A lot of U.S. adults aren’t getting the COVID-19 bivalent booster, and a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helps explain why: Most likely, they don’t know about it, don’t know they’re eligible for it, or don’t think they need it.
The two bivalent boosters available, which protect against both the original strain and omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, are produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. The Moderna booster is authorized for use for anyone aged 6 months and older after they complete the primary vaccine series, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).The Pfizer booster is authorized for those aged 5 years and older after they complete the primary vaccine series.
Yet, only about 15% of the population has gotten the booster, including about 18.5% of adults, CDC says. The survey conducted in November found three prevalent reasons for this among adults between 18 to 60 years old. About 23.2% said they did not know about the booster; 19.3% said did not know it was available; and 18.9% said they thought they still had strong protection based on previous vaccinations or illness.
While many patients are eager to get COVID vaccines, others feel that COVID is no longer a threat and feel a lack of urgency, says San Antonio infectious disease specialist Jan Patterson, MD, a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force.
“There’s been COVID fatigue, and there’s been COVID vaccine fatigue because we’ve had not only the primary two-dose series and the two boosters but now this booster,” she said. “People think, ‘Does it really make a difference?’”
The answer is “yes,” Dr. Patterson says. Physicians talking to these patients should listen to their perspectives and help educate them about the most recent data. It shows people who get the bivalent booster are less likely to be hospitalized, even those who contract COVID from the omicron variant.
The CDC survey found that this type of patient education improves COVID vaccination rates.
“After viewing information about current booster vaccination guidelines, most participants who had been unaware of their eligibility or about availability reported planning to get the booster dose,” report authors wrote. “Increased outreach, such as through provider recommendations and trusted messengers, is necessary to increase awareness of eligibility criteria and vaccine availability.”
CDC did acknowledge the survey’s limitations – namely that most respondents were white – making it impossible to weight the sample by race or ethnicity to represent the general U.S. population.
FDA’s expert advisory panel, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, recently recommended making all COVID vaccines bivalent. It also is considering a proposal to have COVID boosters follow a seasonal format similar to the flu vaccine. Any recommendations made by the committee will have to be ratified by the FDA commissioner and then considered by a CDC advisory committee and its director.
“Getting [a COVID booster] in the fall with the flu vaccine is probably a good strategy because COVID will be around for a while,” Dr. Patterson said.