Woman with face surgical mask getting arm swabbed

New bivalent COVID vaccine booster

A new COVID booster—designed to protect against the now-dominant BA.4/BA.5 strains will soon be available at UTMB. The FDA recently authorized and the CDC recommended updated COVID-19 shots for all Americans ages 12 and above with these new formulations from Pfizer and Moderna. These are the first vaccines to match currently circulating strains of the virus.

Newly authorized vaccine boosters—called “bivalent” because they contain sequences from both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 variant—proved more effective in studies at producing antibodies to combat COVID than the original formulations targeting only the original virus. While we cannot precisely forecast effectiveness in any individual, we expect that the new mRNA bivalent vaccines will offer better protection against these strains than previous options.

Who qualifies for the bivalent vaccine booster dose?

  • The Pfizer BA.4/BA.5 bivalent booster is recommended for anyone age 12 years or older.
  • The Moderna BA.4/BA.5 bivalent booster is recommended for anyone age 18 years or older.
  • The bivalent booster dose should be administered at least two months after completion of the primary series or after an individual’s most recent booster dose.
  • If possible, individuals should use vaccine from the same manufacturer for their primary series and BA.4/BA.5 booster. However, this is not a requirement.
  • Each of the new bivalent vaccines can be used as booster for those who received a non-mRNA vaccine, such as Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Novovax or vaccines approved in other countries.
  • The original Pfizer and Moderna vaccine formulations no longer can be used as boosters for people age 12 and older. They will continue to be used to initiate the vaccination series in those who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID. The Pfizer product can also continue to be used as a booster for children ages 5 to 11.
  • If you have a known, current COVID infection, you should wait to get any COVID vaccine, including boosters, until any symptoms have resolved and isolation is no longer required. However, you will likely get a better immune response if you wait to get any COVID vaccine (primary series or booster) for three months from the date your symptoms started or the date you tested positive.

Scheduling a bivalent vaccine booster dose:

All UTMB faculty, staff and students, as well as our patients who qualify for the bivalent booster dose, are encouraged to get the new booster. Those who are not yet fully immunized should consider initiating or completing the COVID vaccine series with the original Pfizer, Moderna or Novavax vaccines.

  • At this time, UTMB will have the Pfizer bivalent booster available at select clinic locations starting Sept. 13.
  • The booster dose can be scheduled through MyChart or through the UTMB COVID vaccine website.
  • It can also be given at the time of a scheduled visit if the clinic has the booster in stock.
  • If you do not live or work in UTMB’s clinical service area, contact your local provider or pharmacies in your area for more information on availability.

UTMB has not yet received the Moderna bivalent booster. Updates will be provided when the Moderna shipment arrives.

An at-a-glance summary of the COVID vaccine schedule for most people age 6 months and older is available. Please note that the booster dose can be given at the same time as any other vaccine, such as the influenza vaccine.

Regarding vaccine safety, more than 600 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have been administered in the United States alone, with billions more given globally. Through robust safety monitoring systems, we now have an extensive body of safety data as good as or better than what we have had for any prior vaccine. In clinical trials, more than 1,700 people have received bivalent mRNA vaccines with no additional safety concerns.

What Comes Next?

In the absence of a dramatically different variant, it is becoming increasingly evident that the fight against COVID-19 will require an annual inoculation with updated vaccines matched to currently circulating strains of the virus. This is much like the influenza vaccine, which changes each year according to the likely dominant strains.

This new strategy of annual variant-matched vaccines will be an important shift in our fight against the virus. COVID vaccines as a routine part of our lives will help us continue to decrease the incidence of serious illness and death and protect our communities heading into the fall and winter each year. We will keep you informed as recommendations and protocols evolve.

Thank you.

Janak Patel, MD
Director, Infection Control and Healthcare Epidemiology
Professor, Pediatrics/Infectious Disease

Philip Keiser, MD
Professor, Internal Medicine/Infectious Diseases
Galveston County Health Authority
UTMB COVID-19 Vaccination Preparedness Task Force Chair