The new omicron variant booster shot may be a game changer in the fight against COVID-19.
Until now, the current vaccine and boosters did not target omicron. The new booster shot is designed to be effective against omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. The formula combines half of the original vaccine with protections that target the omicron subvariants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is authorizing the new shot this week, with availability as soon as next week.
Kristen Nordlund, spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told San José Spotlight the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting this Thursday and Friday to discuss COVID boosters.
When will the new COVID booster be available?
Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, told San José Spotlight the earliest availability for the booster at county operated sites will likely be Sept. 7. Residents can visit www.sccfreevax.org to make an appointment.
“We try to act as quickly as possible,” she said. “Like other vaccines, as soon as we have approval and inventory in hand, our staff will be trained and ready to deliver it.”
Who is eligible for the new omicron booster?
Tong said the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will recommend who should receive the booster on Thursday or Friday. She said the omicron-specific booster would only be given to individuals who already have the two initial shots. The Pfizer booster will be available for individuals ages 12 and up. The Moderna booster will be only available to adults ages 18 and older.
“Some individuals have already been able to get a second booster,” she said. “It is not yet known if the CDC will recommend it to us as a third booster for some higher risk populations while simultaneously offering it to younger populations as a second booster.”
What are the safety concerns?
Tong said the booster is similar to the annual flu vaccine. She said she doesn’t expect any difference in side effects compared with the other COVID vaccines, but if people have specific concerns they should discuss them with their health care providers.
“The original safety data was conducted on the original formulation of the vaccine,” Tong said. “Now we expect, just like for flu, to get updates on a periodic basis based on the variants. The underlying technology of the vaccine has not changed, but the virus the vaccine is targeting gets updated.”
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Jorge Salinas, assistant professor of infectious disease and hospital epidemiologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, told San José Spotlight the advantage of an omicron-specific vaccine is it will provide better protection against infection with omicron compared to previous vaccines.
“I don’t expect the omicron boosters to be risky,” he said. “However, time will tell what the overall effects are.”
Salinas said those who are older or have a medical condition that may put them at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications should be up to date with vaccines and boosters, be in well-ventilated spaces and wear masks in crowded indoor spaces.
Should residents wait to be boosted?
This new booster will have advantages over the prior booster, said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco. He said if residents haven’t been boosted yet, there’s no point in getting the previous booster since this shot will have the new strains BA.4 and BA.5 needed for protection. He recommends those eligible get the omicron-specific vaccine.
“I think it will make a bigger difference,” he told San José Spotlight. “The question is, will it make a difference in terms of transmission?”
Marcelle Taylor Dougan, assistant professor of public health at San Jose State University, said as the current vaccines are not great at combating current strains, it’s important to have a vaccine that’s more efficient.
“People are still dying from the disease,” Taylor Dougan told San José Spotlight.
She said there is a small but significant risk of cardiovascular complications from COVID-19, so it’s important to stay protected. She said people shouldn’t abandon the public health measures already in place.
“With everything we have been dealing with around the coronavirus pandemic, the most important thing is protection,” she said. “Masking, social distancing, handwashing, those are still going to be important.”
What are the current COVID stats?
According to Santa Clara County Public Health, as of Monday, 87% of county residents of all ages have been vaccinated and 69% of eligible residents ages 5+ have received at least one booster. There have been at least 424,878 COVID-19 infections and 2,445 COVID-19 related deaths countywide.
Tong said COVID-19 continues to be present throughout the county. She said the most worrisome scenario would be an additional mutation that makes the next omicron variant equally transmissible, but more severe.
“The hope is by increasing the immunity to the omicron variant… this new vaccine could help further protect against the potential of severe disease and death from a future variant,” she said.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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