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New omicron-specific COVID boosters coming to Alabama

UAB vaccine expert Dr. Paul Goepfert said the new boosters give recipients their best chance to avoid infection and hospitalizations.

New COVID-19 boosters will be available soon that are designed specifically to target the omicron variant that has proven to be the most virulent strain yet.

Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Center at UAB, said the updated booster took time due to the virus’s unpredictable nature.

“The reason it’s difficult to get a booster, as everyone knows, Covid has mutated so much and always seems to be one step ahead of our vaccine efforts,” Goepfert said. “All coronaviruses seem to do this, the population develops a certain immune response to it and then it mutates top something else and becomes very resistant to the protection against infection.”

The updated Pfizer and Moderna boosters will begin to phase out the original boosters as the vaccines roll out. They come as Alabama sees COVID numbers beginning to fall again from a peak of 29 percent positivity on July 20.

Goepfert said the original vaccines still remain strong against severe disease, which explains why hospitalizations remained muted while cases surged.

Goepfert said the new booster will be stronger at preventing infection in general as long as omicron remains the dominant variant, but will likely give recipients a stronger defense against severe COVID-19 even if the virus mutates again.

“The closer we are to what’s circulating, even if it doesn’t protect against infection, it will likely do a better job protecting against severe infection as well,” Goepfert said. “So that’s another reason to keep up with the virus.”

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The booster has not been tested on humans, but Goepfert said it “makes immunological sense” and showed promising results in studies with mice. 

Goepfert said regardless of how much benefit the new booster adds, the risk-benefit analysis typically weighs in favor of being vaccinated.

“The thing is vaccines are incredibly well-tolerated, they’re extremely safe and the risk-benefit is almost always going to be that you should get vaccinated,” Goepfert.

For people who have had adverse reactions to the vaccines in the past, Goepfert advises that they should consult with their doctor.

Goepfert said the amount of people with some immunity to the virus is the key that has led to the virus being less deadly, and that “immunity doesn’t last forever.”

“We’re still studying how long Covid immunity lasts, but it likely doesn’t;t last more than a year and probably wanes after six months pretty dramatically,” Goepfert said. “I think most people, unless they just recently got vaccinated, should get this vaccine.”

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The most recent data from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the CDC shows that just 52.2 percent of Alabamians have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nationally, 67.5 percent of Americans are vaccinated.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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