COVID vaccine

Could the updated COVID vaccines cost you? Here's what to know

For the first time, the cost of the shots will not be covered by the federal government.

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Updated COVID shots are on the horizon, but aside from a new formula, there could be another big difference in this round of shots.

That's because the federal health emergency surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has ended.

On Monday, the U.S. approved updated COVID-19 vaccines Monday, hoping to rev up protection against the latest coronavirus strains and blunt any surge this fall and winter.

While there are still more hurdles to clear before the newly formulated shots can go into arms, the Food and Drug Administration decision opens the newest shots from Moderna and Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to most Americans even if they’ve never had a coronavirus vaccination.

For the first time, however, the cost of the shots will not be covered by the federal government.

According to NBC News, both Pfizer and Moderna have said they are pricing each vaccine dose at over $100.

Federal officials have said the shots still will be free to most Americans through private insurance or Medicare. But for the uninsured or underinsured, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with health departments, clinics and certain pharmacies to temporarily provide free shots.

Jennifer Kates, director of the Global Health & HIV Policy Program at the nonprofit KFF, told NBC most people with private and public health insurance should continue to pay nothing out of pocket for the boosters — as long as they stick with an in-network provider.

On top of that, the Department of Human Health Services announced earlier this year a so-called "bridge access program," which create a partnership to "help maintain uninsured individuals' access to COVID-19 care."

"While fighting COVID-19 remains a key public health priority for the Administration, ensuring that all Americans have continued, easy access to COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments, regardless of insurance status, is critical to that goal," the department said in April.

Here's a look at what else you should know about the vaccine:

Who is eligible?

Under FDA guidelines, anyone 5 years old and above will be able to receive a single dose of either updated COVID vaccine, regardless if they have been previously vaccinated or not. Health officials recommend that people wait at least two months since their last COVID vaccination before getting another dose.

In the case of children and infants who are 6 months old through 4 years old, they will be eligible to receive either one or two doses of the updated vaccine, with the timing and number of doses depending on the number of vaccines previously administered, according to the FDA.

Parents of children who are in that same age range, but are unvaccinated, have two different options. Their children will be eligible to receive either three doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine or two doses of Moderna's updated shot. Additional doses might be necessary for some children who are immunocompromised, the FDA said.

How effective is the shot? Is it a new vaccine, or a booster?

COVID hospitalizations across the country and in Illinois have been rising since late summer. Although –- thanks to lasting immunity from prior vaccinations and infections –- not nearly as much as this time last year.

But protection wanes over time and the coronavirus continually churns out new variants that can dodge prior immunity. It’s been a year since the last time the vaccines were tweaked, and only about 20% of adults ever received that earlier update.

“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said in a statement. “We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated.”

The FDA pointedly isn’t calling this latest round a “booster” but instead a vaccine updated to better match the currently circulating virus. The new recipe targets an omicron variant named XBB.1.5 — replacing outdated combination vaccines that mixed protection against the original coronavirus strain and an older version of omicron.

And while even the XBB.1.5 variant is no longer dominant, FDA determined that it’s close enough to coronavirus strains causing most COVID-19 illnesses today to offer good cross-protection. Like earlier versions, they’re expected to be most protective against COVID-19’s worst consequences rather than mild infection.

If you've gotten a Moderna shot in the past, can -- or should -- you get a Pfizer one now?

Both the CDC and FDA initially endorsed mixing-and-matching COVID boosters in Oct. 2021, NBC News previously reported, meaning people didn't get to have booster shots that matched their initial vaccinations.

That decision greatly expanded access across the country, because certain vaccines were more easily available in some areas than others.

There are limited data to suggest there is any benefit to “mixing and matching," according to an article from Yale New Haven Health.

However if you had a reaction to one type of vaccine, getting a different one for your booster might be a good idea.

How soon can I get my shot? Where can I make an appointment?

While the FDA’s decision allows for wide use of the updated shots, the CDC will decide how strongly different groups are urged to get them.

A CDC advisory panel is set to issue recommendations Tuesday on who most needs the updated shots. Vaccinations could begin later this week, and both the COVID and flu shot can be given at the same visit.

A report from the Chicago Sun-Times said Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the department later this week expects to release a full list of vaccination sites.

“We already have the vaccine in Chicago,” Luna said. “We are just waiting for the CDC to make their final recommendations before we begin the rollout.”

The Sun-Times also reported that existing vaccines will no longer be available, and everyone is asked to wait for the newest shot to be released.

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