Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines work against emerging COVID variants, including Omicron and Omicron subvariants (like XBB.1.5, the most recent one to gain traction). While new variants have been shown to be better at infecting people and evading existing immunity, the vaccines still greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in people who are up to date on COVID vaccination.
In September 2022, the CDC recommended an updated (bivalent) booster to provide better protection against circulating Omicron variants. “Bivalent” means the booster includes protection from two COVID strains: the ancestral strain – the same formula as the original vaccines – as well as from the more recently circulating Omicron variants. (Note: The subvariant XBB.1.5 which is making headlines in January 2023 is a subvariant of Omicron, and the boosters continue to provide improved protection.) The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get this updated booster at least 2 months after their last booster dose and 3 months after prior COVID-19 infection for updated protection going into the fall/winter season.
In December 2022, the recommendation was expanded to include bivalent vaccines for kids as young as 6 months.Children ages 6 months through 5 years who previously completed a Moderna primary series are eligible to receive a Moderna bivalent booster 2 months after their final primary series dose. Children ages 6 months through 4 years who are currently completing a Pfizer primary series will receive a Pfizer bivalent vaccine as their third primary dose.
The updated booster is especially important for those at the highest risk of severe COVID-19, including people over 65, and people with certain health conditions (including those that make your immune system not work as well). The updated boosters are now available in pharmacies.
Researchers around the world will continue to monitor for new variants and the current vaccines’ effectiveness against them.
Global COVID-19 vaccination campaigns are key to stopping variants as the virus cannot mutate if it cannot spread.