How to think about boosters in light of this week’s Pfizer and Moderna news

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they’re beginning a clinical trial for an Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccine, and Moderna revealed Wednesday that it has entered Phase 2 of its own trial of a vaccine that targets the variant, which is by far the dominant one in the United States right now.

About 50% of eligible Americans have received a booster shot, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the Pfizer and Moderna news might raise questions regardless. For those who have yet to get inoculated, should they wait until there is an Omicron-specific vaccine? What if someone has already had Covid-19 during the Omicron surge, do they still need a booster? And what does this mean for people who’ve already gotten a booster, or those who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and then subsequently got a dose of another kind?
For answers to these and other questions, I spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Wen is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also author of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.” Should people hold off on getting their booster until they can receive an Omicron-specific one?
Dr. Leana Wen: No, they shouldn’t. Everyone eligible to receive a booster should do so now.
Here are two key reasons why: First, there is growing evidence that a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna or a second vaccine following Johnson & Johnson is needed to sustain strong protection against Covid-19. Last week, three large new studies from the CDC found that boosters protect against severe illness and reduce the likelihood of contracting coronavirus.
During a period in December and January when Omicron was dominant, one study found that getting a booster dose was 90% effective at preventing hospitalization, compared with the 57% effectiveness seen in vaccinated people who had not been boosted and were six months past their second shot. Another study examining over 13,000 Omicron cases found that the likelihood of developing symptomatic infection was 66% lower in participants with three doses compared with two.
Second, the Omicron-specific vaccines are still in clinical trials. The trials will take months complete. We don’t know yet the results of the trial and whether these variant-specific vaccines will be better than the original vaccines. Even if they end up getting authorized, it will be months from now, and with Omicron still surging, people shouldn’t delay their boosters.
If you are an adult at least five months out from your two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or two months out from your one dose of Johnson & Johnson, you should get a booster now. Adolescents 12 and older are also recommended to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine if it’s been at least five months since their second dose (only the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine is authorized for adolescents 12 to 17).
Second, the Omicron-specific vaccines are still in clinical trials. The trials will take months complete. We don’t know yet the results of the trial and whether these variant-specific vaccines will be better than the original vaccines. Even if they end up getting authorized, it will be months from now, and with Omicron still surging, people shouldn’t delay their boosters.
If you are an adult at least five months out from your two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or two months out from your one dose of Johnson & Johnson, you should get a booster now. Adolescents 12 and older are also recommended to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine if it’s been at least five months since their second dose (only the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine is authorized for adolescents 12 to 17).
                                                                                                                                    This news first appeared at CNN.COM
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