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COVID-19 vaccines are unpacked at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Dec. 28, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccines are unpacked at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Dec. 28, 2020. (U.S. Air Force)

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — Updated bivalent booster shots arrived in South Korea for U.S. military personnel late last month, marking another turning point in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital at Humphreys began administering doses of the updated boosters starting Sept. 26 on a walk-in basis, according to a Facebook post from the medical center.

Military personnel were previously required to make an online appointment to receive the vaccine and booster shots at the COVID-19 clinics.

The updated boosters are available for those age 12 and older who have received a COVID-19 vaccine at least two months prior and have waited at least three months since their last infection, the hospital said.

The boosters, manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, were approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 31. They contain a “component of the original strain to provide an immune response that is broadly protective against COVID-19,” as well as components of the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, the agency said in a news release on Aug. 31.

The omicron subvariants account for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the FDA. Recipients of the updated booster may feel the same side effects of the monovalent COVID-19 vaccines.

“The COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, continue to save countless lives and prevent the most serious outcomes of COVID-19,” the FDA’s commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf, said in the release. “As we head into fall and begin to spend more time indoors, we strongly encourage anyone who is eligible to consider receiving a booster dose with a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine to provide better protection against currently circulating variants.”

COVID-19 cases have declined across the U.S. military community in South Korea in recent weeks.

U.S. Forces Korea, the command responsible for the roughly 28,500 troops on the peninsula, reported 107 infections in a seven-day period ending Sept. 26, according to an update on its website. It counted 114 cases the week prior.

The latest figures represent a sharp drop from USFK’s record of 1,599 positive cases between Jan. 4 and 10. The command rescinded most of its social distancing restrictions in June, including proof of a negative PCR test prior to and upon arrival in South Korea.

That mirrors the response from the South Korean government in light of decreased infections across the country. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency counted 12,150 new daily cases on Sunday, down from 23,597 on Saturday.

The country reported a record high of 621,328 new daily cases in March and a total caseload of 24.8 million since the beginning of the pandemic.

The KDCA on Sept. 26 fully lifted a mandate that required people in groups of 50 or more to wear face masks. The agency still requires masks in indoor settings.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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