Should you get the new COVID booster?

On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control endorsed an updated COVID-19 booster that is now beginning to arrive in local communities.

The new booster, with versions available from both Pfizer and rival Moderna, is a combination or “bivalent” shot with half-protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions now causing nearly all COVID-19 infections.

The new booster is becoming available just in time to help thwart a winter surge in COVID cases if enough Americans get the latest shot.  

The new booster will be free of charge to all who qualify and want them, but future vaccines and treatments may not be, as funding for the pandemic response dwindles. 

Authorities still aren’t agreeing, but we’ve compiled the most info we can about the shot from medical experts.     

Who Are Shots Approved For?

First, the updated shots are only for use as a booster, not for someone’s first-ever vaccination. 

The Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer’s bivalent option for people 12 and older while Moderna’s is for adults only, no matter how many boosters they’ve already had. 

Who Should Get the Shot? 

The FDA says that everyone 12 and older is recommended to get the updated booster, as long as it’s been at least two months since their last vaccine. However, that doesn’t mean everyone should run out and get the shot now.  

Even though the FDA says wait two months, the CDC recommends waiting a minimum of three months even if you’re at high risk and that someone that isn’t a high risk can wait as long as six months.  

Until this latest CDC announcement, only individuals 50 and older and those who are immunocompromised have been able to get two boosters, with only about 40% of individuals 50 and over having taken the shot.  

Most Americans now eligible for an updated booster have gone at least six months since their last shot, according to the CDC — plenty of time that another shot should trigger a good immune response.

Why Wait to Get the Booster?  

Authorities suggest waiting a minimum of two or three months from your last shot to get the booster to gain the best benefits from receiving it. The antibodies received from the shots generally wane over time and another shot too soon won’t offer much extra benefit.

Individuals who recently recovered from COVID should also wait to get the shot because recovery from the virus builds up natural antibodies in a person’s system. In addition, the CDC advises teen boys and young men who recently recovered from COVID wait three months to get the booster shot to reduce chances of a rare side effect, heart inflammation, that sometimes affects those demographic groups.

Even if you wait, the original formula still offers good protection against severe illness and death, especially after that all-important first booster. So it’s not uncommon for younger and healthier people to time boosters to take advantage of a shot’s temporary jump in protection against even a mild infection, like planning to take the shot ahead of travel, holiday gatherings or the upcoming cold weather move toward crowded indoor environments.  

“In general, I’d go back to the point of last vaccine or infection. If you have not been vaccinated in 2022 and have not had a recent infection, I’d advise that you get the booster sooner rather than later,” wrote CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

Can We Expect to Take Shot Every Year?

Dr. Ashish Jha, head of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 Response Team, suggested at a recent news conference that the vaccines and boosters are likely to become “a more routine part of our lives.” 

The hepatitis vaccine, for example, is a three-dose vaccine, versus the tetanus vaccine, which requires regular boosters. And, of course, the flu vaccine is updated every year. 

Jha compared the updated formulation of the new booster that targets both the original strain and the Omicron subvariants to the flu vaccine where manufacturers anticipate what will likely be the strains in circulation and then annually target the vaccine accordingly. 

Federal health authorities have even signaled they may shift to an annual cadence with individuals possibly getting their flu vaccine at the same time they get their COVID vaccine each year.  

That’s something you can do now. You can get both shots at the same time, one in each arm. 

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