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New COVID Vaccine Bivalent Booster Fights Against Omicron Subvariants

Courtesy of Gov. Tom Wolf (Flickr CC0)

A new, reformulated COVID booster vaccination will soon be available in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to launch the vaccines in September to combat the highly contagious Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 on Friday, July 29, 2022. These subvariants account for over 90% of current United States infections for the week ending July 23, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Health experts believe “the bivalent¹ shots will be more effective against the rapidly evolving virus and shield Americans from a potential fall and winter surge,” according to The Washington Post. The FDA’s announcement urged eligible unboosted people not to wait for the bivalent shot. Instead, they should get the current booster injection to improve the vaccine’s effectiveness. They will be able to get the updated shot later.

During the FDA’s fall COVID vaccine strategy, the agency stated it has commitments from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech that their bivalent boosters will be ready for distribution in September. On Friday, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) press release announced the Biden-Harris administration purchased 66 million bivalent doses for use in the fall.

The purchase adds to the 105 million doses the government recently bought from Pfizer. The vaccine manufacturer agreements include the option for 600 million doses (300 each from Moderna and Pfizer). However, additional Congressional funding would be necessary to secure the purchases. This new booster shot retains its original formula and adds components from the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

Courtesy of Gerd Altmann (Pixabay CC0)

These vaccines’ delivery depends on FDA authorization and the CDC’s recommendation. Once the final approval happens, the HHS will receive deliveries beginning in early fall. Secretary Xavier Becerra said: “We must stay vigilant in our fight against COVID-19 and continue to expand Americans’ access to the best vaccines and treatments.” He believes these bivalent booster shots move will ensure the country has the tools needed to stay safe and continue to move ahead.

Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 are 4.2 times more resistant than the earlier subvariant BA.2.12.1. During its evolution, the current COVID variations not only have the two mutations seen in the BA.2 variant but also have four additional alterations. Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reported these changes are similar to those seen in the Delta variant and the original novel coronavirus — SARS-CoV-2. Since the first vaccines and boosters were not designed to fight against these variants, breakthrough infections are likely.

However, with COVID’s rapid evolution, scientists must remain vigilant in their research to quickly identify new strains. The bivalent booster vaccination could improve the outcome against infection and severe consequences. Dr. David Ho, the lead author of Columbia University’s peer-reviewed study, said, “We may need to look toward developing new vaccines and treatments that can anticipate [the] ongoing evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

The CDC continues to recommend that everyone be vaccinated. Everyone six months or older should have both shots offered by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Additionally, everyone five and older should also have a booster shot. Finally, those 50 and older and individuals at least 12 at high risk of severe COVID infections should have a second booster.

As with all COVID tools, vaccines, boosters, and tests, the newly reformulated bivalent booster vaccine will be free to eligible individuals regardless of immigration status or medical coverage.

NOTE: ¹Bivalent vaccines work “by stimulating an immune response against two different antigens, such as two different viruses or other microorganisms,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware


The Washington Post: FDA accelerates booster campaign to September, emphasizes new formula; by Laurie McGinley and Dan Diamond
NBC News: Biden admin plans to roll out updated Covid booster shots in September; by Marlene Lenthang and Kristen Welker
University of Minnesota: CIDRAP: Newest Omicron subvariants can evade boosters, antibody therapies; by Mary Van Beusekorn
HHS: Biden-Harris Administration Secures 66 Million Doses of Moderna’s Variant-Specific COVID-19 Vaccine Booster for Potential Use in Fall and Winter 2022
AAAS: Dominant Omicron subvariants better at evading vaccines, antibody treatments; Dr. David D. Ho, et al.

Featured and Top Image by Sheri Stahl of WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital Courtesy of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Gerd Altmann’s Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License

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