Americans have two options for a new omicron-specific Covid booster: Pfizer or Moderna. Which one should you get?
The short answer: it mostly depends on what you’re eligible for.
Pfizer’s booster is for ages 12+, while Moderna’s booster is for ages 18+. To receive either one you must be at least two months away from completing a primary vaccination series or receiving another Covid shot.
Aside from these eligibility guidelines, the new boosters aren’t very different from each other. Both recordings are bivalent, meaning that they target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron alongside the original Covid strain.
Federal health officials say both shots will serve as a much-needed layer of protection for the coming months as the weather turns colder and immunity to previous vaccines wanes. In other words, you can’t go wrong with either one.
But if you’re still trying to decide which one to get, here’s what you need to know – from mixing and matching to side effects and how to build the two new recordings.
Do I have to stay with the same brand of vaccine that I received previously?
No, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“People 18 and older may receive a different product for a booster pack than their primary series while that is the case [Pfizer or Moderna,]’ the CDC’s website says. Those under the age of 18 could mix and match if they could, but they’re only eligible for Pfizer’s shot at this time.
Some studies suggest that mixing and matching brands of vaccines for the older monovalent booster vaccines that are no longer in use may have produced higher numbers of antibodies. Equivalent studies on the Omicron-specific boosters haven’t been published yet – but some experts say you’ll be fine either way.
“It’s okay to combine Moderna and Pfizer,” said Dr. Ralph Gonzales, associate dean of clinical innovation at UC San Francisco, earlier this month at an on-campus town hall. “I just got my Moderna two days ago and it was an interesting experience. I’ve definitely felt a stronger reaction with the Moderna – having previously had Pfizer – but both combinations are fine.”
Are the side effects different?
Scientists are currently investigating this question. Her results are expected to confirm that you’re likely to get the same side effects – with the same degree of severity – from both shots.
In the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials for previous versions of bivalent boosters targeting omicron’s BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants, participants reported the same common side effects with each injection:
- Pain, redness and/or swelling at the injection site
- Muscle aches
- joint pain
In both clinical studies, most participants reported their side effects as very mild or non-existent. Serious side effects are most commonly associated with the second dose of vaccines, rather than the third or fourth dose, said U.S. Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisor Dr. Paul Offit, told CNBC Make It earlier this month.
How different are the recordings, scientifically?
The two shots have very similar formulations and different dosage amounts.
Pfizer’s updated booster shots contain 15 micrograms targeting the original Covid strain and another 15 targeting BA.4 and BA.5. That’s the same size as a single dose of Pfizer’s monovalent vaccine, which contains 30 micrograms, which targets the original strain.
Moderna’s new shots contain a slightly higher dosage, with 25 micrograms targeting the original strain and another 25 targeting the Omicron subvariants. That’s the same total as a single dose of his 50-mcg monovalent vaccine.
Several studies indicate that Moderna’s monovalent vaccine is slightly more effective than Pfizer’s at producing higher numbers of antibodies and provides more durable protection against infection and hospitalization. “Over time, that higher dose could make all the difference in protection,” John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, told The Atlantic last year.
The keyword here is “might”: Experts have yet to find direct correlations between the amount of a vaccine dosed and the level of protection you get. Health officials say the new shots will boost your immunity at a crucial time, whether you get Pfizer or Moderna.
“We know that respiratory viruses circulate in much higher concentrations during the fall and winter. It’s a really good time to protect yourself,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid response coordinator, to the podcast “In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt”. earlier this month. “And even if you’re on the low-risk side yourself, you’ll have family and friends who will see you. You don’t want to be the person your grandma gives it to be.”
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