This week, updated COVID-19 booster shots — one shot by Pfizer and one shot by Moderna — were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These updated vaccines will better target the COVID variants currently circulating in the U.S. and worldwide.
Specifically, these shots will target the XBB.1.5 subvariant, a progression from the omicron variant, which was dominant earlier this summer when development of the updated shot started. And while XBB.1.5 is not the dominant variant anymore (CDC data shows that the subvariant Eris, or EG.5, is now the prominent strain), these shots will still help protect you from severe outcomes like hospitalization and death. EG.5 is also a descendant of omicron, so you’ll still have decent coverage.
“[The shots] will work really well against all of the variants that we currently have circulating in the United States and across the world,” said Dr. Jodie Guest, the senior vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
It’s best to not even think of these as boosters but rather a regular shot, according to Dr. S. Wesley Long, the medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital.
“You know, when we take our annual flu shot, it’s just the flu shot, we don’t think of it as a flu booster … the way to think about these new COVID vaccines is it’s really like the annual flu shot,” Long said. While it’s similar to the previous year’s vaccine, it’s updated to target any virus changes, he explained.
So, it’s safe to say these shots are important as we head into another fall and winter when respiratory illnesses are known to spike. Here’s who can get the new shots and why they’re necessary:
The new shots are available to people 6 months and older.
The CDC guidelines state that everyone 6 months and older can get this updated vaccine, which is a welcome piece of news, both experts told HuffPost.
“The recommendation from CDC’s advisory committee will help ensure access to the updated COVID-19 vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, which is especially important from a health equity perspective,” Guest told HuffPost via email.
The new vaccine is one dose for people ages 5 and over and multiple doses for those ages 6 months to 4 years old. However, the exact number of doses depends on current vaccination status, and which shot a child received ― either Pfizer or Moderna ― also matters regarding dosing, according to the FDA. So, it’s best to talk to your child’s pediatrician or doctor for specifics.
While the new shots are available for everyone, Guest said it’s also important to focus on getting shots to those at high risk for severe outcomes, like older adults and the immunosuppressed.
If you can, get the new vaccine now. But if you’ve been recently vaccinated or infected, you should wait.
Shots are expected to be available this week, and as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, it’s encouraged that you get your shot as soon as you can.
“You’re going to start to see it available in pharmacies and clinicians offices across the country, and this is the perfect time to be getting both the flu and the COVID vaccine,” Guest said.
If you don’t get the shots now, she said you should do so by October to receive the most optimal protection as we go into peak illness season.
However, if you’ve been vaccinated recently against COVID-19, the FDA guidance states you should wait two months to get the new shot. At this point, there are no specific guidelines for folks who were recently infected with COVID-19, but previous recommendations have said you should wait about three months after infection to get a new vaccine, Guest noted.
If you recently had COVID, talk to your doctor about the best timing for your shot.
Getting this new vaccine is important to reduce virus spread and to help prevent serious illness.
Long re-emphasized that these vaccines target the subvariants currently making people sick and bolster overall immunity that is decreasing in much of the public.
“Our immunity against coronavirus, in general, wanes over time. Probably over the span of — and it depends on the individual — but anywhere from six months to nine months, your circulating antibody level starts to drop,” Long said.
During this time, you’re more likely to end up with a symptomatic infection if you do get reinfected, he said, meaning you are also more likely to spread droplets that infect those around you.
“Honestly, that waning immunity is probably [what] a lot of people think may be driving some of the increase in cases we’re seeing right now because, again, we rolled out the new bivalent boosters about a year ago, uptake of those wasn’t great, people who maybe got … vaccinated or infected last summer, last fall, whatever residual immunity they had from that could be decreasing,” Long said.
These updated vaccines will essentially train our immune systems to recognize the currently circulating variants, he said.
“And then help, hopefully, shorten the course of illness and definitely reduce your risk of severe disease, hospitalization or death,” Long noted.
As a related aside, just 17% of Americans got the updated COVID booster last year, according to CDC data.
“The vaccines are our single best method to protect ourselves from COVID, to protect our friends, family, loved ones, classmates, co-workers, etcetera, from COVID,” said Long, by, hopefully, reducing infection rates and transmission rates with the added protection from the updated vaccine.