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Oregonians may be able to get updated COVID boosters that target newest strains next week

The new boosters, which target the newest omicron variant strains, were endorsed Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Thousands of doses of the new COVID-19 boosters that target the most common omicron strains have already arrived in Oregon and more are on the way next week, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) told KGW on Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the updated shots Thursday.

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Oregonians could start getting the shots as early as next week and OHA said it expects to have enough booster shots to meet demand. Those interested in receiving the updated booster should check with their medical provider first, OHA said. Information can also be found at OHA's website and through Get Vaccinated Oregon.

OHA said it will open three new high-volume vaccination sites next week across the state, while existing sites will expand their hours. Information about the new sites will be released here once they're set to open. The boosters, like all COVID-19 vaccines, are free, according to OHA.

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In a news release, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, said the spread of COVID-19 is expected to increase this fall and winter, but boosters provide "strong protection against the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including severe illness, hospitalizations and death."

Dr. Paul Cieslak, medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at OHA, said while people are getting the COVID booster, they should also get the flu shot. "With fall coming up, we expect influenza to be circulating again," Cieslak said. "We no longer have the restrictions on restaurants and schools will be open, and the southern hemisphere has been having a lot of influenza this year. So while you're getting your COVID-19 booster, inquire about getting your flu shot as well."

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The booster shots, from Pfizer and Moderna, are combination or "bivalent" shots — half the original vaccine and half protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions now causing nearly all COVID-19 infections in Oregon and across the country. The updated boosters will be a single dose that people can receive two months after they get the first two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, OHA said.

The new updated shots are only for use as a booster, not for someone's first-ever vaccinations. The Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer's bivalent option for people 12 and older while Moderna's is for adults only.

The original COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against severe illness and death, especially among younger and healthier people who’ve gotten at least one booster. But those vaccines were designed to target the virus strain that circulated in early 2020. Effectiveness drops as new mutants emerge and more time passes since someone's last shot.

RELATED: Latest Oregon COVID numbers: Cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations

Earlier this month, Oregon Health and Science University released its latest forecast, in which it predicted that the state's infection and hospitalization rates, which have been trending steadily downward since a peak of 464 COVID-positive patients in Oregon hospitals in mid-July, would continue to trend down for at least another month, followed by a new wave in the fall and winter. That forecast, however, did not account for omicron-specific vaccine boosters, which are now available.

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