Updated coronavirus vaccines are on the way — the latest weapon for fending off a wily foe that has relentlessly evolved and is causing an uptick in covid-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The shots, designed to provide improved protection against omicron subvariants now circulating, are manufactured by Moderna and by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. They were cleared Monday by the Food and Drug Administration and are expected to be reviewed Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its advisers.

That means the injections will be available to consumers shortly. Here is what you need to know.

Virus Outbreak Vaccines

Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, receives a flu vaccine Sept.6 from Nurse Practitioner Whitney Goggans at the Atlanta Press Club, where Cohen spoke about health issues, in Atlanta. Mike Stewart/AP

When will the new coronavirus vaccines be available?

The shots were expected to be available this past week, after the CDC decides who should get them. The CDC’s outside experts — the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — are scheduled to meet Tuesday to make a recommendation on the issue. After that, CDC Director Mandy Cohen will issue her decision, clearing the way for administration of the shots.

Who can get the new coronavirus shots?

That’s not settled yet. The FDA cleared the vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, but the CDC has the last word on who should get the shots. That agency is leaning toward a broad recommendation, akin to the FDA’s. If the CDC decides the shots should be widely administered, that would mirror the policy on annual influenza shots.

But some experts say the coronavirus shot should be targeted to high-risk groups, including older people, immunocompromised individuals and patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. They say healthy younger people are at low risk for severe illness, in part because they have built up immunity.

Advertisement

No matter what the government recommends, many Americans are likely to skip the shot, experts say. Only 20% of people who were eligible got the last booster.

When should I get the new coronavirus shot?

People should talk to their doctors about timing, especially because there are two other protective steps to consider as the weather gets colder — flu shots and RSV immunizations for infants and adults 60 and older. Some experts say people who are eligible for all three should get them by the end of October.

Doctors say that people who did not get the previous coronavirus booster should get the new shot. The same goes for older people who might be especially vulnerable to a bad case of covid. Some doctors say healthy younger people, if they decide to get the shot, might want to wait a bit so that protection is high around the winter holidays, when cases have risen in the last three years.

Coronavirus vaccines tend to increase protective antibodies against mild infections for a relatively short period. But they also strengthen the body’s longer-term defenses against serious illness.

Where can I get the new coronavirus vaccine?

The new shot will be available at doctors offices, clinics and commercial venues that typically offer vaccines, including CVS and Walgreens.

Does the coronavirus shot protect against variants BA 2.86 and EG.5?

The vaccine was designed to protect against the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which now accounts for a small proportion of the cases in the United States. But the injection also counters other XBB variants making up most cases now. That includes EG.5, the most prevalent variant at the moment and responsible for more than 21 percent of U.S. cases, according to the CDC.

Advertisement

In addition, new data from Pfizer, Moderna and independent scientists suggests the shot will protect against the closely watched BA.2.86, a highly mutated variant that some scientists initially worried could evade protections from vaccines or earlier infections. New studies indicate the variant is not as dangerous as feared.

In its weekly update on respiratory viruses, the CDC said Friday that “early research data from multiple labs are reassuring and show that existing antibodies work against the new BA.2.86 variant.”

How much will the coronavirus shot cost?

The injections will be free to most Americans with private health insurance or coverage through Medicare or Medicaid, said Jennifer Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at KFF, a health policy nonprofit.

The Biden administration also is taking steps to provide the shots free of cost to people without insurance, although some advocates worry that uninsured people won’t know when and how to get the vaccine.

How soon after having covid can I get the new vaccine?

The CDC says people may wait three months, but some experts advise patients to wait closer to six months.

What about kids and the coronavirus vaccine — do they get the same shots as adults?

Yes, but with some tweaks. Everyone 5 years old and up is eligible to receive a single dose of the updated coronavirus vaccine regardless of whether they have gotten a vaccine before. Children 6 months through 4 years old who have been vaccinated are eligible to receive one or two doses of an updated shot, but the timing and number of doses depends on the previous vaccine received. Children 6 months through 4 years old who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus are eligible to receive three doses of the updated vaccines.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: