As you may have heard, the FDA and CDC have approved the emergency use authorizations of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to create “updated boosters” to battle the Omicron subvariants B.A. 4 and B.A. 5. Distribution of the new boosters could be available as early as next week. We have pre-ordered doses for our staff and will provide an update next week on when and where you can receive your booster.
Even with all the headlines, many people are left with questions about the new booster shots. Here, White Plains Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Palumbo discusses some of those questions.
What’s different about these boosters from the ones in the past?
The new booster shot is considered a “bivalent” vaccine, as it targets two types of COVID-19: the original virus and the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. The previous booster shot was monovalent, as it targeted only the original version of the virus. With this new authorization, the monovalent vaccines are no longer authorized as booster doses for those aged 12 and above.
B.A. 5 is presently the dominant COVID subvariant. According to the American Medical Association, while B.A. 5 may be the most contagious strain of the virus to date, it does not appear to lead to more severe outcomes than other COVID-19 variants and subvariants.
Who is eligible to get the new booster?
According to the FDA, anyone aged 12 or older who received an initial vaccination or booster shot at least two months ago is eligible for the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Adults aged 18 or older can receive the Moderna vaccine if it has been at least two months since their last vaccination. Eligible persons can get either vaccine, regardless of which brand they previously received.
What kind of science is behind the FDA and CDC’s approval?
Each of these vaccines has been the subject of a human trial – Moderna for 800 adults and Pfizer for 600 adults – which demonstrated safety. Additional studies are underway to measure the bivalent booster’s efficacy against the Omicron variants. We believe one of the reasons they moved so quickly to approve is that they want to get these shots into arms before the virus wreaks any more havoc.
Do I have to get the booster?
Receiving the booster is voluntary. But note that while COVID-19 cases are dwindling, the virus is still active; approximately 450 Americans are still dying per day due to the virus, and a number of us in healthcare believe a rise in cases could come in the fall and winter.
Are there any potential side effects from getting one of these boosters?
The FDA noted that those receiving the latest vaccine may experience side effects similar to those experienced by some from past vaccines, including pain, swelling and/or redness at the injection site, fever, headache and fatigue. These symptoms typically dissipate within a few days, if not sooner. If your symptoms persist, contact your doctor or healthcare provider.
Where can I get the booster?
Some pharmacies already have the new vaccines, with doctors’ offices and community health centers to follow. You may want to consult a directory of sites at vaccines.gov for further details.
Are we always going to have to receive a booster?
The data is unclear at this point, but additional COVID boosters may be made available in the future, depending upon further mutations and subvariants of the virus. It remains possible that such boosters will be offered on a regular basis, much as the flu vaccine has been.
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