An image of three vaccine vials in a hand.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • On September 11, the FDA approved Moderna’s and Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The approved monovalent vaccines target Omicron variant XBB.1.5.
  • The new vaccines are expected to be available later this week.

On September 11, the FDA approved Pfizer’s and Moderna’s updated COVID-19 vaccines, and a day later, the CDC recommended the vaccines for anyone 6 months and up. The approval comes as the U.S. experiences a COVID-19 wave with new variants, like BA.2.86, in circulation. Earlier this year, the FDA proposed making the COVID-19 vaccine a once-a-year shot, much like our annual flu shot. The idea is that scientists would decide on the target strain(s) by early summer and have the updated shots ready by fall. Here’s what we know so far about the updated COVID-19 vaccines coming soon.

What strain(s) will the updated COVID-19 vaccines target?

The FDA decided that the updated vaccines this fall should target a single strain: Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. This means that the updated shots will be monovalent. They will be the first COVID-19 vaccines that do not at least partially target the original virus strain. Plus, new research shows that the vaccines will offer protection against the newer BA.2.86 variant. 

Why did the FDA decide on a monovalent vaccine that targets XBB.1.5?

At the time of the FDA’s decision, the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 was the most common COVID-19 virus strain in circulation in the U.S. And since the current strains have evolved significantly from the original COVID-19 virus strain, the FDA also decided that we no longer need to target it.

When will the updated COVID-19 vaccines be available?

The goal is to start distributing the updated vaccines as early as this week, following CDC approval during the September 12 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) meeting.

How were these updated vaccines developed so quickly?

The updated vaccines were able to be developed within a few months because they involved tweaks to the original COVID-19 vaccine formulas. In other words, Pfizer and Moderna didn’t start from scratch. These companies presented safety and efficacy data to the FDA and CDC to receive authorization for their updated vaccines.

Who is eligible to receive the updated COVID-19 vaccines?

The CDC recommended the updated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for anyone 6 months and older, but there are specific guidelines for some groups:

  • Everyone 6 years and older should get an updated Pfizer or Moderna vaccine regardless of whether they’ve already been vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Babies and children between 6 months and 5 years old may need several doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to be up to date, including at least one dose of the updated Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
  • People 65 years and older can get a second dose of the updated vaccines, and moderately or severely immunocompromised can get additional doses.