Good news for those nervous about rising COVID levels and the coming respiratory disease season: By the end of the week, boosters tailored to a newer strain of Omicron should be available nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced Tuesday.
Just who needs the updated COVID vaccine? When and where can you get one? And what else should you know? Here are the answers you need, courtesy of a plethora of experts.
Who’s eligible for the new XBB COVID vaccine?
All Americans ages 6 months and older are eligible for the new jabs, the CDC said Tuesday.
How many doses will I need?
For those who’ve previously been vaccinated, only one shot should be necessary to catch up. Those ages 65 and older, or who are severely immunocompromised, however, may need a second dose of the updated vaccine. Children ages 6 months through 5 years may also need multiple doses to catch up—talk to your child’s pediatrician, if you’re curious.
What’s different about this year’s updated COVID shot?
Last year’s updated Omicron boosters, released around Labor Day, were bivalent, tailored to both Omicron and the initial strain of COVID. This year’s boosters are monovalent, meaning they’re tailored to just one strain of the virus: XBB.1.5 “Kraken,” which dominated in the U.S. and elsewhere late last year into early this year.
While the newest jabs are tailored to a dying strain of Omicron, they’re still expected to protect against severe disease and death from currently circulating strains, the vast majority of which are members of the XBB viral family.
What’s more, recently released preliminary data shows that refreshed boosters should also offer decent protection against new, highly mutated Omicron spawn “Pirola” BA.2.86, even though it’s not a member of the XBB family.
Which companies have a new booster available?
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved new mRNA boosters from Moderna and Pfizer. Approval for another booster from Novavax is likely forthcoming. Instead of using new mRNA technology, Novavax uses a more traditional protein-based vaccine approach used for the flu shot and other vaccines.
Who will get first access to the new boosters?
Supply is anticipated to be adequate, CDC officials said Tuesday. Because of this, high-risk groups, like the elderly and immunocompromised, won’t be prioritized. You shouldn’t have an issue getting the updated jab, if you want one.
Does everyone really need to get the new vaccine?
Refreshed boosters are “the best protection against COVID-19 related hospitalization and death,” the CDC said in a Tuesday news release on its decision. The vaccine also reduces your chances of developing long COVID, it added.
The experts Fortune spoke to hope everyone avails themselves to the updated shot. But there is no question, they said, that people in the following groups should schedule their dose ASAP, due to their high risk of severe outcomes from the virus like hospitalization or death:
- those ages 65+
- those with pre-existing health conditions like diabetes and obesity
- pregnant individuals
Additionally, those who have never been vaccinated or who didn’t receive last year’s Omicron booster should making getting the new jab a priority, Dr. John Schumann—a Tulsa, Okla.-based primary care doctor and internal medicine specialist with Oak Street Health, a chain of primary care clinics that serve older adults—told Fortune on Tuesday.
Do children really need this vaccine?
Yes, Dr. Tina Tan—a pediatrician with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and vice president of the Infectious Disease Society of America’s board of directors—said at a Wednesday press conference on the matter.
Many parents hold the false belief that COVID can’t cause severe illness and death in children. But it can and does, Tan said. The shot is especially important for children under 1 year of age, she added.
What if my child is too young to receive the vaccine?
If your child is under the age of 6 months and, thus, ineligible to receive a new booster, it’s especially important that those in your household are vaccinated, Tan said Tuesday.
I just had COVID. Should I wait to get the booster?
Waiting to get a new booster after a recent COVID infection or vaccination could reduce your risk of myocarditis, a rare side effect of vaccination that involves inflammation of the heart muscle.
If you recently had COVID, you can wait three months to receive your new booster. But waiting isn’t required, officials said at Tuesday’s CDC committee meeting.
I just got an old COVID booster or vaccine. Should I wait to get the new booster?
Wait at least two months, federal health officials recommend.
Can I get the COVID, flu, and RSV vaccines together?
Yes, experts with the IDSA said Wednesday. In fact, they recommend doing so. Some people feel unwell after each shot, and it’s best to get it out of the way all at once, they said.
This year, for the first time, RSV vaccines are available to those ages 60 and older, and to pregnant individuals, to prevent RSV in infants. A vaccine-like monoclonal antibody injection is also available to infants, in a bid to prevent severe outcomes from RSV.
How much will the new COVID boosters cost?
Because the federal health emergency ended in May, the U.S. government will no longer be footing the bill for shots for everyone.
But most people should still be able to receive the shot for free, according to the CDC.
Most insurance plans will cover the booster at no cost, including Medicare and Medicaid. Those who are uninsured or underinsured can get a free vaccine at local health centers or state, local, tribal, or territorial health departments.
Pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program will also provide free vaccines. And children eligible for the Vaccines for Children program—about 50% of kids in the U.S.—can receive a free vaccine from a participating provider.
Without insurance or other financial assistance, Moderna’s new jab will cost $129, Pfizer’s $120, and Novavax’s $130 per dose, company representatives said at Tuesday’s CDC committee hearing.
When will my local pharmacy have COVID boosters available?
XBB-tailored jabs will be available at Walgreens nationwide starting Monday, Sept. 18, the company told Fortune. You can go ahead and schedule your appointment online now for yourself and up to four people, the company said.
Fortune reached out to other major pharmacy companies and will update this article when it receives new information.
Those looking for the nearest location to them with updated COVID boosters can visit vaccines.gov, text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.