What a difference a week makes!
Just last week here on the AgingOptions Blog, we shared this story from Kaiser Health News noting the confusion surrounding the second COVID booster shot. The question millions of eligible Americans – already vaxed and boosted once – are asking themselves is, with new variants attacking and infecting the population to the tune of some 130,000 new cases per day, when is it wise to get that recommended second booster? Should we do it now or wait for a new “vaccine cocktail” that better targets those COVID variants?
Now here we are, barely a week later, and it appears we may have a solid answer – at least, we can all hope so. As this HealthDay article reports, the Biden Administration has just announced that new and improved booster shots are coming sooner than expected – as early as September, the article claims. This news could help bring sone clarity to the boost-now-or-boost-later question and give the procrastinators some fresh ammunition.
Both Pfizer and Moderna Say They’ll be Ready
According to the article, Americans can expect new and improved COVID boosters as early as mid-September. “People close to deliberations say that the Biden administration plans to offer a booster campaign with new formulations because the makers of the primary vaccines used in the United States — Pfizer and Moderna — have said they can deliver the new doses by then, the New York Times reported.”
For many, this is good news. But the article is quick to note that younger Americans, not yet eligible for the second booster of the original vaccines, will now have to wait until fall.
Medical Experts At Odds on Preferred Strategy
The question of “vax now or vax later” is not without contention on both sides. While some in the administration have been pushing for expansion of the current vaccines—to combat the rampant and highly contagious strains of Omicron—others are throwing their support behind strengthening immunity for the potential, but likely inevitable, autumn/winter surge.
White House experts Dr. Ashish Jha and Dr. Anthony Fauci are among the loud voices calling for expanded boosters now. “I think there should be flexibility and permissiveness in at least allowing a second booster of the original vaccine for younger Americans,” Fauci said in a recent interview. In their view, more people should immediately become eligible for the boosters that are already available.
But according to the HealthDay article, officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would rather focus on a fall campaign with more clarity in their messaging. The FDA and CDC are apparently the ones pushing for an accelerated roll-out of the new booster formula, with the implied suggestion that it might be worth waiting for.
“Millions of Doses” Just Weeks Away – We Hope
As HealthDay reports, both Pfizer and Moderna – the largest vaccine producers for the U.S. market – have promised to deliver millions of vaccine doses by mid-September, despite the lack of data about the new boosters’ effectiveness against the contagious new strains.
The article notes that there are voices within the federal government continuing to recommend that eligible people get their second booster now, not later. The trick is timing. The article states, “Some [experts] are concerned that people do not get their booster doses too close together, in part because the second may not work as well in close succession to the first.”
As virologist Shane Crotty told HealthDay, “You can’t get a vaccine shot August 1 and get another vaccine shot September 15 and expect the second shot to do anything. You’ve got so much antibody around, if you get another dose, it won’t do anything.” It’s the same pattern that shows up with tetanus or flu shots. Crotty added, “The antibodies [in the first shot] stop that next dose from working.”
There’s another frightening downside of back-to-back boosters. Getting two booster doses too close together has also been associated with the risk of myocarditis, a rare heart-related side effect in young men.
Public Shows Signs of “Vaccine Fatigue”
In spite of the good news that the new, improved formula is almost here, there’s another factor at work: the public resistance to vaccines and vaccine messaging. The article states, “There is also worry that the public may grow weary of multiple shots, as evidenced by the fact that there is less uptake of shots with each dose. Nearly half of eligible people got a first booster, but only 30 percent have received their second booster, CDC data shows.”
Still, the Biden administration is going ahead with contracted purchases of the reformulated vaccine doses from both Pfizer and Moderna, and once the new boosters are widely available, all adults—and possibly children—could be eligible.
As a reminder of the stakes, the article concludes on this somber note: “Meanwhile, BA.5 continues to spread, causing more deaths and hospitalizations, especially among the elderly. It now accounts for nearly 82 percent of all new cases, according to the CDC. New cases now number about 130,000 a day, but those numbers may be much higher because people taking home tests may not report their cases.”
Translation: in spite of COVID Fatigue and the general perception that we’re all tired of talking about it, the virus is still very much with us – and precautions including updated boosters seem to us like common sense. We’re counting the days until mid-September.
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(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)