5 things to know about up-to-date covid-19 booster shots

Two weeks after the federal government approved COVID-19 booster shots targeting the most dominant strains of the virus, clinics and health care providers in southwestern Pennsylvania began offering the shots to eligible recipients.

The newly licensed bivalent vaccines are updated boosters that specifically target the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the omicron variant.

The Moderna bivalent vaccine has been licensed for anyone over the age of 18 who has at least two months of their most recent vaccination. Pfizer’s bivalent vaccine was licensed for anyone age 12 and older who is at least two months removed from their most recent dose.

Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen urged anyone eligible to get vaccinated.

“Getting vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 is the most effective way to protect yourself from serious illness or death from the virus,” Bogen said Tuesday.

UPMC plans start distributing information on the programming of bivalent booster doses, and AHN has started programming bivalent drives. Excela Health in Westmoreland County is not administering any COVID-19 vaccines, but offers a portal through which patients can find a vaccine provider.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease and critical care expert, offered his thoughts on what people should know about the new shots, including whether they should get their annual flu shot at the same time.

Ask: Do people getting their next covid booster need to get their flu shot at the same time, or is it too early to get a flu shot?

Answer: “For influenza vaccines to be maximally effective, they must provide protection throughout the season. In general, I recommend that people get vaccinated at the end of October. There is data showing that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine decreases during the season, which traditionally peaks in February.

“Preferably, people should get a flu shot at the time of greatest impact. However, if the only time someone can get a flu shot is now, it’s better than not getting vaccinated.”

Q: What makes this booster different from previous ones? What should people know about it?

A: “This booster includes protection against the omicron BA.4/BA.5 variants in addition to protection against the ancestral strain of (covid-19).”

Q: Should children who have had particularly bad reactions to the vaccine, including myocarditis, get a booster?

A: “In general, I think boosters should be targeted to those who are most likely to benefit, and when it comes to pediatric populations, I think only high-risk children will get a lot of benefit from boosting. In children who have had myocarditis, it is likely that enough time has passed since the last dose of the vaccine to minimize that risk.”

Q: The latest boosters have not been tested on humans. How do we know they are safe?

A: “The boosters use the exact same technology as all other vaccines and there is no biological reason to believe there is a safety issue with them.”

Q: Should everyone get the last booster?

A: “Again, I think boosters benefit people at elevated risk for severe illness, such as the elderly and people with comorbid conditions. These groups are where the upgraded booster is likely to be most beneficial. As such, I recommend high-risk people (especially those who have never beefed up) to do so. For the general healthy population, the benefit is likely to be marginal and transient (as with previous boosters).”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Megan by email at mguza@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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