Getting Answers: updated COVID-19 booster shots

More than 3 weeks after the rollout of the updated shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report fewer than 2% of adults have actually gotten it.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 10:37 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Americans appear to be in no rush to get the new COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

More than 3 weeks after the rollout of the updated shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report fewer than 2% of adults have actually gotten it.

Western Mass News is getting answers from doctors on who should get the new boosters and how they could prevent another winter surge.

The new Moderna and Pfizer booster shots are a combination, or ‘bivalent shot,’ containing half the original vaccine recipe and half protection against the more prevalent omicron variants.

“So, it’s adapted to the circulating strain of COVID that makes it very powerful and it also makes it very effective against COVID today,” said Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Paul Burton.

Dr. Burton told Western Mass News that the booster will broaden people’s immune response and be more protective against the BA.5 and other omicron variants now circulating.

“People who are eligible should definitely get it, no questions about that,” said Mercy Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Asha Dhamija.

Dr. Dhamija is steadfast in recommending the new boosters to everyone who is eligible.

Those 12 and up can get the new Pfizer shot, and those 18 and up can get the Moderna shot. You must have had the primary vaccine series and should wait 2 months after your last booster and 3 months after COVID illness.

“This vaccine has been used in 800 million people around the world,” Dr. Burton told us. “It’s very safe and extremely effective. People should feel confident to go and get it.”

Dr. Burton said that although 68% of Americans are considered fully vaccinated, only a third are boosted, and far less have the updated shot at a critical time.

“I think the timing is perfect,” he said. “We know in Europe, in the UK, even here in America now, cases are starting to rise again. There are other variants on the horizon, so getting this shot now, you can also get it with the flu shot, if you want to, at the same time, makes perfect sense.”

Dr. Dhamija also advised getting both shots at the same time.

“Actually, the recommendations are to do both together if possible because, as we said, we might see some higher surge of influenza this year,” she said.

Side-effects should be similar to what you experienced with earlier vaccines — headaches, fever, and body aches — but Dr. Burton said that they could be less intense this time around.

“The data we have seems to show that, in fact, the rates of fever and achiness, those kinds of things we associate with vaccines, are actually a little bit lower with this booster compared to earlier shots, so I think that’s good news,” he said.

Two and a half years into COVID-19′s deadly spread, President Biden said last week that the pandemic is essentially over. The World Health Organization said that the end is in sight, but both doctors we spoke to said that we are not there quite yet.

“The hope is that we are towards the end and getting to an endemic level,” Dr. Dhamija said. “Tough to say that we will never see COVID again. I’m not comfortable saying that, but yes, something like flu that we will be living with.”

“All of us really want to put COVID behind us, but this is a virus that’s here, I think, it’s here to stay,” Dr. Burton added. “It continues to mutate, and we do now have these great, very effective, safe, updated vaccines that will protect us. Now is the time to get boosted.”

On Monday, both Pfizer and Moderna asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve their updated coronavirus boosters for children, but those currently too young to get an updated shot can still be boosted with earlier versions of the vaccine.