Check your sources | Bluffton icon
By Karen Kier, pharmacist on behalf of the UN HealthWise team
We learn early in school to find credible sources when writing an article. Many can remember encyclopedias or going to the library to read a book and take notes. We’ve become an instant gratification society with Google or asking Siri or Alexa for a response.
Each week, I search the published, peer-reviewed literature to find the most reliable evidence on health and medicine. Recently, I was told that there is no need to read newsletters or published newspapers, as they can simply get their answers from Google. When you search Google for Google search algorithms and misinformation, you will surprisingly find some pretty good reviews about the accuracy of the results. Is it our most credible source of information?
What do you do with too many choices for one decision? Are you still looking for other sources? Do you ask your friends for advice? Are you asking experts? Are you postponing the decision until more information is available? We handle complex decisions very differently.
Right now we have tough decisions about COVID-19 vaccines. The original vaccines focusing on SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins before the mutations were highly effective in preventing disease, hospitalization and death. These original vaccines still have the ability to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, even though the main variants are Omicron BA.4 and BA.5.
Many in the United States are still eligible to receive the current COVID-19 booster shot. The data suggests that only 33.2% received a reminder. The United States has enough Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax vaccines to provide vaccines to eligible people.
Other studies are being published, including a JAMA Network Open study from August 10, 2022 reporting the benefits of combining and matching COVID-19 vaccines. The study evaluated the combination of the J&J COVID-19 viral vector vaccine with Pfizer’s COVID-19 mRNA vaccine against the Omicron variant. The study reported an improved antibody response to the Omicron variant with the combination. This study joins other evidence demonstrating some benefits of mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines.
The Novavax vaccine would provide a different mechanism than mRNA vaccines. However, the Novavax vaccine is currently not licensed for booster doses after a round from Moderna or Pfizer. On August 15, 2022, Novavax applied to the FDA to clear a booster dose of Novavax based on a Phase 3 study, which reported benefits from a booster dose of Novavax given six months after a primary series of two doses.
Immunologists have provided evidence to wait at least four months between COVID-19 booster doses to allow the immune system to have the best response for antibody production. This is an important factor in the timing of COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of the mechanism by which they work.
Companies are working on bivalent vaccines to fight Omicron mutations in SARS-CoV-2. Bivalent vaccines contain two distinct parts, including the spike protein sequence in the original COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the spike protein for the Omicron sequence.
The UK has approved the use of a bivalent vaccine with the original spike protein sequence and the Omicron BA.1 sequence. The difficulty with this vaccine lies in the predominant variants of Omicron in the United States and BA.4 and BA.5 in Europe. The UK vaccine has shown some ability to provide additional protection against Omicron infections.
The United States is awaiting data on a bivalent vaccine with the original spike protein sequence and a second sequence spanning BA.4 and BA.5. The hope is that this data and vaccine authorization will be available in early to mid-September. Pfizer has a bivalent vaccine with the original spike protein and the BA.5 subvariant for ages 12 and older. Moderna is about 3-4 weeks behind Pfizer with a bivalent vaccine for ages 18 and older.
A common question at the moment is whether I should receive the booster or wait for the bivalent vaccine to be authorized. There are several choices.
So should you wait for the bivalent vaccine for a few weeks to a few months or, if you’re eligible, should you get a COVID-19 booster now? It’s a good question because if you get a COVID-19 booster now, you’ll have to wait four months before you get the bivalent vaccine. Experts provide advice to answer this question. If you are at high risk of serious infection, consider getting a booster now and don’t wait. If the rate of infection in your community is increasing, consider getting a booster now. Otherwise, there may be an advantage in waiting for the bivalent vaccine. Another consideration to take into account is that new bivalent vaccines can only be authorized as a booster and not as a first series.
Additionally, we know that the immune system is boosted by any vaccine, including the flu vaccine. We are entering flu season and vaccines will be available in the coming weeks. UN HealthWise will have flu shots starting September 1, 2022.
UN HealthWise offers COVID-19, including reminders, as well as flu shots Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call the pharmacy for an appointment for other time slots. to get more information.
UN HealthWise Pharmacy