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CDC Approves Additional Bivalent COVID Booster, For Some. Here's What You Need to Know About Eligibility

A person with blue surgical gloves injects the upper arm of a man with medium-tone skin. He wears a blue surgical mask.
A new more flexible schedule for getting COVID boosters was approved this week for people at high risk, which includes those 65 and older.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week signed off on a more flexible booster shot schedule for those at higher risk of COVID-19.

Who is eligible?

  • People 65 or older who have already had a bivalent booster at least four months ago can now roll up their sleeves again.
  • Anyone getting a dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will receive an updated “bivalent” shot rather than the original formula.
  • Most people with weakened immune systems can choose a second bivalent booster at least two months after their first — they could also be eligible for additional doses per their physician’s recommendations.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases specialist at UCSF, joined Larry Mantle on LAist’s public affairs show AirTalk to discuss what you need to know about eligibility for this new booster. Here are some key takeaways from Chin-Hong:

Who would benefit most from getting boosted?

Dr. Chin-Hong emphasizes that this booster is a “could” rather than a “should” recommendation.

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“I think the big point is that as a population we’re much more immune than ever before,” Chin-Hong says. “But the highest risk is really in a senior population.”

He says about 250 people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID-19 every day, and the median age of those dying is 75. This could be because older folks’ immunity from the vaccine wanes the fastest, possibly around the four-month mark.

That’s where the additional booster can help. There’s some biological and clinical evidence that the vaccine and booster reduce the risk of contracting long COVID by about 25% to 50%, he says, in addition to reducing the odds of serious disease, hospitalization, and death.

When should you time a booster?

Chin-Hong says that if you got your last booster more than four months ago, or you had COVID more than three months ago, you can now get the additional booster, if you’re eligible.

Though there are new sub-variants that are increasing and circulating, he says it’s best to get the booster now rather than wait, because there’s no guarantee that future formulas will be able to protect against these specific sub-variants.

And, he says, it’s likely that older and higher-risk will be able to get an additional shot every four to six months — so getting a booster now won’t preclude you from getting another one in the fall when illnesses are spreading more.

For people whose immune weaknesses prevent them from getting vaccinated, Dr. Chin-Hong says Paxlovid can be be extremely helpful if they get infected — since it works regardless of the variant.

What you should know about those sub-variants

“It’s really still an Omicron game,” Chin-Hong says — there’s been no Rho, Sigma or Pi variants yet as COVID-19 infections circulating now are all sub-variants of Omicron.

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For many, this is an improvement from previous variants. Omicron often causes milder infections because it doesn’t enter the lungs as easily, typically staying stuck in the throat and causing more external symptoms.

About the cost

California has passed legislation that will keep the vaccines free for everyone, regardless of insurance or immigration status, until at least Nov. 11. Other states’ policies will vary, especially after the public health emergency officially ends May 11.

Listen to the conversation

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