Coronavirus Chronicles

Adults Younger Than 50 Can't Get a Second Booster Until Fall

Some answers as to why and what to expect next.

By Angela Cabotaje August 1, 2022

On July 28, talk about expanding second booster eligibility to adults younger than 50 was effectively put on hold as talk shifted to the omicron-specific shots anticipated in fall. (If you haven't gotten your first booster yet, check out our list of vax sites here.) This comes after much "will they, won't they" chatter this summer, and five months after a second booster was approved for older age groups and those who are immunocompromised.

It's all very reminiscent of the Pfizer flip-flop earlier this year regarding Covid vaccines for kids younger than five. Herein, some answers as to what happens now.

Why did summer plans for a second Covid booster get shelved?

On July 26, a Food and Drug Administration panel recommended a move toward "bivalent" vaccines this fall, shots that are tailored to the ancestral coronavirus strain and the omicron-specific subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

This effectively punted talk of expanding second Covid booster eligibility to all adults. There are a couple of reasons why: Mostly public health experts are concerned that getting a second Covid booster now and then a third booster in fall will stunt the shots' effectiveness or, potentially, increase incidences of myocarditis. They're also worried about the very real effects of vaccine fatigue—growing public apathy about these once-coveted shots.

Not all experts agree, though. In a July 22 UW Medicine news release, Dr. John Lynch, medical director of infection prevention and control at Harborview Medical Center, said, “I do not think that waiting for an omicron-specific booster or vaccine in the fall is necessary. We really know we're in a surge right now with a highly transmissible variant.”

Tell me more about this omicron-specific shot coming in fall.

At the end of June, the Food and Drug Administration asked vaccine companies to tailor their booster shots for BA.4 and BA.5 specifically. Pfizer reported its omicron booster can produce three times as many antibodies against BA.1 as its current shot, while Moderna noted its omicron version could produce 1.75 times more antibodies.

On July 29, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it had agreed to purchase 66 million doses of Moderna's bivalent vaccine candidate. This is in addition to the 105 million doses of Pfizer's bivalent shot the federal government already ordered earlier this summer.

Both shots are anticipated this fall. Conservative estimates place their arrival in the October or November timeframe, but optimistic views anticipate they could come as early as September. 

Do I even need to get a second Covid booster?

Most public health experts agree on this one: yes. King County is yo-yoing between medium and high Covid community levels. And while the subvariant du jour, BA.5, is quickly becoming infamous for its ability to evade vaccine immunity, there's still a good reason to get another vax dose to boost those sweet, sweet antibodies.

Data shows that being fully vaccinated and boosted offers some protection from getting Covid and significantly reduces your chances of being hospitalized or dying from the disease. According to a Public Health—Seattle and King County dashboard during omicron, those who are unvaccinated are two times more likely to test positive, 14 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 22 times more likely to die from Covid than those who are boosted. 

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