New boosters have arrived from Pfizer and Moderna that target the latest strains of the omicron variant.
Why it matters
Older vaccine formulas are still effective in preventing severe disease, but the mutating virus has reduced some of that protection. The new formulas target BA.5, which is responsible for the majority of current cases of COVID-19.
Prices should be available in pharmacies nationwide. Persons aged 12 and over are entitled to one.
Updated vaccines targeting the latest versions of COVID-19 (BA.4 and BA.5) are now available — likely at a pharmacy near you. These updated shots (which are just one of the boosters) are our best defense right now in the fall and winter when many people will be spending time indoors, cozying up (and sharing the air) with others.
While the original vaccines still offer protection against severe disease, the vaccine’s protection against infection has weakened significantly since they first appeared as the virus continues to mutate. But questions remain: Who can get the vaccine? When should they be vaccinated and can they get the flu shot at the same time?
Here’s what we know.
What are the new omicron amplifiers? Have they been tested?
The FDA has authorized Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna’s bivalent (two-component) vaccine boosters. Both formulas include the BA.4/BA.5 spike protein combined with an older strain — a combination design that experts believe will offer better protection against both infection and serious illness. Pfizer’s booster is for people 12 and older, and Moderna is for adults 18 and older.
When they were approved by the FDA, the agency decided to conduct clinical trials on a slightly different bivalent booster that targets the BA.1 version of omicron instead of BA.4/BA/5, in addition to mouse studies on BA. 4/BA.5 formula. While this is unprecedented in a COVID-19 vaccine campaign so far, health officials say it’s not far from the way we approach flu shots. Every year, the flu vaccine is changed with a strain they believe is the best target. The new COVID-19 boosters also do not introduce any new vaccine ingredients.
“Bivalent and multivalent vaccines are very common, and modifying a vaccine to include different strains of virus often does not require a change in other ingredients,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf in tweet last month. “The FDA has extensive experience reviewing strain changes in vaccines, as is done with the annual flu shot.”
When should I get a new booster?
The updated Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech boosters have been approved by the FDA for people who have been at least two months since their last dose of the vaccine, whether it was a booster shot or the primary series. It doesn’t matter which vaccine you originally received, and it doesn’t matter which brand you choose now. Moderna’s new booster, like its previous vaccine, is a slightly higher dose (50 micrograms) than Pfizer’s (30 micrograms).
At a panel of scientific advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the committee that meets before the CDC recommends a vaccine — several members expressed concern that some people would be better off waiting longer than two months between their last shot and this new booster, especially people who have recently had COVID-19 and still have relatively high immunity. (In its general vaccine guidelines, the CDC says people can wait three months before getting the vaccine if they get over COVID-19.) And while myocarditis is generally rare, younger men and teenage boys appear to be at higher risk. -vaccination, and waiting longer between vaccine doses seems to reduce this risk.
From an immune response perspective, some infectious disease doctors have suggested waiting four to six months between your last COVID-19 infection or vaccine to get the most out of the new booster. dr. Anthony Fauci told PBS that if you recently tested positive for COVID-19, “you should wait about three months, at least three months from when you had your previous infection” before getting a new booster drug. Fauci added that since he had COVID-19 in mid-to-late June, he is waiting until late September to get a boost.
dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that people 65 and older should be the focus of the booster campaign this fall, as seniors are at much greater risk. from severe disease of COVID-19 than in younger people. (More than 81% of deaths from COVID-19 occur in people over age 65, according to the CDC.) But some younger adults and teenagers are also at higher risk of severe disease due to underlying health conditions and may benefit from additional immunity sooner rather than later.
But people at perceived lower risk, or those at higher risk who want to wait until they get closer to the predicted rise in cases, could also be playing a risky game. dr. Aniruddha Hazra, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago, told NPR that it takes “several weeks for our immune system to prepare” after we get vaccinated.
Bottom line: The “best time” to get a new COVID-19 booster is somewhat of a moving target and depends on your individual health factors and risk, as well as the last time you had a confirmed infection or booster. For the best recommendation for you, call your doctor.
Where can I get the new vaccine?
You should be able to use the vaccines.gov vaccine finder to find an updated vaccine near you. When choosing your updated booster from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, be sure to select the clip that says “Newly authorized Bivalent” in bold text. The primary series of vaccines, or the first two doses, are still available for people who have not yet received any vaccine.
Can I get the flu shot at the same time as my booster shot?
Yes, according to the CDC. There is no recommended waiting period between the seasonal flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.
Flu shots for the 2022-2023 season have been updated, and the CDC still considers September or October to be good months for most people to get a flu shot.
What are the sub-variants of BA.4 and BA.5?
Both BA.4 and BA.5 are considered part of the “original” family of omicron variants (BA.1). These are newer versions of the virus that causes COVID-19. The BA.5 quickly took over the conversation and is now the dominant variant in the US.
While we are still experiencing the true effects of the BA.5 summer surge in the US, the new subvariant is thought to reduce much of the protection against infection that people gained from the previous disease, even with other omicron variants.
Omicron caused such a huge number of cases last winter because it was the most infectious variant to date, avoiding some protection from infection from the previous disease and the effectiveness of vaccines. The fact that the newer versions of omicron are proving to be even more infectious is not a huge surprise, as this is the path that COVID-19 has taken over the past two and a half years.
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What about Novavax and J&J?
which only for its two-dose primary vaccine, said earlier this summer that it was accelerating work on a formula specifically targeting new versions of omicron, but it is not yet on the table for this fall and winter vaccine campaign.
Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, while still available in the U.S., is only recommended for people who cannot or do not want to get another COVID-19 vaccine, due to. J&J did not respond to an earlier request for comment on the company’s plans for the fall in the US.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care professional with any questions you may have about your health condition or health goals.