Americans have two options for a new omicron-specific Covid recall: Pfizer or Moderna. Which should you get?
The short answer: it mostly depends on what you are eligible for.
Pfizer’s booster is licensed for anyone 12 and older, while Moderna’s booster is for people 18 and older. To get either you will need to be at least two months away from completing a primary vaccine series or receiving any other Covid vaccines.
Beyond these eligibility criteria, the new boosters aren’t all that different from each other. Both injections are bivalent, meaning they target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron alongside the original Covid strain.
Federal health officials say the two vaccines will serve as a desperately needed layer of protection for months to come, as the weather turns colder and immunity to previous vaccines wanes. In other words, you can’t go wrong either.
But if you’re still trying to decide which one to choose, here’s what you need to know – from the mix and match and the side effects to the composition of the two new shots.
Should I stick with the same brand of vaccine that I received before?
No, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“People 18 and older can get a different product for an encore than they got for their main series, as long as it’s [Pfizer or Moderna,],” reads the CDC’s website. People under 18 could mix and match if they could, but they are currently only eligible for Pfizer’s vaccine.
Some studies suggest that mixing and matching vaccine brands for older monovalent boosters, which are no longer in use, may have produced higher numbers of antibodies. Equivalent studies on omicron-specific boosters are yet to be published, but some experts say you’ll be fine either way.
“There’s nothing wrong with mixing Moderna and Pfizer,” said Dr. Ralph Gonzales, associate dean for clinical innovation at UC San Francisco, during a campus town hall earlier this month. . “I just got my Moderna two days ago and it was an interesting experience. I definitely felt a stronger response with the Moderna – having had Pfizer before – but both combinations are good.”
Are the side effects different?
Scientists are currently studying this question. Their results should confirm that you’re likely to get the same side effects — with the same levels of severity — from either shot.
In Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials for earlier versions of bivalent boosters targeting the BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants of omicron, participants reported the same common side effects for each injection:
- pain, redness and/or swelling at the injection site
- muscle pain
- articular pain
In both clinical trials, most participants reported that their side effects were very mild or non-existent. Serious side effects are most often associated with second doses of vaccines, rather than third or fourth doses, U.S. Food and Drug Administration vaccine adviser Dr. Paul Offit told CNBC Make It. earlier this month.
How different are the plans, scientifically speaking?
Both injections have very similar formulations and different dosages.
Pfizer’s updated booster shots contain 15 micrograms targeting the original Covid strain and another 15 targeting BA.4 and BA.5. This is the same size as a single dose of Pfizer’s monovalent vaccine, which contains 30 micrograms targeting the original strain.
The new Moderna shots contain a slightly higher dose, with 25 micrograms targeting the original strain and another 25 targeting the omicron subvariants. This is the same total amount as a single dose of its 50 microgram monovalent vaccine.
Several studies indicate that Moderna’s monovalent vaccine is slightly more effective than Pfizer’s in producing higher numbers of antibodies and providing longer-lasting protection against infection and hospitalization. “Over time, this higher dose could be driving the difference in protective efficacy,” John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, told The Atlantic last year.
The key word is “could”: experts have yet to find direct links between the dose of a vaccine and the level of protection you will get. Health officials say the new vaccines will boost your immunity at a crucial time, whether you get Pfizer or Moderna.
“We know that respiratory viruses circulate at much higher levels in the fall and winter. This is a very good time to protect yourself,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Covid response coordinator, at the “In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt” podcast. earlier this month. “And even if you’re on the low-risk side yourself, you’re going to see family and friends. You don’t want to be the person giving it to your grandma.”
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