Do you think you should get the new COVID-19 booster shot? Everything you need to know is right here.

Do you think you should get the new COVID-19 booster shot? Everything you need to know is right here.

Should you get a booster right away or wait?

Do you think you should get the new COVID-19 booster shot? Everything you need to know is right here.
People ages 12 and older can now get an updated COVID-19 booster shot.

Do you think you should get the new COVID-19 booster shot? Everything you need to know is right here.
In the United States, two newly updated COVID-19 booster shots are now available: one manufactured by Moderna and one manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech. People aged 18 and up can receive the Moderna booster, while those aged 12 and up can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster. Individuals who meet these age requirements and have completed their primary vaccine series or received their last booster shot are eligible for a booster.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new boosters, including which variants they protect against, who should get the shots, and when.

WHAT IS NEW ABOUT THE NEW BOOSTERS?
The new boosters protect against both the original SARS-CoV-2 strain targeted by the previous vaccines and two “flavors” of the omicron variant known as BA.4 and BA.5, as previously reported by Live Science. When the new boosters were authorized in early September 2022, these two omicron subvariants were responsible for the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in the United States: BA.5 accounted for roughly 90% of all cases, with BA.4 accounting for the majority of the remainder, according to STAT (opens in new tab). According to the United States, health officials anticipate that both subvariants will continue to circulate during the fall and winter. Food and Drug Administration (new window) (FDA).

The boosters, in particular, contain genetic molecules known as mRNA, which contain instructions for the construction of spike proteins, the pointed structures used by the coronavirus to infiltrate cells. Once inside the body, the boosters instruct cells to produce the original SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as well as the identical BA.4 and BA.5 spike proteins.

The updated boosters are considered “bivalent” because they contain instructions for two spike proteins, whereas the previous vaccines were “monovalent.” With the approval of the bivalent boosters, the monovalent vaccines are no longer authorized as boosters for people ages 12 and older, according to the FDA. The updated boosters are already being distributed nationwide, though availability may vary between vaccination sites for the time being; this availability is expected to increase in the coming days and weeks, according to CNBC

(According to the Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices(opens in new tab) (ACIP), children aged 5 to 11 can still receive a monovalent booster.)

HOW SAFE ARE THE UPDATED BOOSTERS?
Scientists are unsure how much protection the updated boosters provide because the shots have not been formally tested in humans. This is similar to the annual flu shot, the effectiveness of which is revealed as the flu season progresses.

However, the updated boosters are expected to provide better protection against circulating omicron subvariants than the original COVID-19 vaccines, based on animal studies and recent clinical trials of similar boosters described in the final section of this article. The boosters are most likely to protect against severe infections that could result in hospitalization and death.

“They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHO SHOULD PURCHASE A BOOSTER?
The CDC recommends that all people aged 12 and up get a booster shot if it has been at least two months since they finished their primary vaccination series or received their most recent booster dose with a monovalent vaccine. People aged 18 and up can receive the updated Moderna booster, while those aged 12 and up can receive the updated Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

“In the coming weeks, the CDC also expects to recommend updated COVID-19 boosters for other pediatric groups, based on the discussion and evaluation of the data by ACIP on September 1, 2022,” according to a CDC statement. ACIP is the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

“When data become available and the FDA approves these other types of COVID-19 boosters, the CDC will move quickly to assist in making them available in the United States.”

According to experts, people aged 60 and older, those with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic conditions that increase their risk of contracting a severe COVID-19 infection will benefit the most from boosters (opens in new tab). However, boosters should reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and long COVID — the prolonged, debilitating symptoms that can arise after a COVID-19 infection — even in younger people and those without chronic conditions, according to Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.

Experts told NPR that boosters at the community level could reduce transmission in the coming months and help to mitigate potential surges in the fall and winter (opens in new tab).

WHEN IS IT BEST TO GET A BOOSTER?
The best time to get a booster depends on the individual.

The FDA generally allows people to get a booster shot if it has been two months since their last shot. According to The New York Times, immunologists generally recommend that people wait four to six months after their last shot or their most recent COVID-19 infection in order to maximize their protective immune response.

Similarly, the CDC’s ACIP recommends that those who have recently contracted COVID-19 wait three months before receiving an updated booster; the three-month countdown begins from the onset of symptoms or a person’s first positive test, if their infection was asymptomatic. People who are currently infected with COVID-19 should wait until their symptoms have resolved and they meet the criteria to be released from isolation before receiving any COVID-19 vaccine, updated booster or otherwise, according to the committee.

Some people may think about timing their booster dose to get the most protection during the holiday season. This could be risky because it’s difficult to predict when and if a surge will occur, according to Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“You’re basically agreeing to a period of vulnerability that you don’t need,” Wachter explained. “And as I weigh all of that, my thinking is I’d rather not do that.” It’s also important to note that, as with most vaccines, it will take a few weeks for the immune system to ramp up its defenses after a boost.

Given the possibility of a winter surge coinciding with flu season, the CDC advisory committee has also urged healthcare providers to provide both flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same visit. “With both influenza and SARS-CoV-2 circulating, getting both vaccines is critical for preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” according to the committee.

WHEN AND HOW WERE BOOSTERS PERMITTED?

On August 31, 2022, the FDA issued an “emergency use authorization” for the updated boosters. On September 1, the CDC’s advisory committee recommended using the shots, and Dr. Walensky quickly agreed, clearing the boosters for widespread use.

The updated boosters, like the annual influenza vaccine, were approved for use without first being tested in formal human trials, as previously reported by Live Science. The FDA and CDC made their decisions based on extensive safety and efficacy data gathered on the original Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines, which were first made available in late 2020.

Furthermore, the agencies looked at data from two recent clinical trials of similar boosters designed to target BA.1, an omicron subvariant that is no longer in circulation. Finally, the newly approved boosters were tested in mice to ensure that they elicited an immune response in the animals. Scientists infected the rodents with BA.5 in Moderna’s mouse studies and discovered that the new booster more effectively protected against infection in the lungs than the original Moderna shots, according to The New York Times.

“The FDA has extensive experience with strain changes for annual influenza vaccines, and we are confident in the evidence supporting these authorizations,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement released by the agency. “The public can be confident that the FDA has taken great care to ensure that these bivalent COVID-19 vaccines meet our stringent safety, efficacy, and manufacturing quality standards for emergency use authorization.”

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