Think of the fight against COVID as a race — and that the virus putting on new running shoes, to travel farther and faster. And think of booster shots as the best running shoes for catching up.
The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, is speeding up the race with its aggressive subvariants — and this requires more boosters, including one authorized recently.
Following approval on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 respectively by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a booster shot to battle Omicron subvariants is making its way to vaccine sites across the U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the shots, known as bivalent COVID boosters, specifically designed to target the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5.
“What we’ve seen is a kind of uptick in COVID cases … it’s like starting over, in a way,” said Dr. Robert Klugman, medical director of employee health services at UMass Memorial Health in Worcester, and associate professor of medicine at UMass Chan Medical School.
The two federally approved bivalent boosters are the Moderna booster, for those 18 and older, and Pfizer-BioNTech, for recipients 12 and older.
“This doesn’t prevent you from getting the virus, but it makes it a lot milder and more manageable. It reduces the risk of you getting severely ill, needing treatment and hospitalization for long COVID,” Klugman said.
The bivalent booster vaccine is formulated both with elements of the original COVID vaccine, and derivatives of the Omicron subvariants. Spokesperson Debora Spano said an initial supply of doses at UMass Memorial Health numbers about 1,000.
Klugman said, “What they have done is looked at the spike protein on BA.5 and BA.4 — especially BA.5 — that have mutated from their predecessors.”
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Klugman added, “The BA.5 is 90-plus percent of what they’re seeing, and this is what we are are after.” When it comes to new COVID infections, Klugman said, “It has totally taking the lead.”
At an Aug. 31 press conference, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said the boosters should be administered two months after the first primary vaccination, or two months after the most recent booster dose.
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Califf said in the U.S., COVID is responsible for 400 deaths and more than 5,000 hospitalizations each day, and the fall in U.S. life expectancy in 2021.
At the press conference, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s center for biologics evaluation and research, said COVID is poised for a fall and winter surge, which may peak about Dec. 1, which Marks said adds to the urgency of the booster shot.
The Department of Public Health reported the bivalent vaccine is available as of the week of Sept. 5.
Since then, vaccine doses and related supplies have been arriving at vaccine sites, including hospitals, pharmacies, senior centers, and municipal health departments. 
Klugman said UMass Medical received vaccine doses Sept. 8, and is in the process of setting up inpatient and outpatient clinics.
“The pharmacies have had it, and they’ve been vaccinating away — CVS, Walgreens,” said Klugman. “The pharmacies where people have been getting them are wide open. The YMCA in Worcester has a clinic. A few are being given at the libraries. They are starting to show up in senior centers.”
The Department of Public Health maintains a Vax Finder website, by which people looking for COVID vaccines can search for appointments.
In addition, the state provides a mobile vaccine clinic, and in-home vaccine services.
A state list of vaccination providers indicates which ones offer boosters, but changes could be added.
CVS,which has 197 store in the greater Boston area, announced on Sept. 2 that  locations nationwide are offering both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna bivalent booster vaccines. 
“CVS Pharmacy locations have been receiving the booster on a rolling basis,” said CVS spokesperson Tara Burke.
Walgreen’s  announced in a press release the availability of vaccines as of Sept. 2. 
“Additional appointments will be added daily as select Walgreens stores begin to receive the updated COVID-19 boosters,” the press release said.
Store pharmacies are also providing vaccines, including those at Walmart. In a statement, the company said walk-in appointments for the bivalent booster are currently available now as supply allows. Appointments through a digital booster scheduler can be made as early as midweek for the week of Sept. 12.
Klugman said it’s important to get the bivalent vaccine because of the dominance of the Omicron subvariant strains. 
However, if a person has never been vaccinated against COVID and wants to start, the primary vaccine must be administered first — two doses for Moderna and Pfizer, and one for Johnson & Johnson. 
The FDA issues these guidelines:
At an Aug. 31 press conference, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said the boosters should be administered two months after the first primary vaccination, or two months after the most recent booster dose.
Klugman noted all boosters administered now are the bivalent COVID boosters designed to fight Omicron subvariants, and that this is the type of booster shot that will be available and given at all times, for the time being.
In an email reply, the FDA affirmed a person must receive the primary vaccine doses before receiving a booster. 
If a person has received monoclonal antibodies — a type of medication to fight infection, including COVID — Klugman said the wait time for a booster shot is three months. 
Klugman said everyone eligible should get the booster, particularly important for older people, and anyone with a chronic health condition or compromised immune system. 


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