GOOD NEWS: Omicron-updated boosters are coming to the U.S. soon (September).
LESS GOOD NEWS: Americans under age 50 will have to wait for these new shots to get their 2nd boosters.
While there had been chatter about offering 2nd boosters to Americans under age 50 soon to stave off the rising BA.5 wave, the FDA has now decided to wait for vaccines updated for the BA.4/BA.5 variants. This is partly due to the timetable for the updated vaccines being moved up to September (rather than previous estimates of October or November).
Q: If I am already eligible for a 2nd booster, should I get one now or wait for the updated version?
A: With the new September time frame, this is a tougher call than it was before. But with BA.5 is surging, the risk of encountering the virus in the next two months for most people is not trivial. A booster, even of the original formula, will significantly boost your protection against this variant in the near term.
This means that if you are over 50 (or over 12 and immunocompromised), it’s likely still best to get your 2nd booster as soon as possible. Omicron BA.5 is everywhere, and the OG booster is still really good. A new study of health care workers in Israel found a 65% reduction in the risk of testing positive for Omicron for those who had 4 compared to 3 doses of vaccine (link below).
We also don’t have any assurances that the updated vaccines will necessarily be a good match to what is circulating in the fall, so waiting may not necessarily mean better protection. Age is still the strongest risk factor for severe COVID and death, so if you are over 50 (and especially over 65) and it’s been more than 6 months since your last dose, the sooner the better for your booster. We are likely to fall into an annual pattern of COVID vaccines updated for circulating variants (similar to flu vaccines), so you will still have your chance to get an updated formula in the future (and probably even later this winter).
For those under age 50 who are not eligible, it looks like you’ll need to hang tight a bit longer. But the FDA expects to make 2nd boosters available to those 12 and over as soon the updated doses are available from Pfizer and Moderna (and reportedly for younger children shortly after that).
UK booster update:
In the UK (home of this Nerdy Girl), 2nd boosters were offered this past spring only to those ages 75 and over. The Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recently decided to offer additional boosters in the fall (or autumn, as we say here) for those over age 50 (and others who fall in a vulnerable category). They are reviewing the data but have not yet stated whether the autumn booster campaign will use the original or an updated bivalent vaccine. For more UK booster information, click here.
We know the booster advice has been confusing at times, and it’s likely to take a bit more time before we fall into a more predictable rhythm as with annual flu vaccination.
For now, boosting is still an important way to reduce your risk of both COVID infection and serious disease. Whether it is now or in the fall, don’t pass up your shot!
Stay safe, stay well.