St. Luke’s Delays ‘Strongly’ Endorsing New COVID Booster Vaccine

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St Luke's Bethlehem Campus Fountain Hill

St. Luke’s University Hospital-Bethlehem is located in Fountain Hill. It is home to the network’s School of Nursing, which is the oldest such program in the country. (FILE PHOTO)

The FDA has already authorized a new “bivalent” COVID-19 mRNA booster vaccine made by Pfizer and Moderna, however one local hospital network is waiting for more information about its effects on humans before giving it a full-throated endorsement.

St. Luke’s University Health Network officials said Wednesday that they are “not ready to strongly endorse (the) new bivalent vaccine,” which they said will be used exclusively for all future doses administered to adults and children 12 and older.

The new booster vaccine contains components of the original strain of the COVID-19 virus as well as the newer BA4 and BA5 omicrons strains, officials said.

“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,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs and Section Chief Emeritus of Infectious Diseases, in a news release. “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.

According to the St. Luke’s news release, the FDA’s authorization of the bivalent vaccine is based on studies performed on mice. Human studies are currently under way, with preliminary data from those studies expected to be released in October.

“If the human studies support the mouse studies, the bivalent booster vaccines will further reduce the potential severity of the omicron variant and may reduce the infectivity potential,” Jahre said.

St. Luke’s infectious disease experts have no major reservations of the bivalent vaccine’s safety, Jahre said. “However, 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 release noted.

Those same experts believe most individuals who had a verified COVID-19 infection or a booster vaccine dose after June 1, 2022 “will likely have adequate protection against the omicron BA4 and BA5 variants for at least four to six months and can safely wait that long before considering a bivalent booster dose,” the news release stated.

Individuals should consult with their primary care physician for advice that best suits their unique circumstances, and for those who are eligible to receive it, the bivalent vaccine will be available through St. Luke’s primary physician offices.

The original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved for use and released in 2020 will continue to be used in the initial COVID-19 vaccine series administered to individuals.

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