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St. Louis doctors say everyone should get updated COVID-19 booster

Kanisha Ward, LPN, gives Carlis Weathers, 60, of Belleville her 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The East Side Health District has been holding vaccine clinics at the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Citizens Center in East St. Louis as well as other locations.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Kanisha Ward, an LPN, gives Carlis Weathers, 60, of Belleville her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine last year. Federal health officials have approved a new formulation of the vaccine that protects against the strains of the virus now circulating in the country.

An updated COVID-19 vaccine booster shot is hitting shelves in the St. Louis region this week after the federal government approved the shots for emergency use.

The boostersare designed to protect against the original strain of the virus as well as BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants, the dominant strains of the virus circulating in the country.

St. Louis health officials and doctors say everyone who can should get the updated booster, even if they’ve received the vaccine or previous boosters in the past.

“The idea of getting an updated vaccine is that we have additional protection against what’s circulating now,” said Dr. Shephali Wulff, an infectious disease specialist at SSM Health. “If COVID is going to be something that we have to live with as a society, if it's an endemic virus which is how it's evolving, then we have to have things in place to keep most of us safe.”

The updated vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are similar to previous versions, except scientists have tweaked them to recognize and prime the body to protect against new variants. Lab studiesshow the boosters created antibodies that protect people against getting dangerously sick with the virus.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the updated booster shot for people 12 and older after the Food and Drug Administration approved the new Moderna booster for people 18 and older and the Pfizer booster for people 12 and up.

The new boosters are being shipped to local pharmacies, hospitals, doctor's offices and retailers. People can find where to get the new vaccines in Missouri at thestate health department’s website.

People who have recently gotten a coronavirus booster shot should wait at least two months before they get another shot, Wulff said.

If someone has recently tested positive for the coronavirus, it’s OK to get the new vaccine right away, as long as they’re not contagious and it’s been 10 days since they developed symptoms, said Dr. Hilary Babcock, medical director of infection prevention at BJC Healthcare.

“I think the most important message is this vaccine, this booster is important, and everyone who is eligible should get it,” she said. “Most guidance says you could delay it for around three months because you’re protected, and I think that’s fair.

“But also, if you had an infection a month and a half ago and someone is standing in front of you ready to get you the vaccine, I would just get it,” Babcock said. “There really is no downside.”

It may be more difficult to motivate people to seek out the updated vaccine, said Nebu Kolenchery, director of communicable diseases at the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

But Kolenchery wants everyone to know the virus is still risky, especially to older people and those who are sick or live with chronic health problems.

“While the vast majority of the public may not consider COVID to be a big deal anymore, I think it's important for the public to know that every day 400 people in the United States still die from COVID,” he said.

Vaccine protection wanes over time, and it’s important to stay updated with shots, Kolenchery said.

“We believe that vaccines are a very important mitigation strategy against any communicable disease,” he said. “And so this new formulation of vaccine suggests that it can continue to provide immunity, especially to those who are most vulnerable.”

New versions of the vaccine may be needed each year, similar to a flu vaccine, doctors said. The way the mRNA vaccines are made means scientists can easily rework doses to fit dominant strains of the virus.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.