Health officials announced on Tuesday that most Americans should receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine. Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed these new shots for all individuals aged 6 months and older. The CDC’s director quickly approved this recommendation. As a result, these doses should be accessible this week, with some available as early as Wednesday.
Although the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has diminished, the United States still experiences thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths each week. Hospitalizations have been on the rise since late summer, although recent data suggests that infections may be leveling off, particularly in the South. Nevertheless, experts are concerned that immunity from previous vaccinations and infections is declining in many individuals, making a new shot essential to saving lives.
A recent CDC-cited survey from last month revealed that about 42% of people said they would definitely or probably get the new vaccine. However, only about 20% of adults received an updated booster when it was offered a year ago.
Doctors are hopeful that enough people will get vaccinated to prevent another “tripledemic” like last year when hospitals were overwhelmed with an early flu season, an onslaught of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and yet another winter coronavirus surge.
Here’s what you need to know about the new COVID-19 shots:
Who Should Receive the Updated Vaccine?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the updated shots from Pfizer and Moderna for both adults and children as young as 6 months old. The FDA also stated that starting at age 5, most people can receive a single dose even if they’ve never had a prior COVID-19 shot. Younger children may require additional doses depending on their history of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations.
The CDC determines the best use of vaccines and provides recommendations for U.S. doctors and the general public. The agency’s panel of external experts recommended the updated COVID-19 shots by a vote of 13-1. The one dissenting vote came from a panel member who argued that the new shots should initially be recommended only for older people and others at the greatest risk of severe illness. However, other panel members believed that individuals of all ages could and should benefit.
“We need to make vaccination recommendations as clear as possible,” stated one panel member, Dr. Camille Kotton, an infectious diseases doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Where Can I Receive a Shot?
The new vaccine will be available at pharmacies, health centers, and some doctor’s offices. Locations will be listed on the government’s vaccines.gov website. The list price for a dose of each shot is $120 to $130, according to the manufacturers. However, federal officials have stated that the new COVID-19 shots will still be free for most Americans through private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. For the uninsured or underinsured, the CDC is collaborating with health departments, clinics, and certain pharmacies to temporarily provide free shots.
On Tuesday, a Pfizer official mentioned that his company expected to have doses available at some U.S. locations as early as Wednesday.
Why Are More Covid-19 Shots Needed?
Similar to how flu shots are updated each year, the FDA provided COVID-19 vaccine makers with a new recipe for this fall. The updated shots target a single variant called XBB.1.5, which is a descendant of the omicron variant. This is a significant change from the COVID-19 vaccines offered since last year, which were combination shots targeting the original coronavirus strain and an earlier omicron version, making them outdated.
Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax have all developed new supplies, and the FDA approved shots from Pfizer and Moderna on Monday. Novavax’s updated vaccine is still under review.
Will These Shots Be Effective Enough?
Health officials are optimistic, barring the emergence of a new mutant variant. As expected, XBB.1.5 has declined in the months it took to update the vaccine. Today, various coronavirus variants are causing illness, with the most common ones being fairly similar. Recent laboratory tests conducted by vaccine makers and other research groups suggest that the updated shots will offer cross-protection.
Previous vaccinations or infections have continued to help prevent severe disease and death, but protection wanes over time, especially against milder infections as the virus continually evolves. The FDA did permit seniors and others at high risk to receive an extra booster dose last spring. However, most Americans haven’t been vaccinated in about a year.
Can I Receive a Flu Shot and Covid-19 Shot Simultaneously?
Yes, you can. The CDC states that there is no difference in effectiveness or side effects if you receive these vaccines simultaneously, although getting one in each arm might be more comfortable. The CDC recommends a yearly flu shot for nearly everyone aged 6 months and up, with the best time to get it by the end of October.