Health Canada has recently approved two bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, one produced by Moderna, the other by Pfizer-BioTech. A bivalent vaccine is one which protects against two or more strains of a disease, in this case, the ancestral COVID-19 strain and the more recent Omicron variant. It produces a broader immune response that can help recipients of the vaccine better fight infection and prevent passing the disease on to more vulnerable friends and family members.

Who Should Get a Bivalent COVID-19 Shot? 

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) recommends a bivalent vaccine dose as a booster in individuals 5 years and older.

Although anyone who qualifies can benefit from the booster, it is especially recommended for people who are at higher risk of infection and complications, such as elderly people, those with chronic illnesses, pregnant or overweight people, and those who are otherwise immunocompromised.

What Are the Prerequisites for the Shot?

Because the bivalent COVID-19 shot is only recommended as a booster dose, those interested in the bivalent vaccine will need to have already completed their primary series. The booster dose does not have to be manufactured by the same provider as your primary dose. Patients seeking the bivalent booster must be 5 years old or older. The patient must have been given the second dose of their primary series at least four to six months prior to seeking the booster.

Patients’ Common Questions

Patients interested in the bivalent COVID-19 shot may have many questions that they’ll want their medical providers to answer.

What’s the Difference?

While the original Moderna Spikevax vaccine, as well as other mRNA vaccines, targeted the original COVID-19 strain, the bivalent booster also includes a second mRNA sequence targeted at preventing the Omicron variant. Booster doses restore protection from a primary series that may have decreased over time.

What Does mRNA Mean?

The key component in mRNA vaccines is a messenger RNA sequence which carries information to the immune system and teaches it to create antibodies against a particular illness. Contrary to common misconception, the sequence does not rewrite a person’s DNA; it simply delivers instructions that a person’s cells use to make a protein that combats the illness. Unlike traditional vaccines, mRNA vaccines do not contain any amount of a weakened form of the agent that causes the illness. Only the messenger RNA sequence is needed to achieve immunity.

What Are the Side Effects?

Like the original vaccines, side effects may include both injection-site-specific symptoms and general side effects. Injection-site symptoms may involve redness, soreness, or swelling, while full-body side effects may include flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, nausea, fatigue, or chills. Most side effects dissipate within a day or two.

Though rare, there may be some more serious side effects such as Bell’s Palsy, myocarditis, pericarditis, and allergic reactions. If these occur, patients should seek emergency medical attention.

How To Encourage Vaccine Uptake in Patients

Vaccination remains one of the key ways to prevent infection and spread of COVID-19, but not all patients are open to vaccination. It is important to encourage them to consider immunization anyway.

Recent news trends have made it look as though the pandemic is over and everyone can stop worrying and go back to pre-pandemic normal. However, there are several factors that are not being addressed. At the height of the pandemic, people were being regularly tested, and their results recorded, giving us a clearer idea of how much of the population was infected at a given time. However, as infection rates have dropped, testing has also gone by the wayside. Also, the broad availability of at-home tests means that many test results are no longer being reported to health authorities. The data is accordingly skewed in favour of lower infection rates. Although the numbers appear to be dropping, vaccination is still necessary to contain the spread.

Even patients who have been previously vaccinated may think they are safe without a booster. If they’ve gone more than four months without a vaccination or booster, it may help to remind them that the efficacy of the vaccine wears off over time, and boosters are necessary to maintain immunity. 

Learn More About Bivalent COVID-19 Boosters

Bivalent boosters are an important step toward reducing infection rates and ending the pandemic. Learn about bivalent COVID-19 boosters in our on-demand webinar series on MDBriefCase:

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