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New Round of COVID Vaccines Now Available in the U.S.: What You Need to Know

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A New Round of Covid Vaccines Now Available in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved single-strain shots from Pfizer and Moderna as new Covid vaccines. These vaccines specifically target a relatively new omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also gave their approval. Within 48 hours of the CDC’s recommendation, the first doses of the new shots will be available at select pharmacies and vaccine distribution locations. This means that Americans could start receiving the vaccines as early as Thursday.

Introduction

The FDA is currently reviewing a third updated vaccine from Novavax for individuals aged 12 and up. The introduction of these new shots comes as Covid hospitalizations continue to rise in the U.S. for the seventh consecutive week. While the number remains lower than the surge seen in the summer of 2022, the recent uptick is causing concerns about the potential impact of Covid during the fall and winter months. This is when respiratory viruses tend to spread more easily as people spend more time indoors.

Importance of New Vaccines

Public health officials and experts are hopeful that the arrival of these new vaccines will help prevent another severe wave of Covid. They also aim to address the potential triple threat of Covid, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that overwhelmed hospitals last winter. The Biden administration has announced its plan to encourage eligible Americans to receive an updated Covid vaccine along with an annual flu shot and an RSV jab approved for older adults or mothers.

Who Should Get the Updated Shots?

The CDC recommends that all Americans aged six months and older receive the new shots. Specific guidelines for staying up to date on Covid vaccines can be found on the CDC’s website, which vary depending on age group and risk level. Key recommendations include:

  • Everyone aged 6 and older should get at least one dose of an updated mRNA vaccine this year, regardless of their previous Covid vaccination status.
  • People aged 65 years and older may receive an additional dose of a new Covid vaccine four or more months after their first new shot.
  • Children aged 6 months to 5 years who are receiving vaccines for the first time should complete their primary series with two doses of an updated Moderna shot or three doses of a new Pfizer jab. Recommendations differ for children who have received prior vaccines.
  • People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should get one or more doses of a new shot, depending on their vaccination history, as they are at higher risk of severe illness from Covid.

Where Can You Get the New Shots?

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The updated shots will be available to eligible individuals at pharmacies, health clinics, and community centers, among other vaccine distribution sites. These locations will no longer offer last year’s bivalent boosters, as they are no longer authorized for use in the U.S.

Major retail pharmacy chains like Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Albertsons, and Kroger will be offering appointments for the new shots. The federal website vaccines.gov will soon be updated to include other locations offering the updated Covid vaccines.

Will the Updated Shots Be Free?

While there have been changes in how Covid vaccines are covered this year, the federal government aims to ensure that all individuals can receive the vaccines for free. Private insurers will provide the vaccines at no cost to beneficiaries, and government payers such as Medicare and Medicaid will also cover the new shots with no co-payments.

For the estimated 30 million uninsured Americans, the Biden administration will offer shots for free through the Bridge Access Program at participating health centers, clinics, and pharmacies across the U.S. The CDC’s Vaccines For Children program will also provide free Covid shots to children whose families or caretakers cannot afford them.

Timing Your New Covid Vaccine

The timing of getting an updated Covid vaccine depends on individual risk levels and situations. Individuals at higher risk of severe illness from Covid should get the new vaccine as soon as possible. Younger, healthy adults can choose to wait for immunity to kick in around specific events or the winter holidays when they may be more exposed to the virus.

It is recommended to wait two months after receiving a previous vaccine before getting an updated shot. Those who have been recently infected can wait three months, but they can also get the new shot as soon as they feel better. The choice to wait for the recommended time period is optional.

Effectiveness of the Updated Shots

The new shots from Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax are specifically designed to target XBB.1.5, the omicron subvariant. The effectiveness of these shots in preventing Covid is still being studied and monitored.

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