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New COVID-19 Vaccines Get the Green Light

The updated shots are more effective against current variants

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Americans now have access to a new batch of COVID-19 vaccines that are a closer match to many of the coronavirus variants currently circulating throughout the U.S. 

Updated vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month and are already available in many pharmacies and doctor’s offices throughout the country. And on Oct. 3, the FDA authorized a new version of the protein-based COVID-19 vaccine from Novavax. It will soon be available for people 12 and older.  

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Health officials are recommending that everyone 6 months and older get one of the three available options ahead of the fall and winter virus season.

“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” Peter Marks, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a news release. “The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality.”

The latest vaccines are designed to target the XBB.1.5 strain of omicron. While this particular variant is no longer driving the majority of the country’s infections, its close relatives are, and experts say the vaccines should provide good protection against them, including EG.5, or Eris. New data also suggests the shots will be effective against BA.2.86, a new variant that’s not yet widely circulating but recently grabbed the attention of scientists due to its multitude of mutations. 

COVID-19 Shots at a Glace

What to know about the newly approved vaccines:

  • All three of the updated vaccines are monovalent vaccines, meaning they target one strain of the virus, in this case XBB.1.5. 
  • It’s recommended that individuals 6 months and older get the latest COVID-19 shots at least two months after their last COVID vaccine.  (Note: The Novavax vaccine is authorized for people 12 and older.)
  • According to the FDA, side effects for the new COVID-19 vaccines are similar to previous versions of the mRNA vaccines.

The timing of the newly authorized vaccines coincides with an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, and experts suspect these trends will continue throughout the fall and winter when respiratory viruses usually prevail. 

“We typically see a larger [COVID-19] spike occurring through January and February, and I don’t see any reason that won’t be the case here,” Cameron Wolfe, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health and an associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, said in a recent media briefing. “So the timing of this release is actually really helpful. We know it takes a good few weeks to develop full antibody-related immunity. So getting patients the chance through October and into November of getting vaccinated, like we do with flu season, would be advantageous for the arrival of those waves in the winter.”

When will the new vaccines be available?

Many pharmacies and doctor’s offices are already stocked with the updated mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Novavax’s new vaccine is expected to be available in thousands of locations in the coming days, the company said on Oct. 3. 

Experts are encouraging many people, and especially older adults, to get this year’s flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. (The CDC recommends getting the flu shot in September or October.) Wolfe says we have good data to support that getting the flu shot and COVID vaccine at once is safe and provides a good immune response, “so you don’t lose the benefit of either one.”  

This year is also the first year many older adults will be eligible to receive a vaccine for protection against RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which tore through the country last fall.


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One thing to note: COVID-19 vaccines could come with an out-of-pocket cost for some this year. According to KFF, a health policy nonprofit, most people with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance still won’t have to pay anything for the shots. The federal government has said it plans to make the COVID-19 vaccines free for people without health insurance through a special U.S. Department of Health and Human Services bridge access program.

Do you really need another shot?

There’s no doubt many Americans are tiring of COVID-19 vaccines — only 20 percent of U.S. adults went back for the updated booster that became available last fall; 43 percent of adults 65 and older got the shot. But experts say it’s important to stay on top of the recommendations and get the vaccine when it’s available.

Find COVID-19 Vaccines in Your State

AARP's 53 state and territory COVID-19 vaccine guides can help you find vaccines near you and provide the latest answers to common questions about costs, eligibility and availability.

“The fact of the matter is that most of the people in the United States and other parts of the world haven’t been boosted now for over a year, and we know that immunity to this virus wanes over time. So the best thing that people can do to maintain a normal way of life is to continue to get their booster shots,” says David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center.  

Staying up to date is especially crucial for people who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to a severe case of COVID-19. More than 19,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized with COVID-19 the week of Sept. 17, federal data shows. Deaths from the disease, while still much lower than in previous surges, are up 8 percent from recent weeks.

“We still see people die of COVID. This is still orders of magnitude larger than the flu. And we should view that as unacceptable,” Wolfe said.

Editor’s note: This story, first published Sept. 12, 2023, has been updated to include new information.

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