Last week the FDA authorized both Pfizer and Moderna's updated COVID boosters. St. Luke's University Health Network is one of the providers that will distribute the "bivalent" vaccine. But it will do so with a caveat.

St. Luke's, in a statement Wednesday, says it will have the vaccine for those eligible through its primary physician offices. But the health network's statement says it's not ready to "strongly endorse" the booster.

With the fall season upon us comes the lingering chance of yet another COVID wave.

The FDA last week approved both Pfizer and Moderna's updated boosters and they're expected to be available in the Lehigh Valley by next week. But one of the area's largest hospital networks appears to not be fully on board.

In Wednesday's statement, St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs, Dr. Jeffrey Jahre says: "We continue to support COVID 19 vaccination as the best method to combat the pandemic and are convinced that vaccination has saved millions of lives."

"Data used by the FDA and CDC in their recommendation of the bivalent vaccine is currently based on studies performed on mice. Human studies are underway with preliminary data expected next month."

The area's other hospital, Lehigh Valley Health Network, says the booster is not much different than the others.

"One of the components is identical to the component seen in all the other existing vaccines to this date," Dr. Tim Friel, an infectious disease specialist with LVHN, said.

Friel explains that while one of the two components of the vaccine is new, the technology is not.

"The expectation with that is that side effects will be very, very similar," Friel said. "And the immune response will also be very, very similar."

The FDA's website explains the second component in the updated booster is newer: an mRNA component in common between the omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5 lineages, predicted to circulate this fall and winter.

"That will more likely mimic the virus that is circulating now in our communities," Friel said.

No one from St. Luke's was available to respond to our request for comment.

But Dr. Friel with LVHN says this is now a different time than two years ago. Many more options are available, between medications, treatments and immunity both from vaccines and natural infections.

But he emphasizes there are many who will benefit from the booster, like the elderly and those with comorbitities. And with hundreds of COVID-related deaths daily still, he stresses the importance of the booster.

"We are going to make available the only boosters that are currently available because I think we feel truly that there is a subset of Americans, there are a subset of individuals who live in our community who will benefit from boosting."

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