Editor’s note: This Q and A answers islanders’ questions about the new Omicron-targeted booster vaccine and has been edited for length. Read the full report, which also includes VashonBePrepared’s recommendations for isolation periods if you get COVID, and the latest COVID statistics for Vashon, in Spanish or English at tinyurl.com/yan39zeh.
When and where can I get the new Omicron-targeted booster vaccine?
Many healthcare providers are already vaccinating, although initial shipments of vaccine have been small.
Vashon Pharmacy’s online vaccination appointment portal, bit.ly/VashonPharmacyVax, has opened for limited appointments inside the store while the initial vaccine supplies last.
The island’s healthcare providers all plan to do vaccinations, so check with them for their latest information. Mainland pharmacies and healthcare providers, such as CVS, Walgreens, Kaiser and Multicare, are also offering appointment slots.
In addition to these options, VashonBePrepared will work with its partner Vashon Pharmacy to conduct high-volume vaccination clinics by appointment on weekends in October and possibly into the month of November.
Will the new booster keep me from getting COVID?
The COVID vaccines have a strong track record among millions of cases for keeping patients out of the hospital and preventing death — this new booster is expected to extend that protection. We hope this booster targeting the current Omicron variants will protect against infection. However, it’s too early to know for sure the degree of infection protection it will provide. Also, many months of vaccination efforts have taught us that individual immunity levels vary widely depending on several factors.
Since the vaccine can’t give 100% infection protection, what else can I do?
All the things we have been doing since the pandemic hit still work very well. Mask, especially if you will be indoors with people, particularly if you can’t be sure that they have been taking COVID precautions. Test before gatherings. Keep some distance in a crowd.
Also, keep a running check on your personal risk situation.
Are you up to date on all your boosters? Have you gained some immunity by recovering from COVID?
But keep in mind that immunity from both vaccination and natural immunity fades over time, so how long has it been since those things happened?
What is your risk of exposure from family members, work, and school?
Are you a senior, which increases the chances of serious illness?
Do you have health problems such as heart or lung disease, or are you immunocompromised as a result of illness or medical treatment?
What if I’ve recently had a COVID vaccination, or recently had COVID?
FDA and CDC experts say you must wait two months after your previous vaccination or three months after contracting COVID. That will help you get the maximum benefit from the new Omicron-targeted booster vaccine. Some people say they will wait a few extra months to time their immunity boost for later, because COVID risk may peak in late fall and winter when there’s likely to be an increase in cases as cold weather brings people indoors and people gather for the holidays. The decision on timing, ultimately, is a personal decision based on your personal risk situation, balancing these considerations.
Are there age, citizenship or other requirements for the new boosters?
You must have your primary vaccination before getting the new booster.
People ages 12 and older are eligible for the new Pfizer Omicron-targeted booster. The lower age limit is 18 for the Moderna Omicron booster. The upcoming October mass vaccination clinics here on Vashon will serve 18 and over only, but planning is underway for school-based vaccination clinics in October as well.
For people ages 12 and older, the primary vaccination series consists of two doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax vaccine. People ages 18 and older who previously received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also considered to have completed their primary series and should get the Omicron booster.
You do not need to be a U.S. citizen or provide a social security number or other documents with your immigration status to get the vaccine. Some vaccine providers might ask for a social security number, but you do not have to give one.
Should I get the Pfizer or Moderna Omicron booster?
Studies and experience have shown that the previous cautions about sticking with the same COVID vaccine for boosters no longer apply. In fact, to stretch supplies and serve as many people as possible, you won’t be given a choice at the upcoming mass vaccination clinics here on the island. Instead, you’ll receive the vaccine that’s on hand on the day you come in.
Is it okay to get my seasonal flu vaccination at the same time I get my COVID booster?
It’s highly recommended, easy, and will save you time to do both at once. We will be providing flu vaccinations at our COVID vaccination clinics. You must sign up in advance for the flu vaccine as an add-on to your COVID booster — no last-minute flu shot decisions, as we must keep things moving at these high-volume vaccination clinics.
Will I have to pay for the booster or flu shot?
All COVID and flu vaccinations through the mass-vaccination clinic are being provided at no charge to the patients and no one will be turned away, though the Pharmacy will attempt to recover its costs from those who have insurance.
I heard that the Omicron-targeted booster has only been tested in mice. Is it safe?
The mRNA vaccines we have been using for the last one and a half years of the pandemic are safe. Millions of doses have been given in real-world clinical settings. Animal testing has been used for years to test each new formulation of seasonal flu vaccine.
This strategy is an attempt to get vaccines targeting currently circulating strains into arms as quickly as possible.
Human testing would take many months, while animal studies can be done very quickly.
This is important, given that we have seen wave after wave of new variants surge in and make people sick. Until we have another major vaccine breakthrough, we’ll likely see a new COVID vaccine formulation periodically tune the vaccine to the latest variants, while using the same ingredients and technology as the original version.
Why rush this booster without human testing?
Each year of this pandemic we have seen a winter surge of COVID infections.
Until now, our only vaccine tool was formulated around the original COVID virus; since then, a dozen variants have evolved to evade natural and vaccine-induced immunity. This new booster targets the dominant form of COVID we face today, Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.
One of the major technological achievements coming out of the pandemic has been the mRNA vaccine that makes it possible to quickly optimize the vaccine for whatever variant hits us.
The hope is that targeting of specific strains will provide better and perhaps longer-lasting protection against infection.
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