Nursing & Healthcare News

New COVID-19 Boosters

Next round of vaccines will target Omicron XBB variant

Nurse wearing blue latex gloves applies bandaid to patient's arm after giving vaccine

Wondering what’s next for COVID-19 vaccination? New boosters and guidelines are coming this fall. Here’s what we know NOW.

Out With the Old

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genomic sequencing data indicates that the early strains of COVID-19 that caused so much grief in 2020 and 2021 are no longer found in humans.

However, with both hospitalizations and infections on the rise, a new round of COVID-19 vaccines is set to roll out in the near future.

Viral Evolution

The existing COVID-19 vaccines, including the bivalent booster, still provide significant protection against severe illness. Unfortunately, the distinctive spike proteins of the novel coronavirus continue to evolve rapidly. The latest strains are different enough from earlier variants that they can more readily evade the antibodies produced by existing mRNA vaccines.

This means that if you’re fully vaccinated and have gotten your booster dose(s), those protective antibodies will still help to keep you out of the hospital. However, they may not prevent infection, or keep you from developing COVID-19 symptoms.

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Also, if you are infected, you can still spread the virus to others, especially now that infection prevention measures like masking have been largely abandoned.

New Vaccines

The latest generation of COVID-19 vaccines hadn’t yet received FDA approval by the time this issue went to press, but there will probably be three versions, from Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer.

These new vaccines are designed to target the current Omnicron XBB.1.5 variant. Although this is only one of the strains now circulating, the WHO says it’s one of the most “immune evasive,” and it’s similar enough to other current variants that the new vaccines may protect against those as well.

One potential problem is that the new vaccines won’t protect against earlier strains. If you’re already fully vaccinated, you likely already have protective antibodies against those variants. However, patients who didn’t receive the existing vaccines may not be protected if there’s a resurgence of an older variant like Delta, even if they receive the new vaccine.

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Guideline Updates

Federal health officials anticipate that the latest COVID-19 vaccines will be the first of a new series of annual boosters recommended for most people, much like the flu shot. The goal is to reduce the confusion surrounding who should get a booster and when, something that’s caused many headaches with the existing bivalent boosters.

Exactly when the latest vaccines will be available to the public remains to be seen, since it will take time for manufacturers to produce sufficient doses, even once FDA approval is granted and once the CDC has finalized its updated vaccination guidelines.

Another unanswered question is how much the new vaccines will cost. The federal government will no longer buy millions of doses to distribute for free, although the Biden administration expects to launch a program in October to vaccinate patients without health insurance.

AARON SEVERSON is the associate editor of Working Nurse.

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