Texas Family Medicine September 2022 Blog
As of September 1, 2022, both CDC and the FDA approved the use of a new COVID vaccine for protection against new Omicron COVID variants and the original virus. Like the flu shot, pharmaceutical companies will likely produce new COVID vaccines each year as the virus mutates. Here are some facts about the new COVID vaccine organized in a Q&A format.
Who should get the new COVID shot?
The recommendations say that the new shots are for anyone twelve years and older. You can wait 2-3 months if you have had a COVID infection or have recently been vaccinated with the old COVID vaccine. If you are older than 50 or have an immunodeficiency (diabetes, kidney disease, HIV) you should get two new bivalent boosters, though I don’t know yet how far apart these should be given. If you haven’t yet received the original vaccine, you should get it first, both doses, before taking the new one. Here is a link to a CDC website tool that will help you know what is recommended for you.
Who makes them and what do they protect against?
There are two shots, one by Moderna and the other by Pfizer, just like the original vaccines. They are reformulated but the makers use the same vehicle and RNA technology. Half of the shot provides original virus protection and the other half induces antibody production against the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, the two most prevalent circulating viruses. Since it protects against the old and new virus variants the producers call it a bi-valent vaccine.
Are they safe?
Yes, for the most part. Each company tested 600-800 people, half receiving the new vaccine, and the side effect profile mirrored the original vaccines. More than half of the study participants experienced fatigue. The other symptoms were arm pain, headache, muscle/joint pain, and chills. There were no serious side effects in either trial which included people from all age ranges.
Most of us know people who had serious side effects from the original vaccine: lung involvement and myocarditis in young men were the two most common. If the original vaccine subjected you to a more serious side effect, you should discuss with your physician whether or not to receive the new vaccine.
Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) is a well-documented vaccine side effect. It is important to keep in mind that almost all people who suffered from it recovered completely and risk of cardiac involvement from virus infection is 1.6 times to 2 times higher than the risk from being vaccinated.
Do they work?
Yes. The studies showed that antibody levels against Omicron spiked markedly within 6-8 weeks of receiving the vaccine. That’s all we know for sure about the new vaccine, but that is a powerful indicator of their potency.
Studies of the effectiveness of the old vaccine showed that compared to people who were never vaccinated, those who received at least one dose of the original vaccine were 4.6 times less likely to be hospitalized and 8 times less likely to die. The new vaccines will, in my opinion, be remarkably protective against severe COVID.
Researchers believe the boosters will provide six months of protection.
Can I get the flu vaccine at the same time I get a COVID booster (new vaccine)?
Yes. For our patients, we recommend getting vaccinated against flu and COVID no later than the end of October. You can get them at the same time or separated by a week or more. I’ll likely separate them (when I get vaccinated) by a couple of weeks to minimize the uncomfortable side effects.
Are we expecting a bad flu season?
Yes, but that’s just a prediction based on southern hemisphere experience. Australia’s flu season hit hard and early this year. Our flu season characteristics most often mimic Australia’s.
Where can I get a new COVID vaccine?
Our office will have them before the end of September, 2022 most likely. We already have the new flu shot in-house. Your insurance will cover the COVID vaccine. Insurance plans vary on flu shot coverage.
So what do you think, Dr. Byrd?
The old COVID vaccines caused some major side effects for a small percentage of people but prevented a lot of hospitalization and death. Since the new COVID vaccine is based on the same technology I recommend it unless you had a bad reaction the first time around.
As always, we support our patients whether or not they decide to get vaccinated for flu and COVID.