Your Questions About the Omicron Booster- Answered
At the beginning of September, the CDC and FDA recommended new booster shots specifically targeting the covid-19 Omicron subvariant.
We’ve answered your most common questions below.
Do I really need another booster shot?
Short answer, yes.
Long answer, also yes. While it may seem like the days of the coronavirus pandemic are far behind us, the opposite is actually true. We are still in the thick of it. Every day, 314 Americans die of Covid-19 infections. That’s a jumbo-jet full of patients that die every 24 hours in the US. Moreover, in the last week, 70,0000 were infected and 4,600 people were hospitalized.
As winter rapidly approaches, we should expect covid cases to spike again, as the cold weather impairs our immune system and forces people to spend more time inside. Researchers are expecting the covid surge to be exacerbated by the relaxed restrictions and the naturally waned abilities of the original vaccinations. Further, Australia’s early and vigorous flu season, one of the worst in the last few years, has raised warning flags for a significant surge in both flu and covid cases in the US this winter.
Okay, but why do I need another booster?
The more time that passes from your original vaccination and first booster shot, the fewer covid-19-specific antibodies your immune system has. This means that you’ll have a harder time fighting off a coronavirus infection if you come into contact with it.
Further, the viral landscape looks very different from the last time you were vaccinated. Now, around 90% of covid cases in the US are Omicron subvariants- BA.4 and BA.5. While these mutated strains may be less life-threatening than the original strain, they spread faster than previous variants. Moreover, the more the virus mutates, the less effective the original vaccine will be at protecting the body from the virus.
That’s where the newest boosters come in. This updated booster will provide you with more protection against infection and “maximal protection” against severe disease, hospitalization, and death. Similar to the previous vaccines, the new booster uses mRNA technology to prepare your immune system in the case of infection. The key difference is that the new booster is “bivalent”- meaning that half the shot is designed to protect you against original covid strains, while the other half is to protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants.
The new booster is able to protect against multiple strains by enabling the body to create two different kinds of spike proteins. These two new spike proteins will allow the immune system to recognize and fight off both the Omicron and original coronavirus variants. Essentially, this new bivariant vaccine should be able to bolster the immune system to fight off present and (hopefully) future variants.
Why wasn’t the bivariant vaccine tested on humans?
The new booster wasn’t tested on humans due to fears of an anticipated surge in cases in the fall and winter. The strict deadline meant that human trials wouldn’t be ready in time, as they are both timely, costly, and difficult to conduct. So, scientists instead turned to mouse studies.
However, this is not cause for alarm. While yes, this is the first coronavirus vaccine that has not been tested on humans, researchers used evidence from human clinical trial data from earlier boosters and empirical safety data from the millions of Americans who received the other vaccinations. Moreover, testing vaccinations on mice is common practice. Using mice is actually the regular approach for flu vaccines. Every year, the updated version of the flu shot is only tested on mice before being released to the general public.
So, the lack of human testing should not worry you or cause vaccine hesitancy. If anything, it’s a sign that the covid-19 vaccine is moving towards an influenza-style vaccination program, with annual shots tailored to fight off the newest variants.
Who is currently eligible for the new booster?
Americans aged 18 or older can receive the Moderna booster, while those aged 12 and older can receive the Pfizer booster, as per the CDC guidelines. However, there is no available booster for children aged 5-11.
Unlike the original two-shot vaccination in which you could not mix and match with Pfizer and Moderna, it does not matter which booster you choose. Fully vaccinated adults can receive either one of the two boosters.
What are the side effects?
Early reports indicate that the side effects from the omicron booster shot are very similar to those of the previous vaccinations. The most commonly reported side effects include:
Pain at the injection site
Joint and muscle pain
Skin redness and swelling at the injection site
Unfortunately, we’re not in the clear just yet. You should still be taking all necessary steps to optimize your health to protect yourself against a future coronavirus infection.
The Johnson Center recommends a multi-faceted plan to obtain optimal health- encompassing biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans. To learn more, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at email@example.com or call 276-235-3205.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!