Now booking at our new Oakville location. Learn more.

What You Should Know About the Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccine

A new version of the Covid-19 vaccine that also protects specifically against Omicron is now available to Canadians. Medcan’s physicians break down why that’s great news.

Health Canada has approved the Moderna Spikevax bivalent booster vaccine for Canadians aged 18 and older. The new version of the vaccine is the first to target the Omicron BA.1 subvariant. The development has Canadians wondering what this means for them. Should you get the shot? How long should you wait between doses? Here’s everything you need to know about the bivalent vaccine.

How long should I wait between doses?
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) advises that Canadians wait six months after their last vaccine dose or COVID infection before receiving another dose; however, they also consider you eligible for the booster three months after your last dose or infection depending on your age (65 and older), at increased risk, health status, or pregnant. Note that each province has its own set of rules.

Does the bivalent vaccine have to be my fourth dose?
The bivalent COVID vaccine is only offered as a booster dose, which means you can receive it only after you’ve completed your primary series (generally two doses of an approved mRNA vaccine). That means the bivalent vaccine can be your third or fourth COVID shot, so long as the minimum three months have elapsed.

What does the “bivalent” mean?
A bivalent vaccine targets two separate strains of a virus. In this case, the Moderna Spikevax bivalent booster uses genetic components from both the original virus and Omicron BA1 sub-variant. The result is that the bivalent version provides protection against both the original virus, as well as Omicron variants, including Omicron BA1, BA4 and BA5.

Will I experience the same side effects that I did after my first booster?
The clinical trials indicate that the new vaccine shares a similar profile to the previously approved Moderna Spikevax booster. This means that if you experienced any side effects last time, you’ll likely get them again—but as a generally milder reaction that resolves more quickly. Review the list of rare symptoms to watch out for on the Government of Canada’s website here.

The United States has approved a bivalent vaccine that targets the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants—is it better than the Canada-approved bivalent vaccine targeting BA.1?
Health Canada has not yet approved the bivalent vaccine targeting BA.4 and BA.5 because the pharmaceutical companies developing them have not yet completed human trials on that version of the bivalent vaccine. The United States has approved the BA.4/BA.5 bivalent vaccines based on animal studies only. The BA.1 bivalent vaccine has been backed up by human trials, and for that reason is the version approved by Health Canada. In fact, medical experts in Canada have indicated that having any Omicron component in a vaccine will work towards protecting recipients against the different Omicron sub-variants. The NACI has said that having the Omicron component in any vaccine may offer some protection against BA.4 and BA.5 too.

The BA.1 bivalent vaccine that’s available to Canadians was manufactured by Moderna. If my previous dose or booster was manufactured by Pfizer, should I wait for Pfizer’s vaccine to be approved?
The short answer is no. The benefits of Moderna’s Omicron BA.1-targeting bivalent vaccine are such that people should get it regardless of the source of their previous doses. That is, regardless of whether your previous jabs were manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca, you should get Moderna’s bivalent vaccine if and when you are eligible to get it.

Winter is fast approaching. Do I need to put off receiving a flu shot or travel vaccinations in order to get the bivalent COVID vaccine?
The NACI recommends Canadians receive a flu shot this year to avoid putting the health care system under additional strain. According to the NACI, it’s safe to receive your bivalent vaccine at the same time as the flu shot unless specifically indicated otherwise by your primary care physician. Flu shots are often available in November, so if you’re reading this in early October, consider booking your bivalent shot now, then getting the flu shot when it’s available. Children under five should continue to be vaccinated following their doctor’s recommended timelines.

Is there a bivalent vaccine for children?
The bivalent COVID shot is currently only available to adults over the age of 18. As per the NACI, the only booster dose for five to 11 year olds authorized by Health Canada is Phfizer (10mcg). Public Health recommends this age group receive a booster so six months after a vaccine dose or a COVID infection. There is a possibility that children aged 12 to 17 who are moderately to severely immunocompromised may be offered the bivalent vaccine as an off-label recommendation, following a discussion with their doctor.

For all your health and wellness concerns, including COVID-19 and more, reach out to a Medcan dedicated coordinator to find out how Medcan can help you and your family live well, for life.

You may also be interested in: