The national Covid emergency has ended, but a new strain of the coronavirus, called EG.5 or “Eris,” is rapidly circulating worldwide.
“EG.5 is actually just a subvariant of omicron,” says Dr. Payal Patel, infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City. “We are seeing a rise in this subvariant worldwide. We’re seeing it in the U.S. as well.”
The World Health Organization says it will monitor the EG.5 variant for mutations, but currently it “presents a low public health risk at a global level,” according to CNBC.
“All of these new subvariants are related to omicron, which our new boosters and our most recent boosters have been performing well against,” Patel tells CNBC Make It.
The newest boosters will hopefully be available in the fall between late September and early October, says Patel.
Now that the national emergency is no longer in effect, many are wondering if their insurance will cover the latest booster shots. CNBC Make It asked doctors to weigh in on the concern and what people can expect this fall.
Will insurance cover the newest Covid booster?
The straightforward answer is that having the cost of your booster covered depends on what your insurance company decides, says Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, director of infectious diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens.
If you get your vaccines at your local pharmacy, consider asking a pharmacist at the location if your insurance covers Covid boosters, she adds. They’ll likely have your insurance plan on file and can advise you, Segal-Maurer says.
For others, it boils down to the decision of their employer, says Patel. She hopes that employers will see the value in their employees getting coverage for their Covid vaccines.
“I would recommend it to people who make those decisions for their employees. This can only help. If you’re able to help protect your employees, you’ll actually pay it back in spades of more people being able to come to work,” Patel says.
“I think it’s a win-win situation if employers are able to cover this and if insurances cover the booster.”
If you don’t have insurance or your provider isn’t covering the cost of your vaccine, booster shots should also be available for free through local public health authorities, Patel adds.
What else should you know about the ‘Eris’ Covid variant?
What are the symptoms of the EG.5 variant?
The new “Eris” variant isn’t more severe than recent subvariants of omicron that have been circulating for months, Segal-Maurer tells CNBC Make It. “The symptoms are the same in terms of what to expect,” she adds.
Symptoms of EG.5 can include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
- Loss of taste and smell
“We haven’t seen something unusual in terms of new symptoms or different symptoms,” Segal-Maurer says.
“People who’ve been vaccinated, or had Covid before, are experiencing this as another respiratory infection. Some people a little more, some people a little bit less. So, we’re not seeing the severity of illness that we saw three years ago.”
How can people protect themselves from Covid as the new variant spreads?
The best protection from Covid is to stay up-to-date with your vaccinations, Patel and Segal-Maurer both emphasize.
“Vaccination has still been shown to protect against severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths, so that has not changed,” says Segal-Maurer. “It still has pretty good protection against most strains of SARS-CoV-2.”
Remember to always wash your hands thoroughly, she adds. And if you have medical conditions that can increase your likelihood of severe outcomes from Covid, consider using masks when going out in public, especially during large gatherings.
Additionally if you’re experiencing symptoms, she strongly suggests testing before spending time with people who can have severe outcomes from Covid as well.
“The really good news,” says Segal-Maurer, “is it’s not like what we had in 2020.”