What’s new and what’s next with COVID vaccines
A brand-new vaccine, better booster shots, and other important updates.
Vaccines have been a game changer in the fight against COVID-19. And we’ve played a big role by rolling up our sleeves to get our shots. In fact, almost 80% of Americans have had at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Now there are new breakthroughs that can help you stay safe. These include a better booster shot and a fourth COVID-19 shot called Novavax. And scientists are hard at work coming up with more cutting-edge treatments.
To learn more about what’s new with vaccine research, we spoke with two top California-based scientists. Here’s what they had to say.
What’s new with booster shots?
In August 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna booster shots that target the latest Omicron variants. These new “bivalent” boosters protect against the original coronavirus strain and the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants. This mix can help prevent you from ending up in the hospital or dying from COVID.
“The vaccines that we’re using have proven to be very effective in terms of preventing hospitalization and death. They haven’t protected very well against people getting infected and getting mildly to moderately ill,” says John Swartzberg, MD. He’s an infectious disease expert at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s likely that we are going to get better protection with this bivalent vaccine.”
The new booster is a single shot given at least two months after a previous vaccine or booster shot. People ages 5 and up should get it, says the CDC.
What’s next: Just like there’s an annual flu shot that’s tweaked each season, we may very well see an annual version of a COVID booster, says Dr. Swartzberg. And he thinks we’ll likely see a combined flu-COVID shot by 2023. “The advantage of it is that people only have to go in once and get one shot. The disadvantage is that you may have a few more minor side effects – higher fever, sore arm, more body aches.”
How does the newest vaccine, Novavax, work?
The FDA recently authorized a fourth vaccine option called Novavax. It’s what’s known as a protein subunit vaccine. “Novavax uses very traditional technology,” says Monica Gandhi, MD. She’s an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
This technology is also used in shots for shingles, tetanus, and malaria. Novavax is given as a two-dose primary series, three weeks apart, for those 12 and older.
So how do protein subunit vaccines work? They contain parts of a virus — in this case, the harmless COVID-19 spike protein. Novavax also has an ingredient called an adjuvant, which helps the immune system respond to the vaccine and make antibodies.
Novavax has a few plusses. One is that it’s easier to store and give than vaccines with strict temperature requirements, according to Dr. Swartzberg.
What’s next: Novavax is being evaluated as a booster shot but is not yet authorized in the U.S. It is authorized as a booster in many other countries, says Dr. Gandhi.
Are there any other new COVID vaccines on the horizon?
Yes. But first, here’s a quick primer on the two other types of COVID vaccines that are currently available.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. The mRNA vaccines do not carry any live or dead virus. Instead, they contain instructions that tell your immune cells to make antibodies.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. It uses a modified version of the adenovirus to spur immunity. This is a type of virus that causes the common cold.
However, the CDC no longer considers Johnson & Johnson a preferred vaccine. Why? It carries a risk of blood clots following vaccination. This vaccine is only an option if you cannot get an mRNA vaccine or Novavax, says the CDC.
Now to the new vaccine on the horizon. Another type of vaccine technology is an inactivated virus. One example is Covaxin, says Dr. Gandhi. It is a COVID-19 vaccine used in India.
Covaxin contains a modified or dead version of the COVID-19 virus. The virus can’t replicate, so it can’t make you sick. It works by prompting the immune system to make antibodies to the virus.
What’s next: Covaxin is listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization. It’s now undergoing FDA review. Stay tuned.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines is one of the best ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This includes getting booster shots such as the new bivalent booster when applicable. It’s also important to wear a mask indoors in public when the infection level is high in your area. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, respirator masks (like an N95 mask) provide the most protection. If you are at high risk of getting sick, keep your distance from others and avoid crowded places. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, their local public health department, and our COVID-19 member site.
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