On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans as young as 12 get a new and updated COVID-19 vaccination.

The new formula, which was FDA approved a day prior, is meant to protect against hospitalization in omicron variants including BA.5. Both Moderna and Pfizer have released an updated vaccine with a bivalent formula. Moderna's is recommended for those 18 and older and Pfizer for those 12 and older. 

“The new vaccine will have two components,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “They will, once again, have the component that protects against the traditional strain and the second component will protect against the most common Omicron variant that's now circulating out in the United States, which we call the BA.5 variant.”

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William Schaffner

Tennessee continues to experience one of the worst outbreaks in the country, with the level considered high in Davidson County, which includes a recommendation to wear a mask indoors from the CDC.

Schaffner told the Post that he expects the updated vaccine to be shipped to pharmacies and health departments next week. More detailed clinical guidelines that include recommendations for those who are immunocompromised are also expected to be released next week. 

The updated vaccine should help with hospitalizations though not necessarily infections. However, Schaffner said there are still some too frail to respond to the vaccine. 

“The virus will still be able to infect you, and probably cause a really bad cold kind of illness, but you won't be at risk of being hospitalized,” he said.   

For those who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, they will have to undergo the recommended dosage of the original vaccine before adding on the updated vaccine. 

Schaffner compared the COVID vaccine to the influenza vaccine, which is updated every year. The new COVID vaccine is different from a booster shot, which is an additional dose of the original vaccine.   

“We're updating this vaccine the way we do with our annual influenza vaccines,” Schaffner said. “Both of these viruses change over time, so you have to keep modifying the vaccine to keep up with the prominently circulating viruses.”

Schaffner is concerned that the rollout of the vaccine could hit a snag because medical professionals are asking people to “roll up both sleeves” for the flu shot and the updated COVID shot (which one can get at the same time, though the COVID shot cannot protect against the flu and vice versa). While there’s a segment of people who stay very up to date on vaccines, and a segment that’s very adverse to the vaccine, the largest group needs to be motivated to get the vaccine, he said. 

“They'll have to be motivated twice to come in and get vaccinated,” Schaffner said. “And with all the vaccine fatigue out there, I think we will have our work cut out for us this fall.”