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Are we post-pandemic? First Coast News asks health experts amid booster release

A Duval County Health Department spokesperson says the new bivalent booster shots should be in pharmacies in Jacksonville this week.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The White House COVID-19 response team announced Tuesday that COVID-19 shots will now be more like flu shots and you may need one yearly.

A Duval County Health Department spokesperson tells First Coast News the new bivalent booster shots should be in pharmacies in Jacksonville this week, but they do not have a specific date.

One person who is interested in the booster is Duval County resident Rolline Sullivan, who First Coast News has talked to multiple times in the past two years because of her involvement in the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team.

It was the first time meeting her in person and not over a video call. All the other times she'd done an interview, COVID-19 was big news and a big risk.

"We've all been fully vaccinated and five of the six have boosters," Sullivan said about her family. "And like I said my husband did contract it."

Now, it's a new... or old... world. Vaccines are widely available even for babies. Three thousand people are not dying from COVID-19 every day, though CDC data shows about 400 still are.

"How comfortable do you feel saying that we are post-pandemic?" First Coast News asked UF Health Epidemiologist Chad Neilsen.

"Well, it's a really interesting question," he said. "And then it's one that even myself as an epidemiologist, I don't know how to answer that. The reason being is we still have hundreds of deaths per day due to COVID right now in the United States. Globally we still have surging cases across many countries. So I don't think we're quite out of the pandemic yet."

We are now living with COVID-19 and boosters that are now more like routine flu shots. If you're trying to time when to get your booster ahead of an event or surge, Neilsen says don't.

"What we are recommending is that anybody who's eligible for the new booster should go ahead and get it now, get your immune system jump started," he said. "That way when the fall surge does hit, you'll be prepared."

It's the first time the FDA has authorized a COVID-19 vaccine without it first being tested in people. Sullivan has some vaccine hesitancy with the new bivalent booster shot, which targets the original COVID-19 strain and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants that most people are getting now.

"I'm very interested in it and my husband and I, we still have to discuss if we want the kids to do it," Sullivan said. "The only concern I have is that it's not, hasn't been tested yet in human trials."

Neilsen says not to worry and that this is often the case for the flu shot. There are not major changes to the booster's original formula.

The bivalent booster has been tested in mice and human clinical trials are expected in the next few months.

"People might ask, you know, why should I get another booster shot when I still got COVID anyway?" Neilsen said. "The idea with the boosters is not to necessarily protect you from getting COVID. It's to protect you from severe illness if you do get COVID."

As long as it's been two months since you've gotten a COVID-19 vaccine or three months since you've gotten COVID-19 and are vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting the booster.

CDC data shows in people over age 65, 70 percent got the first booster, but only around half of them went back to for the second.

See where you can get a vaccine here.

Read Neilsen's written response addressing concern over no human trials with the bivalent booster:

"Although uncommon, vaccines and medications sometimes forego results of human trials in order to be released for public benefit. In fact, the annual flu shot that most people receive does not undergo human trials every year, and is tested in mice. Mice (murine) models show the new COVID boosters are safe, and given the lack of major changes to the booster’s original formula (the only change is to accommodate the new strains for protection) there is not expected to be any adverse effects. That being said, the new boosters are going through human clinical trials with robust data expected in October and November. But given the fact that COVID is still causing hundreds of deaths per day in the US, the FDA and CDC agreed that the murine models were enough to release the vaccine in hopes of protecting individuals now."

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