Updated COVID vaccine boosters are now available


Updated COVID-19 vaccine boosters are now available to the public.

The updated boosters are designed to strengthen defenses against Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. The Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer’s bivalent option for people 12 and older while Moderna’s is for adults only.

“The novel coronavirus has changed over time, with many new variants, including Omicron,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement.

“These bivalent boosters for the first time are tailored to a circulating variant,” she added. “I encourage all eligible New Yorkers to take advantage of this advance and contact their health provider, visit the local pharmacy, or call their county health department to get this booster as soon as possible.”

How much benefit the booster will bring is unclear. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 1,400 people have been included in several studies of a prior tweak to the vaccine recipe targeting an earlier omicron strain named BA.1. That omicron-targeting combo shot proved safe and able to rev up virus-fighting antibodies, and European regulators on Thursday recommended using that type of booster.

In the U.S., the FDA wanted fall boosters to target the currently circulating omicron strains. Rather than waiting until possibly November for more human studies to be finished, the agency accepted mouse testing that showed the newer tweak sparked a similarly good immune response.

That’s how flu vaccines are updated every year, the CDC noted.

In New York, people can schedule a booster appointment, healthcare provider, pharmacy, or county health department. They can also visit vaccines.gov, text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations for the booster.

The updated booster’s availability comes at a time when medical experts say the virus has grown better and better at getting around immunity from vaccination and past infection. Scientists point to emerging research that suggests the latest omicron variant gaining ground in the U.S. — BA.4.6, which was responsible for around 8% of new U.S. infections last week — appears to be even better at evading the immune system than the dominant BA.5.

Scientists worry the virus may well keep evolving.

Meanwhile, news of the updated boosters come as New York State has made masking optional in settings where they were previously required. Those settings  include public transportation, in for-hire vehicles, at airports, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and detention centers.

Masks will continue to be required at adult care and health care facilities regulated by the state Department of Health, and in clinical settings regulated by the Office of Mental Health, Office of Addiction Services and Supports, and Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

In the weeks ahead, the CDC also indicated that it expects to recommend updated COVID-19 boosters for younger pediatric groups, as well. Until then, the monovalent mRNA Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine remains authorized for use as boosters in children ages 5 through 11 and for all primary series vaccinations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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