Almost all Americans will be able to receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine as early as Wednesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed the shot for everyone older than 6 months.
The recommendation from CDC Director Mandy Cohen means updated COVID-19 shots will hit the market just as the U.S. approaches the fall and winter respiratory virus season. They arrive along with new treatments to protect infants and older adults from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
“Receiving an updated COVID-19 vaccine can restore protection and provide enhanced protection against the variants currently responsible for most infections and hospitalizations in the United States,” the agency said in a statement.
Major pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens said the shot will be available within days to people who want it.
The new shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are a single dose for people 5 years and older, and multiple smaller doses for children ages 6 months to 4 years old: two doses of Moderna or three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech.
An application for an updated non-mRNA vaccine from Novavax is still pending with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A Novavax official told the CDC advisers on Tuesday that doses of the vaccine are “pre-positioned” and awaiting FDA action.
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19,” Cohen said in a statement.
Last season, people who received a COVID-19 vaccine saw greater protection against illness and hospitalization than those who did not receive the booster, the CDC said. Still, only about 20 percent of adults, and 17 percent of the entire population, received one.
Last year’s bivalent booster, which contained a strain of the omicron variant and a strain of the original variant, is no longer recommended and doesn’t offer protection against the currently circulating strains.
People recently vaccinated should wait two months before getting an updated vaccine, the CDC said. People who have been recently infected can wait three months, but they can also get it “as soon as they’re feeling better,” CDC official Megan Wallace said Tuesday.
The CDC followed the recommendation of its outside advisory panel, which earlier Tuesday endorsed the idea of giving shots to everyone rather than a more targeted risk-based recommendation.
Some argued that a more nuanced recommendation would ensure the people most at risk would get vaccinated because a COVID-weary public might ignore a universal recommendation.
But others said a universal recommendation would ensure better equity.
Advisers noted even though the vast majority of the U.S. population has an underlying condition that would qualify under a risk-based recommendation, it would still be limiting and wouldn’t allow access to COVID-19 vaccines for all that wanted them.
With the recommendation, private and government-sponsored insurance should make the vaccines free for most consumers. The Biden administration is no longer purchasing the shots at a discounted price, because the public health emergency that allowed that to occur ended in May.
There could be barriers for the estimated 25 million to 30 million people without insurance. Without discounts, Pfizer said its shot will cost $120 per dose, Moderna said it will charge $129 per dose, and Novavax will charge $130.
Uninsured or underinsured Americans will have access to free shots as part of the Biden administration’s “Bridge to Access” program, which will keep a limited supply of vaccines and therapeutics on hand to distribute free through state and local health departments, as well as pharmacies. The program is meant to be temporary and will expire in December 2024.
The vaccines will be donated by manufacturers to pharmacies, and administration costs will be covered by the CDC. The Department of Health and Human Services said vaccines will be available under the program as early as this week, rather than October as was initially forecast.
Updated at 5:42 p.m.
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