A Pfizer vaccine booster is administered during a "COVID-19 Vaccination Blitz" held at Northwest Middle School. Jackson Public Schools, in partnership with Northtown Pharmacy and Choices for Children and Family, held the event Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi State Department of Health announced on Tuesday that appointments for the new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot are now available at all county health department clinics.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the new booster formulation on Aug. 31, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit the next day.  The release of the boosters is the largest part of government efforts to get ahead of a potential seasonal surge in infections. 

“We strongly recommend that anyone eligible should go ahead and receive the updated booster now to provide the best protection against COVID-19 infection and severe complications from COVID-19,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said in a press release. “There is always the possibility of increased cases as we move into the fall and winter months. Don’t wait to protect yourself.”

The new booster shot is a bivalent vaccine, which means that it targets two versions of COVID-19. While the original booster shot only targeted the original strain of the virus, the new booster also targets the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. 

Mississippians who want to get the new booster can make appointments through the website or by calling the health department’s COVID-19 hotline at 877-978-6453.

People aged 12 and older who have been fully vaccinated are eligible for the new booster, regardless of whether they received other booster doses. A person can only receive the new booster at least two months out from their last shot. 

If you’ve recently had COVID-19, you can receive a booster as soon as your isolation period ends. However, the CDC says you may consider delaying any additional shots by three months from when your symptoms started or you received a positive test. The reasoning behind this optional delay is that someone who has just recovered from COVID-19 will likely already have a high level of antibodies, which could cause the effects of additional shots to be reduced.

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 are only eligible for the original booster shot, though the FDA is working on making the new booster available for this age group. 

This is the first COVID-19 vaccine released to the public before data from human trials had been analyzed. The Biden Administration has compared the new booster to the annual flu shot, which is reformulated each year to target the latest versions of influenza and tested on animals before being released to the public.

An average of 832 cases per day are currently being reported across the state. However, the true infection rate is unknown because of the increased availability and utilization of at-home tests, which are not reported to the health department. The rate of cases, hospitalizations and deaths plummeted across the state after the peak of the omicron wave in January, but have been steadily increasing again since May.

Mississippi remains one of the least vaccinated states in America.  As of Sept. 8, 61% of the state’s population had received one dose, 53% were fully vaccinated and 21% had received a booster shot, according to CDC data. 

The state has reported 918,874 total cases, meaning that since the beginning of the pandemic, at least one-third of Mississippians have been infected with COVID-19. 12,821 Mississippians have died from the virus.  

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.