PROVIDENCE, RI — New Omicron BA.4 / BA.5 specific COVID-19 vaccines are now available, and experts recommend you get them this fall, even if your last booster shot was as recent as two months ago.
The updated booster doses which became available in Rhode Island late last week, are bivalent, meaning they protect against both the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the Omicron variant, according to the RI Department of Health (RIDOH). Omicron sub-variants BA.4 / BA.5 now dominate RI COVID-19 infections, are as contagious as measles, and elude immunity from the previous vaccines and past infections, as WarwickPost.com reported in July.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 12 or older who has received a primary series of COVID-19 vaccine get a bivalent booster at least two months after their last dose. (This bivalent booster dose is not available to children younger than 12.) This recommendation applies no matter how many boosters a person has already received. For example, if a person received their primary series and two booster doses, they should still get a bivalent booster at least two months after their last booster dose, according to RIDOH.
“This fall, everyone should get a bivalent COVID-19 booster. And, really, that’s all you need to know: Get a vaccine. Any bivalent vaccine. This fall,” said Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist and biostatistician and author of the Your Local Epidemiologist blog.
What the COVID-19 boosters do for you
On her blog, Jetelina outlines possible vaccination strategies for people who hope to maximize the effectiveness of the new vaccines. She also notes the two ways in which the new boosters will help you against COVID-19:
“First, a booster will increase neutralizing antibodies, at least temporarily, to help prevent infection and transmission. It’s not perfect, but we hope this will last for 6 months.
Second, a booster will help your secondary line of defense differently, depending on type of previous infection:
- BA.1 infection: An infection during the first Omicron wave (December, January, February) means you likely had a BA.1 infection. In the Omicron family, BA.1 is farthest from BA.5. This means your B-cells can be updated to remember BA.5.
- BA.2 infection: BA.2 is closer to BA.5. This means your B cells looks more like BA.5 than, for example, BA.1. Because it’s close, the booster will solidify BA.2 immunity and widen protection to other BA.2 variants. The booster will also provide immunity to BA.5 for future protection.
- BA.5 infection: A booster will reactivate your B cells. This will theoretically ensure longer term protection against BA.5.”
Vaccine availability in RI
- Long-term care RIDOH reports Rhode Island is working to ensure bivalent booster doses are available to residents in long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities, since people there are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19, RIDOH reports.
- Primary care (your regular doctor) Some Rhode Island primary care providers have begun ordering bivalent COVID-19 booster doses. After receiving vaccine, primary care providers work with patients to schedule appointments. People should contact their primary care providers to learn about bivalent vaccine availability.
- Local, retail pharmacies Some independent pharmacies and retail pharmacies (such as CVS and Walgreens) are beginning to schedule appointments for bivalent COVID-19 boosters. Vaccines.Gov is an additional tool people can use to learn about the availability of bivalent COVID-19 booster doses.
Vaccine age groups, vaccine updates
- The Pfizer bivalent booster is recommended for people age 12 or older.
- The Moderna bivalent booster is recommended for people age 18 or older.
The bivalent boosters will replace existing Pfizer and Moderna monovalent boosters. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC have repealed their authorization and recommendation for the current Pfizer and Moderna monovalent boosters. This means that anyone age 12 or older who would like a COVID-19 booster will get a bivalent booster.
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