UI researchers help find COVID-19 bivalent booster effectiveness

A recent study shows that the new bivalent booster can provide additional protection against the virus for older adults.


Grace Kreber

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is seen on April 2, 2022.

Sofia Mamakos, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics assisted in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that shows that a new COVID-19 booster vaccine can provide protection for older adults.

In fall 2022, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s version of the bivalent booster vaccine. One day later, the CDC also recommended that everyone over age 12 receive the Pfizer-BioNTech version of the bivalent booster and everyone over 18 receive the Moderna version.

The bivalent booster is a vaccine that targets two strains of the virus and contains the original strain of COVID-19 that arose in 2020 and a component of the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

In a press release, the UI announced efforts in the research that supports the effectiveness of vaccinations in people over 65 — a population that makes up most of COVID-19 fatalities.

Though older populations are more susceptible to the virus, data in the study stated less than 40 percent received the updated booster.

Additionally, results from the study concluded that adults over age 65 who received the updated bivalent booster were 84 percent less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated people, and 73 percent less likely than people who received the original COVID-19 vaccination but have not received the bivalent booster dose.

RELATED: Johnson County Public Health official uncertain when county will receive updated COVID-19 booster shot

Nicholas Mohr, UI professor of emergency medicine, anesthesia, and epidemiology and a research collaborator, said he is a strong advocate for this new booster and hopes to see an uptick in vaccinations.

“The bivalent booster is effective, and it can prevent severe illnesses and hospitalizations,” Mohr said. “We do believe that it will provide additional protection against these new variants.”

Mohr said this booster will be beneficial to older populations, particularly during the winter months.

“We recommend vaccinations not only to protect ourselves but our friends and family as well,” Mohr said.

Mohr and other UI researchers were part of the multistate IVY Network study team that carried out the study. The research was published on Dec. 30, 2022, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Jennifer Miller, disease prevention specialist at Johnson County Public Health, said she also recommends receiving the booster to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Not as many people as we would like have gotten their bivalent vaccine booster, and we do believe that it will provide additional protection against these new variants,” Miller said. “It’s not too late. Anybody who hasn’t gotten their newest booster, we would encourage them to do that.”

Even though many people have adjusted to COVID-19, Miller emphasized that everyone still needs to remain vigilant in protecting their health by vaccinating as new variants arise.

“We’re not surprised to see new variants,” she said. “From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that things will change over time. It reminds us that COVID-19 isn’t over.”

UI first-year student Abbie Thomas said she hopes the public stays up to date on their vaccines so that she can continue to attend her classes.

“Ever since the pandemic, some sort of sickness has always been spread around campus,” she said. “It’s important that everyone continues to take preventative measures so we can live a normal life.”

UI third-year student Raquel Valladolid said she thinks this is a very positive outcome for the research and will continue to help people in the university community.

“That’s nice for the older faculty and people on campus who are immunocompromised,” she said.