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Q&A: How effective are omicron-specific boosters?

Dr. Ricardo González-Fisher discusses the FDA's recent request to modify COVID-19 vaccine boosters to target omicron variants.

COLORADO, USA — Last month, U.S. regulators recommended that COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers update their booster vaccine formulations to target the new BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants.

While this decision was not surprising and may have seemed superficial to many people, Dr. Ricardo González-Fisher of Servicios de la Raza says it is worth thinking about the larger context behind this decision. 

Q: The FDA now recommends that future booster injections include protection against omicron variants. What do you think about this decision?

Gonzalez-Fisher: We know that a spike protein of the virus has been mutating dramatically in the past year or so. This is the dominant variant right now, and we know that this variant has been able to tease the immune system and infect people even if they're vaccinated or if they have natural immunity caused by a previous infection. 

So, even though we know that the original vaccine is good to prevent hospitalization, death or severe disease, there is still of a group of people who are getting infected and they're still sadly getting severe disease—people with high risk. So the logical steps would be to try to create a vaccine that adapted to that mutation of the virus.

This is what the FDA is proposing.

We already have laboratory evidence in the first studies they did for the omicron variant that antibodies increase up to double when a vaccine for omicron is used.

Q: How did the FDA come to this decision? 

Gonzalez-Fisher: Basically following these studies. Seeing that the virus has been changing due to these mutations. Seeing that the mutations that are dominating now are the subvariants of omicron. The idea is to try to prevent this. 

Some questions that we still do not have well resolved, who should receive the booster? Healthy young people or only high-risk people? They are working on that and the other thing is that they want to modify the vaccine a little to make it versatile, that is, to continue attacking the original strains and also the variants and also to do it by nasal inhalation so that it has a more natural path, more similar to the virus, which also protects from the nasal membrane. 

Q: When will we have a decision on all these questions? 


Gonzalez-Fisher: I think for the fall. We're going to start with the new vaccination seasons. We'll have answers.

9NEWS WATCH+ host Chris Bianchi, who interviewed González-Fisher for this story, tested positive for COVID-19 and had to conduct the interview from home. He took this opportunity to ask the doctor about his own symptoms of the virus. 

Q: My symptoms are mild. Am I correct in saying that my mild symptoms are probably milder thanks to the vaccine?

González-Fisher: Effectively. That is what we know so far.

The original COVID-19 vaccine, which is the vaccine we are applying, has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms, in reducing the severity of the infection, hospitalizations and death in people despite having an omicron infection, which is the variant that predominates now. 

So yes, the vaccine has been doing what it was supposed to do. 

Servicios De La Raza, the state's largest nonprofit serving Latinos, will continue to offer its vaccination clinic each week on Thursdays. 

It will be available from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the organization, which is located at 3131 W. 14th Ave. Appointments are not required but are recommended. People can call 303-458-5851 to make an appointment.

No form of identification, Social Security number or health insurance is required to get vaccinated. 

RELATED: Colorado's monkeypox strategy is different than COVID, but hurdles are similar

RELATED: COVID boosters for the fall must target newer omicron types, FDA says

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