Five vaccine vials in a row.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • Older adults and immunocompromised people can now get a second bivalent booster.
  • Protection from vaccines tends to fade faster in people with vulnerable immune systems, making an additional booster more important for these populations.
  • For everyone else, COVID-19 boosters are expected to be a once-a-year shot available late summer or early fall, much like the annual flu shot.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been declining for months now, yet we’re still seeing hundreds of COVID-19 deaths per day. At this point in the pandemic, protecting the most vulnerable is crucial. With this in mind, the FDA and CDC are allowing older adults and immunocompromised people to receive a second bivalent booster for added protection.

Why did the FDA and CDC authorize a second bivalent booster?

The decision to authorize a second bivalent booster is based on the fact that protection from vaccines tends to fade faster in people with vulnerable immune systems, making an additional booster more important for those populations. The new authorization allows people 65 and older to get a second bivalent booster at least four months after receiving their first bivalent booster, and immunocompromised people to get one as early as two months after. Healthcare providers can also administer more doses to their immunocompromised patients as needed. The CDC signed off on this decision on Thursday, clearing the final hurdle to make the additional shots widely available to those who are eligible.

Will this second round of bivalent boosters be free?

Yes. The bivalent boosters would be free since the federal government still has a large stockpile of the shots. 

What will the COVID-19 booster schedule look like for everyone else?

For the general population, COVID-19 boosters are expected to be a once-a-year shot, much like the annual flu shot. By late summer or early fall, the government will roll out a reformulated booster that targets newer, more relevant strains. This booster will likely be available to the majority of the population and serve to protect people ahead of a potential winter surge. The plan is to follow the same timeline and roll out a new booster every year. There’s a chance that older adults and immunocompromised people could be eligible for more than one booster per year, depending on how fast their immunity fades.

What are the benefits and risks of receiving a COVID-19 booster?

A COVID-19 booster provides protection against infection, severe disease, hospitalization, and death, especially for people with weakened immune systems since their immunity from previous vaccination or infection tends to wane faster. There are very few risks of receiving another COVID-19 vaccine dose, as long as you follow the CDC’s guidance on when you should get one. Nearly everyone ages 6 months and older is eligible for a bivalent booster at least two months after their primary series or an original booster. It’s normal to experience mild-to-moderate side effects in the days following vaccination, but serious side effects are very rare.

Do we have a long-term plan for how to fight COVID-19 and other coronaviruses?

In the last two decades, we’ve experienced three coronavirus-driven outbreaks: SARS in 2002, MERS in 2012, and COVID-19 in 2020. To prepare for the next pandemic, the Biden administration is launching Project Next Gen, a $5 billion program that aims to speed up the development of new coronavirus vaccines and treatments. This program plans to develop better monoclonal antibody treatments, nasal spray vaccines, and pan-coronavirus vaccines that protect against future COVID-19 variants as well as other coronaviruses.