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Bivalent Covid Booster Update: Sept. 3, 2022

The CDC Vaccine Advisory Panel, made up of 14 national experts in infectious disease and vaccine technology, met on Thursday to review the scientific evidence behind the newly formulated bivalent covid vaccines. The committee strongly recommended that all Americans 12 and older receive inoculation with the updated boosters if their last dose was more than 2 months ago. Those who have had a covid infection during the last 3 months should talk to their healthcare provider to decide on optimal timing for their booster. The CDC also reaffirmed that 2 years of careful vaccine monitoring have shown no harm to fertility or pregnancy. As was noted on our Health Department’s web post earlier in the week, 99% of all covid infections since late spring have been the result of BA.4 and BA.5 variants. The new bivalent vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer directly protect against these strains. The vaccines previously available were designed to protect against the original strain of covid. Because of natural mutations in the genetic sequence of the virus over the past 2+ years, 30 regions of the BA.4 and BA.5 viruses differ from the original strain. Those changes in the virus structure have diminished the ability of our antibodies, whether they were generated in response to previous waves of infection or vaccination, to protect us from the currently circulating variants. The scientific discussion on Thursday presented evidence that the new bivalent formulation generates 75-90% greater antibody production against BA.4 and BA.5 than the original formulations of vaccine. This was the case for people who have never been infected with covid (75% increase) and for those with previous infection (90% increase). Current data also reinforced earlier studies that immunity from vaccination is stronger and longer lasting than immunity after an infection. Data from this summer show that people who received two vaccines plus a booster were 8-times less likely to die during the Omicron wave than people who were unvaccinated, and people who had received a second booster were 14-times less likely to die. On an average day throughout this summer, 7 Marylanders died as a result of covid infections. This number will almost certainly increase as we move into late fall and winter. The other important finding from current scientific studies is that the bivalent vaccine resulted in higher levels of antibody against key components of multiple variants including Alpha, Delta, and the original strains. Since it’s possible that new variants may emerge over the coming year, receiving a vaccine that produces broader protection against additional strains will protect us more fully. Epidemiological modeling indicates that earlier administration of boosters will save more U.S. lives and prevent more hospitalizations than delaying vaccination until the late fall. Five independent expert teams concluded that if most Americans are boosted in September, 10,000 additional deaths and 137,000 additional hospitalizations can be prevented compared to waiting until November for vaccination. As a result, the scientific experts recommended that everyone who is eligible for a booster should move forward with vaccination once the doses are available. Our Health Department is awaiting its initial shipments. We hope to start offering vaccinations with the bivalent formula as early as Thursday. We will announce our launch date once we receive our allocation. It’s likely that the initial shipments will not meet demand. If you are not able to find an appointment with your physician’s office, pharmacy, or our Health Department, please check back on a weekly basis. We expect additional supplies to arrive approximately every 7-10 days. We also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be vaccinated against the flu. We’ve seen very few cases of influenza in the last 2+ years as a result of covid precautions. Natural immunity against the flu is lower than normal, making people more vulnerable to severe infections. Australia, whose flu season corresponds with our summer, has seen a high than expected number of cases with earlier spread than usual. We recommend receiving your flu vaccine at the same time as your covid booster (this is proven to be safe) or no later than early October. Both influenza and covid result in missed days of school and work. Influenza alone costs U.S. employers and the national economy close to $100 billion each year. Vaccinations save lives, reduce strain on hospital nurses and doctors, decrease health insurance costs, and benefit us all in many ways. Please remember that by getting vaccinated against covid and influenza, you are not only protecting your own health, you are reducing the spread and risks to those you care about.

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