On September 11, 2023, the FDA approved the newest COVID booster shots, which should be available for eager arms in the coming days. This will include a new booster mRNA vaccine from both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to bolster your protection as we head into the winter months.
The two newest COVID-19 variants, XBB.1.5 and EG.5, are surging across the United States right now—with hospitalizations increasing for the past six weeks. Variant EG.5 is responsible for twenty percent of new cases and XBB.1.5 is responsible for five percent of all new cases.
The week of August 19th saw more than 15,000 new COVID admissions, the highest number since last winter. Although more than 97 percent of Americans sixteen and older have some sort of immunity against the virus, whether through vaccination or previous infection, the newest surge in cases seems to be escaping prior virus immunity.
The updated booster shot, aimed to target the XBB.1.5 variant, will not specifically target the EG.5 variant, or the newest variant on the horizon, BA.2.86. However, all three variants are descendants of the Omnicron variant, so getting the booster vaccine can help prevent hospitalizations and death and still offer some benefit to those who receive them.
This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection—including people with diabetes.
The COVID-19 and diabetes connection
While having diabetes doesn’t make you more susceptible to getting COVID-19, if you do get it, you may experience more severe symptoms of the virus.
Studies show that about 20 percent of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have diabetes (any type), and around 35 percent of COVID-19 deaths occur in people who also have diabetes. Mortality rates from COVID-19 are similar for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, a study conducted by Vanderbilt University found that people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes who have COVID-19 have three to four times higher risk of severe complications and hospitalization compared to people without diabetes.
The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been found to be safe and effective for protecting yourself and others against severe illness, hospitalizations and death— especially if you live with diabetes.
Viral infections like COVID-19 increase overall bodily inflammation (internal swelling). This inflammation can cause insulin resistance, resulting in chronic high blood sugar levels. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels can slow down healing and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)—which can be fatal.
Masking up, staying home when you’re sick, and staying up on your vaccinations are the best defenses against these newest variants of the disease.
How to access the booster vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) committee of outside vaccine experts met on September 12 to determine who is eligible for the new booster shot, and they determined that it is safe and effective for everyone six months and older.
Unlike previous vaccine rollouts, this one is not tiered based on patient risk. Previously, older Americans and those with chronic conditions, disabilities and the immunocompromised were able to get their shots sooner.
This is because fewer and fewer Americans are getting booster shots, with only seventeen percent of Americans receiving their last booster (compared to over eighty-one percent of Americans who received the first COVID-19 vaccine).
For these reasons, the vaccine availability is open and available for all once immediately upon release.
The new vaccine will be disseminated to pharmacies and doctor’s offices nationwide within the coming days.
Representatives from both Walgreens and CVS said their pharmacies will provide the new booster shots to all who are eligible under the CDC guidelines. You may also access the booster vaccine at your local pharmacy, doctor’s office, or your local public health department.
The shots will be free of charge for most Americans, through private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.
For those who are uninsured, they may be able to get their booster shots for free at community health centers. Additionally, vaccine manufacturers are expected to donate free shots for the uninsured.
A government-sponsored bridge program may also provide affordable access to the vaccines through 2024.
You should be able to get the COVID vaccine and your annual flu shot at the same time.
Who should get the booster
The FDA recommends the following groups to get the mRNA booster shot:
- People five years and older regardless of previous vaccination can receive a single dose of the new booster shot, if it is at least two months since the last dose of any COVID-19 vaccination.
- People six months through four years of age who have previously been vaccinated against COVID-19 can receive one or two doses of the updated mRNA vaccine (timing and number of doses will vary based on health history)
- Unvaccinated people six months through four years of age can receive three doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine or two doses of the updated Moderna vaccine.
Peter Marks, MD, PhD, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics, Evaluation, and Research, said, “Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.”
He continued, “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.”
More information on vaccine eligibility can be found here.