Two weeks after the federal government signed off on covid-19 booster shots targeting the most dominant strains of the virus, clinics and health care providers in Southwestern Pennsylvania have begun offering the shots to eligible recipients.
The newly authorized bivalent vaccines are updated boosters that specifically target the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the omicron variant.
The Moderna bivalent vaccine has been authorized for anyone 18 and older who is at least two months removed from their most recent shot. The Pfizer bivalent vaccine was authorized for anyone 12 and up who is at least two months removed from their most recent dose.
Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen urged anyone who is eligible to get the vaccine.
“Getting vaccinated and boosted against covid-19 is the most effective way to protect yourself from serious illness or death from the virus,” Bogen said Tuesday.
UPMC plans to start rolling out information on scheduling bivalent booster doses, and AHN has begun scheduling bivalent boosters. Excela Health in Westmoreland County is not administering any covid-19 vaccines but offers a portal through which patients can find a vaccine provider.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease and critical care expert, offered his thoughts on what people should know about the new shots, including whether they should get their annual influenza vaccine at the same time.
Question: Should people who are getting their next covid booster get a flu shot at the same time, or is it too early for a flu shot?
Answer: “For flu vaccines to be maximally effective they have to provide protection throughout the season. In general, I recommend individuals get vaccinated around late October. There is data that shows that flu vaccine effectiveness wanes through the season, which traditionally peaks in February.
“Preferably, people should get flu vaccinated at the most impactful time. However, if the only time someone can get a flu vaccine is now it’s better than not getting one at all.”
Q: What makes this booster different than previous ones? What should people know about it?
A: “This booster includes protection against the BA.4/BA.5 omicron variants in addition to protection against the ancestral strain of (covid-19).”
Q: Should children who had particularly adverse reactions to the vaccine, including myocarditis, get a booster?
A: “In general, I think that boosters should be targeted toward those most likely to benefit and, when it comes to pediatric populations, I think only high-risk children will have a major benefit from boosting. In children who have had myocarditis, sufficient time has likely passed since their last vaccine dose to minimize that risk.”
Q: The latest boosters have not been tested on humans. How do we know they’re safe?
A: “The boosters use the exact same technology as all the other vaccines and there is no biological reason to believe there’s a safety concern with them.”
Q: Should everyone get the latest booster?
A: “Again, I believe boosters benefit those at elevated risk for severe disease such as the elderly and those with comorbid condition. These groups are where the updated booster is likely to be most beneficial. As such, I recommend high-risk people (especially those never boosted) to get boosted. For the general healthy population, the benefit is likely to be marginal and transient (like with the prior boosters).”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .