Who should get the Omicron amplifier? Here’s what the experts say.


The Omicron booster will protect against BA.5 and BA.4 as well as the original strain of the coronavirus. (Getty Images)

COVID-19 booster shots targeting the highly contagious Omicron variant — which managed to infect 90 million people worldwide in just 10 weeks — are around the corner.

The boosters are expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before Labor Day, with the vaccines available shortly after the holiday.

Both the new Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna new enhancers target Omicron’s BA.5 and BA.4 subvariants. Currently, BA.5 is the most common variant circulating in the US, responsible for nearly 90% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here’s what you need to know about the Omicron amplifier and who should get it, according to the experts.

How is the Omicron amplifier different from the previous amplifier?

In short, the redesigned booster will provide a wider range of immunity, including better protection against Omicron variants.

When the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, was identified, “there was a specific spike protein against which the vaccine was developed,” said Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, an infectious disease physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. he tells Yahoo Life. “Since the launch of the COVID vaccine, we’ve gone through many variations of concern, most recently Omicron.”

Omicron has 37 mutations in the spike protein, making it better at avoiding protective antibodies from current vaccines or previous infections from the original strain of the coronavirus. While current vaccines hold up well against hospitalization, severe disease and death, “they do not elicit a high antibody response against the Omicron subvariants, the most prevalent variant circulating worldwide, leading to possible immune escape,” said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s Omicron boosters are “bivalent” vaccines, meaning they protect against the Omicron BA.5 and BA.4 subvariants and the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. “The goal of a COVID vaccine designed against the Omicron variant is to provide better protection against infection than the currently circulating variant,” says Sobhanie.

Do we really need an Omicron amplifier?

Yes, experts say, as Omicron targeting boosters offer greater protection against the highly contagious virus.

In general, the goal of the new boosters is both to elicit a stronger immune response to current variants and to neutralize future variants, according to the FDA. “The thought now is: How can we develop a vaccine that targets the circulating variant that is capable of preventing infections rather than preventing serious disease?” says Sobhanie. “It will be interesting to see the data on how well the Omicron-specific boosters will be at preventing disease and how long that protection will last.”

Who is eligible to receive the new booster?

Pfizer has sought FDA approval for its Omicron booster for people 12 and older, while Moderna’s is for people 18 and older. “So it’s possible that anyone who meets these age restrictions will be eligible for the updated vaccine,” says Weatherhead.

Newer pediatric groups are expected to follow. According to the CDC’s fall vaccine planning guide, “at least one bivalent vaccine for children 11 years of age and younger may be approved within a short period of time” after bivalent vaccines are approved for children 12 years of age and older.

The CDC also says that Omicron boosters will be available to those who have, at least, already completed a primary course of COVID-19 vaccines.

Even if you had a second amp, though, experts say you can still get the Omicron amp. However, it is not yet known how soon after receiving an initial booster shot, people will be eligible for Omicron targeting.

When is the best time to get the Omicron amplifier?

Research shows that while protection from hospitalization remains strong with booster vaccines, protection from infection wanes over time, which is typical of vaccines in general. So there’s some question about whether it’s better to get the Omicron booster as soon as it’s available, or to delay it a bit – say, until October – to have better protection during the winter when another surge of COVID is expected . But experts recommend talking to your healthcare provider first, as they’ll factor in both your personal health risks and infection and hospitalization rates in your community.

“Right now there are areas where there are peaks and valleys of COVID circulation,” notes Sobhanie. “People should talk to their primary care doctors to see when it’s best for them to get a booster, depending on how prone they are to developing serious disease.”

Will there be more boosters in the future?

Don’t be surprised if there are more redesigned boosters on the way. As the virus continues to spread and mutate, new boosters may be needed to fight new variants, similar to how flu vaccines are reformulated each year, depending on which flu viruses make people sick before flu season. .

“As the virus mutates and develops new variants, previous mRNA vaccine variants targeting ancestral SARS-CoV-2 strains will not be as effective,” explains Weatherhead. That’s why he says it’s “important” that scientists are able to quickly tailor COVID vaccines that “target the most prevalent circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus to provide the greatest possible protection.”

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