Two studies performed recently at Columbia University and Harvard University have found that the new COVID-19 bivalent (two-in-one) booster shots developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/NIAID do not provide better protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariant viruses than the original monovalent formulations of the shots.1 2 3
In the Columbia study, 19 people were administered a fourth dose of the monovalent shots and 21 received a fourth dose of the bivalent shots. In the Harvard study, 15 people were given monovalent shots and 18 received bivalent shots. Neither of the studies has been peer reviewed.1
“It’s important to note that the two studies were done independently. They’re small studies but there are two of them. It’s not just a fluke,” said Dan Barouch, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard University author of the Harvard study.2
The updated versions of Pfizer’s Comirnaty and Moderna’s Spikevax messenger RNA (mRNA) biologics, which received Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Aug. 31, 2022, contain two mRNA “components” of the SARS-CoV-2 virus—”one of the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the other one in common between the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.”1 4
No Difference Between the COVID Bivalent and Monovalent Shots
“We see essentially no difference” between the bivalent shots and the original Comirnaty and Spikevax products, said David Ho, MD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University and leader of the Columbia study,1 which concluded:
There was no significant difference in neutralization of any SARS-CoV-2 variant tested between individuals who received a fourth monovalent vaccine and those who received a fourth dose of a bivalent vaccine.3
“[T]here is no evidence that the bivalent booster works better than the monovalent booster against BA.5,” Dr. Barouch said.5 However, he also noted:
We can’t say that a few months from now, there won’t be any difference. We won’t know that until these individuals are followed for a longer period of time.1
White House Doctor Says Majority of People Will Need An Annual Updated COVID Shot
Despite the findings of the Columbia and Harvard studies, the Biden administration continues to tout the bivalent booster shots as being more effective than the old monovalent shots. “Your old vaccine or your previous COVID infection will not give you maximum protection,” President Biden said last week. “But this year is different from the past. This year, nearly every death is preventable. So get your updated COVID shot. Now’s the time to do it.”6
Ashish Jha, MD, White House coronavirus response coordinator, also suggested the bivalent shots represent an improvement over the monovalent shots. He stated:
Our [updated] vaccines should do a good job of holding up against this new subvariant. You know, where the virus goes—this has been a highly kind of unpredictable virus. We’ve seen it evolve over time. And the good news is that we have, as the virus changes, we’ve been able to keep up. So the new vaccines keep up. I suspect that there may be another vaccine next fall, but we’re getting into a tempo where, for the majority of people, it’s going to be a once a year updated vaccine.6
Dr. Jha went so far as to claim that if people are “up to date” with the recommended COVID shots (including the bivalent boosters), their risk of dying from COVID is extremely unlikely. “If you are up to date with your vaccines and if you get treated if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from COVID is now close to zero,” Dr. Jha said.5
Updated COVID Shot “Just In Time for More Togetherness”
Both President Biden’s and Dr. Jha’s optimism about the bivalent boosters has been amplified by a new television ad campaign funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and aimed at promoting the updated COVID shots. One of the slick commercials is titled “Just in Time.” It goes like this…
It’s a new day because COVID vaccines just got a big update. Just in time for everyone who works with other people. Just in time for more togetherness. Just in time to say, “Oh, you bet we’ll be there!” Because the update vaccines can now protect against both the original COVID virus and Omicron. And that’s a moment we’ve all been waiting for.7
In light of the Columbia and Harvard studies, and perhaps others to come, one might think such TV spots a bit too rosy—if not downright deceptive, even false. Then there’s that subliminal message that getting an updated COVID booster shot will prevent people from being infected with and transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus to others, as in “the updated vaccines can protect against both the original COVID virus and Omicron.” Talk about misinformation.
Just in time for the mid-term elections.
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1 Goodman B. Updated Covid-19 vaccines boost protection, but may not beat original formula against BA.4 and BA.5, early studies suggest. CNN Oct. 26, 2022.
2 Kimball S. New Covid boosters aren’t better than old shots at neutralizing omicron BA.5, early studies find. CNBC Oct. 27, 2022.
3 Tin A. White House still expects new COVID boosters will offer better protection, but two new studies cast doubt. CBS News Oct. 28, 2022.
4 Cáceres M. Safety and Effectiveness of New COVID Bivalent Boosters Based on a Study of Eight Mice? The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 12, 2002.
5 McCourt C. Dr. Ashish Jha: If you’re boosted, COVID almost definitely won’t kill you. That’s the good news. Boston.com Oct. 26, 2022.
6 Vazquez M. Biden gets updated Covid booster shot as he issues warnings over winter case surge and lack of funding. CNN Oct. 25, 2022.
7 Tin A. Biden administration touts “big update” to COVID vaccines in new ads for boosters. CBS News Oct. 17, 2022.