Q&A: UK experts discuss updated COVID-19 booster
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration authorized a new version of the COVID-19 booster vaccine, which is now available at pharmacies and physicians’ offices across the country. In this Q&A, UK HealthCare Associate Director of Pharmacy Operations Jim Hallahan, Pharm.D., and UK College of Pharmacy Assistant Professor Vince Venditto, Ph.D., answer questions about this new COVID-19 booster.
Why do we need a new COVID-19 vaccine?
Like any virus in wide circulation, what we’ve seen with SARS-CoV-2 is that the virus has changed. We’ve gone from the original strain, to the Delta variant, to now the Omicron variant that is widely spreading across the globe. That doesn’t mean the original vaccines don’t work at all — the original vaccine still shows some efficacy against the Omicron variant — but it does mean they are less effective than they were initially.
This new COVID-19 vaccine booster is more effective than the previous one because it is bivalent, which means it targets two variants of the coronavirus. This new booster vaccine is a combination of the original COVID-19 variant along with the Omicron variant.
This combination makes for a more powerful booster that provides better overall protection, especially because we anticipate the Omicron variant will continue to circulate this fall and winter.
Who is eligible for the new COVID-19 vaccine booster?
Moderna recipients ages 18 years or older are eligible to get the new booster dose as long as it has been at least two months since receiving the last dose of a primary vaccine or a previous booster.
Pfizer recipients ages 12 years or older are eligible as long as it has been at least two months since receiving the last dose of a primary vaccine or a previous booster.
Is the new booster safe?
Both the new Moderna and Pfizer boosters were tested for safety and efficacy. The studies showed that the vaccines are safe and they produce a robust protective immune response. Based on this data, the FDA has authorized these vaccines for use.
How will the new COVID-19 booster react to past booster doses?
The new booster will work as an enhancement to the previous vaccine doses to further protect people from older and current variants.
Where is the booster being administered?
Boosters are available nationwide at pharmacies and clinicians’ offices. At UK HealthCare, the new booster vaccine is available to everyone in the community at all UK HealthCare Retail Pharmacies as well as our vaccination clinic at Fountain Court.
UK employees and students can also sign up here to get the booster at the vaccination clinic inside the Blue Box Theater at the Gatton Student Center.
Why is it important to get the vaccine as soon as possible?
The new vaccine is important to help stop the spread of current and new COVID-19 variants and to keep people out of the hospital. The booster can help prevent symptoms from becoming too severe if you do contract the virus.
As we move into colder weather and begin spending more time indoors, the population tends to circulate viruses, including flu, RSV and now coronavirus. Getting vaccinated now will give you more protection from the coronavirus throughout the colder months.
Can you get your COVID booster and flu shot at the same time?
Yes. Much like last year, you can get both your COVID booster and a flu vaccine during the same pharmacy or clinic visit.
Can you get a different version of the vaccine than what you received before (e.g., getting a Moderna booster if your previous vaccines were all Pfizer)?
The current guidance is to take whatever booster vaccine is currently available at your location. The dosage of both vaccines is similar and both boosters (Pfizer and Moderna) are expected to provide strong protection. Importantly, based on current authorization guidelines, if you are between the ages of 12 and 18, you will need to check for availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine in your area.
Will the new booster be free?
Yes, the new booster is still free of charge.
Do I have to get the primary COVID-19 vaccine in order to get the new booster dose?
Based on the FDA authorization, this booster dose is only approved for individuals that have already completed the primary series of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
How long after the shot is the booster effective?
The vaccine begins providing peak protection two weeks after the dose has been administered.
Do I need the vaccine to be protected from COVID-19?
The vaccine is designed to give our immune system the boost we need to supply optimal protection against the virus. If you had COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, you likely had some temporary immunity from experiencing a reinfection.
But with the Omicron variant, we are seeing that virus-induced immunity has been waning and is not as effective against future COVID-19 infections. The booster is really designed to help continue to train our immune systems to recognize what’s in circulation and what we could be infected with. Getting the vaccine is the best way to be protected from contracting COVID-19 and/or experiencing the worst symptoms if you do get it.
If I’ve had COVID-19, how long should I wait before getting the booster?
If you recently contracted COVID-19 and were ill, you’ll need to wait at least until the worst of your symptoms have resolved, and you have met the criteria to leave isolation before you can get a COVID vaccination. The CDC recommends that patients with recent COVID-19 infections wait three months to get a booster shot, due to the immunity your body produced from fighting off the COVID infection.
Most people are able to mount a protective response that prevents them from getting reinfected within three months of infection, but that protection wanes and getting the booster three months after infection gives your immune system the boost it needs to keep you protected for longer. If you are immune-compromised, in an area with a high rate of infection, or if you have any questions, it is always a good decision to talk with your pharmacist or doctor to determine the best timing for you to get a COVID vaccine following a COVID infection.
Can children get the new booster? If not, when will a pediatric version be available?
Children 12 years or older are eligible for the Pfizer booster as long as it has been at least two months since receiving the last dose of a primary vaccine or a previous booster.
Children younger than 12 years old are not eligible for this new booster. There has not been any set timeline for when this bivalent vaccine will be available to this younger age group; however, based on past history of the manufacturing and approval process, this bivalent product could possibly become available to this younger age group within the next three to six months.
At this point, is COVID-19 still a serious disease?
COVID-19 is still a life-threatening illness for many members of our community, and we are losing 500 people in the U.S. every day from COVID. Getting the vaccine can help yourself and others prevent both short- and long-term complications from contracting the disease.
To register for a vaccine at UK HealthCare Retail Pharmacies, visit ukvaccine.org.