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Americans will now have access to updated booster footage of COVID after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on reformulated versions of the COVID-19 Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
Some doses may be available as soon as Friday, with wider dissemination planned for the next week. Health officials anticipate another surge in infections this fall and winter, and say the shots — which target the original coronavirus strain as well as the more contagious omicron variant — will help boost people’s waning immunity and protect against serious illness and death.
What should you keep in mind if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves? The Director of the Center for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walinsky with morning editionSteve Inscape about the new boosters.
“Doses are pouring into drugstores and other locations now, and I would say if you qualify for a boost, there isn’t a bad time to go out and get one,” Walinsky says.
There are eligibility and timing considerations
Adults age 18 or older can get a Moderna booster, while the Pfizer-BioNTech version is approved for people age 12 and older. Either way, a person is only eligible for a booster shot if it has been at least two months since their last COVID vaccine.
Some vaccine experts say it would be best for people to wait four months after their last dose or infection with the COVID virus for maximum effectiveness, although Walinsky notes that there are some gray areas.
“What we’ve seen is that everyone who qualifies for a boost is a lot more than two months away from the last shot,” she says. “We certainly don’t want someone to get a boost too soon, and we don’t want you to get a boost two months early. But I’ll say if you’re three, four, five months after your last shot, now it’s time to go ahead and get it.”
Safety and efficacy data look promising
These new boosters have been tested in mice rather than humans, a controversial strategy meant to save time (however, it is not unprecedented, as flu vaccines are changed every year without being routinely tested).
Looking at the data, Walinsky says health authorities are confident about how well the vaccines work and how safe they are.
That data includes 600 million doses of the original vaccine administered across the country with what Wallinsky calls an “exceptional safety record.” Officials also saw similar safety results for an earlier version of this bivalent vaccine (meaning it targets two strains) tested on about 1,400 people.
This booster targeted the original coronavirus strain in addition to the omicron strain BA.1, in contrast to the more prevalent BA.4 and BA.5 sub variants targeted in the newly authorized version of the snapshot.
“There are very subtle differences, but we have no reason to expect that this would have any different safety signal than the 600 million doses we’ve previously given or these other divalent boosters against Omicron,” Walinsky says.
What is already clear, she adds, is that protection against the virus wanes over time, and that a booster will restore protection against infection, severe disease, and death. It also cites laboratory studies showing that this updated enhancer improves immune responses against other SARS-CoV-2 variants in addition to similar responses to the original variant.
“So we have every reason to expect it will work well, and probably even better,” she says.
This interview was produced by Katie Klein and edited by Simon Popperle.
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