CDC Approves Additional COVID Booster for Older Adults

Carter Ross

On April 19, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention updated its guidance regarding vaccination against COVID-19. Under the new recommendations, adults age 65 and older, as well as people who are immunocompromised, have the option to get a second bivalent vaccine.

If you are 65 or older, you should wait at least four months after your first bivalent booster before getting a second one. Immunocompromised individuals should only wait at least two months. If you recently had COVID, wait at least 90 days after you recover before getting another booster.

Bivalent vaccines are the updated mRNA vaccines approved in late August 2022. They include two mRNA strands to address coronavirus strains from earlier in the pandemic, as well as newer strains. The current Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are bivalent vaccines; monovalent Novavax and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines remain available for those who cannot receive an mRNA vaccine.

The District’s COVID Centers closed on March 31, ahead of the May 11, 2023, expiration of the federal public health emergency that began in 2020. During the pandemic, these sites administered more than 80,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, booster, and flu shots.

Vaccines, including a second bivalent booster, can be administered at local pharmacies. You should be able to schedule an appointment online through the pharmacy or just walk in. Walgreens and CVS reportedly have updated their systems to account for the guidance, but if there is a problem, your doctor should be able to prescribe the shot for you.

If your regular pharmacy cannot schedule a booster shot, visit the CDC’s website. The site searches by ZIP Code to help you find locations with available appointments and specific vaccines. No-cost vaccination sites can be also be found through the CDC’s No-Cost COVID-19 Testing Locator.

With the end of the national public health emergency, the Department of Health and Human Services expects that most Americans will continue to pay nothing for COVID-19 vaccinations. In general, vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which would include both COVID boosters and annual flu shots, are considered a preventive health service, which are covered by most private insurance plans fully without a co-pay, so long as the service is within network. However, the vaccine manufacturers have indicated they plan to raise the cost of the vaccines, which may impact what insurers do.

Similarly, COVID-19 vaccinations are covered under Medicare Part B without cost sharing; this is not expected to change. Medicaid will continue to cover all COVID-19 vaccinations without a co-pay or cost sharing through September 30, 2024.

Other programs, however, will change. For example, free COVID rapid antigen tests will no longer be available for most people. Some insurers may continue to cover their cost in whole or in part, however, so check your policy.

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