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5 Things to Know About the New COVID-19 Vaccines

Who’s eligible for shots, what they cost, when to get one and more


spinner image Illustration of a COVID vaccine shown in four glass vials, along with a syringe both the color pink
mathisworks / Getty Images

Health officials have approved a new batch of COVID-19 vaccines that are making their way into pharmacies and health clinics throughout the U.S.

Here’s what you need to know about the new shots, from Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer-BioNTech, including who can get them and what to expect when you roll up your sleeve.  

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1. The new vaccines target the XBB.1.5 variant

Over the summer, health officials made the decision to update the old COVID boosters to better target newer strains of the virus that were circulating. They chose to go with XBB.1.5, which was driving infections at the time.

While this strain is no longer particularly active in the U.S., many of its close relatives are, and data shows that the updated shots will help to curb infections and illness caused by them. This is important because the variants currently circulating — including EG.5, or Eris — are better at evading the immunity afforded by the older bivalent boosters. Plus, it’s been a year since those vaccines became available, so their protection has waned in many people who received them.

“The updated vaccines are very important in that regard, to assure that people do have adequate immunity to the newer variants that are evolving,” David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for HIV and COVID-19 Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center, said in a recent media briefing on the topic.

2. Almost everyone should get the new shot — especially older adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that individuals 6 months and older get the shot this fall. (Note: Novavax's vaccine is only available for people 12 and older.) And while children are not immune to severe illness caused by COVID-19 — data reviewed by CDC advisers shows that individuals ages 6 months to 49 years with no underlying conditions are still being hospitalized for COVID-19 — experts say the shots are especially important for older adults who are at higher risk for severe illness.

More than 2,600 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each day with COVID-19 according to CDC data, and the rate among older adults towers over younger age groups.

“As we age, we all go through a process of what's called immunosenescence, which is the sort of the stagnation of our immune system, or the forgetfulness of our immune system when it comes to remembering things that we were previously capable of fighting off and capable of having good immunity to,” says Cameron Wolfe, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health and an associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.

In addition to less robust immune defenses, older adults are also more likely to have chronic health conditions that can cause complications with COVID-19.  

3. The vaccine side effects are the same

There’s nothing new to report when it comes to side effects. Data reviewed by health regulators shows that the side effects some people experience when getting a new COVID-19 vaccine are in line with the older versions. Common symptoms include pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, chills, fever or nausea.

The CDC says ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin and antihistamines can help relieve these symptoms after your shot.

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4. You can get your COVID and flu shots at the same time

Many experts are encouraging individuals to get both the new COVID vaccine and this year’s flu shot at the same time.

Like with COVID-19, older adults are at high risk for serious illness from the flu. Approximately 90 percent of flu-related deaths and 50 to 70 percent of hospitalizations occur among adults 65 and older, according to the CDC.

Going in for both shots at once will save you a trip, since the ideal time to get the flu shot is in September or October. Plus, studies show that the vaccines won’t impact the effectiveness of one another, Wolfe points out.

5. Vaccines are still free for most

This is the first time there isn’t universal government coverage for the cost of COVID vaccines. However, many people still won’t have to pay out of pocket when they go to get them. The vaccines will still be free for most people with Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.

The federal government has said it plans to temporarily cover the costs of the vaccine for the estimated 25 to 30 million adults without insurance through a temporary Bridge program run by the CDC. This will also cover the cost of the shots for underinsured people whose health plans don’t cover vaccines.

Under the Bridge program, the new COVID-19 vaccines will be free at federally qualified health centers and some pharmacies and doctors’ offices, and these locations will soon be searchable on vaccines.gov. Without any coverage, the list prices for the vaccines are expected to run between $120 and $130.

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.

Editor's Note: This story, first published Sept. 13, 2023, has been updated to include new information.

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