Physicians worry lookalike labels on original, updated COVID-19 shots may lead to errors: 3 notes on new boosters

Labels on the original COVID-19 vaccines and the updated boosters are very similar, leaving some physicians concerned people will mistakenly receive the wrong shots, NBC News reported Sept. 6. 

Pfizer's omicron booster is packaged in vials with a gray cap and gray labeling — the same colors as its original vaccine. The original vaccines are still being used for people's primary vaccination series. A similar situation is true for Moderna's updated booster and its original vaccine vials for children aged 6 to 11, which both have a dark blue cap. 

"Front-line healthcare workers are already busy; they have a lot going on," Ofer Levy, MD, PhD, director of the precision vaccines program at Boston Children's Hospital, told NBC. "While both Pfizer and Moderna's labels say what vaccine is inside, making the vaccine vials easy to tell apart prevents providers from grabbing the wrong one."

Physicians said color-coding the vaccines would be a simple way to prevent mix-ups. CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said the agency is aware of the concerns and is "actively working" on education efforts for providers administering vaccines. 

Two more notes on updated boosters: 

1. Wait a few months to get the updated booster if recently infected, health officials said during a Sept. 6 White House COVID-19 briefing. "If you got a recent infection or were recently vaccinated, it's reasonable to wait a few months," to get the updated shot, said Ashish Jha, MD, White House COVID-19 response coordinator. The CDC's vaccine guidance webpage says people with a recent infection should consider delaying primary vaccination series or a booster dose by three months, adding that studies have shown waiting can result in a stronger immune response. 

2. White House officials anticipate COVID-19 boosters to become annual, similar to the cadence of flu shots. "We likely are moving toward a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual, updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population," said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.


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