Health officials are still urging Americans to get a bivalent booster nearly a month after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the COVID-19 shots targeting the omicron variant.
A look at cases and deaths: 13 states had more cases in the latest week than in the week before, and 20 states had more deaths, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
A look at booster numbers: About 4.4 million people have received a bivalent COVID-19 booster since the start of the month, representing only 1.5% eligible Americans, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Where do boosters for kids stand? Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have submitted requests to the FDA to get their shots authorized for emergency use in younger children, but it's unclear when they'll become available.
What does bivalent mean?
Answer: Bivalent boosters combine the original COVID-19 vaccine with a reformulation that targets the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of the omicron variant.
Both the original COVID-19 vaccines and the updated bivalent boosters use messenger RNA technology.
In the original vaccines, mRNA instructs body’s cells to produce spike proteins similar to those on the surface of the original coronavirus. The immune system recognizes those vaccine-created spike proteins as invaders and creates antibodies to block future attacks of the real virus.
The bivalent booster combines the original vaccine and a reformulation targeting a mutated spike protein found on the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, so the immune system can create antibodies that combat both the original coronavirus and the omicron variants.
The BA.5 strain is the predominant variant circulating the country, making up more than 85% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
When should I get a bivalent COVID booster?
White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said everyone should get their bivalent booster shot by Oct. 31. But with fall in full swing, health experts are urging Americans not to wait, as they expect coronavirus cases to rise in the coming months.
“I am recommending anyone that asks me to get it as soon as they can,” said Libby Richards, associate professor of nursing at Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “It takes two weeks for the body to start to develop antibodies, meaning it takes two weeks for you to gain protections against the new COVID variant.”
Health experts say immunity from the bivalent booster should carry through the holiday season, which will not only protect the person getting vaccinated, but also vulnerable loved ones during family gatherings.
How to find a booster shot near me
Major pharmacy retailers like CVS and Walgreens say they're offering both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccines, depending on the location. Both companies say they welcome walk-ins, but encourage patients to schedule an appointment online.
The Biden administration also urges Americans to take advantage of its vaccine locator website, vaccines.gov. By entering your ZIP code, you can find a list of sites where their preferred vaccine is available.
I just recovered from COVID. Should I wait to get boosted?
Answer: People who have recently recovered from COVID-19 should still get boosted, experts say, as data suggests immunity from prior infection may not be as protective as vaccine-induced immunity.
A 2021 study from the CDC found people were over five times more likely to get COVID-19 three to six months after a prior infection if they were unvaccinated, compared with those who were fully vaccinated and were never infected.
Other studies have also shown vaccination after a COVID-19 infection may offer broader protection, leading to a hybrid or "super immunity," experts say.
“You probably have some protection for some amount of time, in the order of weeks to months,” said Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “But there’s really good immunology data saying that after an infection, taking a vaccine really locks in that high level of antibody immunity.”
Should I get Moderna or Pfizer? Can I mix and match?
Answer: Get whatever bivalent booster shot is available, experts say.
Pfizer and Moderna's bivalent booster both use mRNA technology combining the original COVID-19 vaccine along with the reformulation targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of the omicron variant.
Pfizer-BioNTech: The companies' bivalent booster is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration at 30 micrograms to anyone 12 years old and older at least two months after any previous COVID-19 shots
Moderna: The FDA authorized Moderna's bivalent booster at 50 micrograms for adults 18 and older.
CDC guidance says FDA-authorized boosters can be mixed and matched after completing a primary series. Those who have gotten Pfizer boosters in the past can get Moderna’s bivalent booster, and vice versa.
Is the bivalent booster shot safe? What are the side effects?
Answer: Clinical trials in people have yet to be completed, but health experts say there are no safety concerns with the bivalent booster. The FDA said study participants who received the bivalent vaccine reported some side effects like pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain.
Although there's limited data, health experts agree the new boosters are safe and will provide broader protection against omicron variants.
FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said that if the agency waited until studies were completed in another month or two, "the (COVID) wave will have passed us by and the damage will have been done. ... We have to be a step ahead, or at least we have to try to be."
Can I get the flu shot and the bivalent booster at the same time?
As the country enters flu season, health officials are encouraging Americans to get their flu shot and COVID-19 booster in the same visit.
"I really believe this is why God gave us two arms," Jha said during a White House briefing. "One for the flu shot and the other for the COVID shot."
Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID bivalent booster dose: Moderna or Pfizer? When should I get it?