The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced on Sept. 2 that updated Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine boosters will be available to people aged 12 and older starting this month.
This booster vaccine targets the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, as well as the original coronavirus strain.
According to the NCDHHS, the subvariants made up nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina in mid-August.
“This vaccine will provide the most up-to-date protection against the latest variants and will help renew your body’s defense system against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said in a press release.
According to data from the NCDHHS, 77 percent of North Carolinians over age 18 are currently vaccinated with at least one dose, and 63 percent of that population have at least one booster or an additional dose.
The press release said people should get the updated COVID-19 booster two months after they finish their primary series or receive any booster dose.
“Staying up to date with vaccines and boosters is our best tool against this virus,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a tweet on Sept. 6.
Dr. David Wohl, a professor at UNC’s Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases, said as long as BA.5 remains the dominant COVID-19 variant, many people are protected and infection numbers will not be as high as they have been previously.
“I’m hopeful that this vaccine plus everything that’s gone on in the last couple months where people are catching BA.5 left and right will help us have fewer cases,” Wohl said.
Danyu Lin, a professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said that because this booster shot was similar to previous boosters, it was approved despite a lack of human data to prove its efficacy.
According to the NCDHHS, the new booster relies on data from initial clinical trials, studies of two-variant boosters and extensive safety monitoring, which is similar to the way flu shots are developed.
Wohl said that people should get boosted if eligible — especially those over age 65, as the people who are dying from the current prominent COVID-19 variants are primarily in that age group.
“The people who don't get boosted, their chances of getting infected are even higher and their chance of being hospitalized or dying are much much higher,” Lin said.
Some vaccine providers have already received doses and are administering booster shots. There is little-to-no cost to receive COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of insurance status.
However, some smaller providers are waiting for the next round of vaccine allocations before they can begin administering shots.
Keiko Bury, the owner of Carrboro Family Pharmacy, said that once the pharmacy has access to the new boosters, she expects it to administer about 12 shots per day for the first month.
Bury said she has been receiving calls regularly asking to book vaccine appointments.
“Be patient with the small pharmacies," she said. "Hopefully, we get our allocation."
Flu shots are also currently available at pharmacies and some health clinics. The NCDHHS said it is safe to get the updated COVID-19 booster or any other COVID-19 vaccine along with the flu vaccine.
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