What to Know About the Bivalent COVID-19 Booster

In recent weeks, U.S. health officials have authorized bivalent boosters for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.

  • On Aug. 31, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Moderna booster for people 18 and older and the Pfizer booster for people 12 and older. On Sept. 1, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommended the new boosters.
  • On Oct. 12, 2022, the FDA authorized the Moderna booster for children 6 and older and the Pfizer booster for children 5 and older. The CDC followed by recommending the booster for the younger age groups.

According to the new COVID-19 booster recommendations, eligible people can receive the bivalent booster at least two months after completion of a monovalent primary series or previously received monovalent booster dose(s).

Here’s what to know about the new boosters.

What Is the Bivalent Booster?

The new boosters are “bivalent” because they target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant as well as the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The original COVID-19 boosters protected against the original strain of the coronavirus. The bivalent booster protects against the original virus as well as the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants first emerged in late 2021 and spread quickly. They became the dominant form of the coronavirus in the United States in the summer of 2022. The subvariants are more transmissible and could more easily evade antibodies from previous vaccines and boosters.

The bivalent booster targets the “spike” protein for both the original strain of the coronavirus as well as BA.4 and BA.5. The goal is to create antibodies specifically against BA.4 and BA.5, providing stronger protection against the subvariants. This protection will likely also offer protection against new/emerging variants similar to or deriving from BA.4 and BA.5.

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Who Is Eligible for the Bivalent Booster?

Americans age 5 years and older are eligible for the Pfizer bivalent booster. Americans age 6 years and older are eligible for the Moderna bivalent booster. The original monovalent COVID-19 booster is no longer authorized for those age groups.

You can get the bivalent booster even if you have received one or more doses of the original COVID-19 vaccine.

Children under age 5 are not yet eligible for the booster dose. They may become eligible for the bivalent booster in the future.

When Can I Get the Bivalent Booster?

You can receive the bivalent booster two months or more after your previous vaccine dose. For people receiving their initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, that means you can get the bivalent booster two months or more after the final dose of your primary vaccine series. For people who have received boosters, you can get the bivalent booster two months or more after your most recent booster.

People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised also can get the bivalent booster at least two months after their previous vaccine dose.

If you recently had COVID-19 and are vaccinated, you can get the bivalent booster when you are well — as long as two months have passed from your previous vaccine dose.

Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about whether you can get the bivalent booster. You also can use the CDC’s online tool to determine if you’re eligible.

Which Bivalent Booster Can I Get?

If you are between the ages of 5 and 6, you must get the Pfizer bivalent booster.

If you are age 6 and older, you can receive either the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent. It doesn’t matter which manufacturer you received for your previous vaccine and booster doses.

Where Can I Get the Bivalent Booster?

Individuals who meet the criteria can schedule a COVID-19 bivalent booster by calling their primary care office. If you are not an adult, you can ask someone to contact a provider. Ask if they offer the COVID-19 bivalent booster.

You also can get the bivalent booster at pharmacies and other locations. For information, visit Vaccine.UPMC.com or Vaccines.Gov.

Is the Bivalent Booster Safe?

The bivalent booster is safe and has a safety profile similar to other doses of vaccine.

The most commonly reported side effects after a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trial participants were pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. It also can cause short-term, flu-like symptoms like:

  • Tiredness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Chills.
  • Joint pain.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm where you got the injection.
  • Fever.

These symptoms are often minor and go away within a couple of days. The booster went through extensive safety evaluation during clinical trials.

UPMC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older and boosters for all who are eligible. The vaccine has consistently shown to reduce the risks of serious complications of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.

Sources

Dani Blum, New York Times, What to Know About the New Booster Shots. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Recommends the First Updated COVID-19 Booster. Link

Food and Drug Administration, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccines for Use as a Booster Dose. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.