In less than two weeks, you can walk out of the drugstore with the next generation of COVID-boosted in your arm. Just a few days ago, the Biden administration indicated that the first updated vaccines for COVID-19 would be available Shortly after Labor Day For Americans 12 and older who have previously participated in the initial series. In contrast to the shots that the United States has now, the new doses will be from Pfizer and Moderna bivalentwhich means it will contain genetic material based on the ancestral strain of the coronavirus and on two newer sub-variants of Omicron circulating in the United States.
The new formulation of these shots promises a certain level of protection that was not possible with the original vaccines. “A bivalent vaccine will have some benefits for almost everyone who gets it,” Rishi Joel, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania told me. “How useful that is, we’re still not entirely sure.” People who aren’t at high risk can end up with more marginal protection from severe outcomes, and no one thinks the shots will eliminate COVID infection. for good. However, there is a simple rule nearly everyone can follow to maximize the uncertain gains from a shot: Wait three to six months after your last COVID infection or vaccination.
Put this rule into practice, and it will play out a little differently, depending on your circumstances.
If you do not have an omicron infection:
If you haven’t had COVID since around November 2021, the advantage of a bivalent booster over the original formula is clear, and as long as you haven’t had the booster recently, there’s every reason to get the new booster right away. (If you are You have Boosted in the last few months, it’s possible that your antibody levels are too high for a new shot to do much for you.) Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told me that Americans who have already gotten three or more doses ” Possibly maxed out the protective power” of the original shots. By contrast, bivalent vaccines offer something new to those who have so far escaped Omicron: a lesson on the spiky proteins in the BA.4 and BA.5 sub variants, which will help your immune system fight the real thing should it make it into your body. body. “I am very excited to get the bivalent vaccine,” says Gina Gotthmiller, an immunologist at the University of Colorado who has not yet contracted COVID. “I think it would be really nice and put my mind at ease a little bit.”
If you have an omicron infection:
Veterans with Omicron infection may still have something to gain from seeing elevated BA.4 and BA.5 proteins — especially if your goal is to avoid COVID at all. After a certain number of shots, the effect of the boosters on long-term protection against severe disease was unclear, Joel told me. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me he doesn’t plan to get a booster shot all this fall because after three doses of the vaccine and an infection, “I think I’m protected from the risk of disease.” But if you want to stave off infection, Joel said, “bivalent vaccines, or any vaccines that contain a variant, have real value.” That’s because formulas based on a specific variant have been shown to temporarily increase your stock of antibodies that target that variant.
How long this extra protective condition lasts, or whether it is enough to prevent any infection at all, remains a scientific mystery. The original boosters were shown to increase antibody levels to a peak about two weeks after the injection, and then steadily decline over the next three months. We don’t yet know if the bivalent formula will change that timeline, Joel said.
But you can still use it to estimate when your protection will be roughly at its highest. You might, for example, choose to err on the first side of your three- to six-month schedule if you have a high-risk event coming up in the next few weeks. “If all we had was the original booster and I was going to an indoor wedding or something, I think it would make sense to get that boost,” Bieber said.
If you suffer from omicron infection this summer:
“You’re still riding the wave of antibodies you produced as a result of that infection,” Guthmiller told me, so the shot isn’t going to do you much good yet. This is true no matter what Omicron subtype you may have, she said, because BA.2 infection has been shown to be Fairly good protection against the strains prevalent today, BA.4 and BA.5. (BA.2 became dominant in the US in March.) Joel said the severity of your illness doesn’t really matter either. A high fever and severe cough may indicate that your immune system is overheating, but they could easily mean that your body needs more help responding to the coronavirus, he said. Either way, once more time has passed, getting the bivalent vaccine can help extend your body’s memory of your last encounter with COVID, and keep infections at bay.
If you are at high risk:
Should get certain groups of people Which Booster once it was available to them, the experts I spoke to assured me: Immunocompromised people, people over the age of 50 or so, and people with medical conditions that put them at risk for serious illness. If you fall into one of those categories and don’t get all the boosts you qualify for, “I wouldn’t wait for bivalent,” Offit said. For people in these high-risk categories who have already received the recommended number of boosters, you should get the new booster as soon as it becomes available to you. (The FDA and CDC have not yet indicated whether they will recommend a waiting period between your most recent shot and the bivalent booster.) Joel recommended waiting at least a month after your last injury or shot, but if you’re very concerned about it. Your risks, you do not need to extend the delay to three months. Your body may still have additional antibodies floating around, but without a practical way to widely validate, “I am frankly in favor of recommending a boost as a way to maximize individual benefits,” he said.
If you want to wait and see:
Waiting is always an option if you want to learn more about how bivalent vaccines perform. The FDA and CDC are set to give the green light for the shots based on human data from existing and other experimental bivalent boosters that haven’t made it to market in the US — as well as trials of the new formula in mice. Pfizer and Moderna aren’t far ahead in their human trials. While there is no reason to doubt that the new shots wont Be safe, Offit recommended opting for original boosters until more safety and efficacy data is available, which could be as soon as two months after application begins — as long as vaccine makers or the government collect and make this information public. But Guthmiller and Goel said they weren’t concerned about the lack of human data, and a bivalent shot is almost certainly the best bet.
There is one important reason to avoid waiting too long for the bivalent snapshot: it offers the greatest protection against infection than the sub-variables that are already built around it. BA.4 and BA.5 may be with us during fall and winter – or they may give way to a different branch of Omicron, or even a completely different variant of Omicron. You would definitely be better off against this new alternative with a divalent booster than no booster at all. But if you want to maximize your anti-infective armor while you own it, consider putting it up against an enemy you know.