New COVID-19 booster helps protect from omicron variant


Dear Doctors: The new COVID-19 boosters are here, and I’m not sure if, or when, I need to get one. I had the two-shot Moderna series last winter. I had a mild case of COVID-19 this summer. When I got better, I got the booster. Do I still need to get another one? Am I the only one who is confused?

Dear Reader: You are not alone in wondering about the new boosters. The coronavirus landscape has undergone continual change, and it’s not a surprise there’s some confusion.

The modifications to advice about how and when to get a COVID-19 vaccine have been due, in part, to the steep learning curve we faced with this brand-new disease. And when it comes to the new boosters, the basic nature of viruses has played a big role. The good news is that our immune systems learn from each encounter with these pathogens. But because viruses continually mutate, they can stay one step ahead of our body’s defenses. When an altered version of an original virus becomes successful enough to spread widely, it’s known as a variant. And with the emergence of the omicron variant, the original coronavirus vaccine needed a tweak to be more effective.

At this time, more than 90% of new COVID-19 cases nationwide are being caused by infection with the omicron variant. It’s a great relief, then, that a new tool in the fight against the disease is now available. The reformulated boosters, known as a bivalent vaccine, include components of both the original virus strain that triggered the COVID-19 epidemic and the now-dominant omicron versions, BA.4 and BA.5. The result is broader protection against the coronavirus and its most widely seen variant. By staying up to date with the newest vaccine, you have improved protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Elizabeth Ko, MD and Eve Glazier, MD
The FDA has authorized the bivalent formulations of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines -- aka the omicron boosters -- for those who have completed their original two-dose vaccine series. The Pfizer version is available to individuals 12 years of age and older. The new Moderna booster is authorized for everyone 18 years of age and older. Each of these boosters is given as a single-dose shot.

This bivalent booster is recommended to everyone who is eligible, no matter how many previous boosters someone has had. However, there are some requirements when it comes to timing. The FDA set a wait period of at least eight weeks between the last dose of the original booster and getting a shot of the new omicron bivalent version. This is to optimize your immune response, and thus give more robust protection. There’s also a wait period for people who have recently had COVID-19. The FDA and the CDC recommend waiting at least 12 weeks after recovery from coronavirus infection to get the new booster. Again, this is to boost immune response.

And to those of you who have been asking, yes, you can get a flu vaccine and the new omicron booster at the same time.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)