For COVID-19, there is an updated vaccine that targets variants currently circulating related to XBB, an offshoot of the Omicron variant. According to the CDC, the 2023–2024 formulation for all COVID-19 vaccines licensed or authorized in the United States (Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer-BioNTech) has been updated to a monovalent vaccine based on the Omicron XBB.1.5 sublineage of SARS-CoV-2. The Original monovalent and bivalent (Original and Omicron BA.4/BA.5) formulations are no longer used.
The CDC recommends vaccination for everyone ages 6 months and older in the United States for the prevention of COVID-19. The unvaccinated still need two doses of Moderna or three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, taken a month or two apart. The interval between booster doses is at least eight weeks. People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should take doses at shorter intervals. However, some say there’s not enough data proving the vaccine is safe, and focus on the side effects.
In addition to the rare risk of myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — there’s also “negative effectiveness” — a phenomenon in which contact among vaccinated people can result in the vaccines becoming less effective. Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo says he doesn’t recommend the new vaccine to anybody given the lack of clinical trials. Other doctors say the risk of the virus greatly outweighs the risk of side effects, except for those who have had COVID recently or who have had a bad reaction to previous vaccines. Plus, the CDC says for those over 85, getting the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and a high-dose flu shot at the same time can cause a stroke. And whether true or not, more than one-quarter of Americans surveyed claimed they knew someone who died from the COVID-19 vaccine.
Likely due to a year with low infections, as of October 27, only 15 million Americans, or 4.5% of the population, have received the fall’s updated shot. Last year, about 56 million Americans, or 17% of the population, received the shots. In fact, weak demand for COVID-19 vaccines caused Moderna’s stock price to fall 60% so far this year. Also, Moderna’s expected revenues haven’t materialized because their new mRNA flu and RSV vaccines haven’t been approved yet by the FDA.
In Texas, there’s legislation that makes it illegal for private employers to mandate their employees get vaccinated. They can, however, require unvaccinated employees to wear masks. Also, local government bodies are prohibited from requiring masks, vaccines, or business shutdowns in response to COVID-19. But in the San Francisco Bay area, masks are required in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities in an effort to limit the spread of RSV, the flu and COVID. In some counties only healthcare workers are required to wear a mask, but in others the patients must also wear them.
One reason people don’t get vaccinated is the discomfort and fever after receiving the shot. But the Novavax vaccine that was authorized by the FDA in July 2022 and recently updated to tackle the 2023-2024 variants has milder side effects. Unlike Moderna and Pfizer’s messenger-RNA based vaccines, Novavax combines the proteins resembling those in the COVID-19 virus with an immune-enhancing substance derived from the soapbark tree. Novavax reduces catching COVID-19 by 50% for at least four months, and similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it protects against severe illness longer.