The updated COVID-19 boosters offer protection against contagious Omicron subvariants, are FDA-authorized, and are widely available to Americans as young as 5 and 6. But not many people have gotten them. The CDC estimates that less than half of vaccinated Americans have received their first COVID-19 booster, let alone one of the new bivalent vaccines.
What gives? Well, some people are just tired of getting — and hearing about — COVID shots. Others might be concerned about timing the booster right (think: for the holidays). And in some cases, there could be a lack of education or trust in what the booster is and does. With the threat of a possible “tripledemic” (of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV) this holiday season, the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci wanted to address those concerns. So, we sat down with him to answer some questions about the newest COVID boosters (which, BTW, President Biden just got).
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID - Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.
Most people haven’t gotten the COVID booster. Is there data to support getting the new bivalent vaccine?
Yes, according to Dr. Fauci. He said the data shows vaccinated people are less likely to get as sick — or sick as often — from COVID, compared to unvaccinated people. And he pointed to more facts and figures that support the decision to get boosted:
People who are boosted once “have much better protection” against COVID-19, than people who just had the initial vaccine, according to CDC data.
Recent clinical studies showed that a similar bivalent booster (for BA.1) produced a higher immune response when compared to the original COVID vaccine. Important, because — as Dr. Fauci explained — immune response is typically a good predictor of how much protection a shot provides.
Another reason he said you might want to get the new bivalent vaccine: It’s formulated to provide protection for the BA.4 or BA.5 variant, which “is still the dominant variant that’s circulating throughout the country.”
As for FDA data on exactly how protective the new bivalent boosters are — those figures should be available soon, he said. The new boosters are out there already, Dr. Fauci said, because that’s the best way to offer protection ASAP against the changing virus. The flu vaccine goes through a similar process every year.
"If you wait for clinical data, guess what, flu season is over ... and you haven't vaccinated anybody," Dr. Fauci said.
Right now, there are Pfizer and Moderna bivalent boosters available. Is there a difference?
Research shows that mixing and matching vaccines can be a good idea, but Dr. Fauci said you can go with either one. “They're equal,” he said. “I don't think people should worry and hang up about whether or not you got a Pfizer or a Moderna. … Get the one that's most easily and conveniently available to you.”
What should I know about boosters if…
I just had COVID…Wait three months before you get boosted. “That’s what I did. I got vaccinated on the Colbert show. … No regrets,” Dr. Fauci said.
I just got a different COVID shot a few months ago…“Wait two months from your [last] vaccine” to get boosted, Dr. Fauci said.
I’m worried about side effects…The updated shot’s side effects are the same as the original vaccine’s, he said, referencing bivalent vaccine reaction data. Think: possible sore arm, fever, etc.
I also want a flu shot…Get them at the same time, or get them separately — either way is fine, Fauci said. Although, he added, it might be wise to get them simultaneously so that you can protect yourself from getting sick before you find time to get the other shot.
I want to time it so I’m at top immunity for Thanksgiving…Get boosted at least two weeks before your meal. “Because you get a good response at two weeks, [and immunity] probably peaks at a month,” Dr. Fauci said.
I just don’t want any more shots…Dr. Fauci said to get the updated booster to “protect yourself and your grandparents,” even if you’re tired of getting shots and hearing about the pandemic. “It's understandable that as a population we are fatigued with COVID [and] that we wanna be rid of the virus, but the virus doesn't seem to wanna be rid of us.”
The turnout rate for the new COVID-19 boosters is low. But with the potential for a “tripledemic” this fall and winter, you might want to consider getting jabbed to protect yourself and your family during the holidays.
Subscribe to Skimm Well
Sign up here to receive our wellness newsletter filled with actionable advice, expert-vetted content, product recs, and more — delivered directly to your inbox.