This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially endorsed the new COVID-19 booster shots, which were updated to target both the original strain and the Omicron subvariants of the coronavirus.
The endorsement followed the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the reformulations of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. In recent months, the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have been the primary source of infection across the U.S., prompting Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech to update their vaccines to combat these new strains.
The updated Pfizer booster has been cleared for anyone 12 years and older, while Moderna’s new booster is available for those 18 and older.
Following the recommendations laid out by the CDC and the FDA, officials from the California Dept. of Public Health and community health leaders are preparing to vaccinate residents across the Golden State, which is expected to receive 1 million updated booster shots in the coming weeks.
“The approval of an updated booster vaccine is great news as over the past two and a half years, Covid vaccines have been a tremendous tool that has literally saved millions of lives, help us protect us against the worst outcomes, and frankly, helped us move on as a community and as a state,” Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director for the CDPH’s Center of Infectious Diseases, said in a press briefing held on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Chavez added that those who completed the initial series of coronavirus vaccines — i.e. received the necessary two-dose round of either Pfizer or Moderna or the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shot — are eligible for the vaccine.
But as communities are learning to “live with the virus,” information about booster shots may be confusing. Here are five things to know about the updated coronavirus vaccines, according to California’s top health experts.
- The new boosters will replace the old ones and access to them will be the same as previous vaccine rollouts
Chavez noted that the updated booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech will replace the previous boosters, which will no longer be available.
He also noted that the updated booster will be available in primary care clinics, pharmacies and other providers that have previously offered the COVID-19 vaccine, and that they continue to be free of charge.
“It’s always been a concern for us to make sure that our vaccine access is equitable, that everyone who needs access has access,” he said.
- Individuals who received the previous booster are eligible for the new one
As previously reported in the Asian Journal, booster shots of vaccines offer smaller doses of immunity that are administered after receiving a full dose. With the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, individuals needed two shots administered weeks apart, and those who received the Johnson & Johnson shot only needed one dose.
As with the initial rollout of the booster in late 2021, you can “mix and match.” For example, if you received the initial full dose of Moderna, you may receive the Pfizer booster, Chavez said.
- Those who are immunocompromised and 60 years old or older should get boosted as soon as possible
Dr. Maggie Park, public health officer of San Joaquin County’s Public Health Services, noted that those who are immunocompromised or 60 years or older — who are more likely than the average person to suffer more severe effects of coronavirus — should not wait to get the updated booster.
“We don’t wait until we feel pain to go to the dentist, so why would you wait til you’re in the hospital to ask for a vaccine?” Park said.
But she also noted that “COVID fatigue” and the general misconception that COVID-19 has gone away has led people to become careless about transmission and not think they need to update their immunity.
Those who have been recently infected with coronavirus develop natural antibody responses that create a natural immunity, according to the CDC as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
But that doesn’t mean individuals should forego plans to get the new booster shot, Park said.
“People think COVID is over, but this virus isn’t going away just because we want it to. It’s evolving. It’s actually becoming more highly transmissible and getting smarter about evading our immunity, whether that’s natural immunity from prior infection or immunity from vaccination,” Park said, noting that the newer subvariants have been able to infect those who have been vaccinated because of the ever-adapting nature of viruses.
- The new booster shots don’t entirely prevent the chance of infection
But rather, they make the chances of hospitalization, the need for intensive care, and death far, far less likely.
Recent CDC data found that those who have received one or two booster shots have a 0.024% chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19 complications — for individuals under 50 years old, that chance lowers to 0.014%.
Chavez also noted that these updated boosters would make it far less likely to experience severe infections, reminding everyone that vaccines don’t completely prevent infection, but that they protect from the more severe causes of the disease.
“The critical importance of getting a booster is not because you don’t want to get a mild case, but because you want to prevent a serious illness,” Chavez explained.
- As with the flu, there may be the need for an annual booster shot for maximum protection
Despite the hesitance to continue receiving vaccine boosters to protect against the coronavirus, doctors still maintain the importance of updating your immunity. As the virus continues to evolve, Chavez said that there’s a strong likelihood that COVID-19 boosters will provide necessary protection against serious illness for the foreseeable future.
“We’re moving in the same direction where we believe that it will be important to have at least one annual booster that contains the most important and latest available protection,” Chavez said.
About 72% of all people in California are vaccinated with at least the first full dosage(s) of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday, Sept. 9. However, only 58.8% of Californians who are eligible for the booster have received it.
Park mirrored Chavez’s sentiments and reminded Californians, who may be hesitant to get boosted, that vaccines and booster shots have always been a necessary precaution, especially as the weather starts to cool.
“The majority of folks in the United States get a flu shot every year, and here we are in less than three years in the pandemic, and we’re already tired. So hopefully, we get to a point where the COVID shot is an annual thing like the flu shot. But in the meantime, we need to be patient and need to protect ourselves,” she said. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)