Good to go FDA OKs emergency use of bivalent vaccines

A pharmacist injects a patient with a booster dosage of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Lawrence, Mass., on Dec. 29, 2021. U.S. regulators have authorized updated COVID-19 boosters, the first to directly target today’s most common omicron strain. The move Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration tweaks the recipe of shots made by Pfizer and rival Moderna that already have saved millions of lives. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday granted emergency use authorization for the first bivalent vaccines to protect against the original strain of COVID-19 and the omicron subvariants.

Doses could be shipped to Hawaii County within the next few days.


The updated boosters from Pfizer and Moderna are for individuals who have already received their primary vaccinations and are at least two months out since their last vaccine or booster.

With the authorization, monovalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are no longer authorized as booster doses for those 12 and older.

“This means anyone 12 and older who has an mRNA (Pfizer or Moderna) booster shot scheduled should reschedule as soon as scheduling opportunities open for the new bivalent boosters,” said state Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr.

Before distribution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must provide recommendations about who should get the additional shot. Its advisory panel will meet today, and a decision is expected around 10:30 a.m. HST.

“We are excited about the protection the new bivalent boosters offer,” Baehr said. “However, we’ll wait until the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issues recommendations on use of the new bivalent boosters before we recommend their use.”

Preorders for the new boosters have been placed by the state, and out of the 37,800 doses, Hawaii County is expected to receive 3,000 bivalent Pfizer doses and 2,200 bivalent Moderna doses.

“We will be able to order more every week,” said Baer. “In addition, pharmacies and community health (centers) are able to order their own supplies.”

Distribution will be done at a smaller scale due to reduced federal COVID-19 funding, but those looking to schedule an appointment can contact their local pharmacy, community health center, health care provider or visit and use its vaccine locator map.

The Pfizer bivalent boosters are approved for those 12 and older, while Moderna’s are for those 18 and older.

The omicron-targeted boosters will help fight the now-dominant strain of COVID-19 in Hawaii County.

A variant report released Tuesday shows nearly all the current variants circulating in Hawaii County are omicron strains, with 85% being the BA.5 sublineage and 9% being the BA.4 sublineage, both of which are targeted by the new boosters.

But the overall demand for vaccines has decreased throughout the state recently. DOH data shows just over 19,000 vaccines or boosters were administered statewide in August, the lowest number since the start of distribution. Last month, more than 37,000 doses were administered.

“Vaccine uptake has been slow in recent weeks,” confirmed Baehr. “We are optimistic the new bivalent vaccines will increase vaccine uptake. We know there are people 50 and older who have put off getting their second booster while waiting for the bivalent boosters to be approved. We also know a lot of people under 50 years of age who are not yet eligible for a second booster are eager to get enhanced protection from the bivalent boosters.”

Hawaii County has the lowest vaccination rate out of the four counties. Roughly 69% of individuals in Hawaii County have completed their vaccinations, as compared to 80% in the City and County of Honolulu, 73% in Kauai County and 71% in Maui County.

Statewide, 44.8% of individuals have received a first booster, while just 11.6% have received a second booster. The second booster was available for those ages 50 and older, or those 12 and older with compromised immune systems. Of those eligible, just 30.4% received a second booster.

“We know 90% of COVID-related deaths involve those 50 and older,” Baehr said. “We would like to see more people 50 and older get their second booster.”

Total COVID-19 case counts dropped again this week for Hawaii County, from 282 new cases last week down to 205 this week.

There were 12 new deaths reported statewide this week, but none were in Hawaii County.

Email Grant Phillips at

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