The new omicron-targeted COVID-19 booster shots may be shipping Friday, but aren’t expected to be widely available until after the Labor Day holiday.
The first updated COVID-19 booster doses — also known as “bivalent vaccines” — from Pfizer and Moderna won quick approval this week from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be ready for another potential COVID-19 surge this fall.
Here’s what you need to know:
Who can get an omicron booster shot?
- Teens and adults who have been fully vaccinated for at least two months. Fully vaccinated means having received the first two doses of the original Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the recently approved Novavax vaccine, or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that’s no longer recommended for most people.
- Teens and adults who have waited at least two months since their most recent booster shot.
- Pfizer’s omicron booster is authorized for people 12 and older.
- Modern’s omicron booster is authorized for people 18 and older.
What’s different about these booster shots?
- Besides the original strain of COVID-19, the new booster doses now offer protection against two versions of the original omicron variant of the virus, which drove cases to record-breaking levels last winter. The subvariants, labeled BA.4 and BA.5 by scientists, currently account for nearly all COVID-19 cases in the United States, along with BA.4.6.
- Anyone eligible for the updated omicron booster shots can no longer receive an original booster dose. Appointments to get the original dose may need to be rescheduled.
- Original booster shots will remain available for those 5 and older who aren’t yet eligible for the updated dose.
Where can I get an updated booster shot?
- Most places, including throughout Utah, ended mass vaccination efforts earlier this year. COVID-19 vaccines are available from private providers, many pharmacies and local public health agencies, although it may take a little time before they have the updated booster shots.
- Utah ordered more than 100,000 doses from the federal government last week and all have been claimed by doctors, pharmacies, local health departments and other providers, so the state is “sold out on round one,” said Rich Lakin, immunization director for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.
- While Lakin said “Utahns should be able to access vaccinations soon after Labor Day,” he urged Utahns to “please be patient as providers begin to receive the updated booster doses and update their systems to reflect current inventory.”
- The Salt Lake County Health Department said in a tweet Friday that appointments to get the new booster shots for free at county health department clinics “are now available starting on Tuesday, Sept. 6. To make an appointment, visit us at SaltLakeHealth.org or call 385-468-7468.”
- Intermountain Healthcare advised patients to wait until the week after next before contacting their doctors about getting the updated booster shots. Lori Abeyta, a clinical specialist with Intermountain Healthcare said some doctors offices could be getting their first doses by the end of next week while others may take longer. “We expect to have it in the majority of our clinics within a few weeks,” Abeyta said, adding that primary care offices are where the region’s largest health care provider is offering the shots.
- A list of vaccine providers is available soon through coronavirus.utah.gov or vaccines.gov.
Which updated booster shot should I get?
- It doesn’t matter, experts say. Both the Pfizer and Moderna omicron booster shots are available to anyone eligible, no matter what brand of vaccine they received for their initial vaccination series or any other booster doses. “From your body’s immune system perspective, it doesn’t remember which brand it is,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times.
- “They are interchangeable,” Abeyta said, except for the age requirement. “There’s no preference between one over the other. They should just get the one that they’re able to easily attain.”
- Both updated booster doses are safe and effective, Abeyta said, even though they were approved before human trials have been completed. She said the update to the COVID-19 booster shots is “very similar” to how annual flu shots are changed to reflect the strains that are circulating.
- Side effects should be the same as with the original vaccine, Abeyta said. “The majority of people may get a little bit of a fever, a little bit of a sore arm. It varies from person to person, but those are the typical side effects that most people will see,” she said.
Why is another COVID-19 booster needed?
- As fall approaches, experts worry about another surge of COVID-19. Last year, Utah and other mountain west states were the nation’s hot spot for the virus. And during the early months of 2022, hospitals struggled to keep up with patients hit by the highly transmissible original omicron variant.
- “We encourage all Utahns to stay up-to-date on their immunizations. As fall approaches, it’s important that you have as much protection from vaccine-preventable illnesses like flu and COVID-19 as possible,” Utah’s state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said.
- Nolen warned flu cases could be rising at the same time. “Data from the Southern Hemisphere suggests the flu season may hit us hard this winter; at the same time, we expect transmission of COVID-19 to increase,” she said. “The updated COVID-19 vaccine can help protect us all.”
- Just like before, people can get the updated COVID-19 booster dose and this year’s flu shot at the same time, Abeyta said. “Personally, that’s what I would recommend. But it will be up to the patient if they would like to do it together or wait in between.”