New COVID Vaccines Are Ready for Use
By Donald Gilpin
New COVID-19 vaccines are now available for everyone ages 6 months and older, and they are strongly recommended by the federal Center for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC), by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), and by local health authorities.
The new vaccine — a new formulation, not technically a booster —“will provide the most up-to-date protection against the virus and its variants as we move into the fall and winter holiday seasons,” according to a September 12 press release from the NJDOH.
CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are currently making appointments for Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations through the CDC’s vaccine website at vaccines.gov. The NJDOH states that vaccines will also be available from sites like primary care providers, other chain pharmacies, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and other health care institutions.
“With rising cases, COVID-19 continues to remain a significant public health priority,” said Acting Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston. “The department will continue to work with providers across the state to make sure everyone who wants the added protection of the updated COVID-19 shot can easily access it, especially the state’s vulnerable populations and those who are under- or uninsured.”
Princeton Health Officer and Deputy Administrator for Health and Human Services Jeffrey Grosser noted that this new vaccine targets the variant called XBB.1.5 and will be the only COVID vaccine available this fall. He added that hospital admissions for COVID-19 and flu remain low at this point in Mercer County.
“This new vaccine has shown good protection against all current variants that are circulating,” said Princeton Board of Health Chair George DiFerdinando. “Now is a good time to get it. I’ve scheduled my updated vaccine in a couple of days.” He urged “everybody who wants to protect themselves as we go into the fall season when we’re more likely to be indoors and to face the spread of all infections” to follow his example.
DiFerdinando went on to point out that this is also a good opportunity for
those who have not previously been vaccinated for COVID-19, because only one shot of the updated vaccine is needed. “There couldn’t be a better time to join the vaccine immunity group,” he said, adding that vaccine immunity provides better protection than infection immunity against severe illness and long COVID.
The CDC notes that most Americans can still get a COVID-19 vaccine for free. “For people with health insurance, most plans will cover the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to you,” the CDC reports. “People who don’t have health insurance or with health plans that do not cover the cost can get a free vaccine from their local health centers; state, local, tribal, or territorial health department; and pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access program. Children eligible for the Vaccines for Children program also may receive the vaccine from a provider enrolled in that program.”
DiFerdinando noted, “This will be the first year that there will be vaccines for three major causes of hospitalizations and death from respiratory infections: influenza, COVID, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).”
The flu shot and the updated COVID-19 vaccine could be given at the same time, one in each arm, DiFerdinando said, but the RSV shot, recommended for those over 60, should be given separately. Those eligible for the RSV vaccine, two versions of which were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May of this year, should consult with their health care providers before getting the shot.
Grosser emphasized the importance of also getting a flu shot, noting that the local flu clinic schedule is in full force, with the Princeton Health Department hosting a total of eight clinics. September and October are the best months to get vaccinated against the flu before it starts spreading, said Grosser. The health department’s flu vaccination clinic schedule is posted on the municipal website at princetonnj.gov and in the municipal newsletter.
Upcoming clinics this month will take place on Thursdays, September 21 at La Mexican at 150 Witherspoon Street from 4 to 6 p.m. and September 28 at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, from 3 to 5 p.m. Those who have health insurance should bring all insurance cards and information. Uninsured Princeton residents will receive the influenza vaccine for free.
“None of these vaccines gives 100 percent protection,” said DiFerdinando. “What we’re trying to do is offer some protection against infection. The main goal is to keep you out of the hospital and to keep you alive. That’s how we measure their effectiveness. We do not measure their effectiveness by whether or not you get infected.”
For updates and more information on flu, COVID, and RSV, visit the NJDOH website at nj.gov or vaccines.gov.