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  • get your shot

    Be aware: COVID is not done with us yet

    People are sick of hearing about COVID. So are we! But the truth is, the virus is not sick of us, and it’s not going anywhere. There has been nearly a 30 percent increase in COVID hospitalizations among elderly adults in the past two weeks. You should be aware of new information.

  • get those vaccinations

    Third dose booster offers many benefits for children

    Like many common vaccines, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines should have been a three-dose series. The first two injections prime the immune system, and the third boosts it to provide a higher antibody response. In 5 to 11 year olds, the booster more than doubles the antibody levels found following the second dose. Additionally, boosting has been shown in other age groups to further improve the antibodies so that they better bind the virus and provide more protection against variants.

  • The coronavirus has one strategy we can’t vaccinate against

    Vineet Menachery, a coronavirologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch talked to Katherine Wu about variants improving their ability to resist interferons. “There’s a domino effect,” Menachery said. Wu wrote: “More cells get infected; antibody and T-cell responses hang back, even as viral particles continue to spread. Eventually, the body may get wise and try to catch up. But by then, it may be too late. The brunt of viral replication might be over, leaving the immune frenzy to misdirect much of its havoc onto our own tissues instead.”

  • Health and wellness with UTMB Health and Houston Moms

    Covid Vaccine and Kids 5+

    Dr. Elizabeth Rodriguez Lien shares what parents need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine and the 5+ population.

  • a person washing their hands

    Hand Hygiene 101: Preventing Disease

    National Handwashing Awareness Week (Dec. 1-7) serves as an annual reminder to practice proper hand hygiene to curb the spread of disease.

  • Health and wellness with UTMB Health and Houston Moms

    Back to School Wellness

    Dr. Manuela Murray joined Meagan Clanahan of the Houston Moms Blog to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, back-to-school well-checks and more.

  • Four teens taking a selfie

    The best memories are made in person.

    Approved for individuals 12 years of age and older, the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is now available at all UTMB Health primary care clinics—just in time for back to school check-ups and physicals.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    Understanding COVID-19 variants

    The development of SARS-CoV-2 variants isn’t a surprise. The shocking thing, based on what we thought we knew about coronaviruses, is the speed at which variants developed and spread. The question remains: Should we be worried?

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    What to know about pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccines

    Much more is known about COVID-19 and pregnancy now that we’re a year into the pandemic. Fortunately, in the majority of cases, SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy turns out well. COVID-19 can be worsened, however, by the extra work of breathing and stress on the heart that occur with pregnancy.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    Here are answers to a few of your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine

    We’ve received many questions from readers anxious about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Several questioned if they should be vaccinated at all while others wondered if they need to continue wearing masks once vaccinated. I hope our responses help answer the questions you may have as well.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    Benefits outweigh risks of COVID-19 vaccines

    Texans are lining up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine and many more are patiently waiting their turn. The good news is that while COVID-19 can be life-threatening, the only medical risk to vaccination is for those with a history of allergic reactions to these vaccines or their ingredients.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    Which COVID-19 vaccine should you get?

    In front of the press, President-elect Joe Biden rolled up his sleeve for the Pfizer vaccine and Dr. Anthony Fauci for the Moderna vaccine. While some tried to read something into their choices, these vaccination events were likely arranged to instill public trust in both vaccines. Regardless, the public wants to know which vaccine is best.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    When will it be my turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

    It’s music to many physicians’ ears to hear people clamoring for their COVID-19 vaccine. The virus has damaged the economy and taken far too many lives. A year ago, it was unbelievable that effective, safe vaccines could be delivered in less than a year from the first identification of a new pathogen.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    Here are some answers about new COVID-19 vaccines

    Two COVID-19 vaccines have received Emergency Use Authorization in the United States. They’re commonly referred to as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Both are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and use a technology developed over the last decade.

  • close up of a COVID-19 spike

    'Immunity passport' might be our ticket back to normal

    The fantastic news about the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines has led many to ask when things will return to normal.

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