COVID Isn't Over, So Get Your Booster, Buster!
President Joe Biden's impromptu comments on "60 Minutes" Sunday, when he said, "We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over," has caused understandable consternation among public health experts, who point out that COVID-19 is still very much killing people. But let's be clear: Those were comments in a TV interview, not an official policy, and the public health emergency declaration remains in effect. That said, we won't be getting into the politics around Biden's comments in this piece, because we're focusing on the actually pretty damned impressive news about the new booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer, as reported in the New York Times and elsewhere.
Let's start with the TL;DR version instead of saving it for the end: It's a safe, very good booster that offers enhanced protection against the Omicron variant, as well as against the basic version of the coronavirus, so if you are eligible to get the new booster, you probably should! Both the Pfizer and Moderna formulations will greatly decrease the risk of serious illness or death.
And now let's hop into the details; if you have questions about this stuff, ask your doctor or medical provider, not some random dope on Twitter.
New Kind Of Booster, Better Protection
The important thing about the new booster is that it's "bivalent," meaning it contains genetic information that will help your immune system recognize the original strain of the virus that's been around since 2019, as well as the Omicron variant and its subvariant BA.5, currently the most common source of new infections nationwide. As New York Timescolumnist Zeynip Tufecki 'splains, that means the new booster
will provide a better response to the most threatening variants today but probably to future variants, too, because when the immune system faces different versions of the same virus it generates broader protections overall.
This is terrific news, and there’s more. Not only will a booster with the new vaccines decrease the likelihood of infection and severe illness and help reduce transmission of the virus; it could also decrease the likelihood of developing long Covid.
That last is an important thing to keep in mind, because even though, overall, cases of Omicron have tended to be relatively mild —but no picnic — especially for people who've been fully vaccinated, the risk of long COVID is there for anyone who gets infected. ANYTHING that reduces the risks of long COVID is an important development.
And the new Omicron Brew of the bivalent vaccine really does significantly boost the body's immune response against Omicron. The University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reports that a new study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in a comparison of people given Moderna's bivalent booster versus a group given the older "monovalent" booster designed for the original virus, antibody levels against Omicron were significantly higher for the folks who'd gotten the bivalent booster. Also, compared to the monovalent booster, the new boosters provided "greater binding antibody responses" against other known variants (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta). The researchers wrote that the new boosters "may be a new tool in the response to emerging variants" — which is pretty awesome, but you gotta get the shots into arms for that to work.
So Who Should Get The Boosters?
Colorado Public Radio has a really good FAQ on the new boosters. The Moderna bivalent booster is available for anyone aged 18 and up, and Pfizer's bivalent booster is approved for ages 12 and up. Formulations for younger kids will no doubt follow after more clinical trials. For either one, you need to have completed at least your initial COVID-19 vaccination (two shots of the Pfizer, Moderna, or the newer Novavax vaccines, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson).
You don't need to have had a previous booster to get the bivalent booster, so if you only have the initial round of vaccination, go ahead and get the bivalent booster. But you do have to have completed the first full vaccination, so if you've never been vaccinated at all you aren't eligible for the new booster yet. Get that first full vax, and hey, how have you been reading Wonkette and not gotten vaccinated, you?
If you're an older adult or have any of the serious risk factors for COVID, get your ass boosted. Not literally; it should go in your arm.
How Soon Should I Get The New Booster?
The CDC recommends getting boosted after you're two months out from your most recent booster or completed first round of vaccination.
What If I've had COVID-19 recently?
We're going to be careful and copy the Colorado Public Radio bit on this so you have the straight dope:
Right now, the recommendation is that you can get this booster as soon as you are symptom-free and out of the five-day isolation period (or 10 if illness was moderate, according to the CDC). However, usually we recommend you wait two months or up to three months. New data shows that there is some benefit to waiting three months after that infection, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not.
What About Planning The Booster Closer To Holiday Travel?
The main thing to remember is that the booster won't be fully effective until two weeks after you get the shot, so if you know you have a big group event coming up, make sure you're boosted at least two weeks before traveling. Wear a mask on the plane anydamnway.
BUT! As CPR notes, putting off getting boosted means that the longer you're out from your last shot, the more the immune response will have degraded. If you're more than three months out, you may want to consider not putting it off, because COVID is still killing around 400 people a day. As the nice radio doctor says, "The virus is still circulating and infecting a lot of people. So if it’s convenient and you have the chance, go now."
What About Combining The Booster And A Flu Shot?
Go for it; it's safe to get both the same day. The side effects of the bivalent boosters are roughly the same as with other COVID vaccines — and possibly milder than with the initial vaccine series. If you only want one sore arm for a day or so, it's safe to get both the booster and your flu shot in the same arm.
Hey, Where Are We On COVID Funding?
Republicans are still refusing to support new funding for COVID vaccines, research, and distribution, so that is a great deal of suckage. The good news is that the federal government purchased 170 million doses of the new bivalent boosters, so your booster should still be free. To keep them available through the rest of the year, we really do need a new goddamn COVID funding bill.
I'm Sold! Where Do I Find Me A Booster?
Click right here for the Vaccines.Gov Vaccine Finder to find vaccines in your area.
So go get boosted if you're eligible, OK? We like you a lot and want you to stay healthy so you can keep enjoying all the stupidity and dick jokes!
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.