The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health began its rollout of the Omicron bivalent vaccine on Friday, which will include protection against the original strand of COVID-19 and Omicron’s sub-variant BA.5.
The announcement was made in person at the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino, which has served as a point of distribution for the COVID-19 vaccine and will now serve as one for the bivalent and Monkeypox vaccines.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also announced new goals for the Public Health Department amid falling COVID metrics including case rates (1,900 per day), hospitalizations (8 per 100,000), average of staffed in-patient beds occupied by someone with a COVID-related illness (4.6%), and deaths (averaging just over 11 per day). L.A. County has now been in the Centers for Disease Control’s “low” tier for two consecutive weeks.
“The encouraging trends in L.A. County, in our COVID data, translates to less risk for many residents and workers,” said Ferrer. “However, because there’s still elevated viral spread… there are hundreds of thousands of residents who are more vulnerable to poorer outcomes, should they become infected.”
Ferrer said slowing transmission to a weekly case rate of less than 1,400 cases per day “remains an important goal for the county.”
The BA.5 subvariant of the Omicron variant remains as the dominant strain in reported infections, accounting for 95% of samples taken.
Public Health said the rollout of the updated vaccine is critical to lowering transmission rates, as are other precautions that have been reiterated since the beginning of the pandemic.
“The arrival of this new updated bivalent booster… offers us a good opportunity to get up-to-date with our vaccine coverage,” said Ferrer.
Ferrer also addressed concerns regarding the safety of the vaccine and likened the new update to how flu vaccines are updated each year as the flu virus mutates.
“At this point in the pandemic, there is extensive safety and effectiveness data on the mRNA vaccines [Pfizer and Moderna] and their effectiveness against COVID-19,” said Ferrer.
Ferrer cited studies on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines done earlier this year for a booster that provided BA.1 protection, which has been updated to protect against BA.4 and BA.5.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the updated boosters on Aug. 31, which the Centers for Disease Control approved after “comprehensive scientific consultation by the physicians, scientists, and epidemiology experts on the advisory committee on immunization practices.”
Those over the age of 18 are eligible for both the Pfizer and Moderna bivalent booster, while those aged 12 to 17 can only receive the Pfizer booster. Pfizer’s original COVID vaccine is still approved for children 5 to 11.