By Amanda Musa, CNN
(CNN) — Now that the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed off, you won’t have to wait long to get your updated Covid-19 shot. Major pharmacy chains have already started rolling out vaccine appointments.
Manufacturers say the tweaked mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech are effective against EG.5, the strain that is currently dominant in the United States, as well as other emerging variants.
Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are continuing to creep up and the threat of other respiratory viruses, including flu and RSV, loom ahead this fall. For the first time, vaccines are available against all three.
Here’s what you need to know about when and where you should get the vaccines you need to stay healthy this fall.
Who should get vaccinated
Everyone age 6 months and older should get an updated Covid-19 vaccine, according to the CDC.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of experts that advises the agency on vaccines, said on Tuesday that everyone ages 5 and older should get at least one dose of an updated mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 this year.
Children age 6 months through 4 years who are getting their vaccines for the first time should get two doses of a Moderna vaccine and three doses of a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, and at least one of the doses should be the updated vaccine.
The committee also recommended that people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised get at least three doses of Covid-19 vaccine, with at least one of those doses being an updated shot. They also have the option to get an additional updated vaccine later in the year.
The committee has not decided whether people 65 and older will need another dose of the updated vaccine in a few months. Most older adults became eligible for a second dose of a bivalent Covid-19 vaccine this past spring.
“The committee is very committed to equity, to make sure that everyone in our very diverse country will have access to the vaccine,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and former medical director of the nonprofit National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
That means recommending more doses for people who are at higher risk of severe illness, such as people ages 65 and older, people who have weakened immune systems or underlying conditions and people who live in nursing homes or pregnant.
It is these people who will benefit the most from the new vaccines, according to Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who was not involved in developing either the of the new shots but previously helped study the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“The primary goal of these vaccines is to reduce the risk of severe disease, which is a very important goal, but it is not likely that these boosters will provide frank protection against the acquisition of infection and probably only modest effect on mild disease,” he said. “And so, these boosters will likely be important for people who are at severe risk of disease.”
Flu and RSV are also expected to circulate this fall and winter, creating a triple threat of lung infections.
Annual flu shots are available now, and the CDC recommends them for everyone 6 months and older in September and October, especially very young children, people with preexisting health conditions, pregnant people and older adults.
There are also two vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, available for people 60 and older. Both are single-dose vaccines. Schaffner urges everyone in that age group to get their RSV vaccine, adding that the virus “causes as much respiratory illness” as the flu each year.
When to get vaccinated
Timing when to get your updated Covid-19 shot depends on when you received your last one, Schaffner said. Those who got their last Covid-19 vaccine several months or longer ago should get it in the next few weeks: late September through October.
But people who recently received the bivalent Covid-19 vaccine or who were recently infected with the virus itself should wait a bit longer, he said.
“They ought to wait about three months in order to get the maximum benefit from the booster,” Schaffner said. “Most vaccines like this, take about 10 days for full protection to develop and of course it develops day by day.”
That is how much time it takes for the body to start circulating antibodies through the bloodstream, he said. If you have a trip or a large event coming up, Schaffner said, “give it at least a week, even two weeks is better.”
For RSV, the CDC is encouraging doctors to administer the new immunizations as soon as possible. Flu shots should be administered during the month of October, Schaffner said, preferably by Halloween, an approach called “flu before boo.”
It is completely safe for people to get their flu shot and Covid-19 shots on the same day, usually one in each arm, according to Schaffner. He adds that the new RSV vaccines can also be given at the same time as other vaccines, per the CDC’s recommendation.
However, Schaffner notes, “people certainly are not obliged to get vaccines simultaneously. If they would like to spread them out, that’s perfectly understandable.”
Schaffner does warn though, “a vaccine delayed is unfortunately often a vaccine never received. So, you’ll have to motivate yourself to seek out the vaccine. You’ll have to go to your doctor’s office or pharmacy two or three times to make sure that you do get all the vaccines for which you are eligible.”
Where to get vaccinated
The new Covid-19 vaccine will be available at some retail pharmacies by the end of the week.
“We expect CVS Pharmacy locations to begin receiving supply of the new COVID-19 vaccines later this week,” CVS said in a statement to CNN. “Our pharmacies will continue to receive them on a rolling basis.”
Walgreens’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kevin Ban said in a statement this week, “Eligible individuals will be able to schedule appointments within 24 hours following CDC recommendation.”
Available appointments will begin this week, Ban said, and will be on a “rolling basis as stores receive vaccines.”
Rite Aid will also have the new vaccine in stores soon. “Our online scheduler with appointments available for customers wanting to receive the updated COVID-19 vaccine will be live on Friday, Sept. 15,” it said in a statement.
The vaccine will also be available at doctors’ offices and federally qualified health centers.
Appointments for flu and RSV vaccines for older adults are currently available at CVS and Walgreens as well as other retailers, and at doctor’s offices and local health clinics.
Cost of vaccinations
Most people with health insurance will be able to get their updated Covid-19 shot at their doctor’s office or pharmacy, such as CVS or Walgreens, at no cost. Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans are covering the full cost of the updated Covid-19 vaccines without co-pays.
People who are uninsured — about 28 million Americans, according to KFF — or underinsured may still have access to the updated Covid-19 vaccine for free.
They will be eligible for free Covid-19 vaccines through the government’s Bridge Access Program, which will distribute shots to local health departments and federally qualified health centers with the help of state and local immunization programs.
The CDC has also modified existing contracts with CVS, Walgreens, and eTrueNorth — a group that helps independent pharmacies expand their clinical services — to offer vaccination services. More than 20,000 retail pharmacy locations across the country will provide free vaccines to people without insurance, or whose insurance requires a co-pay for in-network coverage, the US Department of Health and Human Services said.
Bridge Access providers will be added this week to the Vaccines.gov website, which can help people find locations to get the free vaccines.
Children from low-income families will be able to get free vaccines through the CDC’s Vaccines for Children program.
Flu shots will remain available at no cost through most insurance plans including Obamacare. Medicare Part B also covers flu shots for adults 65 and older.
The new RSV vaccines for seniors may require a prescription from a doctor and might not be covered by insurance. If not, the shots cost around $300. Schaffner said anyone worried about coverage should reach out to their insurance company for guidance.
CNN’s Brenda Goodman, Deidre McPhillips and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.
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