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HEALTHFUL HINTS

Healthful Hints: Updated COVID omicron boosters available

From the Collection: Recent Healthful Hints columns by Dr. Frank Bures series
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It’s time to be stuck up again, provided you have had primary COVID vaccinations. The reformulated booster containing coding to make specific antibodies against the now dominant omicron variants BA.5 and BA.4, which are almost identical, is now available and being distributed to many places where COVID vaccinations are given. It’s not everywhere yet but getting there. They are still free of charge. But these may be some of the last freebies from the federal government which has said it is going to begin to commercialize treatments and vaccines this fall. That means we will have to pay somehow.

The boosters until now have contained genetic information as messenger RNA or mRNA. Once inside our cells, it directs them to make and memorize antibodies and other immune defenses against the original or ancestral COVID strain. The shots have helped immensely to prevent a lot of severe illness and death. However, the last omicron variants have enough mutations in the infamous spike protein on the viral surface to slip past the immune recognition mechanisms already in place. Hence, the reformulation of the boosters.

The original two-shot series of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are still the basis for injections. The prior boosters were essentially half doses of the first ancestral strain shots. The new Pfizer one has a 30 microgram (mcg) dose, with 15 mcg being ancestral strain mRNA coding and 15 being for BA.5 and BA.4. Moderna’s booster is a 50 mcg dose with a 25/25 mcg ratio for the same mutations. Millions of doses are being shipped now to tens of thousands of sites across the country. You can call places locally to inquire (my personal preference) or check on a computer at Vaccines.gov.

Who is eligible for the new booster? Anyone 12 and older for Pfizer’s and 18 and older for Moderna’s. The reason for different ages is that the FDA hasn’t reviewed Moderna’s data for younger teens yet. The brands are interchangeable. The first impressions are that reactions to them are even less than the older shots. As the new boosters become available, the older ones will not be used (and go to that big pharmacy in the sky). The hope is that more universal coronavirus vaccines under development and intra-nasal administration will emerge. The Moderna CEO has said COVID vaccines will evolve like “an iPhone.”

One recommended wait time for these shots is at least two months after an infection or prior vaccination. The current CDC post infection idea is to wait at least three months, as Dr. Fauci said he is doing. One epidemiologist (someone who studies disease patterns) has suggested a delay of four to six months to derive more benefit from the shot. The rules obviously are not firm yet. Other vaccines, like influenza, can be given safely at the same time to protect from a possible double whammy.

Why get this booster, or any COVID vaccines at all? First, COVID has not gone away. It is still killing 300 to 400 people a day, depending on your reference. By word of mouth, more folks now are hearing or knowing more acquaintances who “tested positive” than with previous variants. Second, the more opportunity a virus has to infect its hosts and reproduce, the higher the likelihood new mutants will emerge, perhaps more vicious.

Third, unvaccinated adults were over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID in the omicron wave than those “all shot up.” The list could go on.

The reformulated booster is another tool to squash the viral virulence as much as we can. It makes no sense to avoid it medically for personal and public health. Here’s hoping that these “pointed” remarks about shots have made good points for you to consider, and helped you decide to take advantage of the benefits of the vaccinations, even though they are not perfect. I’ve tried to make my “points” as sharply as I can.

Dr. Bures, a semi-retired dermatologist, since 1978 has worked Winona, La Crosse, Viroqua and Red Wing. He also plays clarinet in the Winona Municipal Band and a couple dixieland groups. And he does enjoy a good pun.

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