FDA and CDC approve and recommend new COVID vaccine boosters

By The Health News Team | September 8, 2022
Woman with vaccine bandage on arm

Throughout the county, school children are headed back to the classroom and employees are returning to the workplace. Unfortunately, COVID-19 might be going with them.

According to San Diego County public health officials, local COVID-19 case rates averaged around 570 new cases per day in the last week of August. San Diego Unified School District, the largest in the region, strongly recommends district employees, students and visitors wear masks when indoors on school campuses, stating, “We know that COVID-19 is here to stay.”

However, a new measure may soon help stop the spread of COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently amended the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to authorize updated boosters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the new boosters are expected to restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination by targeting variants that are more transmissible and better able to evade immune responses.

According to Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, these variants are very different from the original strain. “They're more contagious and they are going to cause more issues in the fall,” she says. “Public health experts are seeing the writing on the wall: We need additional protection.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the updated COVID-19 vaccine boosters:

  • The updated boosters use a familiar technology to fight COVID.
    The new bivalent — or combination — COVID-19 vaccine boosters contain two mRNA components of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19: one of the original coronavirus strains and another component common in both the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the omicron variant. According to the FDA, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are currently causing most cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and are predicted to continue circulating throughout the fall and winter.
    Like the original mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, the boosters include mRNA components that give the body’s cells instructions for how to make copies of the spike protein unique to the virus and its variants. Recognizing that the protein should not be there, the body creates protective antibodies that will remember how to fight the original coronavirus and the omicron variants of the virus in case of future infection.

  • The new boosters are safe and effective.
    The FDA based its decision to grant an EUA for the new boosters on all available safety and efficacy evidence. This includes extensive safety and effectiveness data for each of the original mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and safety and effectiveness data from studies of a similar bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
    Though trials of the updated boosters using human participants have not yet been completed, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency’s recommendation for use followed “comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion.”
    “The updated COVID-19 boosters are formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variant,” she says. “They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants.”

  • Many children and adults are eligible to receive a booster.
    People ages 5 and older are eligible for a single booster dose of the updated Pfizer booster and people ages 6 and older can receive the updated single-dose Moderna booster. To receive either of the boosters, it must be at least two months since your primary vaccination was completed or two months since you received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
    Additionally, the CDC is allowing people age 18 and older the option to receive a Novavax monovalent booster instead of the bivalent Pfizer or Moderna booster if they cannot or will not receive mRNA vaccines. To be eligible, they must have completed primary series vaccination but have not previously received a COVID-19 booster.

  • Booster side effects are usually mild to moderate.
    Individuals who receive a booster may experience side effects similar to those reported after receiving one of the primary vaccines. These include soreness at the injection site, fever, body aches and headaches. Symptoms like these are common when getting any vaccine and indicate your body's immune system is preparing to work against the virus if needed.

  • COVID-19 vaccine boosters are available throughout the county.
    The County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency advises you to contact your health care provider or other community vaccine provider, such as a local pharmacy, for information on vaccine availability and scheduling. Availability at county vaccine events will be updated on the county’s COVID-19 website and appointments can be made via MyTurn. Both the COVID-19 vaccine boosters — which will replace the original boosters — and the flu vaccine will be offered at county vaccine clinics.

“People recognize COVID has not gone away — it is very much still here,” Dr. Olulade says. “We have vaccines — and now have updated boosters — that are safe and effective. They can protect you. So I wouldn't wait to receive a booster if you're eligible. The sooner you get protection, the better.”

Get COVID-19 vaccine and testing information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.

This article was updated in October 2022.

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