PEORIA – A new variant is once again providing a plot twist to the ongoing COVID-19 narrative.
Last week the world learned about Omicron, which has become dominant in some areas of South Africa. Scientists are concerned about the variant because it has significant mutations which could possibly make it capable of dodging the currently available treatments and vaccines.
Omicron has come on the scene just as the CDC recommended COVID-19 vaccine boosters for everyone at least six months after the initial shot sequence, an effort to raise immunity which naturally wanes over time. For some this has raised questions about how to proceed. Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions:
Should I get the booster now or wait until more is known about Omicron?
Get the booster now, said Dr. Douglas Kasper, a Peoria-based infectious disease expert and section head of infectious disease at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.
“The main threat to the individual in central Illinois right now is Delta," said Kasper. “Delta is what is driving the increase numbers and Michigan and Minnesota and Illinois. Individuals should get the booster based off of what’s going on now."
As health officials learn more about Omicron, they may develop a new vaccine to address it, said Kasper. If that happens, people will be able to get that vaccine as soon as it’s available.
“The vaccine manufacturers have estimated that it would be about a hundred days to bring an updated vaccine with omicron coverage to market," said Kasper.
Will the current vaccines protect against omicron?
Likely they will, but it’s not yet known how well.
"It's likely that the booster is still going to give protection against Omicron to some degree, even if that's not at the level of antibody,” said Kasper.
While antibody levels are talked about a lot in relation to how well vaccines work, they are not the only immune mechanism in the human body which protects against viruses, said Kasper. The COVID vaccines activates numerous immune responses.
”It's the other immune mechanisms that are still very beneficial,” he said. The ultimate goal is not necessarily to keep people from getting symptoms, but to reduce the incidence of hospitalizations and death, which vaccines have so far done quite well.
How quickly will the COVID booster become effective?
Peak immunity from the booster happens two weeks after the injection, just as it did with previous shots, said Kasper. For more facts about the COVID booster visit the CDC’s website.
While the CDC said it’s OK to use a different brand of vaccine for the booster than the initial vaccine, some pharmacies are encouraging people stay with the same brand. Why?
If a person did OK with a certain vaccine the first time they got it, it’s likely they will do OK the second time. That notion is why some pharmacies are directing people to stick with their initial brand, said Kasper. The CDC is allowing people to choose a different vaccine for the booster in an effort to get as many people boosted as possible.
“Some people may say, 'oh man, I had it really rough with the Moderna. I was laid up for three days and I had some dizziness or some things that were really hard.' And if they are super hesitant to go get another Moderna or whatever, offering them Pfizer is likely to make them a little bit more likely to complete the booster shot,” said Kasper.
Will I have better protection against COVID-19 if I stick with the same type of vaccine I had for the first two shots?
According to initial studies, mixing and matching was just as effective as using the same vaccine for all three shots, according to the American Medical Association.
Are walk-in appointments available for COVID-19 boosters?
While almost everyone was offering walk-in appointments for COVID shots at one time, now most outlets are requiring appointments. The exception is the Peoria City County Health Department, which is taking walk-ins Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4 p.m.
Can I get the flu and COVID vaccines at the same time?
“The great news is yes, you can get both vaccines at the same time or in close proximity to each other. Whatever works best for you,” Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System, told USA TODAY.
Should I postpone my COVID booster if I have the flu or a cold?
Yes, wait until your are feeling better, said Kasper.
Are booster shots planned for children?
“This week Pfizer asked the FDA/CDC to review their data on boosters for the 12 to 17 age group,” said Kasper. “My guess is that this is all gonna end with the real shot series including what we currently call a booster. So you get one, you wait a month, then you get the second, and then you wait six months and you get a third, and that’s just gonna be looked at as being the real COVID shot series.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: What to know about COVID vaccines, boosters as omicron variant looms