A new batch of COVID-19 vaccines is now available, and these latest shots — from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax — have been reformulated to better target some of the more recently circulating coronavirus variants.
The revised vaccines are somewhat different from the COVID-19 bivalent boosters introduced this time last year, which targeted omicron subvariants BA.4/BA.5 plus the original strain of the coronavirus. This year, the vaccines target just one virus strain: XBB.1.5, which is no longer the dominant variant but still continues to circulate in the U.S., along with many of its close relatives.
Health officials are recommending that everyone 6 months and older roll up their sleeves for the added dose of protection against the illness that has taken more than 1.1 million American lives. (People 12 and older can receive the Novavax vaccine.) The shots are especially important for older adults, who continue to be hospitalized for COVID-19 at rates that are much higher than younger groups.
Is It a Booster?
Health experts aren’t calling this year’s vaccine a booster, like with previous versions. “I would liken it to the updated influenza vaccine that comes out each year. The influenza vaccine is updated each year as the strains that they protect against change year from year,” Sampathkumar said.
“The COVID vaccine definitely should be taken by those at highest risk of complications from COVID, and that includes older people, people with weakened immune systems, very young children. These are the people that we are seeing have significant complications from COVID,” Mayo Clinic infectious disease expert Priya Sampathkumar, M.D., said in a news release.
Still, some people have questions about the new COVID vaccines, including possible side effects. Here’s what to expect if you go in for the jab.
No surprises from common side effects
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the common side effects that can accompany the updated shots are in line with the previous versions.
“So, if you had a sore arm before, if you had a little bit of achiness, maybe a little low-grade fever, you can expect that to happen again,” Kristin Englund, M.D., infectious disease specialist with Cleveland Clinic, said in a news release.
- Moderna booster side effects: Pain at the injection site was the most commonly reported side effect among people vaccinated with Moderna’s vaccine, according to data reviewed by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel. About 70 percent of people reported it, followed by fatigue, muscle aches, headache, joint pain, chills, nausea and vomiting, and fever.
- Pfizer booster side effects: Pain at the injection site was also the most commonly reported reaction with Pfizer’s vaccine, according to the company; up to 90 percent of people reported it. Other typical side effects included fatigue, headache, chills, muscle pain, joint pain and fever.
- Novavax booster side effects: The most common reactions reported in clinical trials testing the Novavax vaccine include headache, nausea or vomiting, muscle pain, joint pain, pain and tenderness at the injection site, fatigue and general discomfort.