If you want the new COVID-19 booster that protects against the latest circulating omicron variants, you have lots of options for appointments, except if you have your heart set on Moderna.
People hoping to get Moderna’s version of the new bivalent booster instead of Pfizer’s may have to travel — or wait a while to get their shot.
“Moderna bivalent booster supply is temporarily delayed,” Kaiser’s online scheduler tells members, though Pfizer boosters were available in San Jose starting Sept. 27. “If seeking a booster, please select Pfizer-BioNTech.”
“We’re sorry, but no Moderna appointments were found within 25 miles,” Walgreens’ online scheduler reported for a downtown San Jose ZIP code.
CVS? Rite Aid? No-derna.
The new “bivalent” boosters approved by the federal government early this month protect against both the original strain of the coronavirus and its most recent omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the booster shots Sept. 1 for everyone 12 and older at least two months after their last COVID-19 vaccine shot. Those who recently had a COVID-19 infection are recommended to wait three months before getting a booster.
But on the Bay Area Vaccine Hunters Facebook group this week, members pleaded for tips about available Moderna doses and groused about cancellations.
“I made a booster appointment for Moderna this Sunday for Safeway in Berkeley,” posted one member, who asked not to be identified, adding that she cannot travel far due to a disability.
“They just sent me a cancellation email because they are out of Moderna. I will get Pfizer if I must but would prefer Moderna, anyone happen to know of places in Berkeley that are booking Moderna appointments this weekend?”
The poster said she prefers Moderna “because the dose size is larger and I know roughly what the side effect pattern is like for me.”
For those who just have to have the Moderna shot, bivalent booster appointments are available if you look around. One place that wasn’t hurting for supplies was Santa Clara County’s health system where on Thursday online appointments for the Moderna bivalent booster were plentiful next week.
Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said that’s in part because they are supplied by both the state and federal governments. Pharmacies are directly supplied by the federal government through its vaccine program.
“We received enough to last us at least for the three weeks ahead,” Tong said. “We placed another order, so we don’t anticipate having any shortage.”
Santa Clara County began giving the new boosters Sept. 7 and has continued to fill appointments and see robust demand. Tong said that’s because more recent vaccine rollouts have been aimed at more limited populations, whereas the latest boosters are available to all adults and, for Pfizer’s booster, kids 12 and up.
“Larger numbers of people are eligible for that, so it appears we’re seeing a higher level of interest,” Tong said. “But given the high percentage of people in our county who are now eligible, the level of interest we’re seeing is what we would expect.”
Moderna’s news office had no response Thursday to questions about Bay Area booster shortages, and the company hasn’t issued recent statements indicating production or distribution issues. Its website directs those seeking the shots to the federal government’s online scheduler. But it indicates availability at several pharmacies that don’t actually have the shots now.
Spokeswoman Monica Prinzing said that “some CVS Pharmacy locations have administered all of the Moderna bivalent COVID-19 vaccine received from the federal government to date.”
“We’re working with the government to acquire more Moderna doses and continue to offer Pfizer and limited Moderna appointments at CVS.com and via the CVS Pharmacy app,” Prinzing said. “Appointments are updated as supply is received.”
Kaiser Permanente said in a statement that the health plan “is administering bivalent boosters as supply allows and according to CDC clinical guidance.”
“We are providing the updated boosters across Northern California, and are adding appointments frequently as supply arrives on site,” Kaiser continued. “Members should check kp.org for availability of appointments for the updated boosters.”
Tong said that at Santa Clara County vaccine clinics, those seeking boosters haven’t favored one brand or another. And she said there’s no reason to.
“At this point there’s no medical reason for one versus the other,” Tong said. “What we like to advise is that people consider getting what is available to them.”
That’s what happened with the Berkeley booster seeker. After surveying the responses to her plea to the Bay Area Vaccine Hunters, she decided she’d give Pfizer a try after all.
“I have heard more educated people than me say that there is potentially a benefit to mixing and matching,” she told one responder, another Moderna loyalist, who said she was going for Pfizer this time, “so I would go ahead with your plan!”
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