bivalent COVID-19 boosters

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health, Family Health | 28 days ago

Updated COVID-19 Boosters are Here

You may have heard that bivalent or "updated" COVID-19 boosters are now available, but what does it mean? What if you already got a booster? What if you just had COVID-19? And what makes this such a big deal for our community? Dr. Katie Passaretti, Atrium Health vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist, explains what they are and who should get one.

This information is up to date as of September 8, 2022.

The COVID-19 vaccines available on the market are safe and effective, particularly at preventing severe illness due to COVID-19. We know that getting a booster helps boost your immune system response, to protect you even more against the virus. Now, a new bivalent booster that’s even more targeted to the strains of the virus that are currently impacting our community is available. The Pfizer and Moderna bivalent vaccine boosters have been authorized by the CDC and FDA (Pfizer for ages 12 and up, Moderna for ages 18 and up). There’s no change to the shots given for the primary vaccine series or for boosters for children ages 5 to 11. Dr. Katie Passaretti, Atrium Health vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist, explains how this new weapon will give us even more protection against COVID-19. 


Need to Know: Updated Boosters 

  • Bivalent, or “updated” boosters provide broader protection against current circulating COVID-19 variants, as well as the original strain.
  • The CDC and FDA have approved new boosters for everyone ages 12+. (Pfizer for ages 12 and up, Moderna for ages 18 and up).
  • Most people can get them right now. It just has to be two months since your last shot. If you recently had COVID-19 you can still get a booster whenever you want but because you have some short-term protection, you may get the most benefit by waiting at least three months.
  • It’s okay to mix-and-match with the new booster – Pfizer and Moderna both have one.
  • You can get it at the same time as your flu shot. 

The concept of a bivalent vaccine isn’t new. Most flu vaccines we get each year offer protection against more than one strain. In fact, flu vaccines are quadrivalent these days, offering protection against four strains at once,depending on what strains are anticipated to have the most impact on the community. The new COVID-19 vaccine was produced using the same technology. 

These vaccines are called bivalent because they are made up of two parts,” Dr. Passaretti explains. “They provide protection from the original COVID-19 strain that we saw at the start of the pandemic, but then they’ve been updated to also include protection against an omicron specific strain. Omicron and its subvariants are what we’re seeing most in the community right now.

These bivalent COVID-19 vaccines give us broader and more updated protection, which will help reduce hospitalization and strain on the health care system through the winter cold and flu season and help keep our community healthy

“We’re anticipating an active flu season this year,” Dr. Passaretti says. “Combine that with COVID-19 continuing to circulate in our community and the fact that many people have stopped wearing masks and the other behaviors that have protected us during the pandemic, and we have a lot of concern about what we will see during the upcoming winter months. The booster couldn’t have come at a better time.”

When Should I Get an Updated Booster?

The good news is most people can get an updated booster right now

Most people will be eligible to get the updated booster in late September or early October – before we hit the stride of respiratory viral season,” Dr. Passaretti says. “It just has to have been at least two months since your last shot – whether it was a booster or finishing your primary vaccine series.”

One group that may have some slightly different guidance is people who have recently had COVID-19. 

“People who have had COVID-19 recently can wait three months after the infection to get their next booster,” Dr. Passaretti says. 

It’s also important to note that the updated booster has been approved for Emergency Use Authorization for use in people ages 12 and older. That means younger children who are eligible for a booster will receive the original formula. 

“Make no mistake, the vaccines are still effective,” Dr. Passaretti says. “And the original booster will still provide significant additional protection for children ages 5 to 11-years-old who are eligible to receive it. Kids under 5-years-old can’t get a booster – yet. But the most important thing for everyone, no matter what, is to get the shot.”

Mix-and-Match

Much like with the original boosters, mixing and matching is just fine for the updated boosters. In fact, Dr. Passaretti says, it could even be a good thing.

“Getting a booster of whichever type is most important,” she says. “There may even be some mild benefit from mixing and matching – your immune system may get more of a jolt and offer a bit more protection. But the bottom line is, get the vaccine you have access to and that you and your provider are comfortable with.”

COVID-19 and Flu Vaccines

Also good news, you can save time by getting your COVID-19 booster and your flu shot at the same time. 

“Your arm might be a bit more sore, but it’s absolutely safe to get them at the same time,” Dr. Passaretti says. There is no concern about diminishing the protection from either or about additional side effects. You might feel bad for about 24 hours, but then, for most people, it’s done. And you’ve given yourself a huge boost of protection just in time for fall.” 

It'll take about two weeks for full protection to kick in, so you don’t want to wait too long to try to time out your booster with when we may anticipate the next COVID-19 surge. . We anticipate supply of the bivalent booster will rapidly ramp up and allow for everyone who wants one to get the shot, so you don’t have to worry about rushing to your physician immediately to get the booster. Dr. Passaretti recommends getting the booster sometime in the next 8-10 weeks. 

Atrium Health is working hard to make the new boosters available as soon as possible. Appointments will be available for scheduling starting on September 14, 2022 at AtriumHealth.org/COVID19vaccine or by using MyAtriumHealth.