The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved and recommended updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. These vaccine boosters protect against the original strain of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, which is currently spreading in the United States.
Erica S. Shenoy, MD, PhD, medical director of infection control for Mass General Brigham and an infectious diseases physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, answers patients’ common questions about the bivalent COVID-19 booster.
Shenoy: Bivalent vaccines were developed to protect against two different viruses or two strains of the same virus. In this case, the updated COVID-19 boosters target the original COVID-19 strain and two Omicron variants (Omicron BA.4 and BA.5).
Shenoy: If you’re age 5 and older, you can receive the new bivalent booster if:
The Pfizer bivalent COVID booster is approved for age 5 and above. The Moderna booster is approved for age 6 and above.
On December 9, 2022, the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines were also approved for infants and children ages 6 months through 4 years old by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC. It should be used as a third dose in children ages 6 months to 4 years.
Shenoy: Most children who have:
For children who are immunocompromised, the vaccine schedule may differ.
Shenoy: Your child should still get their primary vaccine series. The original vaccines are approved by the CDC for the first 2 doses of the primary vaccine series. The primary vaccine series still protects your child from the virus. The bivalent vaccine provides your child with added protection from the virus.
Shenoy: There’s no time like the present. I’d recommend getting your COVID-19 booster when you’re eligible. You can get both your COVID-19 booster and your flu vaccine at the same time. If you haven’t yet received your flu vaccine, you should get it as soon as possible.
Let’s start with the COVID-19 booster: Right now, COVID-19 and flu are circulating in our communities. Make sure you are well protected from serious disease with available vaccines.
We’ve had an early flu season this year, and while flu activity is decreasing, you can still take advantage of the flu vaccine’s protection.
If you decide to get both at the same time, that can be a time-saver and very convenient. There’s no reason not to get both the same day. It’s safe to do so and can save you an extra visit to the pharmacy or your doctor’s office.
Shenoy: To find a bivalent COVID booster location near you, visit one of the following sites:
You can also find an updated COVID booster location by texting your zip code to 438829 or calling 1-800-232-0233.
Mass General Brigham offers the updated booster vaccine at many primary care offices and some specialty offices during regularly scheduled office visits. Mass General Brigham will also continue to distribute vaccines from our mobile community vans. Check the schedule to see if the vans will be near you.
Shenoy: Reported side effects seem to be the same as the original vaccine. Side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. The CDC has some good guidance on simple things you can do to reduce the severity.
Shenoy: That’s a great question. We know that immunity (your body’s ability to resist the virus) wanes over time. But the strength of protection also depends on how the virus evolves and whether future variants, such as the newest one (XBB.1.5), escape the vaccine-induced immunity or not. I think we will start to see some emerging data on this as it collects over time.
Shenoy: The CDC doesn't recommend mixing vaccine products for your primary series. However, you can get a different product for the updated booster, except for 5-year-old children, for whom the Pfizer updated booster is the only recommended booster. For people ages 6 and older, they can receive either Moderna or Pfizer as their updated booster. That can be different from what they received previously for their primary series or any doses of the monovalent booster.
Last updated 1/17/2023