New booster to target Omicron subvariants now available

FITCHBURG, Wis. – A new COVID-19 booster meant to specifically target the most widely circulating Omicron subvariants is now available in the Madison area, and more doses are expected later this week.

Fitchburg Family Pharmacy received its Moderna supply last Friday, and on Tuesday morning the pharmacy received its Pfizer doses. Almost immediately, staff members started administering them.

Pharmacy owner Thad Schumacher said because this isn’t their first vaccine rollout, they’ve got a system that works. That system now involves 10 different vaccines, from baby and kids boosters to original series vaccines, all at once.

“We had anticipated that we were going to be giving these vaccines, so we had prepared our workflow and made system changes early,” he said, “so that when it became available we could just turn it on.”

New to the list from Moderna and Pfizer are two vaccines — which recently got FDA and CDC emergency use authorization — known as bivalent boosters. The updated formula combines parts of the original vaccine with components that target Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

UW Population Health Sciences Professor Ajay Sethi said the hope is the vaccine will allow people to not only get a boost in antibodies that they already have but they’ll also get some specific to the two strains which account for 99 percent of the circulated virus.

However, he also said especially with social gatherings picking back up and schools back in session, it’s too soon to tell how effective the new formula will actually be.

“We might not see the same kind of surge in hospitalizations and deaths that we saw last winter when the first Omicron variant emerged, but it’s hard to predict,” he said. “Is there going to be another variant that deserves a new Greek letter because it escapes the immunity we have? We don’t know.”

He also said in theory the updated vaccine does stand a better chance of being able to fight any new variants that emerge.

Fitchburg Family Pharmacy is booked for the week, but Schumacher said he expects to have enough doses for anyone who has scheduled an appointment.

In a news release Tuesday night, grocery store chain Hy-Vee said select Hy-Vee Pharmacy locations are administering a “limited” supply of doses by appointment.

Moderna’s booster is for people aged 18 and older. Pfizer’s is for people 12 and older. In order to get either, you have to be at least two months out from your last booster or original series.