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Updated COVID-19 shots are available and recommended

By The Health News Team | September 27, 2023
Woman pointing to her vaccine bandage

There’s some good news and some bad news. The bad news: COVID-19 is still spreading. The good news: Updated COVID vaccines manufactured by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are now available — and effective.

According to Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone ages 6 months and older should get an updated vaccine. The updated vaccines, the FDA reports, were formulated “to more closely target currently circulating variants and to provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.”

“COVID is still very much around — it's still an issue and will continue to be one for the indefinite future,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “We are seeing that case numbers and hospitalizations are going up, which is to be expected, as people are gathering, traveling, and back in classrooms and workplaces. So, it's important that everyone gets protected.”

The benefits of getting an updated COVID vaccine

Since the beginning of the pandemic, in the U.S. alone, more than 6.3 million people have been hospitalized, and over 1.1 million people have died due to COVID-19. Currently, COVID-19 cases continue to rise while cases of RSV and the flu are also increasing.

This, some experts fear, could lead to what’s been called a “tripledemic.” The combination of a surge in cases of flu, RSV and COVID-19 respiratory illnesses could affect nearly every population in the coming months and lead to overwhelmed medical providers and facilities.

Additionally, while some people with COVID have no symptoms, COVID often causes mild to serious symptoms. Common symptoms of COVID include:

  • Fever or chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • New loss of taste or smell

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion or runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

What’s more, some people experience long-term effects from infection, known as long COVID-19. Long COVID can include a range of continued health problems — fatigue, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, headache, digestive symptoms and trouble concentrating — that can last from weeks to years.

All these reasons — the potential for severe illness, hospitalization, long-term complications and death — are exactly why Dr. Olulade, the CDC and public health experts countrywide are recommending everyone ages 6 months and older should get an updated vaccine. Being vaccinated can also protect those around you, especially older adults and those who are immunocompromised. These groups are at greater risk for serious illness, hospitalization and death if infected.

How the updated COVID shot works

Like the earlier COVID vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, the updated vaccines are mRNA vaccines. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines contain material from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which gives the body’s cells instructions for how to make copies of the protein unique to the virus. Recognizing that the protein should not be there, the body creates protective antibodies that will remember how to fight the virus in case of future infection.

The vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19 and cannot cause COVID-19. Additionally, vaccine side effects are expected to be mild and similar to those reported by people who previously received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

“It's physically impossible to get COVID-19 from the COVID vaccine,” Dr. Olulade says. “But some people may have mild side effects from the vaccine.”

Common COVID-19 vaccine side effects include:

  • Pain, swelling, and redness on the arm where the shot was given

  • Tiredness

  • Headache

  • Muscle or joint pain

  • Chills

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Infants and young children may also exhibit irritability, crying, sleepiness or loss of appetite. Side effects are usually temporary, and rest and hydration should provide relief.

You can also talk with your — and your child’s — doctor about taking over-the-counter (OTC) fever- and pain-relief medications to help relieve side effects. However, the CDC does not recommend taking OTC medications before receiving the vaccine in an attempt to avoid potential side effects.

“The vaccine side effects are usually minor and are actually a good thing,” Dr. Olulade says. “They show that your body's immune system is waking up and producing the antibodies that are going to protect you. And they are absolutely not a reason to not get vaccinated.”

Steps to take to prevent the spread of COVID

Talk with your doctor about the updated COVID vaccines and where you and your loved ones can receive one. FDA guidelines regarding who can receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine and the number of doses recommended include:

  • People ages 5 years and older— Regardless of previous vaccination, this group is eligible to receive a single dose at least 2 months since the last dose of any COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Children ages 6 months through 4 years— Children in this age group who have previously been vaccinated against COVID-19 are eligible to receive one or two doses, with the timing and number of doses based on the previous COVID-19 vaccine received.

  • Unvaccinated children ages 6 months through 4 years— This population is eligible to receive three doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine or two doses of the updated Moderna vaccine.

The updated COVID shots will be free for most recipients through the end of December 2024, as private and public insurers, community health centers, or the Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 Vaccines will cover the cost. In San Diego, COVID vaccine information can be found on the county’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 website.

Along with receiving the updated vaccine, additional ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include:

  • Improving ventilation in stuffy, indoor locations

  • Avoiding contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19

  • Practicing good hand hygiene by regularly washing hands with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

  • Wearing a face mask in crowded indoor locations, such as when traveling

  • Following the recommendations for what to do if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, which include masking, testing and monitoring your symptoms

  • Following recommendations for isolation if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19

Flu and RSV prevention is also important

Experts are also recommending the annual flu vaccine. The updated COVID vaccine can be received at the same time as the flu shot.

“It's important to get the COVID and flu vaccines to protect yourself because COVID and flu are both respiratory viruses that can cause serious illness and long-term complications,” Dr. Olulade says. “Just think of getting the two vaccines at the same time as a ‘one and done’ thing that’s also perfectly safe.”

Additionally, RSV immunizations for infants, pregnant women, adults age 60 and over, and people with heart and lung disease are available. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms. However, it can cause serious illness in young children and older adults.

Talk with your doctor about each of the vaccines, which are right for you and your loved ones, and when you should get them. And check with your health insurance plan regarding potential costs.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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