Local medical experts discuss COVID-19 boosters designed to combat newest variants

PITTSBURGH — There are many questions surrounding the new COVID- 19 booster, and rightfully so. This is the first time the vaccine has been updated. However, medical experts are assuring people that this booster is safe and will target the newest omicron variants, unlike the shots before it.

“All prior booster vaccinations have only been targeted against the original version of this virus that emerged from Wuhan,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at UPMC.

Doctors shared that this new booster is a better match to what is circulating in communities right now and will target the highly infectious omicron sub-variants.

“What we found is that the boosters were still doing a good job of keeping people out of the hospital, but it wasn’t doing as good of a job into preventing COVID infections,” said Dr. Amy Crawford-Faucher, a family medicine physician for Allegheny Health Network.

That’s why pharmacies and hospitals across the country will replace the third booster shot with this new omicron booster – and have made the shot available to anyone over the age of 12.

“There are no special requests you have to make, [the new booster] is the only one that will automatically be given to you if you are above the age of 12,” said Adalja.

Doctors are hopeful that by making this new booster available ahead of the fall season, thousands of lives will be saved, and hospitals will be spared a rush of patients.

“We’ve become kind of numb to the fact that there are still 1000s of Americans dying every day from COVID,” said Crawford- Faucher.

Experts said the reluctance to get a shot is the biggest hurdle – even among those already vaccinated.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 6 in 10 Americans who’ve been vaccinated believe they are already protected enough. Three in 10 said they are just too busy, and 15% are concerned about missing work, the survey found.

“Think of the COVID booster as more of an annual flu shot. We’re hoping that these new COVID boosters might do some of that too. We’re not quite there yet, but the reality is that the more your body’s immune system gets exposed to COVID — whether that’s through vaccination booster or the infection — the hope is a better it is about fighting off future COVID infections,” said Crawford-Faucher.

Medical experts instruct that if you are not vaccinated yet, you need to get the initial vaccine before getting the omicron booster. Also, both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients will need to wait two months after their last vaccination to get the new booster.

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