experiencing significant capacity strains, according to the CDC. And they're expecting that this will move through in waves hitting other parts of the US similar to the way that COVID did in the past years.

Now, what's important about noting the RSV and flu early season, it's really an early and strong season for both, and flu specifically, the highest level of hospitalizations that they've seen at this point in time in the year in over a decade. So that's where some of the concern is coming from. Unclear whether or not it will be a quick rise and plateau, or if it will be a sustained surge of cases around the country. That's something that the CDC officials were unable to really pin down.

But that's sort of where things stand. And we heard from specifically CDC's doctor, Jose Romero, saying that previous years, atypical seasons due to mitigation against COVID left a large swath of the US population uninfected. So children need to be infected essentially to get past it. Now, and the masking that was taking place before helped to keep all this at bay in the past few years.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And Anjalee, I understand that Pfizer has released some new data on Omicron boosters. What can you tell us about that?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: That's right. As anticipated, we know that their updated booster-- bivalent booster has been effective and is supposed to be more effective, in fact, than the initial strain, which is why administration officials have stopped offering the original vaccine and are pushing the updated bivalent booster. New data out today saying that it was four times more effective for older individuals, which was really the target of this new shot. So after a month, they're seeing really good protection levels, as anticipated.

SEANA SMITH: Certainly some encouraging news there. Anjalee Khemlani, thanks so much.