CT residents may be able to get omicron-specific COVID boosters by next week. Here’s what to know

Photo of Alex Putterman
A nurse gives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot to Dean Iida, a senior at Eagle Rock High School on Monday in Eagle Rock, Calif.

A nurse gives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot to Dean Iida, a senior at Eagle Rock High School on Monday in Eagle Rock, Calif.

Allen J. Schaben / TNS

A new round of COVID-19 boosters designed to specifically target omicron subvariants could arrive in Connecticut as soon as next week, officials say, following authorization by federal authorities this week.

“We would expect to have vaccine delivered shortly after Labor Day,” Mick Bolduc, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Public Health who coordinates the state immunization program, said Wednesday. “So hopefully at this point next week we would have vaccines showing up at provider offices.”

Here is what to know.

Who will be eligible for the new booster shots?

The FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have authorized two separate boosters: one, from Moderna, that is cleared for all Americans 18 and older and another, from Pfizer-BioNTech, that is cleared for those 12 and older.

To receive a new booster, you must have completed your initial vaccine series (two doses of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech or one dose of Johnson & Johnson) and must not have received any COVID-19 vaccine dose within the past two months.

When exactly will they arrive in Connecticut?

With the boosters now having gained approval from the FDA, a CDC advisory panel and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, vaccine providers in Connecticut should be ready to distribute doses some time next week.

Bolduc said DPH had already collected orders from Connecticut providers. Eric Arlia, director of pharmacy at Hartford HealthCare, said the health system placed its order last week and plans to begin distribution next week.

“It’s all happening earlier than I thought it would,” Arlia said. “But that just means it will be available through the whole fall season, and hopefully we can get a lot of people interested in it and have an impact on the amount of illness we see this fall season.”

Where can you go to get a booster?

The new booster shots will likely be available at all the same places previous rounds of COVID-19 vaccines have been.

That means major pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, as well as many physicians’ offices and special vaccine sites such as those set by Hartford HealthCare in nine locations statewide.

“Every [provider] who has received COVID vaccine previously has the opportunity to now order these new vaccines,” Bolduc said.

What makes these shots different from previous boosters?

The new COVID-19 booster shots are specifically designed to protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, which have caused a spike in cases this summer across much of the country, including in Connecticut.

“These updated boosters are what we call ‘bivalent boosters,’ in that they contain mRNA from both the original SARS-CoV-2 strain, as well as the one shared by the BA.4 and BA.5 lineage,” said Dr. David Banach, chief epidemiologist at UConn Health. “So they’re more targeted towards the specific variants and subvariants that we’ve seen in recent months.”

The FDA says the new boosters “are expected to provide increased protection” against the variants that are circulating currently, as compared to previous boosters.

Should you get a booster? What do the experts say?

Bolduc said he would “strongly advocate” that anyone who is eligible seek a booster once they become available.

“These variants are going to continue to evolve, and now we have a vaccine that is primarily going to focus on this variant that has been circulating,” Bolduc said. “So now we have another tool out there that can address these variants in a better way.”

Arlia, from Hartford HealthCare, also advocated boosters for anyone eligible.

“My feeling has always been that I trust the process and want to protect myself if I’m eligible,” he said. “I always recommend that people get the booster.”

While COVID-19 vaccines were initially pitched as a way to drastically reduce the likelihood of infection, increasingly contagious variants have somewhat dulled their impact. Still, data shows, people who are vaccinated and boosted are less likely to develop serious illness or to die from COVID-19 than those who aren’t.

“The data from prior boosters has supported that they’re effective in preventing severe infection,” Banach said. “Mild infection is different ... but historically what we’ve seen from boosters is that they’re protection against hospitalization and severe illness.”

Will the new boosters stem future COVID outbreaks?

Connecticut continues to experience relatively high levels of COVID-19 spread, and experts fear transmission will only increase this fall and winter as the weather cools.

The new boosters, if adopted widely, may potentially blunt the coming surge, resulting in less illness and death than last winter.

Banach said he expects COVID-19 to continue circulating even with the new boosters but that widespread vaccination could reduce serious illness in Connecticut and elsewhere.

“It’s difficult to make conclusions about the bivalent boosters because they are new,” Banach said. “I think we have to be realistic with the situation, but it’s something we’ll have to follow in the weeks and months ahead.”