In June of 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised the manufacturers of COVID vaccines to update their formulas to prevent the highly contagious Omicron variant.1
Below, we’ll look at what Employee Health departments need to know about ensuring healthcare workers are knowledgeable about and ready to receive these booster shots when they are available in September 2022.
What are Bivalent COVID Boosters?
Since healthcare workers come from various backgrounds, some employees may not be familiar with the term “bivalent.”
Here are a few things that can help easily explain why the new COVID booster is important:
- “Bivalent” means a vaccine or booster is effective against two different antigens.2
In this case, the booster will help the body build and maintain antibodies against the original (aka ancestral) SARS-CoV-2 virus and the highly contagious Omicron BA.4/5 variant so prevalent today.3
- Bivalent “shots” are nothing new.
Most of us get bivalent vaccines (such as measles or the HPV vaccine) and even trivalent vaccines (such as MMR) as part of our regular course of vaccinations.4
Can Healthcare Workers Get a COVID Bivalent Booster?
Because healthcare workers were among the first to be offered the COVID vaccine, they will likely gain early access to the bivalent booster.5 Specialists recommend spacing boosters out by a few months (typically two to five, depending on a person’s immune status) since their effectiveness is diminished when there are already high levels of antibodies in a person’s system.6
It likely will not matter how many boosters a person has received – only the length of time between boosters will determine whether the bivalent booster is advisable.7
The bivalent booster will be available to people who:
- Received their second dose or booster of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at least two months ago.8
- Received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago. (The J&J vaccine is now largely limited to those who cannot get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for some reason.9)
While the federal COVID vaccine mandate applies nationwide in most health care settings that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, it does not require boosters.10 However, some states have mandated them.11
What Employee Health Departments Need to Know About New COVID Boosters
Employee Health can prepare for employee questions and changes to requirements by:
- Following up with any non-compliant employees who still need to be fully vaccinated.
- Communicating with facility leadership about expectations for the bivalent boosters (including determining if they will be mandatory, available on-site, part of new employee onboarding, etc.)
- Informing employees now about the importance of a bivalent booster to avoid breakthrough infections with the Omicron variant.
- Providing employees with information about how to stay updated regarding when the boosters will be available to them (including the CDC’s advice on the waiting period between their last shot and the new booster).
- Deciding if it’s feasible to offer bivalent boosters at the same time employees schedule their annual flu vaccines.
Employee Health departments are currently tackling COVID mandates, the reactivation of respirator fit testing requirements, and the upcoming flu season. Luckily, there are tools that can track employee compliance and allow healthcare workers to schedule tests and vaccines.
Note: Net Health makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any of the information presented herein. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the viewer’s responsibility to verify any and all information presented herein.
Manual For Navigating COVID-19 and the Flu Season
1 Johns Hopkins Medicine, “COVID Variants: What You Should Know,” April 8, 2022.
2 National Cancer Institute, “Definition of Bivalent Vaccine,” Accessed on September 1, 2022.
3 Nature, “What Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 Variants Mean for the Pandemic,” June 23, 2022.
4 Centers for Disease Control, “Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know,” November 16, 2021.
5 Relias Media, “Healthcare Workers Will Likely be Offered New Vaccine,” August 23, 2022.
6 Nature, “Which COVID Boosters to Take and When: A Guide For the Perplexed,” August 19, 2022.
7 Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “CDC Fall Vaccination Operational Planning Guide – Information for the Fall Vaccine Campaign, Including Upcoming Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Doses,” August 16, 2022.
8 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccines for Use as a Booster Dose,” August 31, 2022.
9 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Limits Use of Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine to Certain Individuals,” May 5, 2022.
10 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), “Revised Guidance for the Interim Final Rule – Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination,” April 5, 2022.
11 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), “Nursing Facility Staff Vaccinations, Boosters, and Shortages After Vaccination Deadlines Passed,” May 16, 2022.