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What to Know about Omicron-Specific Boosters

August 23, 2022

As we approach the fall, the nation’s public health leaders are considering the next steps for a second booster campaign specifically targeting the Omicron subvariants.

This week, Pfizer-BioNTech submitted its application for emergency use of its Omicron BA.4/BA.5-adapted bivalent COVID-19 vaccine for people 12 and older. The bivalent vaccine would need authorization from the FDA and recommendation from the CDC before it could be administered to the public.

“Having rapidly scaled up production, we are positioned to immediately begin distribution of the bivalent Omicron BA.4/BA.5 boosters, if authorized, to help protect individuals and families as we prepare for potential fall and winter surges," said Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO for Pfizer.

During June, the nation’s public health regulators directed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to update their COVID-19 boosters to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. Both companies have developed bivalent vaccines that are expected to be reviewed this fall.

Here’s what you need to know about the Omicron subvariant and boosters:

  • BA.5 dominance:  The Omicron subvariant BA.5 accounts for 88.9 percent of circulating cases. BA.4.6 and BA.4 account for nearly all the remaining cases in the U.S.
  • Severe disease:  One study from earlier this year found that three doses of an mRNA vaccine were 86 percent effective to prevent COVID-19-associated hospital admissions against Omicron last winter. The third dose was required “to achieve protection against Omicron similar to the protection that two doses provided against the delta and alpha variants,” the study noted.
  • Booster uptake:  Among people 50 and older, 33.2 percent have received their second booster dose, and 40.4 percent of people 65 and older have had a second booster.
  • Statewide perspective:  About 4.1 million Pennsylvanians have received at least one booster dose. Nearly 820,000 have received a second booster, as well.
  • Quotable: “The big picture bottom line is these are substantial upgrades in our vaccines in terms of their ability to prevent infection, to prevent transmission, certainly to prevent serious illness and death,” said Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, in an interview with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Since March, people 50 and older have been eligible for a second booster. The FDA and the CDC are expected to determine second booster recommendations for the general publication this fall.

The U.S. has secured 66 million doses of Moderna’s variant-specific COVID-19 vaccine booster and 105 million of Pfizer’s bivalent shot for use this fall and winter, federal officials announced.

“We must stay vigilant in our fight against COVID-19 and continue to expand Americans’ access to the best vaccines and treatments,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “As we look to the fall and winter, we’re doing just that—ensuring Americans have the tools they need to stay safe and help keep our nation moving forward.”

HAP will continue to provide COVID-19 public health updates to members and the general public. HAP encourages everyone stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines to help protect their friends, loved ones, and communities.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccine appointments in your area.