Waiting on new vaccines may be a mistake

NORWOOD, Mass. — Many in Norwood have already gotten a fourth booster shot. But some are holding out, said Stacey Lane, assistant director of the town’s Health Department.

“The people who are eligible for a second booster now, so those 50 and over, we’ve had numerous calls from people asking if they should wait until the fall,” said Stacey Lane, assistant director of the Norwood Health Department. “The current recommendation is to get it now.”

What some are waiting for is the release of “new and improved” vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer that will address the Omicron subvariants. But one researcher doesn’t expect they’ll have a big advantage over current formulations.

“The virus has evolved much more quickly, much more strongly than the vaccine technologies have,” said John Moore, PhD, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Weill Cornell Medical in New York City. “Just adjusting the composition of the existing vaccines to include Omicron sequence BA4 5 isn’t some kind of magic bullet that is going to make those vaccines perform significantly better.”

Moore recently co-authored a piece in MedPageToday addressing the strategy of waiting for new vaccine versions for a second booster versus going with what’s available now. He said the latter is a wise choice, especially for those at high risk of illness from Covid infection.

Moore also frowned on the idea of getting a booster now, using existing vaccine formulations, then getting an Omicron-specific one in a month or so.

“Boosters work best when your antibody levels have dropped down to a low level,” Moore said. “Then a booster will take them back up. But if you boost when the antibody level is already high, which is a few weeks to a month or so after a vaccine dose, the booster isn’t going to do very much. It’s sort of a waste of time. It’s a waste of effort. It won’t provide you with much additional protection, if any. It’s a waste of resources. It’s just not the optimal way to have a booster policy.”

The FDA still hasn’t set down a second booster policy for those under 50 -- but published reports indicate the agency may wait until the Omicron specific vaccines are available -- which is rumored to be in fall -- a season some public health officials are concerned about already.

“Covid is not behind us,” Lane said. “It changes quickly, so the fall is going to be whole new territory for us.”

What Moore would like to see improve is the speed of new vaccine approvals -- because, he said, better formulations are in the works, but the process of getting them to market has slowed to pre-pandemic levels, in which it took years to get a new vaccine approved.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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