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Getting The Omicron Booster? Here’s What To Know

Posted on September 20, 2022 by Henry Ford Health Staff

As of early September, 99.8% of COVID-19 cases in the United States were caused by the Omicron variant—which is why the new FDA-authorized Omicron booster has come at the perfect time. 

“While the original COVID-19 vaccines are effective, the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 have been better able to evade vaccine detection,” says Dennis Cunningham, M.D., medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health. “The new booster is bivalent—meaning it targets both COVID-19’s original spike protein and Omicron’s spike protein. It protects against not only the original strain of COVID-19, but Omicron as well.”   

There are two Omicron boosters available; one from Pfizer and the other from Moderna. Like the original COVID-19 vaccines, the Omicron boosters were made with mRNA technology, which allows them to be easily adaptable. Instead of creating the Omicron boosters from scratch, the original boosters were simply modified to target the Omicron variants.  

Here, Dr. Cunningham shares what to know about the Omicron boosters. 

1. Who should get the Omicron booster—and when?

Everyone ages 12+ is eligible to get the Pfizer Omicron booster. Everyone ages 18+ is eligible to get the Moderna Omicron booster. You can get it as soon as two months after your last COVID-19 vaccine or booster. 

2. If I’ve recently had COVID-19, how long should I wait to get the Omicron booster? 

You should get the Omicron booster as soon as you have recuperated and are no longer contagious, says Dr. Cunningham. “We used to recommend that everyone wait three months after recovering from COVID-19 to get a booster. But that was partly because of the relative shortage of vaccines and partly because it was unlikely that you’d get COVID-19 again within 90 days of infection. But now that we have a lot of vaccine—and we have this Omicron BA.5 variant that can cause reinfection as soon as a month after infection—we recommend getting the Omicron booster as soon as you can.”  

3. If I haven’t gotten any COVID-19 vaccines, can I jump right to the Omicron booster?    

No. You should start with the primary COVID-19 series. “The bivalent vaccine is only authorized as a booster, so it won’t offer enough protection on its own,” says Dr. Cunningham. However, if you haven’t gotten the original COVID-19 booster, you can get the Omicron booster instead. 

4. Does the Omicron booster have different side effects than the original booster? 

Studies show that the Omicron booster has similar side effects to the original booster. Injection-site pain, fever, headache and fatigue are common side effects, but they are mild and should go away within 24 to 48 hours. You can take Tylenol after getting vaccinated to relieve symptoms, but not before—it can interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

5. How effective is the Omicron booster? 

“The Omicron booster should be just as effective against the original strain of COVID-19, but more effective against Omicron,” says Dr. Cunningham. 

6. Is getting another COVID-19 booster safe?

There’s no evidence that getting another booster causes any safety issues. “I look at it like the flu vaccine, where we have to get a flu vaccine every year because the flu mutates,” says Dr. Cunningham. “The issue with COVID-19 is that it mutates faster than the flu. But hopefully we’ll get to the point where we just need one COVID-19 booster a year, just like with the flu.”   

7. Can you get your flu shot and Omicron booster at the same time?

Yes you can. And you don’t have to worry about experiencing increased side effects, either. “When you get a vaccine, your white blood cells make interferon—which tells your body it needs to defend itself against an invader—and interferon is what causes side effects like fever, fatigue and headache,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Your body normally releases the same amount of interferon whether you get one or two vaccinations at a time.”   

8. If I still haven’t gotten COVID-19, do I really need to get the Omicron booster? 

“I recommend that you get the Omicron booster, whether or not you’ve had COVID-19,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Now that people aren’t wearing masks as much—and all COVID-19 precautions have been relaxed outside of the healthcare setting—it will be easier to contract COVID-19, especially when we’re all indoors when the weather gets colder. 

“This fall and winter, we’re predicting a surge in COVID-19 cases, but if everyone gets the Omicron booster, it could absolutely change the trajectory and prevent us from having a surge.” 

Henry Ford Health offers the Pfizer bivalent booster to established patients. Appointments can be made via MyChart. For vaccine updates, visit henryford.com/coronavirus/vaccine-faqs

Dr. Dennis Cunningham is the medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health.  

Categories : FeelWell

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