An updated COVID-19 vaccine is on the way this fall as a new variant of the virus emerges and hospitalizations start to rise.

Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality, and epidemiology officer, answered questions from North Carolina reporters in a recent briefing.

What is the new variant?

EG.5, nicknamed eris, is the most common variant at the moment and accounts for about 20% of COVID-19 cases being reported. It’s a subvariant of omicron. The updated vaccine targets a variant related to eris, so it should provide some protection against this emerging strain.

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Who should get the new vaccine?

“Older individuals and those with chronic medical problems” will likely be the first populations recommended to get the new booster, Priest said.

While final guidance is yet to come, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may recommend the booster for people of all ages, not just those over the age of 60.

The updated vaccine, which is a single shot, should be available sometime in September. People in high-risk categories should reach out to their doctor’s office to determine the best time to get a vaccine.

How serious is eris?

The symptoms are like those of other COVID-19 variants – cough, congestion and fever – with one exception: Eris does not appear to affect a person’s sense of taste or smell.

Priest said right now there’s no evidence that eris is more serious than any previous versions of the virus.

Why are cases increasing now?

Priest pointed to waning immunity and the time of year.

“People are traveling, amazing amounts of travel this summer. People are staying inside in air-conditioned areas with people because of the heat around the country, and so I think that’s just provided an environment where COVID can spread.”

The latest guidance on when to quarantine

Priest said the guidelines for quarantining are still five days unless someone has a fever or other serious symptoms.

Looking ahead

The transition to fall is expected to bring more COVID cases, along with influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and assorted other respiratory viruses.

Priest does not anticipate widespread masking mandates. He said there may be times when targeted masking is necessary, perhaps in a hospital with a high number of patients with a respiratory illness. He said we should all feel comfortable masking when looking for an added layer of protection.

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