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No, bivalent booster side effects are not different from previous COVID shots

Health experts say regardless of side effects, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of COVID-19

WASHINGTON — Even as doctors warn of a possible “tripledemic” of COVID-19, RSV and the flu, this morning the CDC reports just 12.7% of Americans aged 5 and older have received the updated coronavirus booster shots. Right now, a shot specifically formulated to target newer variants of the virus is available for anyone who has had their primary vaccines at least two months ago

So why aren’t more people boosted?  A CDC survey shows one reason is concern about side effects.


Are side effects from bivalent boosters different?



The typical reaction to a COVID-19 shot can range from nonexistent to a day in bed feeling bad. Doctors have been clear on this since the beginning. But the virus has changed, and now the vaccine has too.

“It's important to protect yourself and your family from the serious consequences of COVID,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

According to our experts and formal research, no, side effects aren’t any different with this new shot.

The FDA explains: the new bivalent boosters have the same ingredients as previous mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, they’re just better able to target the newer, more contagious COVID-19 variants.

“So this bivalent spike protein vaccine is directed against two different strains of that Omicron, so we wouldn't expect it to act any differently than the previous vaccines directed against COVID-19,” said Dr. Laurens.

The CDC reports after a study completed in late October, the most common booster side effects were injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and fever. 

“We're comparing this side effect profile to the very serious consequences of COVID-19,” said Dr. Laurens. “So no question, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of COVID-19. Having said that, there is substantial variation in individuals in terms of their side effects that they would experience from any shot.”

And there can be variety in your*response from shot to shot, too, for various reasons,  like timing between doses, how you’re  feeling overall when you get the shot, or even because of how you remember feeling last time.

“So it might just be variation and symptoms as well as distance from the first vaccination,” said Dr. Laurens.


The CDC cites a study showing people are slightly more likely to have adverse reactions when getting the flu shot and the COVID shot at the same time, but those reactions were still “mostly mild.” 

But don’t worry if you don’t react at all: Dr. Laurens says—someone with a strong immune response to a COVID-19 shot isn’t necessarily better protected than someone who doesn’t experience side effects.

“The studies have shown that the immune response is equivalent, regardless of side effects,” said Dr. Laurens.

If you’re worried about side effects Dr Laurens suggests scheduling a booster when you will have some downtime the next day.

Because it’s unknown how certain over-the-counter drugs could affect how well the vaccine works, the CDC recommends waiting til after your shot to pop an ibuprofen. 

Your immune response may be triggered within hours, hence those side effects, but Dr. Laurens and the CDC say it still takes the boosters about 14 days to really meet its full potential.

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