4 Just-Revealed Facts as the New COVID-19 Vaccines Are Released

Updated: Oct. 18, 2023

Federal health officials suggest the new COVID shots, which are not boosters, could be available as soon as this week. Here's what's known about who will be eligible first.

The new COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available in the next few days, possibly as soon as September 13, and is expected to help protect against severe disease and death from the XBB.1.5, the Omicron subvariant.

This week the US Food and Drug Administration has (FDA) authorized updated COVID vaccines made by Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna for use in adults and children ages six months and up. (Vaccine maker Novavax said the FDA was still reviewing its shot.)

Now it’s up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) independent panel of advisors to provide a recommendation on who will be eligible to receive this phase of the shots. After this decision, millions of doses will be shipped to pharmacies, clinics, and health systems nationwide.

“The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated,” says Dr. Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a news release.

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1. The new COVID vaccines are not boosters

The new COVID vaccine is not a booster. It is an updated vaccine that targets one new strain, similar to the yearly flu shot.

The original vaccines targeted both BA.4/5 and the wild-type strain, but the 2023 COVID vaccine is aimed at XBB.1.5. Media reports suggest that these vaccines should also protect against newer COVID-19 variants like BA.2.86.

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2. Secure your appointment as soon as you are eligible

It’s probably been a while since you had a COVID-19 shot, so it’s likely time to roll up your sleeves again, says Marcus Plescia,  MD, MPH, the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “This vaccine is really important, particularly for people at high risk for severe COVID-19, such as older people and those who have underlying medical problems.”

Jay W. Lee, MD, MPH, agrees. Dr. Lee is a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians and medical director of Integrated Health Partners of Southern California. “Ample data from previous iterations of the vaccine show that it is safe,” he says. “Getting the vaccine is among the most effective ways to prevent serious illness now that people aren’t routinely wearing masks or avoiding large crowds. We know that people who have been vaccinated or have had COVID-19  in the past do better and are less likely to become seriously ill or die.”

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3. The new COVID-19 vaccine is available at no cost to most individuals

The original COVID-19 vaccines and boosters were free due to the Public Health Emergency (PHE). Good news, though, according to a spokesperson for the COVID-19 Education and Equity Project who contacted our editors on September 14, 2023: “[…V]accines will actually still be available and free of costs to virtually everyone regardless of insurance type or status. In fact, access to vaccines has never been better,” she says.

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4. The COVID-19 vaccine one of several vaccines to consider this cold and flu season

Other vaccines include the new flu shot and newly authorized respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) shots for folks aged 60 and older, including Pfizer’s ABRYSVO and GSK’s AREXVY.

Make a plan with your doctor, advised Patricia M. D’Antonio, Vice President of Policy and Professional Affairs for the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and a geriatric pharmacist, during a September 12 press conference hosted by the National Press Foundation. “You can have the vaccines administered at the same time.”