When people should consider getting new bivalent, updated booster shot

Supplies of COVID-19 bivalent updated booster shots are gradually becoming available, and many people are wondering who’s eligible to receive it and when.

Montgomery County, Maryland, which is among the local D.C.-area counties distributing the vaccine, has received 1,100 doses so far between Pfizer and Moderna. Supplies from federal sources are also being distributed to many D.C.-region pharmacies and urgent care clinics.

“We’ve asked for additional quantities; we upped our request from the initial 500 doses a few weeks back. We’re still waiting for those to come in,” said Sean O’Donnell, public health emergency preparedness manager for Montgomery County. “Thursday is the day in the state that we can place our order for more vaccine. We’re certainly going to ask for a significant amount more.”

O’Donnell said the county expects the demand to be there, based on the utility of this vaccine and the wider groups who can get it.

The new updated boosters are targeted specifically at the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the omicron variant, which originated overseas and swept across the nation beginning last November.

“For the first time, we are making a change in the vaccine to still hold the original strain in there because it does so good against severe COVID. But now there’s one that’s more precise, so that maybe we will see also a drop in mild to moderate cases, which for many people out there is great,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

Who should be getting the updated booster?

Anyone older than 12 is eligible for the bivalent updated booster if it’s been at least two months since receiving primary or booster vaccinations, or at least two months since having been infected with COVID-19.

There is no bivalent updated booster shot approved for people younger than 12 years old.

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine. (Courtesy Johns Hopkins Medicine)

“This vaccine builds on a predisposed immune system to some extent, either from being fully vaccinated and boosted or being fully vaccinated and potentially of having COVID,” Galiatsatos said. “This vaccine, the new one, is looking to build off of the immunity we’ve already had.”

As for exactly when it’s best to get the bivalent updated booster shot?

“First things first, talk to your doctor because there are going to be some patients who can get it sooner than later, regardless of the recommendation of the time gap. I’m thinking of my transplant patients, and so forth,” Galiatsatos said. “What we are recommending, overall, for the general population is two months from your last vaccine for COVID, or your last COVID infection.”

Galiatsatos is among those who surmise that COVID-19 shots will become a yearly routine, similar to receiving a flu shot.

“We call them annual shots. In reality, they’re probably just more or less boosters,” he said. “The flu vaccine’s technology doesn’t change from year to year. We tweak to make sure it’s effective against the most current variances and what we predict may happen because we’re getting that information from the Southern Hemisphere.”

So while the COVID-19 vaccine’s newest version is called a booster, for now it’s aiming at a stationary target.

“If we’re reading Mother Nature’s tea leaves appropriately, she hasn’t changed the omicron variant over a year. So maybe she’s found a comfortable level with COVID and potentially keeping it around this realm of the omicron mutations,” Galiatsatos said.

Galiatsatos wants people to talk with their doctors and strongly consider getting the new bivalent vaccine.

“Many of you may have had COVID or know someone had COVID and lingered for 10 to 14-plus days, and 10 to 14 days of losing your social engagements and work and so forth; we’re hoping these vaccines make an impact not only to save lives, but to improve your quality of life.”

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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