All adults and children 6 months and older can get a new COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna this season, a team of medical experts that advises the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
Both mRNA vaccine formulas have been updated to target a newer version of the omicron variant that’s more closely related to current versions of the virus.
In order for the recommendation to be official, the CDC itself needs to sign off, which typically happens quickly after a committee vote. Once it’s official, shots will start shipping out to pharmacies and doctors’ offices across the country.
While the current burden of COVID-19, including hospitalizations, is considerably lower than it was during the height of the pandemic, there has been a late-summer rise in hospitalizations and deaths. Like other viruses, we can expect COVID-19 infection rates to rise during the fall and winter months when more people are spending time indoors.
The FDA earlier this year announced a plan to make COVID-19 vaccines look more like annual flu shots, which are updated each year to be the best match for the circulating virus.
Here’s what to know about the new vaccine formulas.
What are the new COVID shots?
Moderna and Pfizer updated their vaccine formulas to target a newer strain of omicron, XBB.1.5. They’re both “monovalent” vaccines, which means they’re made after one strain of the virus, compared to the “bivalent” vaccines that rolled out last fall and targeted both the original COVID-19 virus plus another, older version of omicron.
They were fully approved by the FDA on Monday for adults and older kids, and given emergency use authorization for children 6 months through 11 years.
A vaccine from Novavax may also be recommended by the FDA and CDC soon, but right now Pfizer’s and Moderna’s are the ones with sign-off for the fall and winter season.
Who can get a shot now? When should I get it?
Once CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen signs off on the committee’s guidance, shots are expected to start shipping out to pharmacies, which means they could be available near you in the coming days.
The FDA signed off on a single dose of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for people age 5 and older, as long as 2 months have gone by since your last booster or COVID-19 vaccine dose. For younger children 6 months through 4 years, the FDA says the timing and number of doses will depend on any previous COVID-19 vaccine they received.
Much of the discussion from the CDC’s committee (called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) was on whether to make a universal recommendation and open up access to more people, or whether to focus the recommendation on people who are at much higher risk of severe of severe disease and death, which includes older adults and people with certain underlying health conditions.
We can expect the CDC to offer additional guidance or details on dosages for people who are immunocompromised in the coming days.
Most importantly: how much will the new COVID vaccine cost?
One major difference with the booster this time around, now that COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency, is that vaccines for COVID are no longer funded by the government. However, the cost of your shot should still be covered either through insurance or through a public program, according to information presented Tuesday.
Insurance plans are expected to cover COVID-19 vaccine costs immediately, according to a presentation from Dr. Georgina Peacock, director of the Immunization Services Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC. People who have Medicare or Medicaid should also have the cost of their vaccine covered. Children who are underinsured should automatically be covered by the Vaccines for Children program, which covers vaccines that are recommended by ACIP.
For adults who are uninsured or underinsured, the CDC has something called the Bridge Access Program which will allow adults to access shots for free at participating pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS locations, as well as local health clinics, according to the information presented Tuesday.