FDA Authorizes COVID-19 Booster Doses Targeting Omicron Subvariants


Photo courtesy of Mat Napo on Unsplash.com

Rachel Galinkin, Staff Writer

On September 12, 2022, two new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters were authorized by the FDA. The booster shots, one produced by Moderna and the other by Pfizer and BioNTech, aim to target the fast-spreading strains of the Omicron variant that have become predominant worldwide. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, COVID-19 has been responsible for over one million deaths in the United States alone. As case totals continue to fluctuate in 2022, the pharmaceutical research field has accumulated extensive data that allows for major advancements in antiviral and vaccine technology.

The booster shots target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These are currently the most common strains of COVID-19 circulating in the United States, accounting for well over 90% of total cases, according to Yale Medicine. Both vaccines use mRNA, a type of single-stranded RNA involved in protein synthesis, as part of their technology. Typically, mRNA serves as a messenger by transporting genetic information from a cell’s nucleus to other cellular components. These components then produce proteins from mRNA in a process called protein synthesis. Vaccine researchers discovered a method to enclose mRNA strands so they can be injected into the body and utilized to prompt protein production in body cells. In the case of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, the mRNA directs the body to produce SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein. This triggers a moderate immune response that later allows the immune system to recognize the spike protein in the instance of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. By recognizing the spike protein, the immune system is better able to prevent the presentation of symptoms and severe illness.

The new booster shots are a huge step forward in preventing the spread of COVID-19. In August, FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf tweeted, “The COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, continue to save countless lives and prevent the most serious outcomes (hospitalization and death) of COVID-19.”  In addition to decreasing the risk of COVID-19 in individuals, other members of the community have a reduced risk of being exposed and infected as well.

In Suffolk county, the new bivalent boosters are available by appointment at multiple pharmacies. Rite-Aid and Walgreens both offer online scheduling for many immunizations recommended by the CDC, including the updated booster.