The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has authorized a more flexible COVID-19 booster schedule for individuals at the highest risk of infection.
Older Americans and people with weak immune systems, who continue to experience the highest hospitalization rates from COVID-19, now have the option to receive an additional dose of the most up-to-date formula – a second “bivalent” Pfizer or Moderna booster.
Dr. Sara Oliver, a CDC representative, spoke before the agency’s advisory panel, which expressed support for the change, stating that while many people are experiencing vaccine fatigue, there are subsets of the population eager to receive additional doses.
Following the FDA’s recent steps to make the vaccination process simpler for everyone, individuals receiving a Pfizer or Moderna dose, whether for the first time or as a booster, will receive an updated version of the vaccine.
It is important to note that anyone who has received their original vaccinations but hasn’t had an updated booster yet can still receive one. However, only 42% of Americans aged 65 and above, and 20% of all adults, have received an updated booster since September.
Individuals who are 65 or older and have already received one Pfizer or Moderna updated booster may receive another one as long as it has been at least four months since the last shot. The schedule is slightly different for individuals with weak immune systems, who may choose to receive a second Pfizer or Moderna updated booster at least two months after their first dose. Furthermore, they may also receive additional doses at the discretion of their physician.
The new leeway for boosters has been implemented to accommodate individuals with varying levels of frailty and health. While older adults continue to have the highest rates of hospitalization from COVID-19, a frail 85-year-old may want another booster right away, while a robust 65-year-old may not see the need for one or may instead time another shot for peak protection ahead of a summer vacation or other special event.
The changes bring the US in line with Britain and Canada, which are also offering certain vulnerable populations a spring shot. It is a reasonable choice, according to Dr. Matthew Laurens of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who stated, “We do have vaccines that are available to protect against these severe consequences, so why not use them? They don’t do any good just sitting on a shelf.”
The FDA will hold a public meeting in June to determine whether the vaccine recipe requires further adjustments to better match the latest coronavirus strains, as is done every year with flu vaccines. This discussion will also address whether younger, healthier individuals require a booster. The updated Pfizer and Moderna shots presently used target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions, which have since been replaced by an ever-changing list of omicron descendants. Nonetheless, these updated doses continue to do a good job fighting severe disease and death, even against the newest variants.
It is important to note that the youngest children are the least likely to be vaccinated, with just 6% of 2- to 4-year-olds having received their initial COVID-19 shots, and 4.5% of those under two years old. The CDC’s advisors expressed disappointment in the low numbers of vaccinated children. Tots under 5 who have not been vaccinated can receive the most up-to-date formula – two Moderna shots or three of the Pfizer-BioNTech version. Unvaccinated 5-year-olds can receive two Moderna doses or a single Pfizer shot. Tots already fully or partially vaccinated may receive a bivalent shot or two, depending on their vaccination history.
Novavax produces a more traditional type of COVID-19 vaccine, and its original formula remains available for individuals who do not want the Pfizer or Moderna option.