(CNN) — The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday gave the green light to updated Covid-19 vaccine booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. The updated vaccines are each approved for people 12 and older and are authorized under emergency use for individuals 6 months through 11 years old. As part of the FDA’s update, the original bivalent Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines are no longer authorized for use in the United States.
“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a news release Monday. “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.”
The mRNA vaccines have been updated to teach the body to fight the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant of the coronavirus and other closely related strains that are circulating.
Both vaccine manufacturers have said that testing shows that their vaccines are effective against EG.5, the currently dominant strain in the United States.
“With today’s decision, an updated vaccine will shortly become available that helps address multiple Omicron XBB-related sublineages, which currently account for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases globally,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said in a news release.
“Studies about confirmed viral infections suggest that COVID-19 adopts a seasonal pattern with peaks in fall and winter, similar to other respiratory viruses,” Sahin said. “Our goal is to provide people worldwide with COVID-19 vaccines that are adapted to circulating virus variants or sublineages.”
After the FDA’s go-ahead, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of independent experts that advises the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its vaccination decisions, will weigh the safety and effectiveness of the updated vaccines and make recommendations for their use. After the CDC director signs off on those recommendations, the vaccines can be administered.
The advisory group is scheduled to meet to discuss Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday, meaning the vaccines could become available within just a few days at certain pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
The updated Covid-19 vaccine, given in a single dose, “will be available to everyone who needs it, and it most likely will be available at no cost for the foreseeable future,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans are covering the full cost of vaccines, without co-pays. So most insured people will be able to get the updated Covid-19 vaccine at their doctor’s offices or pharmacies, such as CVS or Walgreens, at no cost.
People who are uninsured or underinsured may access the updated vaccine for free through the CDC’s Bridge Access Program. The new government program allows the CDC to purchase and distribute Covid-19 vaccines and allocate them through its network of state and local health departments. Vaccines for federally qualified health centers as well as certain pharmacy chains will be supported through both government and manufacturer-supplied resources.
The Bridge Access Program is temporary. According to the CDC’s website, free vaccines through the program will not be available after December 2024.
Although vaccines were previously provided for free by the government, this is the first time they will be provided through the commercial market. During a Pfizer investor call in October, officials said a potential US list price for the updated vaccine could be between $110 and $130 per single dose for adults.
Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 once the shots are available. The updated vaccines are debuting amid a late summer rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States and growing concerns about the effects that the triple threat of respiratory viruses – coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus – may have this fall and winter season.
The new FDA decision “comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are once again climbing. Now, most people 6 months or older in the U.S. are eligible to receive this season’s COVID-19 vaccine, even if they have never been vaccinated against COVID-19 before,” Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer at Pfizer, said in a news release.
In other words, people will not need to have received previous Covid-19 vaccinations in order to get this updated one. This season’s updated shot will be available to anyone who is eligible, whether it will be their first Covid-19 vaccination or their third or fourth booster.
CNN’s Brenda Goodman contributed to this report.
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Source: Orange County Register