For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we have an updated vaccine, which is designed to target the dominant strains Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. If you’re like the average American, you probably have a lot of questions and are pondering whether or not you should get boosted. Here is everything you need to know about the modified Omicron boosters.
How are these boosters different?
Previous vaccines only targeted one version of SARS-2. The new updated version is considered a bivalent shot, which means it targets two strains (the original and the Omicron BA.4/BA.5). Experts note that this is the first updated COVID vaccine, but it won’t be the last.
Do the Omicron-specific boosters entirely replace the other boosters?
Yes. The new booster shots are now the only available boosters for people ages 12 and older. The previous boosters are no longer authorized by the FDA.
Who is eligible?
Pfizer’s bivalent booster is authorized for those 12 or older, while Moderna’s authorization is for patients 18 and up.
Before receiving the vaccine, you will be asked to complete a primary COVID-19 vaccine series.
What about children younger than 12?
The FDA is currently awaiting data related to authorizing the shots in younger children. The age range in the authorization would be expected to drop over the next month or two, according to Peter Marks, the head of the FDA center.
“Booster recommendations for expanded ages and other vaccines may follow, but this is what we have for now. And children aged 5 to 11 who received a primary Pfizer series should still receive the original monovalent booster,” Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees and liaison to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) advises.
Can I get the booster without getting vaccinated?
No, these are booster-sized doses meaning they contain less vaccine than the primary series. This dose won’t be enough to provide good protection against COVID. Therefore, you must be completely vaccinated before you can receive this booster.
Can I mix and match?
Yes. If you received two doses of mRNA or Novavax or one shot of J&J, you are eligible to receive the bivalent booster 8 weeks after completing the primary COVID vaccination series.
When should I get the vaccine?
The recommendation is that people should wait at least two months from their last COVID-19 vaccine dose to get a bivalent booster. However, most people who are eligible for a booster are at least six months from their last dose, according to Dr. Fryhofer.
Should I get boosted if I’ve already had COVID-19?
Yes, you are eligible. However, you should wait until you’ve fully recovered from acute illness and are out of isolation.
The ideal time to get boosted after a COVID-19 infection is at least three months after, according to the CDC.
How effective are the new boosters?
Scientists don’t have complete effectiveness data from the bivalent vaccines yet. However, they are believed to offer greater protection against COVID overall.
What are the side effects?
“Like other COVID vaccines, bivalent vaccines are reactogenic,” Dr. Fryhofer adds.
Fatigue, headache, muscle and joint aches, chills, nausea, vomiting and fever are the most common side effects, according to studies.
“There are some subtle differences in mutations between BA.1 and the BA.4, BA.5 spike protein sequences. However, experts do not anticipate any differences in safety or reactogenicity, based on these limited mutations,” she adds.
There are no reported cases of pericarditis or myocarditis, according to researchers.
Can I get a COVID booster and flu shot at the same time?
If you’re heading to get a booster, you’re probably are thinking about making it a one-stop shop and getting a flu shot as well. But is it safe? Yes, the CDC has said that it is completely safe to get a flu shot at the same time as any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
In fact, it is encouraged because the two viruses will be circulating at the same time.
In need of any other important vaccines? You can also get those at the same time as a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine or booster.
There’s just one exception according to Dr. Fryhofer: monkeypox. ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS are the two available vaccines for this disease. ACAM2000 has been linked to myocarditis, a heart condition associated with COVID vaccines in young males. Myocarditis risk in JYNNEOS is unknown.
“If you’ve received a dose of either of them, CDC suggests waiting for four weeks to get a COVID vaccine dose. However, if you’ve already received a COVID vaccine dose and you’re now at risk of monkeypox due to exposure, no need to wait,” Dr. Fryhofer notes.
Do I have to pay for the booster?
No, the vaccines are free, for now, according to Dr. Fryhofer. “Both Moderna and Pfizer agreements include options for more doses but this would require more funding from Congress,” Dr. Fryhofer says.
Will I need to get a booster shot every year?
Research shows that vaccine effectiveness eventually wanes. Scientists will be monitoring to see how long the protection lasts from the bivalent boosters through studies of antibody levels and assessments of severe COVID illnesses over time, throughout the fall and winter.
It’s highly likely that COVID boosters could become part of our fall schedule much like flu shots. However, infectious disease experts haven’t been able to follow a seasonal pattern due to the speed of the variants, which has made it difficult to know exactly how often boosters might be necessary.
My CDC card is full. What happens now?
If your card is full, you will receive another from your vaccine provider. Once you get your second card, be sure to take a picture of both cards and staple them together.
Should you stop wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and taking other precautions to avoid COVID?
Not necessarily. It’s still a good idea to take these safety precautions as an added level of protection.