Last week the FDA authorized a new “bivalent” COVID-19 mRNA booster vaccine made by the Pfizer and Moderna companies that contains components of the original strain of the COVID-19 virus as well as the newer BA4 and BA5 omicrons strains. While the original Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines released in 2020 will continue to be indicated for use in the initial COVID-19 vaccine series, this new bivalent vaccine will be used exclusively for all subsequent booster doses currently with indication for ages 12 and over.
“We continue to support COVID 19 vaccination as the best method to combat the pandemic and are convinced that vaccination has saved millions of lives,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs and Section Chief Emeritus of Infectious Diseases. “It should be stressed that as with the existing vaccines they will not prevent all breakthrough infections and therefore cannot be considered a ‘game changer’ in ending the pandemic.”
It is important to note that data used by the FDA and CDC in their recommendation of the bivalent vaccine is currently based on studies performed on mice. Human studies are underway with preliminary data expected next month.
“If the human studies support the mouse studies, the bivalent booster vaccines will further reduce the potential severity of the omicron variant and may reduce the infectivity potential,” Jahre said.
As with the original mRNA COVID vaccines, St. Luke’s infectious disease experts have no major reservations of the bivalent vaccine’s safety, Jahre explained. However, before strongly endorsing the use of bivalent booster vaccination, St. Luke’s infectious disease experts prefer to have its efficacy potential verified by the preliminary data of the human studies.
When to consider the bivalent booster vaccine will also depend on your recent vaccine or infection history. St. Luke’s infectious disease experts feel that most individuals who had a verified COVID-19 infection or a booster vaccine dose after June 1, 2022 will likely have adequate protection against the omicron BA4 and BA5 variants for at least 4-6 months and can safely wait that long before considering a bivalent booster dose.
As always, individuals should consult their primary care physician for advice that best suits their unique circumstances. For those that are eligible, the bivalent vaccine will be available through St. Luke’s primary physician offices.