Everyone in the U.S. — except young babies — can get the new 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine this fall, and most private insurance plans along with Medicaid and Medicare will cover the vaccine at no cost to patients.

A panel of medical experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized the newly formulated COVID-19 vaccines on Sept. 12 and kept the guidelines simple.

All adults are eligible for the 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine along with children, teens and babies older than 6 months.

Rather than focusing on booster doses, CDC experts now are encouraging people to get an annual COVID-19 vaccine along with their fall flu shot. And people ages 60 and older can also get vaccines to help prevent RSV. (Read more about getting your COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines this fall.)

“We’re in our strongest position yet to fight COVID-19 as well as the flu and RSV,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, CDC director.

COVID-19 cases have been climbing steadily since July. Some people continue to be hospitalized. And while deaths are lower than during the worst periods of the pandemic, thousands of people still are dying every year in the U.S. from COVID-19.

So far this year, nearly 25,000 people ages 65 and older have died of COVID-19, while 2,821 people ages 45 to 64 and 451 people between the ages of 20 and 44 have succumbed to the illness, according to CDC experts.

Young children typically don’t get as sick as older adults if they get COVID-19. But 36 children and teens ages 5 to 19 have died this year of COVID-19 in the U.S., while 18 kids ages 1 to 4 have died of the illness and 26 babies under the age of 1 have die of COVID-19 so far this year, CDC data showed.

“COVID-19 is still serious. It’s still something we need to worry about. And it still can make you very ill. That’s why you should get vaccinated,” said UCHealth infectious disease expert, Dr. Larissa Pisney.

Just like flu shot, a COVID-19 vaccine can prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. Vaccines also can prevent long-COVID, the challenging symptoms that can strike people of all ages and linger long after an infection.

To help you understand details about the newly formulated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccines, we consulted with Pisney, who is medical director for Infection Prevention and Control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and also is an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

What do you think about the new 2023 COVID vaccine?

Pisney is pleased that there’s a newly formulated vaccine this fall.

“The vaccine will help folks avoid ending up in the hospital, and in the worst case scenarios, avoid getting so sick that they need to be in the ICU,” Pisney said.

She, herself, plans to get the new COVID-19 vaccine as soon as she can. And she’s also planning to get her children, who are 11 and 5, vaccinated as soon as possible.

New COVID vaccine 2023: What’s the best timing to get your shot? 

“I’ll be getting my COVID vaccine as soon as it’s available,” Pisney said.

She encourages other people to do the same.

“I would not wait,” Pisney said. “We are seeing an increase in positivity rates, and though less than in the past, we’re seeing an increase in hospitalizations right now.”

Pisney said it takes two weeks after vaccination for the new COVID-19 vaccine to fully go into effect. So her message is simple: get your new COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can.

Who should get the new vaccine?

The new guidelines are simple. All adults and children ages 6 months and older can get the new COVID-19 vaccine. Pisney encourages everyone to do so. The vaccine will give people extra protection since COVID-19 infections are surging now and may continue to do so throughout the fall and winter.

Is the new vaccine a good match for the newest COVID-19 variants?

Yes. The new vaccine targets a new omicron variant called XBB.1.5. While not the most common variant circulating now, vaccine makers have shown that this new vaccine protects against the most widely circulating variants, all descendants of the omicron variant.

Some studies also show that the new vaccine will protect against a new variant called BA.2.86. Some medical experts are concerned about BA.2.86 because it’s quite different from previous variants. That may mean that the BA.2.86 variant will be better at evading our immune systems and making us sick. But so far, CDC officials say that the BA.2.86 variant is not spreading widely. (Read more about BA.2.86.)

Tell me more about the cost for COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccine makers told the CDC’s panel of medical experts that they’ll be charging about $120 to $130 for each COVID-19 vaccine dose. But health insurance companies must provide COVID-19 vaccines for free, and federal officials have other programs that will cover the cost of vaccines for both children and adults.

“Private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid will be covering the COVID-19 vaccine,” Pisney said. “And both local and federal governments have plans to get the vaccinations to uninsured people.

So the bottom line is that cost should not be a barrier to getting your vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines should be free for everyone.

When will the new vaccines be available?

Vaccine makers planned to begin delivering the new vaccine doses immediately following CDC approval. Some pharmacies may have them now. UCHealth clinics should have the new COVID-19 vaccines by early October. And most primary care clinics already have flu shots on hand.

A newly formulated COVID-19 vaccine made by Novavax is also expected to be released later this year.

Where can I get the new vaccine?

It’s best to go to a pharmacy near you or to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.

Dr. Larissa Pisney's kids get their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo courtesy of Dr. Larissa Pisney.
Dr. Larissa Pisney’s children, Henry and Frankie, ages 9 and 3, after getting flu shots in 2021. Pisney plans to get new COVID-19 vaccines for her entire family as soon as they are available. Photo courtesy of Dr. Larissa Pisney.

Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as I get my flu shot? 

Yes. It’s fine to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.

“We know that it’s both safe and efficacious to get both the COVID and flu vaccines at the same time,” Pisney said.

She’s encouraging people to get their COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. And be sure to get your flu shot by early-to-mid-October before the typical surge in flu cases.

Rather than trying to game out the perfect times to get the shots, Pisney encourages people to stick with what’s most convenient for them.

“If you’re going to the doctor, just get both,” Pisney said. “When the opportunity comes up, get your vaccine. You don’t want to worry about the timing and miss the window to get vaccinated.”

What if I got a recent booster dose of the previous version of the COVID-19 vaccine? Can I get the new vaccine?

Yes. You can get a dose of the new vaccine. Health experts are advising people to wait at least two months before getting the new vaccine.

What if I was recently sick with COVID-19? Should I still get the new vaccine? How long do I need to wait?

Pisney advises people to recover fully and wait about three months after a previous infection before getting the new vaccine.

What’s happening with COVID-19 cases now?

“We are seeing an increase in hospitalizations across our system,” Pisney said. “We’re seeing older individuals, immunosuppressed people and some very young children being admitted.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations are not nearly as high as they were during the worst periods of the pandemic, but infections are rising. So, it’s a good idea to get the new COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

Fewer people are getting tested for COVID-19, so medical experts don’t have a full picture for how many people are dealing with COVID-19 infections.

“If people don’t feel super sick, they aren’t getting tested or using home tests, so those cases aren’t captured in the numbers we see. Many are just staying home until they feel better,” Pisney said.

Can the new COVID-19 vaccines prevent long COVID?

Yes, vaccines can reduce COVID-19 infections, and thus can prevent cases of long COVID. (Read more about long COVID.)

And Pisney points out that long COVID can strike people of all ages, including young people. People can also get long COVID even if they didn’t have a severe case of COVID-19.“So, maybe you’re not someone who’s going to get really sick and end up hospitalized or critically ill. But if you’re a younger person, you do still have that risk of long COVID, and it can be pretty significant,” Pisney said.

That’s another reason to encourage people of all ages to get the new vaccine.

What about the side effects? Are they similar to past COVID-19 vaccines?

In general, people seem to be having fewer side effects to later doses of COVID-19 vaccines than the initial series because the vaccines are now more spread out. But if you had a strong reaction after one of your previous COVID-19 vaccines, it’s possible that you’ll have some minor side effects, like a sore arm or flu-like symptoms.

“That’s a sign that your body is revving. It’s a response to the antigens,” Pisney said. “If you think you might have a reaction, just prepare to have a lazy day after getting your vaccine and maybe feel a little under the weather. I would take that any day over being hospitalized.”

Editor’s Note: The Colorado Times Recorder occasionally posts articles, like this one, about COVID-19 from UCHealth Today, which is published by UCHeatlh, the hospital associated with the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Our goal is to provide as many people as possible with accurate information about COVID-19 and related topics.