What You Should Know

US authorities have given the green light to a new COVID-19 booster shot designed to combat one of the most prevalent strains of the virus currently in circulation. As we approach the cold and flu season, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization for updated single-dose COVID-19 booster shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel of experts has also recommended that nearly all US residents consider getting this booster. In this article, we will provide you with essential information about these new booster shots, including who should get them and why.

What Did the FDA Approve? The FDA has authorized updated versions of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines. COVID-19, like the influenza virus, continually mutates. To address this, pharmaceutical companies have developed a booster shot targeting one of the most widespread strains of COVID-19 this season, known as the XBB.1.5 variant.

This fall marks the first time that adults will have access to vaccines protecting against the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19, all of which safeguard against commonly circulating respiratory illnesses. This year’s COVID-19 booster specifically targets the XBB.1.5 variant.

Who Should Receive the New Booster Shot? When the FDA approves a new vaccine, the CDC offers recommendations on who should receive it and when. In summary, the CDC recommends the booster for all individuals aged six months and older, with a few exceptions.

Those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 can wait for three months before receiving the updated booster, while individuals who have recently had a previous booster should wait for two months. The CDC’s expert panel places particular emphasis on certain groups receiving the new shot.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, highlights the importance of those at the highest risk for severe illness, such as individuals over 65, those with underlying health conditions (such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic lung or heart disease), and those who may be immunocompromised, including those on immune suppressant medication and pregnant individuals.

Why Should You Get Another Shot if You’re Already Vaccinated or Had COVID-19? While many people in the US have some level of immunity against COVID-19 due to vaccination or previous infection, the risk of reinfection increases over time as new variants emerge, and vaccine-induced immunity wanes.

The updated vaccines aim to prevent severe illness, which could lead to hospitalization or even death. Additionally, data indicates that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine can reduce the likelihood of developing long COVID, a condition characterized by persistent symptoms like fatigue and cognitive impairment. Consequently, health agencies recommend these booster shots for a broad segment of the American population.

Dr. Hotez, a supporter of the CDC’s broad recommendation, expresses his intention to be among the first to receive the updated shot, emphasizing the importance of individual health choices and the lingering vulnerability.

How Long Does Immunity from the New Booster Last? Peak protection should occur within a couple of weeks after receiving the booster, and it should last for several months. After this period, immunity may decline due to the emergence of new variants or diminishing vaccine efficacy. Experts find it challenging to pinpoint precise answers based on the available data.

Do All Experts Agree with the CDC’s Recommendation? While a panel of CDC experts voted in favor of the new recommendations, not all experts share the same perspective. Dr. Paul Offit, a virology and immunology expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA’s vaccine expert panel, argues that the government should prioritize the nation’s most vulnerable groups.

In 2022, only 43% of individuals over 65, a high-risk group for hospitalization, received a booster dose. Dr. Offit contends that this particular group should be the focus of a booster campaign, emphasizing the goal of preventing severe illness and identifying those at the greatest risk, specifically those over 75 with underlying health conditions and the immunocompromised, according to CDC data.

Will You Have to Pay for the New Booster Vaccine? Most likely, you won’t have to pay for the booster vaccine. Health insurance will cover the cost for the majority of Americans. The federal Bridge Access Program will cover the cost of shots through 2024 for those without health insurance, approximately 27 million Americans, according to the CDC. For those who choose to pay out of pocket, Pfizer and Moderna have set the list price for their vaccines at $120 and $129, respectively.

As the US experiences a rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly with the approach of the cold and flu season, the introduction of updated booster shots offers additional protection against the virus. These booster shots have received FDA approval and CDC recommendations for a broad range of individuals, with a particular focus on those at higher risk of severe illness. It is essential to stay informed and consult with healthcare professionals to make informed decisions about receiving the COVID-19 booster shot.