With the latest wave of COVID infections climbing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended new vaccines Tuesday by Pfizer and Moderna tailored to a recent variant of the virus for everyone 6 months of age and older.
The recommendation followed a 13-1 vote Tuesday of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Food and Drug Administration’s approval Monday of the new vaccine formula, based on a recently circulating version of the omicron virus variant known as XBB.1.5, to replace earlier vaccines and boosters. The move institutes a simpler approach than last year’s recommendations for different vaccines and boosters based on age and immunization status.
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19,” said CDC Director Mandy Cohen. “CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Q Do I need to get this new COVID shot?
A The CDC panel wrestled with the question of whether to focus its recommendation on those most at risk of severe COVID or urge the shots for everyone within the approved age groups. The panel mostly favored a universal recommendation, noting that although the highest-risk groups are people ages 75 and up, children under 2 and those with weakened immunity or health problems, there have been hospitalizations and deaths in otherwise healthy people of all ages.
One panelist, Dr. Pablo J. Sanchez, pediatrics professor at Ohio State University – Nationwide Children’s Hospital, felt the recommendation would do more good if focused on those at highest risk and cited concerns about side effects in younger people with lower COVID risk.
“I’m not against this vaccine,” Sanchez said. “The limited data do look great. I’m very much pro vaccination. I just want to comment that we have extremely limited data on children and infants and other individuals, and so I think that needs to be made available to the parents.”
Q When will the new shots be available?
A As soon as the end of the week.
Q Will vaccines be available in the same way as they were before?
A Not quite. With the end of the state and federal COVID emergencies, this round of COVID shots is for the first time being made available directly from the manufacturers to health care providers, just as with other vaccines. The free mass vaccination sites are a thing of the past.
Q Will the shots still be free?
A For pretty much everyone, yes, at least for now. Most insurers will provide the shots without cost-sharing for their patients, and the vaccines also will be available to those on the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid at no cost. The federal Vaccines for Children program will make the vaccines available to uninsured, underinsured and Medicare eligible kids. And a Bridge Access Program will make the shots available free to uninsured adults at least through 2024.
Q What if I was recently vaccinated or infected?
A CDC officials recommended waiting two months after your last shot — the most recent boosters are no longer authorized. Those recently infected could get the new shot as soon as they feel better but also could wait three months.
Q How well do the shots work?
A CDC officials Tuesday said that although most people have residual immunity from earlier vaccination or infection with the virus, immunity wanes and new variants mutate to get around that protection. Available data indicated that the new vaccine produces an elevated immune response. And although the XBB.1.5 variant is no longer prevalent, the variants circulating now are similar enough that it helps reduce chances of infection, severe illness and lingering “long COVID.”
Q Do I just need one shot of the new vaccine?
A People ages 5 and older need just one dose of the updated COVID vaccine, even if they’ve not been vaccinated before — no more second shot in 3-4 weeks. For children 6 months to 4 years old, the number of doses of updated COVID vaccine may vary by age, by which COVID vaccines the child got in the past, and by the timing of previous COVID vaccination or infection. More information about vaccine authorization is available from the FDA.
Q Can I get the COVID and flu shot together?
Q What are local health care providers and pharmacies saying about availability?
A CVS pharmacies will begin receiving the new COVID-19 vaccines later this week, and appointments will be available at CVS.com and via the CVS Pharmacy app.
Walgreens said people can schedule appointments immediately following the CDC’s recommendation, with available appointments starting nationwide on Monday, Sept. 18. Earlier appointments may be added on a rolling basis as stores receive vaccines this week. Appointments can be scheduled through the Walgreens app,by visiting Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine or calling 1-800-WALGREENS.
Kaiser Permanente said it will begin administering the updated COVID vaccines “as soon as we have updated our systems and processes” to reflect the new guidance and when supply becomes available. Kaiser plans to primarily administer the Pfizer vaccine and said it will be covered as a routine vaccination provided by members’ plan benefits.
Santa Clara County said those without health insurance should call the Santa Clara Valley Healthcare Patient Access Department at 1-866-967-4677 or visit 770 South Bascom Avenue in San Jose between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. for assistance enrolling in programs for which they are eligible.
San Mateo County residents should contact their health care provider or local pharmacy. Residents without health coverage may contact San Mateo County Health at (650) 573-2877 or [email protected] to learn how to access vaccines at no cost.
Contra Costa Health said it will offer new vaccines to its own patient population, including Contra Costa Health Plan members and Medi-Cal patients, as well as patients with no medical insurance, and that details will be provided soon.