KING COUNTY, Washington. – On Wednesday, the US authorized its first update of COVID-19 vaccines, booster doses targeting the most prevalent strain of Omicron to date. Shooting may start in a few days.
The FDA move changes the prescription for injections made by Pfizer and rival Moderna that have already saved millions of lives. It is hoped that the modified boosters will stop another winter surge – and help suppress the omicron relative BA.5, which continues to spread widely.
“These updated boosters give us the opportunity to stay ahead of the next wave of COVID-19,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Kaliff.
So far, COVID-19 vaccines have targeted the original coronavirus strain, even though completely different mutants have emerged. New American boosters are combination or “bivalent” shots. They contain half of the original vaccine recipe and half of the protection against the latest versions of omicrons, BA.4 and BA.5, which are considered the most contagious.
The combo aims to increase cross-protection against multiple options.
“It really offers the greatest opportunity for protection,” Annalize Anderson, head of vaccines at Pfizer, told The Associated Press.
Updated boosters are only for people who have already received primary vaccinations using the original vaccines. The doses produced by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are for individuals 12 years of age and older, while Moderna’s updated shots are for adults if at least two months have passed since their last primary or last booster shot. They cannot be used for initial vaccinations.
There is one more step before the start of the fall booster campaign: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must recommend who should get the extra shot. An influential CDC advisory panel will discuss the evidence Thursday, including whether people at high risk of contracting COVID-19 should go first.
The Seattle King County Public Health Service released what local health officials know about the new boosters for our region:
Who is eligible for upgraded boosters?
The vaccines are for people aged 12 and over (but we are waiting for confirmation of who will be eligible for the vaccine).
Both Pfizer and Moderna have released updated booster vaccines. The updated Pfizer booster vaccine is for people 12 years of age and older. Moderna’s is for people aged 18 and over. However, it is possible that during the review process, expert panels or the CDC may decide that new boosters should be prioritized for a certain age group or using some other criteria. We won’t know until these expert groups discuss.
When will there be new footage?
Applications will be reviewed by an independent CDC panel on September 1, and if they recommend vaccines, CDC will make a final decision regarding the use of those boosters. In addition, the review will be conducted by an independent commission from the Western states. It may take a few more days for CDC recommendations and guidance to be ready. If the CDC recommends vaccines, doses will start shipping to states after Labor Day.
The earliest we can expect new booster doses to be available at our Auburn Outlet Collection mall vaccination locations is the weekend of September 9th. However, there may be delays in delivery, so it may be later. Vaccine providers will also need time to update their processes to comply with the new CDC booster vaccine guidance, so vaccination locations may vary depending on when they can begin offering the new booster vaccine.
Where can I get new boosters?
Both Pfizer and Moderna boosters will be updated at the Public Health Vaccination Point at the Auburn Outlet Collection Mall once they complete the approval process. Other healthcare providers have also ordered new boosters and will be offering them to non-members (although some may only offer them to members for the first week or two), including Kaiser Permanente, UWMedicine, HealthPoint, SeaMar, Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, and ICHS. Pharmacies may also have an updated booster, but check it out before talking about availability. More information about locations can be found at kingcounty.gov/vaccine.
How is the new booster vaccine different from previous COVID vaccines?
The new booster vaccines have the same core ingredients as the current vaccine, but with an updated spike protein.
The updated COVID booster works like an annual flu shot. Just as the flu shot targets the expected flu strains for each upcoming season, this new COVID booster shot will specifically target the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants that are in widespread use. It will also target the original strain of COVID-19 that is in the current COVID-19 vaccine. It’s called a “bivalent” vaccine, which means it targets two strains of the virus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.