Here's When to Expect a 4th COVID-19 Booster Vaccine

·5 min read
Here's When to Expect a 4th COVID-19 Booster Vaccine
  • A fourth COVID-19 booster vaccine will be made available to a majority of Americans in early September, according to current projections from federal health officials.

  • This booster vaccine has been specifically designed to address the prevalent Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as to build further immunity on original SARS-CoV-2 strains (which is why it is called "bivalent").

  • Pfizer's booster may be available immediately following federal approval, which is slated for early September. Moderna's booster shot, however, may be rolled out at a later date.

  • Below, you'll learn: When these new bivalent booster vaccines will be available; who can get their 4th vaccine this fall; and if the new bivalent booster vaccines will provide more protection against COVID-19.

Federal health officials have signaled that Americans who have yet to receive a fourth COVID-19 vaccine will be able to do so shortly after Labor Day, according to multiple reports. Updated booster vaccines manufactured by teams at Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna aim to reduce the risk of further Omicron-fueled SARS-CoV-2 subvariant spread this fall. More people will be able to get this shot than previous boosters: eligibility will be wider, and will encompass more than only older and immunocompromised individuals.

Referred to as "bivalent" vaccines by healthcare officials, these targeted shots specifically target two viral Omicron subvariant strains, BA.4 and BA.5, which have been fueling the majority of new breakthrough cases recorded this summer. Current figures shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the BA.5, is responsible for more than 90% of COVID-19 cases here in the U.S. right now.

These new booster vaccines will also aim to rebuild immunity to the original coronavirus strain that people gained earlier on in the pandemic, explains Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, DrPH, the director of the University of California, Irvine's program in public health.

"A 'bivalent' booster simply means that it will target two different antigens, meaning it will respond to the original coronavirus strain as well as the Omicron variant," Boden-Albala tells Good Housekeeping. "[Healthcare officials] are finding that the original vaccine hasn't been as responsive to newer variants as we hoped, hence we need these bivalent boosters."

Pifzer's new booster vaccine will be available to those older than the age of 12, while initial filings by Moderna suggest their boosters will remain targeted for anyone over 18.

When will new bivalent booster vaccines be available?

CDC officials will have a final say on the timing of the release of new booster vaccines to the public — and the agency plans to make this decision in early September, just before the federal Labor Day holiday. According to NBC News, teams at Pfizer and Moderna are actively seeking initial approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but final authorization will come from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Currently, this board is set to meet on September 1 and 2, and is expected to sign off shortly after.

That timeline likely means Americans may be able to receive a COVID-19 booster vaccine starting in the second or third week of September, depending on how fast manufacturers can roll out vaccines to clinicians across the country. If there are supply chain issues, healthcare providers may choose to strategically provide first access to those who are at higher risk of serious infection, reported White House officials earlier this summer.

According to this CNBC report, healthcare insiders expect Pfizer's booster to be approved first and to reach healthcare providers earlier, given its wider range of initial availability to anyone over the age of 12. While Moderna's booster dose will eventually seek authorization for a wider array of ages, its 18+ shot is expected by some to be available in the first week of October — and both booster vaccines will be made available to pediatric patients later in the fall.

Who can get a 4th bivalent booster vaccine?

These new booster vaccines will lower the age of eligibility to 12 and up — but these booster vaccines will only be available to those who have completed a primary two-shot series earlier in 2022 or 2021. Why? It mostly has to do with healthcare providers wanting to ensure optimized immunity against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.

"The original vaccine series provides a foundation for full coverage, but as we start seeing these other variants, the boosters specifically trigger the immune system to fight new strains," Boden-Albala adds.

But don't wait on the fall booster if you haven't gotten the boosters that are currently available — the boosters out right now provide crucial protection against death and hospitalization, Boden-Albala and other leading health experts say. CDC data suggests that more than half of those who gotten their initial COVID-19 vaccination series of two shots have not received their first booster vaccine as instructed, meaning they're not up-to-date on vaccinations. Getting a booster vaccine now won't prevent you from signing up for the upcoming bivalent vaccine booster shot later this winter.

Will these new bivalent booster vaccines be more protective?

Boden-Albala says that these bivalent booster vaccines were approved in the United Kingdom earlier this month, and submitted trial results seem promising. "The hope is that these particular boosters will protect us against further COVID surges and additional variants," she says. "Vaccines are effective, but these boosters are only [further] helping our immune systems target the variants that continue to pop up."

The upcoming booster, say officials, may be crucial in stemming widespread outbreaks as temperatures fall and a significant wave of new COVID-19 infections is projected to impact health on a global scale. "It's going to be really important that people this fall and winter get the new shot; it's designed for the virus that's out there," said Ashish Jha, M.D., the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator at a virtual event in mid-August.

As more information about the coronavirus pandemic develops, some of the information in this story may have changed since it was last updated. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department.

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