How long will immunity from new COVID boosters last ‘in the real world’?

Dear Advice Team:
Do medical experts have any idea yet how long immunity from the bivalent COVID booster will last? I know that previous boosters showed waning immunity over time, and I’m wondering what this means for vulnerability around the holidays. Also, are there any rumblings about if/when the next round of boosters will be available?

Welcome to Pandemic Problems, an advice column that aims to help Bay Area residents solve their pandemic and post-pandemic conundrums — personal, practical or professional. As COVID evolves into an endemic disease, we know readers are trying to navigate the “new normal.” Send your questions and issues to pandemicproblems@sfchronicle.com.

Today’s question is fielded by The Chronicle’s Anna Buchmann.

Dear Reader:
Your questions about the new COVID-19 vaccine boosters are very timely. We are just six weeks into the rollout of the bivalent shots — so-called because they target two coronavirus strains, the ancestral version plus the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants currently circulating — and as you note, many of us are making holiday plans that involve traveling and gathering with others.

Meanwhile, bivalent booster eligibility has already expanded to include younger children — as of Wednesday, everyone ages 5 and up may receive one dose of Pfizer’s bivalent mRNA booster (for the Moderna version, it’s 6 and up) at least two months after completing their primary vaccine series or at least two months after their last dose of the original monovalent booster.

Health officials are urging people to get the new boosters to help head off a potential winter COVID-19 surge, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing less than 6% of eligible people had gotten the bivalent shot as of Monday. The CDC now says you are up to date on COVID vaccination after receiving a primary series and the most recent booster dose recommended.

With that context, your first question was about the immunity we get from the bivalent booster and how long it lasts.

Compared with the original booster, the bivalent boosters nearly double the levels of antibodies that can prevent omicron from infecting cells, according to Dr. Nadia Roan, a UCSF immunologist and investigator at the Gladstone Institutes. But “in the real world,” it’s not currently clear how much more protective the bivalent booster is, she said via email.

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