05
October
2022
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15:00 PM
America/New_York

Ohio State News Alert: New COVID-19 vaccine boosters and flu shots available

Medical expert answers questions about bivalent booster

The new COVID-19 booster adds protection against both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the omicron variant. Shots are now available at The Ohio State University’s Student Health Services and the Wexner Medical Center. Influenza (flu) vaccines are also now available at Student Health Services and the Wexner Medical Center. Information about scheduling the COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine is available on the Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website.

In a new video, Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, assistant professor of medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, answers some common questions about the new COVID-19 bivalent booster shot.

Individuals can receive the new COVID-19 booster two months after completing any primary series or any previous COVID-19 booster dose.

  • The Pfizer bivalent booster is approved for people who are 12 or older.
  • Those between the ages of 5-11 may continue to receive the age-appropriate Pfizer monovalent booster.
  • The Moderna bivalent booster is approved for people who are 18 or older. 
  • Student Health Services and the Wexner Medical Center are currently offering only the Pfizer booster due to manufacturer shortages of the Moderna booster.

Complete guidance on COVID-19 vaccine dosing and timing can be accessed via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Q &A with Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie

Why should people get the booster? What’s the benefit of one more shot?

Early on in the year when the FDA was discussing boosters, they wanted a booster which would target the predominant variant at the time. At that time, it was the omicron variant, but it was an offshoot of the omicron variant called BA.1. And they saw that patients who ended up getting vaccinated developed a robust immune response. [The] goal of the booster is that when COVID … may hit hard this fall and winter, that there is a level of protection that may wane if you got sick beforehand.

How does the booster work? How is it different?

As we’ve gone through multiple variants, the alpha, the delta, now the omicron variants, we realize that we need a vaccine that’s targeted specifically to these variants. So right now, the predominant variants that are circulating is omicron, specifically BA.4 and BA.5, [and] the vaccine should be tailored for those variants themselves.

Will it protect me from getting COVID? Will it protect from serious illness or both?

For some people, it will provide protection from getting infected. That being said, nothing is 100%. We do know that even without the current iteration of the booster, the vaccines are incredibly safe. They’re effective at keeping people out of the hospital. There’s still a lot of COVID that’s circulating, and there’s probably a lot of COVID that we’re not counting because of home tests. But we still have a vulnerable patient population that we have to worry about: those who are immunocompromised, those who are pregnant, those who can’t mount an immune response. So we want to make sure that they’re vaccinated. We want to make sure everybody else is vaccinated and boosted because it will prevent the vast majority of infections, but not all infections. We know that it will keep you out of the hospital, we know it will keep you from becoming severely ill.

How long will it offer protection?

So when we talk about protection, there are two things that we look at. Your immune system isn’t an on or off switch. When you get vaccinated, your body is getting a blueprint against COVID. So what it will do is that it gets the vaccine, it’ll take the vaccine, it’ll make antibodies against that infection, in this case, COVID. And those antibodies will circulate anywhere from three to four months in your system. And after time, they wane down or they go down. [However] your body, your immune system has a backup plan and … blueprints. If you were to be reintroduced to COVID again, it can build the antibodies up specifically. So where does the booster come in? The booster now gives you not only the original strain of the COVID infection, but it also gives you that BA.4 and BA.5 variant. Now your body not only has a blueprint for the original strain – it also has this newer blueprint for the new COVID variant that is circulating.

After the shot, how soon will I receive the enhanced protections?

Your body should produce antibodies pretty quickly, anywhere from seven to 14 days.

When should people get the booster? Are there advantages to waiting?

The current CDC recommendations are that if you have finished your primary series or received your last booster, within two months. So two months after you’ve received it. For people who have gotten infected with COVID, you can wait up to three months before you get your booster vaccine.

Is there advice for specific populations that differ from the general recommendations for adults? Is there different guidance for immunocompromised or high-risk people?

We know patients who are immunocompromised, they’re not going to build up … as robust an antibody response as somebody who has their immune system intact because they’re missing the pieces to build the antibodies up. There is a medication, or a monoclonal antibody, called Evusheld, and it’s what we’re recommending to our patients, where it’s actually the antibody that you get and it circulates for about six months. Those patients should still also be up to date on their vaccine status and be boosted because even though their immune system is suppressed and they may get infected with COVID, we are not seeing the disease severity as we were once before. However, you need to be up to date on your vaccine status. The other thing, too, is for patients who are immunocompromised, definitely keep a bunch of home tests on hand because if you test positive, we have treatment now, we have monoclonal antibodies; we have another medication called Paxlovid.

Are children eligible for the boosters?

Anybody under the age of 12 right now is not eligible. I believe Pfizer and Moderna have submitted their data to the FDA for review.

If you’re healthy and not immunocompromised, does it make sense to wait to get the booster?

You should get the booster as soon as you’re able to get the booster. The reason being is that we’re all busy, so if you’re at your doctor’s office or you’re at your local pharmacy or somewhere they’re giving it, don’t wait. If you’re eligible for the booster, go ahead and get it when you can. The reason why is it’s like the flu shot – we always say, “Get the flu shot at the first available time that you can.” Because … we’re all busy, we’re all going to forget.

Do you recommend getting the new booster and the flu shot at the same time?

There’s no reason why you can’t get both shots at the same time. You do have to be aware that there can be side effects because your body is developing an immune system. So common things that we saw in the early vaccine, or anybody who’s gotten a COVID vaccine, there’s going to be pain at the site, there’s going to be some tiredness and fatigue, but there’s no reason why you can’t get both shots.

Is there a reason to mix and match COVID shots? Should your booster match the kind of vaccine you had in your primary series or previous booster?

There’s no advantage to mixing and matching one COVID shot over the other. That being said, you can mix and match. If you’re at a place where, let’s say, you got Moderna and Pfizer is available, you can go ahead and get the Pfizer booster and vice versa.

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