People receive COVID-19 boosters targeting Omicron

Should I get the new COVID-19 booster? Here’s what you need to know

Everyone should get the new COVID-19 booster, experts say, even if you have gotten previous vaccinations or come down with COVID-19 during the omicron wave in late 2021 and early 2022.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week signed off on a new COVID-19 booster shot aimed at targeting the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. The endorsement clears the way for a booster campaign that could help reduce the severity of a fall and winter surge.

The shots “can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Almost 68 percent of the U.S. population is considered fully vaccinated with two jabs, while a little more than a third of Americans age 5 and older have gotten at least one booster shot.

Meanwhile, community spread remains high in nearly 85 percent of counties in the country, according to the CDC. Researchers who spoke with the PBS NewsHour said they were concerned that COVID-19 cases and deaths may rise in the coming months as colder weather forces gatherings back inside.

READ MORE: Updated COVID boosters approved ahead of potential fall surge

“How high that wave is, and how overwhelmed our hospital systems are, are going to be a direct correlation with how many people get their booster and how this virus mutates,” said Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist and publisher of the Your Local Epidemiologist newsletter. “One of those things we can control, and the other one, we can’t.”

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. A projection from mid-August concluded that getting boosters into arms early this fall would prevent an estimated 12 to 15 percent of deaths over a nine-month period.

Here’s a look at what we know about the new boosters, when people should seek one out and how it works, based on questions from you.

Do I need to get the new COVID-19 booster shot?

“Everyone should be getting a fall booster,” said Jetelina.

Data from the CDC shows that unvaccinated adults 50 and older have a 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than those who have received the vaccine and two or more booster shots. Those in the same age range with only one booster were still three times more at risk.

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Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, says those who haven’t gotten boosters are at higher risk for infection and severe disease than those who have.

“I’d really strongly urge people to reconsider that and go get a bivalent booster, especially if they haven’t been boosted at all, because the boosting really, really, really does provide a significant benefit,” Rasmussen said.

Wait, what’s a bivalent vaccine? How is this new COVID-19 booster different?

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The new booster shot is a bivalent vaccine, which means that it will target the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, as well as the now more-prevalent omicron subvariant BA.5. That means the vaccine will help boost an immune response to the original strain and new strains, Rasmussen said

“It should broaden people’s immune response and hopefully should be more protective against the BA.5 and the other omicron family variants that are currently circulating,” she said.

READ MORE: Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses approval of updated COVID booster shots that target omicron

When should I get a new COVID-19 booster?

The CDC recommends waiting at least two months after your last COVID-19 vaccine booster or three months following your last infection. Rasmussen suggests waiting at least three months after either.

“Based on some data that’s come out, it seems that it should probably be at least about three months after your most recent booster or an infection,” Rasmussen said. “And some people have potentially said that the maximum benefit would be actually closer to six months post your booster or last infection.”

Jetelina agrees, advocating that people should wait at least three to four months after their last COVID infection or booster before getting the new booster. She notes that people can get boosted earlier than in three to four months, but waiting until that time will help maximize the protection your immune system can provide.

Can I get my COVID-19 booster and flu shot at the same time?

Yes, because influenza and SARS-CoV-2 are different pathogens and your immune system can recover from both vaccine shots at the same time, according to Rasmussen.

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“Your immune system can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said.

Jetelina recommends that if you’re receiving the COVID-19 booster and the flu vaccine at the same time, you get them in different arms.

READ MORE: What are monkeypox symptoms? Here’s what you need to know

Can I get my COVID-19 booster and monkeypox vaccine together?

Amid the ongoing outbreak of monkeypox, more than 400,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine — originally produced as to improve preparedness for smallpox bioterrorism attack — have been administered so far in the U.S. as a way to lower people’s risk of contracting the disease.

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Because the smallpox vaccine is a different pathogen than influenza and SARS-CoV-2, Rasmussen says getting all three should be OK, but more data is needed to be sure.

“It should, in theory, be fine to give that at the same time as a flu vaccine and a COVID vaccine,” she said. “But I don’t think we have a lot of data. So that’s something that hopefully people are starting to collect data on what it’s like to deploy JYNNEOS at population scale, to target monkeypox and what those immune responses are going to look like long term and what kind of protection that confers.”

The CDC recommends waiting at least four weeks between receiving a monkeypox vaccine and a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine booster because of the risk of myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle), especially in young men.

READ MORE: Getting COVID-19 is much riskier for your heart than vaccination

If there’s a new COVID-19 variant that becomes dominant, will this new booster protect me?

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It depends on the characteristics of the variant, Jetelina said. If it’s another omicron subvariant, as BA.4 and BA.5 are, the booster should work well. If it’s a different variant, public health experts are hopeful that the bivalent booster will still help because it includes components of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the omicron variant.

“It won’t be as good, but there will be some sort of protection,” she said.

 

Illustrations by Megan McGrew.