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  • A second bivalent COVID-19 booster will be available to people over age 65 and people who are immunocompromised.
  • The changes to the vaccine schedule are to help simplify the vaccination process.
  • Only about 17% of individuals in the United States who are eligible have received the bivalent booster.

​The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently announced a change to its COVID-19 vaccine schedule. They have approved a second bivalent vaccine booster for the Omicron variant on Tuesday that will be available to those over the age of 65 and those who are immunocompromised.

​Of those who are over the age of 65, if it has been at least 4 months since their first dose of the bivalent vaccine, they will be eligible.

“In addition, people who are immunocompromised need to wait only 2 months before they receive their next bivalent booster. Beyond that, they could receive further doses during the course of the summer if they consult with their physician and their physician feels like it’s appropriate,” says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee.

If someone has only the original vaccine series and has not received an Omicron-targeted booster, they can still get the original booster that was offered.

The changes to the vaccine schedule are to help simplify the vaccination process. The original vaccine series was a two-shot process with booster shots along the way.

These recent recommendations are for those who are looking to get an optional second bivalent booster.

“If you are over the age of 6 and have not received a bivalent booster dose, it is recommended that you receive one dose,” says Dr. Rachael Lee, Chief healthcare epidemiologist at UAB Hospital and assistant professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases.

For those individuals who have never been vaccinated or are late on the vaccine schedule, they will not have to start from new with the original vaccine. The recommendation will be to just receive the bivalent vaccine as a single dose.

This is because the original strain of COVID-19 is no longer a threat, while the Omicron subvariant strains are currently circulating.

The bivalent vaccine has protections against both the original and the omicron variants of COVID.

“At this stage of the pandemic, data supporting simplifying the use of authorized mRNA bivalent COVID-19 vaccines in the agency believes that this approach will help encourage future vaccination,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in a written statement.

While it is difficult to predict if or when COVID will have a season, there is hope that a yearly vaccine can help keep people protected against severe disease.

The FDA is looking to create a shift in vaccine distribution and timing and will emulate the flu vaccine model where individuals receive the vaccine just once a year. This vaccine would be created in advance to coincide with the predicted strains that will circulate in the upcoming year.

“The FDA have clearly signaled that they are creating an annual program for all of us similar to what we have for influenza,” says Schaffner.

Schaffner said there will likely be guidelines by the fall.

“While we have not seen a seasonality to COVID-19 yet, I do believe that we may see an updated vaccine in the fall that will likely coincide with the timing of the flu vaccine. However, given how these vaccines are made differently, it will likely require two shots, rather than just one,” says Lee.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, COVID vaccine use has been dramatically lower with the bivalent booster vaccines in comparison to the original. Only about 17% of individuals in the United States who are eligible have received the bivalent booster.

“COVID-19 continues to be a very real risk for many people, and we encourage individuals to consider staying current with vaccination, including with a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine,” said Marks.

Vaccines are still recommended for the general population to fight against COVID-19.

Vaccines are by far and away the most efficient way for prevent complications from COVID-19. Updated data from the CDC shows that bivalent boosters are helping provide additional protection against emergency department and urgent care encounters as well as hospitalization and death,” Lee tells Healthline.

Dr. Rajiv Bahl, is an emergency medicine physician, board member of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians, and health writer. You can find him at RajivBahlMD.com.