The CDC director says there’s no wrong moment to receive a fresh COVID booster. Now that the CDC has approved the reformulated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines, people in the United States will have easier access to these vaccinations for routine booster shots.
It’s possible that some dosages will be available as early as this coming Friday, with a wider release scheduled for the following week. The original coronavirus strain and the more contagious omicron variation are also targets of the shots, and health officials claim they will help strengthen people’s declining immunity and protect against serious disease and death as another rise in infections is expected this fall and winter.
When you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, what considerations should you bear in mind? Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, discussed the new vaccine boosters with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.
According to Walensky, “dosages are trickling into pharmacies and other sites today,” so now is as good a time as any to obtain your boost as long as you qualify.
Eligibility and timeliness are important factors.
The Moderna booster is approved for use in adults aged 18 and up, while the Pfizer-BioNTech formulation is suitable for those aged 12 and up. A person is only qualified for a booster shot if it has been at least two months since their prior COVID vaccination.
Walensky hints at a murky area, but vaccination experts generally agree that waiting four months after the last COVID dose or infection is optimal.
Most people who could get a boost “haven’t had a shot in over two months,” she says. “We wouldn’t want anyone to gain a promotion too quickly, and you shouldn’t get yours until after two months have passed. I think it’s safe to have another shot three, four, or five months after your last one.”
Positive results in terms of both safety and effectiveness have been observed.
To save time, the new boosters were tested on mice rather than humans, a controversial choice (though not unprecedented, as annual changes are made to flu vaccines without routine testing).
Walensky claims that health officials are confident in the vaccinations’ efficacy and safety after reviewing the data.
Among the information cited is the “exceptional safety record” of the original vaccine, which has been given out in the United States at a total dose of 600 million doses. When this bivalent vaccine (i.e., one that targets two strains) was tried in the past, officials saw similar safety outcomes in about 1,400 people.
In contrast to the more common BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which are targeted in the newly approved form of the shot, that booster only targeted the original coronavirus strain and the omicron BA.1 strain.
Even though there are some minor distinctions, Walensky insists that there is no reason to believe that the safety signal will be any different from that of the 600 million doses already administered or the other bivalent boosts used against omicron.
She also notes that it is already obvious that immunity to the virus declines with time and that a booster shot is necessary to reestablish protection against infection, severe sickness, and death. She also cites laboratory research showing that the revised booster enhances immune responses against other SARS-CoV-2 variations, as well as responses to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.
We should thus anticipate that it will function equally well, if not better, she says.