The bivalent COVID-19 booster is being administered in Santa Barbara County before winter strikes.
Shots are provided by pharmacies and primary care clinics, as well as Cottage Health facilities, Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, Lompoc Valley Medical Center and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
“The potential benefit is enormous as we approach the winter season, and we have no reason to think we’ll be immune this winter,” said Dr. David Fisk, Cottage Health’s director of infection prevention and control.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, said the improved booster was designed for better immunity against the BA.5 subvariant of the omicron variant.
“We know that the immunity from either vaccination, recovery from infection or a combination of the two, is getting weaker over time,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press. “Subsequently, a booster dose will improve protection against infection and severe illness from SARS-CoV2.
“Especially persons over 65 have the highest risk of severe illness and poor outcomes from COVID, and we highly recommend getting the new and improved booster,” Dr. Ansorg said.
At Marian, Dr. Scott Robertson said the hospital’s sister organization has ordered the bivalent vaccine for the Santa Maria Women’s Health Center, targeting the at-risk pregnant population.
“Through our clinic locations, the request for boosters has diminished over the last six months,” said Dr. Robertson, who’s also CEO of Pacific Central Coast Health Centers. “The community has had success with getting access to boosters with bivalent vaccines through commercial and retail pharmacies. Doctors will consult with patients, and ultimately patients will decide if they want the bivalent booster vaccine.
“On Sept. 16, the journal of the AMA (American Medical Association) published an article looking at safety and antibody levels primarily in adults. The bivalent vaccine raised antibody levels higher than the single variant, and there were no safety differences from the single variant vaccine,” Dr. Robertson told the News-Press. “Anyone receiving a booster should receive a bivalent booster.”
Dr. Fisk said Cottage Health facilities are “in the process of transitioning to making the bivalent vaccine available to admitted in-patients as boosters only. The bivalent vaccine is only approved for booster, not first or second dose.”
Dr. Ansorg noted primary care clinics and pharmacies have started to administer the bivalent booster. “Going forward, only the bivalent booster will be authorized for anyone age 12 and older.”
Dr. Fisk told the News-Press that the bivalent booster is available for anyone who has received two or more doses of the MRNA vaccine and is at least two months out from the vaccine dose. He said people who have had recent COVID-19 infections should wait three months after the infection.
Doctors say it’s safe to get the new COVID booster and the flu shot at the same time.
“The booster from Moderna and Pfizer are interchangeable, meaning: If you had the initial Moderna vaccination series, you can either receive the Moderna or the Pfizer bivalent booster product (depending on availability),” said Dr. Ansorg.
Lompoc Valley Medical Center initially ordered 1,100 doses of the bivalent booster: 600 Pfizer doses and 500 Moderna doses.
“We have administered 228 doses and have 872 doses remaining in inventory,” Steve Popkin, the Lompoc hospital’s CEO, told the News-Press. “We hold vaccination clinics at the hospital every Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. As the state’s MyTurn scheduling system is not able to book appointments for the bivalent booster, all boosters are done on a walk-in basis. All individuals are eligible to receive their first, primary vaccine series, which is available at the LVMC vaccination clinic.
“The bivalent booster is administered to LVMC inpatients, prior to discharge, upon request,” Mr. Popkin said. “At this time, the bivalent booster is only available at our Friday vaccination clinics at the hospital (not at our Lompoc Health medical clinics).”
Dr. Fisk, meanwhile, discussed the wild card factor if a new variant takes over. “The wild card is how effective the vaccine will be against a new variant. This will be most effective if BA.5 remains a variant. Bivalent will be potentially less effective to a new variant.
“But if there were a new variant coming, I would still want myself boosted with a bivalent booster.”