In an effort to help mitigate a potential COVID-19 surge this fall, the Lehigh Valley Health Network is offering clinics to administer the newly-authorized and updated booster shot.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week granted emergency use authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Both new boosters were developed to better target against COVID-19 omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, lineages of the omicron variant, with BA.5 being the strain found in nearly 90% of current COVID-19 cases.
The shots are being made available by the Lehigh Valley Health Network, starting Monday.
Scheduling initial COVID-19 shots or boosters is required at these Lehigh Valley Health Network vaccination clinics: in Lower Nazareth; Whitehall; East Stroudsburg, Monroe County; Hazleton, Luzerne county; Pottsville, Schuylkill County. Scheduling can be completed through MyLVHN, the health network’s patient portal; at MyLVHN.org; the MyLVHN app,;or by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 833-584-6283. The hotline is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
The Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccine is being authorized for patients aged 12 and older and the new Moderna booster is authorized for patients aged 18 and older. Shots are for use as a single booster dose at least two months following primary or booster vaccination with the original vaccine formulation. Existing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will continue to be used for the initial two-shot vaccination series of those vaccines, but not as boosters, federal officials said.
Health officials say more than 20% of eligible U.S. adults have not received their primary COVID-19 vaccination series. According to the CDC:
• 77% of Americans 18 and older have received their primary COVID-19 vaccination series.
• Half of those eligible have received a first booster dose.
• 34% of folks over age 50 received a second booster.
The new authorization widens booster availability, replacing the former authorization that allowed second boosters for those over aged 50. However, that booster used the existing booster formulation and not the newer, updated formulation designed for the current omicron variants. Since the illness itself provides a significant boost to the immune system, patients who have recently experienced COVID can defer boosters for at least three months following their diagnosis, health officials said.
Dr. Alex Benjamin, the health network’s chief infection control and prevention officer, said the U.S. is still seeing 400 COVID-19-related deaths and 5,000 hospitalizations daily.
“It remains critical for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and for eligible people to get boosted,” he said in a statement. “LVHN remains committed to partnering with the communities it serves and doing everything it can to help. This pandemic isn’t over, and we have to continue to focus on protection against hospitalization and death.”
Benjamin added scientific advances have allowed for the safe adaptation of vaccines to meet changing conditions. He said patients who are most likely to experience severe illness are those that should consider boosting at this time. These include: the elderly; those with compromised immune systems; and those with multiple medical issues that place them at higher risk for severe outcomes and hospitalization related to COVID-19.
St. Luke’s University Health Network last week announced concerns about efficacy rather than safety before “strongly” endorsing the new formulations of COVID-19 vaccines. The health network said the recommendations were based on studies performed on mice, with human studies underway and preliminary data not expected until next month.
“Before strongly endorsing the use of bivalent booster vaccination, St. Luke’s infectious disease experts prefer to have its efficacy potential verified by the preliminary data of the human studies,” the network announced in a news release.
As with the original mRNA COVID vaccines, St. Luke’s infectious disease experts have no major reservations of the bivalent vaccine’s safety, said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, the St. Luke’s senior vice president of medical and academic affairs and section chief emeritus of infectious diseases.
“We continue to support COVID 19 vaccination as the best method to combat the pandemic and are convinced that vaccination has saved millions of lives,” Jahre had stated. “It should be stressed that as with the existing vaccines they will not prevent all breakthrough infections and therefore cannot be considered a ‘game changer’ in ending the pandemic.”
“If the human studies support the mouse studies,” he continued, “the bivalent booster vaccines will further reduce the potential severity of the omicron variant and may reduce the infectivity potential.”
St. Luke’s added its infectious disease experts feel that most people who had a verified COVID-19 infection or a booster vaccine dose after June 1, 2022, will likely have adequate protection against the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants for at least four to six months and can safely wait that long before considering a bivalent booster dose. But, as always, the network advises individuals to consult their primary care physician for advice that best suits their unique circumstances.
For those who are eligible, the bivalent vaccine will be available through St. Luke’s primary physician offices, the network added.
Scientists, meanwhile, predict COVID-19 — already lasting longer than the 1918 flu pandemic — will linger far into the future. One reason is it’s gotten better and better at getting around immunity from vaccination and past infection, they say.
Scientists point to emerging research that suggests the latest omicron variant gaining ground in the U.S. — BA.4.6, which was responsible for around 8% of new U.S. infections last week — appears to be even better at evading the immune system than the dominant BA.5.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky said this past week that up to 100,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths could be prevented if Americans get the updated booster at the same rate they typically get an annual flu shot this fall. About half of Americans are typically vaccinated against the flu each year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Pamela Sroka-Holzmann may be reached at email@example.com.