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When Can I Get a Second Bivalent COVID Booster? Here's What We Know Right Now

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A Black woman wearing a blue surgical mask and a blue shirt faces the camera, leaning over to administer a vaccine to a person wearing a blue checked shirt, whose back is to the camera.
Vocational Nurse Cleopatra Oniya administers the Pfizer booster shot at a COVID vaccination and testing site decorated for Cinco de Mayo at Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Los Angeles on May 5, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

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Update, 4:05 p.m. Wednesday: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have announced that as of Wednesday, certain people who are at higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death from COVID can get a second bivalent booster shot from Moderna or Pfizer — specifically, people age 65 and older, and people who are immunocompromised.

Read more about who can now get a second dose of the bivalent vaccine, and how to find a vaccine near you.

Original story. It’s been almost six months since the bivalent COVID vaccine booster became available. And many people are now wondering, “When can I get my second bivalent booster dose?”

The short answer: As long as you’ve already got one dose of the bivalent COVID-19 booster shot, there’s no need to rush.

That’s according to Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease expert at UCSF, who says that most healthy people who are up to date on their COVID vaccines can expect to get another booster shot after about a year.

“All roads lead to an annual COVID booster,” Chin-Hong told KQED. “We know so far that immunity from the booster in general should last for about a year.”

“If you’ve gotten the primary series, you have protection from serious disease, hospitalization and death for at least a year — probably even longer for most people,” he said.

To be up-to-date on COVID vaccinations, a person must have completed their primary vaccine series and received the most recently recommended booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Find where to get a COVID bivalent booster near you.

The updated bivalent booster, which comes as a single dose, protects against both the original virus strain and the omicron variants that have emerged and remain dominant. Federal health agencies authorized the updated booster for people ages 12 and older in September and for anyone over 6 months in December.

Who needs an earlier bivalent booster?

People 65 and older can qualify for a second bivalent booster shot at least four months after their original bivalent shot, according to forthcoming guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC obtained by NPR.

Anyone who is immunocompromised and who received the booster shot within two months may also qualify.

People who are immunocompromised or who have recently had procedures that could disrupt their immune system should ask their doctor about additional bivalent booster shots and whether that’s something they could benefit from, Chin-Hong said.

According to NPR, the FDA’s latest authorization applies to only the most recent COVID vaccine, a bivalent shot that’s formulated to address the dominant omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

A woman in a mask receives a shot from a another woman in a white lab coat.
Safeway pharmacist Shahrzad Khoobyari (right) administers a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot into the arm of Chen Knifsend at a San Rafael vaccine clinic on Oct. 1, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Most people, however, still need to get that first bivalent shot, Chin-Hong said.

Just 39% of San Franciscans have received the bivalent booster, compared with 86% who completed the vaccine’s initial series, according to data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Across California, around a quarter of residents have received the bivalent booster, and 61% got the initial vaccine.

That’s concerning, Chin-Hong said, because the majority of people who are testing positive for COVID in hospitals today are either not vaccinated or not up to date on their vaccines.

“More than 70% of the people being hospitalized right now haven’t gotten a single booster, and the rest are unvaccinated,” Chin-Hong said. “The vast majority of vaccinated people haven’t even gotten a booster. So that’s really the focus.”

Local health departments are encouraging everyone to get the bivalent COVID booster if they have not yet already.

Your immunity and booster timing

Immunity provided by a booster typically starts to wear off about five or six months after the jab.

But the immune system doesn’t start from scratch when a vaccine’s immunity begins to wane.

The vaccine provides a blueprint to the body’s cells for how to protect against COVID, Chin-Hong explained — and a booster shot acts as a “reminder” to the immune system. For the majority of people who have been infected with COVID already, that experience provides them with a layer of immunity also.

“The more times your system gets reminded, the longer immunity lasts,” said Chin-Hong. “That, to me, is a victory — because as an infectious disease doctor, I’m more concerned that people don’t come into the hospital, are not put in the ICU and do not die.”

In January, an FDA committee met to discuss simplifying the COVID vaccine schedule to a single annual dose for most people.

Under that approach, most people would be advised to get the latest version of the vaccine annually, likely in the fall or winter, similar to the flu vaccine. And also like with the flu vaccine, drug manufacturers would update the annual shot to match the dominant variant that year — like the latest bivalent COVID booster was updated to target both the original coronavirus strain and the dominant omicron variants.


The future of finding a COVID vaccine

The recommendation comes as local, state and federal authorities are winding down many COVID programs and funding streams that have provided many accessible testing, vaccination and treatment clinics.

COVID vaccinations will continue to be free or covered by insurance after the federal COVID emergency order ends on May 11, U.S. health officials have announced. But these may be harder to come by.

People who don’t have insurance could face new costs after the federal emergency order ends. However, some clinics, including community-based sites in San Francisco, have said they will continue to provide free vaccines to uninsured residents as long as supplies are available.

“Having just one bivalent booster is going to take you through the year,” Chin-Hong underscored. “If everyone got the bivalent booster that they’re supposed to do, that’s really the most important point.”

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023. We’ve published clear, helpful explainers and guides about COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.


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