With increasing cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 all over the world, all-new booster vaccines have recently been developed to combat the new variant.
There are currently two options for the Omicron strain booster, which protect against both the original strain of COVID-19 and against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron, qualifying them as “bivalent.” The Moderna booster is available to people who are 18 years old and older while the Pfizer booster is available to those 12 years old and older.
It is important to remember that the new vaccines are boosters, which means a person must already be administered the original series of vaccines before receiving the new booster. This booster can only be administered 2 months after the previous vaccine, as well.
Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, the Northeast Georgia Health System’s Medical Director for Infectious Disease, spoke about the importance of the new booster to combat this strain of COVID-19.
“The vaccines are available to the public now, both the Pfizer and Moderna booster,” Mannepalli said. “I highly recommend people to go out and get this vaccination because we’re going into fall and winter and we’ve seen these surges in cases due to flu season and people being in close quarters to stay warm during the cold seasons.”
Dr. Mannepalli also says that if you are 12 years old or older and have not already received the original COVID-19 booster vaccine, you should only get the new “bivalent” booster instead. Dr. Mannepalli continues seeing COVID-19 patients on a daily basis and continues to urge everyone to stay safe even when they’re unsure if they have symptoms.
“Whether it is schools, colleges or work, anyone can still get infected anywhere,” Mannepalli said. “I remember that whenever I see anyone with a sore throat or muscle aches, I tell them that COVID is still the most common disease in the community and urge them to get a PCR test or a home test, at least.”
Medical professionals at Mercer also agree with Mannepalli. Dr. Lynn Denny, the Director of Campus Health, says that Mercer students should do what they can to stay safe and get vaccinated with the new booster.
“I do think that the new COVID-19 bivalent vaccines will provide more immunity for people who get them as our immunity wanes over time after receiving the original vaccine series or after having a COVID-19 infection,” Denny said. “The vaccines will not prevent everyone from getting COVID-19; however, if a vaccinated person does end up getting COVID-19, it prevents them from getting a severe case of the virus.”
Denny would like to remind students that Mercer’s Campus Health in Macon now has the Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech bivalent COVID-19 vaccines and will start administering them in October. The Atlanta Campus Health location also has the new Moderna bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and North Central Health District (NCHD) also recommend everyone stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, which now includes the new boosters for those that are eligible.
Michael Hokanson, the Public Information Officer & Risk Communicator for NCHD which covers public health for 13 counties in central Georgia, also thinks it is important for those still considering the new booster vaccine to consult with their medical practitioner.
“We encourage everyone to speak with their primary healthcare provider for a personalized opinion,” Hokanson said. “It is always important to get feedback from a provider that knows your medical history, especially if you have had previous reactions to vaccines, or experienced chronic health issues.”
Hokanson also emphasized staying safe as the vaccine does not mean complete immunity against COVID-19.
“There is still not a large body of data on the efficacy of the new bivalent boosters,” Hokanson said. “We continue to encourage everyone to take steps to protect themselves and others as vaccination is not enough.”
Hokanson asks that those sick stay home and take time to recover before going back to work or school. Hokanson and NCHD agree that while guidance for quarantine and isolation has changed quite a bit, they continue to ask everyone to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 safety guidelines.
For those at Mercer, bivalent COVID-19 boosters are available at all 13 NCHD county health departments, and most health departments across the state. For those looking for where to get vaccinated, there are many healthcare locations available for vaccination.