The United States approved updated COVID vaccines on Monday, hoping to boost protection against the latest strains of coronavirus and blunt any surges this fall and winter.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decision opens the latest shots from Moderna and Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to most Americans, even if they have never been vaccinated against the coronavirus. It’s part of a change to treat fall COVID vaccine updates much like an annual flu shot.
But there’s still one more step: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must approve. A CDC advisory committee is expected to issue recommendations Tuesday on who most needs the updated vaccines. Vaccinations could begin later this week, and COVID and flu vaccines can be administered during the same visit.
A third vaccine maker, Novavax, said its updated vaccine was still under review by the FDA.
With the rollout of the newest vaccine looming on the horizon, here’s what we currently know.
Who is eligible?
Per FDA guidelines, anyone age 5 and older will be able to receive a single dose of either updated COVID vaccine, whether or not they have been previously vaccinated. Health officials recommend people wait at least two months since their last COVID vaccination before receiving another dose.
For children and infants aged 6 months to 4 years, they may receive one or two doses of the updated vaccine, with the timing and number of doses depending on the number of vaccines previously administered, according to the FDA.
Parents of children in the same age group, but not vaccinated, have two different options. Their children will be able to receive either three doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine or two doses of the updated Moderna vaccine. Additional doses may be needed for some immunocompromised children, the FDA said.
How effective is the shot? Is this a new vaccine or a booster?
COVID-related hospitalizations across the country and in Illinois have increased since late summer. Although – thanks to lasting immunity from previous vaccinations and infections – not as much as this time last year.
But protection wanes over time and the coronavirus continually produces new variants that can evade previous immunity. It’s been a year since the last time the vaccines were changed, and only about 20% of adults received that earlier update.
“Vaccination remains essential to public health and continued protection against serious outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said in a statement . “We strongly encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated. »
The FDA is clearly not calling this latest round a “booster,” but rather a vaccine updated to better match the virus currently circulating. The new recipe targets an omicron variant named XBB.1.5 – replacing outdated combination vaccines that mixed protection against the original coronavirus strain and an older version of omicron.
And even though the XBB.1.5 variant is no longer dominant, the FDA has determined that it is close enough to the coronavirus strains causing most COVID-19 illnesses today to provide good protection crossed. Like previous versions, they should be more protective against the worst outcomes of COVID-19 rather than mild infection.
If you got a Moderna shot in the past, can you – or should you – get a Pfizer one now?
The CDC and FDA initially approved mixing and matching COVID booster shots in October 2021, NBC News previously reported, meaning people did not have the opportunity to receive booster shots matching their vaccinations initials.
The move greatly expanded access across the country, as some vaccines were more readily available in some areas than others.
There is little data to suggest there is any benefit to “mixing and matching,” according to an article from Yale New Haven Health.
However, if you’ve had a reaction to one type of vaccine, it might be a good idea to get a different one for your booster shot.
How soon can I get vaccinated? Where can I make an appointment?
Although the FDA’s decision allows broad use of the updated shots, the CDC will decide how much different groups will be encouraged to get them.
A CDC advisory committee is expected to issue recommendations Tuesday on who most needs the updated vaccines. Vaccinations could begin later this week, and COVID and flu vaccines can be administered during the same visit.
A Chicago Sun-Times report says Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the department plans to release a full list of vaccination sites later this week.
“We already have the vaccine in Chicago,” Luna said. “We are simply waiting for the CDC to make its final recommendations before we begin the rollout.”
The Sun-Times also reported that existing vaccines will no longer be available and everyone is asked to wait until the latest vaccine is released.
Is shooting covered by insurance?
Federal officials have said the shots will still be free for most Americans through private insurance or Medicare. But for uninsured or underinsured people, the CDC is working with health departments, clinics and some pharmacies to temporarily provide free shots.