The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended new COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday by Pfizer and Moderna tailored to a recent variant of the virus for everyone 6 months and older.
The recommendation followed a 13-1 vote Tuesday of CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Food and Drug Administration’s approval Monday of the new vaccine formula, based off of a recently circulating version of the omicron virus variant known as XBB.1.5, to replace earlier vaccines and boosters.
“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 age 2 and those with weakened immunity or health problems that make them more vulnerable, there have been hospitalizations and deaths in otherwise healthy people of all ages.
Q Did anyone disagree with that?
A 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 limited data and worrisome 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. And we do have to be concerned about potential side effects, especially in young adult males.”
Q When will the new shots be available?
A With the CDC’s recommendation, vaccines could become available 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, and the updated vaccines will be available to people through their usual health care providers.
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 they also will be available to those on the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid at no extra 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 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, that 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 age 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, which COVID vaccines the child got in the past, and 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?
A COVID and flu vaccines may be given at the same appointment.
Q What are local health care providers saying about availability?
A 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 SMCHealth_IZ@smcgov.org 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.
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. The vaccine is available at no-cost through most insurance plans and the CDC’s Bridge Access Program.
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. Walgreens can distribute vaccinations to children over the age of three, and vaccines will be available at no cost.