Bivalent COVID vaccine in Ontario: Top questions answered

By the end of September, Ontario adults will be able to get their bivalent COVID-19 booster shots.

This new vaccine has been highly anticipated, with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore even urging healthy Ontarians to wait for it instead of getting their fourth vaccine doses back in May.

Here’s what you need to know:

How is this vaccine different than the other boosters?

The new booster is a bivalent vaccine, which means it protects individuals against two strains of COVID-19—the original strain and the Omicron variant.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, explains the vaccine was made specifically for the BA.1 Omicron subvariant, but should provide strong protection from all subvariants, including the BA.5, which is currently the dominant strain.

“The findings show that the bivalent vaccine gives a good immune response against BA.1, BA.4 and BA.5,” she said.

“We know that even though the next variant might not even be a BA.5, but we haven’t needed the exact match to get good protection from the vaccines and so that’s why we think that even with this BA.1 variant in the vaccine you will get some cross protection for an anticipated new variant that may be coming.”

Who can get the vaccine right now?

As of Sept. 12, bivalent COVID-19 booster appointments are available for individuals aged 70 and up, as well as residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate settings. First Nations aged 18 and up are also eligible along with immunocompromised individuals over the age of 12, pregnant individuals and health-care workers.

All other Ontario adults will become eligible on Sept. 26.

How long should you wait to get the bivalent booster?

Health experts say you should wait a minimum of three months before getting this vaccine. The province is recommending that individuals wait six months before getting this new dose, but Dubey says that anyone who got their last dose 12 weeks previously should look into getting it.

“It’s also because we’re going to have a lot more COVID activity circulating later on in the fall that you could wait for that shorter interval three months or so anywhere between three and six months is when you could get this next booster.”

Those who had a recent COVID-19 infection are also being urged to get the bivalent booster closer to the three-month time period.

However, those who want to book their shot between three and six months will have to do so by calling the provincial booking line rather than booking through the portal.

The number is 1-833-943-3900.

What happens if I have a booster scheduled already but want the bivalent vaccine?

Health officials say that if you have already made an appointment for a COVID-19 booster, you will be able to get the bivalent vaccine instead if supply is available.

How do I book a shot?

The bivalent booster can be booked using the same systems you used to book a previous COVID-19 vaccine. Individuals can use the provincial portal or sign up through their public health units.

Select pharmacies will also be offering the vaccine.

Do you need a regular booster in order to get the bivalent vaccine?

The bivalent vaccine is available for those who already went through the original course of COVID-19 vaccine; however you do not need a booster in order to get it.

“If you were never vaccinated and you’re an adult, you will actually have to start with the primary series and the primary series or the two doses of the original vaccine,” Dubey said.

However, Dubey said it’s unclear if getting a booster of the original vaccine prior to the bivalent makes it more effective.

“But what we do know, regardless, is that the data is showing that getting repeated boosters is actually safe. … The immunity can wane and so getting another booster will re-boost that immunity, giving you that stronger protection when you need it.”

I got all the COVID-19 boosters. Do I really need this one?

While COVID-19 vaccines may not prevent someone from contracting the virus, it does help mitigate the risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization and death.

According to Dubey, the bivalent vaccine is “worth getting.”

“The world is changing. COVID is changing. We’re constantly trying to catch up to it, and this vaccine is an attempt for us to get that better protection this fall and winter, especially as we’re really all back at regular activities,” she said, adding that it’s imperative to have that protection as people may not be masking or practicing physical distancing.

“This is the one booster dose that I think is worth getting.”

Can I get this booster with the flu shot?

Yes. The COVID-19 bivalent vaccine can be taken at the same time as the flu shot, although health experts say they must be administered to different arms. 

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