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Questions about the new COVID shot? What to know about insurance, free tests and more
Lexington Herald-Leader - 9/21/2023
The roll out of new COVID-19 vaccines, designed to target the latest, most dominant variant of the virus in the U.S., comes with a wave of fresh questions.
Who should and shouldn’t get it? How long will the protection it offers last? Can I get it with other vaccines?
To help answer these and other questions, we reached out via email to University of Kentucky HealthCare and Dr. Ryan Babb, the pharmacist manager of the hospital’s Retail and Community Pharmacy Services.
Here’s what to know about the new monovalent COVID vaccine now available at many pharmacies and health care providers in Kentucky, like CVS and Walgreens.
Who should and should not get the new COVID booster?
Echoing advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Babb said it’s recommended everyone aged 6 months and older receive the new vaccine.
“If a patient has a question about their specific situation, please call the (UK) Pharmacist Care Team at 859-562-2018,” Babb wrote Tuesday in an emailed responses to the Herald-Leader.
With that in mind, the CDC has more specific recommendations for people with weakened or compromised immune systems and people who are pregnant. These groups of people are more susceptible to severe COVID-19 and its effects, including hospitalization and death.
How long will the protection the updated vaccine offers last?
“We don’t have complete data to answer this with confidence, but we are expecting coverage for at least 4-6 months,” Babb wrote of the new booster.
Research on the effectiveness of previous boosters during the delta and omicron surges indicates while initial immunity to contracting COVID-19 faded relatively quickly, the protection the boosters offer against severe COVID-19 was more resilient, according to Time Magazine.
We know it takes the immune system 10 to 14 days after vaccination to build up protection against the virus. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re planning to gather with extended family members during the coming holidays.
What do we know about current cases and hospitalizations in Central Kentucky?
The roll out of the updated booster comes at a time when resistance is waning and the virus has been surging across the country.
The federal public health emergency for COVID-19 may have officially expired in May, with case counts and deaths reported less frequently, but recent wastewater surveillance show COVID is spreading at high levels.
To that end, President Joe Biden’s administration is reviving a program that allows people to request and receive COVID tests by mail. The federal website COVIDTests.gov reopens Monday, an people can once again request four rapid tests be delivered to their home for free.
As for Central Kentucky, Babb says cases are once again on the rise.
“COVID cases are increasing in the area. It is important to receive this vaccination as it is ramping up in the community,” Babb told the Herald-Leader.
Data reporting in Kentucky has been scaled back to weekly updates, but a case dashboard maintained by the state government shows the latest available figures.
Should people with recent COVID infections get the new vaccine?
As explained by Babb, people who test positive for and then recover from COVID-19 are granted some level of protection, but this resistance to new infections decays over time.
“Patients should receive the vaccine if it has been more than 90 days since an infection,” the UK HealthCare provider told the Herald-Leader.
The good news, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is unless you’re 65 or older or immunocompromised, you only need one annual COVID vaccine dose.
Should I get the new COVID vaccine if I got one just before the new booster was approved?
According to Babb, patients who have recently received a COVID-19 vaccine should wait at least two months before getting their next booster.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved the new booster Sept. 11.
What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
The side effects of the new booster are similar to any vaccine: mild arm soreness and flu-like symptoms can occur, Babb said.
According to the CDC, this is a sign your body is having an immune response to the shot and building protection. The side effects generally go away after a few days.
When the FDA announced its approval of the updated vaccines, the agency’s director of its biologic research division, Dr. Peter Marks, said in a statement: “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.”
What do we know about the vaccine price and insurance coverage?
The short answer: it depends on your health care plan.
According to the New York Times, the vaccines will likely remain free for most people with public or private plans, provided you get them from an in-network provider.
Since the roll-out began this week, some individuals have run into issues with coverage and asked to pay out of pocket for the shot. A federal official told reporters Wednesday the DHHS has contacted insurance companies and providers to try and smooth things over.
“You should not have to pay out of pocket if you’re insured,” DHHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, per a Wednesday CNN report.
The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department previously told the Herald-Leader it will provide free vaccines to those eligible for the Kentucky Vaccine Program, which includes the uninsured. Medicare is also covering the cost of the updated COVID vaccine.
As for UK HealthCare, Babb said the hospital system expects to be able to offer its patients more information about this soon.
“This information will be available soon,” the pharmacist manager said.
Can I get other vaccinations at the same time as my COVID shot?
According to Babb, yes. You can receive the annual influenza vaccine and the updated COVID shot during the same visit to a pharmacy or clinic.
“The Shingles vaccine is safe to get with the COVID vaccine as well. This vaccine is for patients 50-years-old and older and patients 19 and older with certain immuno-compromising conditions,” Babb said.
For patients ages 60 and older, it’s also safe to get the vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID together.
You can find a COVID-19 vaccine near you at vaccines.gov.
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