Arizonans can get the new COVID-19 omicron booster as soon as next week
Arizonans can expect to line up for the new omicron-aimed COVID-19 booster shot as soon as next week, now that the vaccines have been approved for deployment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The shots, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, were granted emergency authorization by the FDA on Wednesday, in recognition of the variant’s high rate of transmission and an anticipated infection surge in the coming months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Thursday signed off on the approval from the agency’s independent vaccine advisers that recommended an updated coronavirus vaccine booster this fall.
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Arizona has pre ordered 35,400 doses, which will arrive soon, said Eugene Livar, the Arizona Department of Health Service’s chief of epidemiology and disease.
The new boosters are called “bivalent” shots because they combine protection from the original strain of COVID-19 virus and the BA.4 and BA.5 mutations, which are subvariants of the omicron strain. The Pfizer version has been approved for those 12 and older and the Moderna version can be given to everyone 18 and older. The CDC noted in a news release that it expects to approve the boosters for younger age groups in the next few weeks, as more data becomes available.
“Updated COVID-19 boosters add Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein components to the current vaccine composition, helping to restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination by targeting variants that are more transmissible and immune-evading,” the CDC said in its announcement.
The pandemic is ongoing, and more than 1 million Americans have died from the coronavirus and another 95 million have been infected.
CDC guidance states that those who have been infected with COVID-19, can get a booster following recovery from symptoms, but can defer a vaccine booster up to three months following infection.
There’s a recommended 2 month gap between the new booster and previously received vaccines, meaning that newly vaccinated Arizonans will have to wait. In Arizona, 75% of residents have received at least one dose and 63% are considered fully vaccinated, having received both initial doses.
If someone has received an original two-shot vaccine from either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, they can wait five months before getting their first booster shot.
For the second booster shot, the CDC recommends that those who are immunocompromised and people over the age of 50 who got their first booster, wait at least four months before getting another booster.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement that the updated COVID-19 boosters are “formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variant.”
“They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants,” she said. “This recommendation followed a comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion.”
Arizona ranks near the bottom for booster vaccinations, at just over 19%. Health officials hope the updated round of vaccines will encourage people to get boosted – especially as infection rates are likely to kick up in the fall.
“These updated boosters present us with an opportunity to get ahead of the next predicted wave of COVID-19. These updated boosters are critical in helping protect teens and adults from the most serious outcomes of COVID-19 caused by the currently circulating variant,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf.
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, explained that the boosters are critical new tools to keep future infection rates down because antibodies from the last infection surge in the summer are dwindling.
“In Arizona, we’re in a substantial down-swing in hospitalizations. And I expect we’ll stay there for a while, until the antibody immunity wanes a little towards November and December. It boils down to community antibody levels,” he said.
New confirmed cases in the state have fallen from a weekly average of more than 2,800 in mid-July to slightly more than 1,200 a week. But the omicron variant remains among the most transmissible variants, simply because that’s how viruses work, said Humble. A successful virus spreads quickly and mutations make that possible. The new booster addresses this by marrying the old vaccine recipe — which is effective at keeping mortality and hospitalization rates low — with additions that target the omicron variants, which will dampen the transmission rate.
The state has seen a reduction in hospitalization rates from COVID-19, Livar said, but Arizonans should still get the new booster.
“Getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of illness. It can help keep you out of the hospital and help make sure those resources are available for others if needed. And you cannot only protect yourself but others by getting vaccinated. It’s just like putting on your seatbelt,” he said.
To ensure the reductions in hospitalization, death and infection rates don’t reverse course, Livar said, Arizonans need to take preventative measures by getting boosted.
Older Arizonans are a group that could especially benefit from the new booster. Overall hospitalizations have fallen, but there have been some notable increases in hospitalizations among those 65 and older during the last wave of infections.
“We have a strong interest in encouraging older individuals to get boosted. While deaths have moderated, older individuals are at the greatest risk, along with the immuno-compromised,” Livar said.
While officials hope the new booster lowers infection rates for the rest of the season, the future of COVID-19 vaccines is ongoing. Livar compared it to the flu, saying Arizonans should be prepared to pencil in an annual booster along with their flu shot from now on.
“We have to live with the possibility that booster doses and vaccination will be common moving forward,” he said.
States Newsroom D.C. Bureau reporter Ariana Figueroa contributed to this story.