CDC ACIP Meeting Today and Tomorrow: Covid-19 Vaccine Omicron Bivalent Booster Candidates

The CDC ACIP will meet today and tomorrow about the Covid-19 Vaccine Omicron Bivalent Booster candidates from Pfizer and Moderna. A vote is expected this afternoon.

Update: The committee voted by a majority to upvote the approval of the Pfizer and Moderna bivalent boosters this afternoon. There was one dissenting vote because there was no clinical data to present. There was a clinical study using the bivalent vaccine booster, but results would not have been available until November or December.

However, there was a complicated statistical predication model which showed that if the boosters were rolled out this month, many thousands of hospitalizations and deaths could be prevented as opposed to waiting a few more months. That got prioritized in order to approve the boosters now rather than wait for the clinical study results.

There was a lot of concern about the packaging of the boosters resembling other boosters which might lead to mistakes in administration. Pfizer has a booster vial that looks very similar to that of their bivalent Omicron booster, unless you closely read the tiny print on the vial which says it’s BA.4/BA.5.

The committee voted to cancel tomorrow’s meeting since they completed the goal today.

Covid-19 Vaccine Immune Response to Omicron Wanes According to NIH

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) the current Covid-19 vaccine booster elicits a robust immune response, it wanes quickly against the Omicron variant.

UIHC Covid-19 Q&A: Omicron and Vaccines

Here’s a recently published YouTube by University of Iowa Health Care on the Covid-19 virus, the Omicron variant, and vaccines (actually there are two, see update below). Points that grabbed our attention were:

Omicron is more transmissible, but overall seems to cause less severe disease.

Current vaccines, especially with the booster, protect against getting severe disease, although may not protect against infection.

It’s not a great idea to just get it over with by getting infected with Omicron. Getting the disease can lead to severe medical complications (including myocarditis) leading to hospital admission. The vaccines rarely cause myocarditis as a side effect and it generally resolves without treatment.

Vaccines make getting Covid-19 long haul syndrome less likely.

Avoiding getting together in groups of 10 or larger decreases the risk of infection with Omicron. The Swiss Cheese method of protecting yourself against Covid-19 still works best:

Include a slice getting the vaccine with booster: image credit Univ Iowa Health Care

There are medical treatments for Covid-19 disease if you get infected and have to be hospitalized. The treatments are not without side effects. One of them is dexamethasone, a corticosteroid. It can be used to reduce the immune system reaction that Covid-19 infection can eventually cause. Corticosteroids can cause neuropsychiatric side effects that can range from anxiety to frank delirium marked by psychosis. Fortunately, the duration of steroid treatment is relatively short. Vaccines don’t cause side effects of this type. Over the course of my career before I retired, as a psychiatric consultant in the general hospital, I was not infrequently called to assist in the management of extreme psychiatric side effects from high dose steroids (reference: García CAC, Sánchez EBA, Huerta DH, Gómez-Arnau J. Covid-19 treatment-induced neuropsychiatric adverse effects. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2020;67:163-164. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2020.06.001: quote : “Short course high-dose corticosteroid treatment, as occurs in COVID-19, may cause delirium and changes in mood (with a frequency of up to 52% of patients treated with more than 20 mg a day of prednisone during 3 months) [5], being mania and hypomania more frequently observed than depression.”)

Wearing a mask is protective. Recently the CDC recommended preferring medical grade or surgical masks over cloth masks. The guidance has a link to a YouTube on how to make the 3 layer disposable surgical mask fit closer to the face to provide a more effective barrier (and tends to reduce fogging on eyeglasses). N95 masks may be more widely available soon.

It takes a little practice

The vaccines are very safe and effective. We had minimal side effects, mainly sore arms.

Update: We watched the UIHC Covid-19 Family Forum last night which ran from 6:30-7:30 PM. I just noticed that it was recorded. It’s similar to the presentation above. It also contains helpful slides with graphs. There were great questions from the audience, which the experts answered and which are helpful to all of us. Many thanks to Dr. Dan Diekema, MD and Dr. Patricia Winokur, MD for this outstanding forum.

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