DENVER, Colo. — For the first time since the pandemic began, COVID vaccines are getting an update, and the White House is encouraging all eligible Americans to get the new booster shot.
“This is certainly the greatest invention of our time to be able to produce a vaccine that's safe and effective this quickly,” said Dr. Larissa Pisney, an infectious diseases physician at UC Health in Denver, Colorado.
Pisney is an infectious disease specialist, and she and Dr. Ross Kedl, a professor of immunology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, explained the updated boosters use the original vaccine plus some added proteins to protect against omicron BA.4 and BA.5.
“Very little is actually different. All the things that were in them before are in them again,” said Kedl.
The original vaccine formula has been extensively tested in humans, but the booster including the BA.4 and BA.5 variants has only been tested in mice.
Both Dr. Pisney and Dr. Kedl said that is not a concern.
“It's not like starting fresh with a new vaccine. Bivalent vaccines have already been tested and we have clinical safety data for previous strains of COVID,” said Pisney.
Kedl says these new boosters are like flu shots: the base formula is used year after year and doctors add new proteins each season to protect against the strain impacting most people.
“If you're a person who gets a flu shot every year, well, then every time you've been getting it over the last three years, it's never, it's never been tested in humans each year,” said Kedl.
And this year, doctors are encouraging people to get the COVID booster and flu shot at the same time.
But, Pisney said to wait at least two months from your last booster or a COVID infection.
Both doctors said everyone above the approved age is encouraged to get a shot.
The new Pfizer booster is approved for ages 12 and up.
The new Moderna booster is approved for those 18 and up.
“Most people don't want to get sick, and most people don't even want to get infected. So, if both of those things apply to you, then I would say, go get a booster,” said Kedl.
If you haven't been vaccinated at all, these new shots are not meant to be your first shot.
This booster can only be used after a set of the original two COVID shots.
And if you're wondering if you really need another shot, both experts say yes.
“The best thing that we all can do is get vaccinated,” said Pisney.
“There's no obvious reason why one more injection has any significant safety risks associated with it. Whereas a COVID infection or SARS-cov-2 infection or COVID, there is still some risk. Even when you've been vaccinated, there still is a risk of long COVID,” said Kedl.
Kedl said if more people get this vaccine, there's a chance the virus will mutate less by next year.
“By a collective effort, we will make sure that we don't have to do every six months on this, and that's where we'll move into. So, if your big concern is ‘I'm tired of getting shots,’ well, maybe do one more and let's see if that's the path to getting less shots, ironically, for the time being, is to get at one more,” said Kedl.