Health & Science

New bivalent Omicron booster now available for adults and kids aged 5 and up — here’s what to know

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An updated vaccine — designed to more effectively fend off the common, fast-spreading Omicron variants of the COVID-19 virus — is now available for kids aged 5 and up, following the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for use on October 12, 2022.

Millions of the child-sized Pfizer and Moderna doses are being shipped to pharmacies, healthcare offices, and other vaccination sites across the country. Search for “newly authorized bivalent” to find out what’s available near you. The term “bivalent” means it targets two strains of COVID-19; the original variant and the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of the Omicron variant.

The new bivalent booster dose (also being called simply the “updated booster”) has been available for teens and adults for more than a month already. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech developed this version to target both the original shape of the virus as well as the subvariants of Omicron called BA.4 and BA.5. About 80 percent of cases in the United States are currently attributed to the BA.5 variant.

As Americans return to many of their pre-pandemic activities and social lives, staying up to date on COVID immunizations for each age group is an important, ongoing part of keeping the whole family safe. Getting the entire series of vaccinations provides increased protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19.

Pediatric infectious disease physician Yvonne Maldonado, M.D., told the New York Times that COVID-19 remains a major cause of death for children, and reminded the public that vaccination can provide longer-lasting protection than a prior COVID infection can.

The new booster is “clearly a better vaccine, an important upgrade from what we had before,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha, M.D., told NPR. Dr. Jha recommended that people get the new shot — along with a flu shot — as soon as they can, before the holiday season gets underway.

Who can get the new bivalent Omicron booster?

The new bivalent booster is recommended for every adult or child aged 5 and up who has already received the primary COVID vaccine series. Even if you have already received a booster shot in the past, you should also be sure to get an updated bivalent booster.

If you have recently received the primary series vaccine and/or original (“monovalent”) booster, you should wait 2 months from the last COVID-19 shot before receiving the new bivalent booster.

If you have recently been infected with COVID, you may choose to wait about 3 months (after your symptoms started or you got your first positive test) before receiving the updated bivalent booster, but you’re not required to.

It does not matter which company’s vaccine (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Novavax, or J&J/Janssen) you received originally — you can safely choose either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for your bivalent booster dose, whichever is most convenient for your family.

However, if your child is currently 5 years old, they can only get Pfizer’s bivalent booster — while if they’re 6 or older, they are eligible for the bivalent booster from either Moderna or Pfizer.

Check CDC’s Stay Up to Date guidelines for the most recent information related to your (or your child’s) specific vaccine situation.

What about kids and babies under age 5?

Babies and kids aged 6 months old through 4 years old have only been able to get their first series of vaccines against COVID-19 since June of this year. That original series of COVID-19 shots is still recommended for kids under age 5, if they have not received them already.

Because it is the most recently developed series, there is no booster of any kind available yet for that age group. However, both of the major vaccine companies are starting research to determine the ideal dosage for the youngest set. They expect to have more data available later this year.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.