Flu season is upon us, but what about COVID-19?
COVID-19 circulates all year long, but picks up in the fall and winter seasons, just like influenza and other upper respiratory viruses. Fortunately, new vaccine formulations for COVID-19 were approved and authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Sept. 11, 2023. These vaccines are effective against currently circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused millions of deaths, hospitalizations, and illnesses since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being aware and taking preventive actions are key to safety and readiness.
We have come a long way since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the US declared a Public Health Emergency and vaccines and medicines to treat COVID-19 were initially unavailable. We know how to reduce risk, by washing hands and masking indoors, particularly when there is an uptick in cases in a community, a work environment, or in congregate settings like living in barracks in training environments. Improving ventilation by opening windows for a cross-breeze indoors or meeting outside when possible and maintaining social distance (standing 6-feet apart) also reduces risk of transmission. If we do become ill and have risk factors that may put us at increased risk for severe infection or hospitalization, there are medications available to help reduce the chance of a severe illness. However, the best prevention for severe illness, Long COVID, or death from COVID-19 is to obtain an up-to-date vaccination.
Since the end of the Public Health Emergency, the Coast Guard follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and recommendations for COVID-19, and/or adjusts strategies based upon local operational environments. For additional information about prevention, treatment, and what to do if exposed to COVID-19, please see the following CDC link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
The following COVID-19 Q&As will help answer your questions about the newly approved and authorized vaccines.
Q: What just changed with COVID-19 vaccinations?
A: The FDA approved and authorized for use updated COVID-19 vaccine formulations for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines on Sept. 11, 2023. The updated vaccines are formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants and to provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. The updated messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines are manufactured to counter 2023-2024 variants, and include a monovalent (single) component that corresponds to the Omicron variant XBB.1.5. The updated mRNA vaccines are each approved for individuals 12 years of age and older. The same vaccines are authorized under emergency use criteria for individuals 6 months through 11 years of age. As part of FDA’s actions, the previous bivalent Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are no longer authorized for use in the United States.
Q: Did the CDC make any new recommendations?
A: On Sept. 12, 2023, the CDC recommended a COVID-19 vaccine updated for 2023-2024 for everyone aged 6 months and older to protect against serious illness.
Q: Why did the CDC recommend the updated vaccine for nearly everyone?
A: The main reason for recommending vaccination against COVID-19 is to protect yourself against severe illness, hospitalization, and even death. COVID-19 vaccines also reduce the chance of having Long COVID. The updated vaccines are expected to provide better protection against variants that are currently making people sick. The updated COVID-19 vaccines are like earlier COVID-19 vaccines that were safely administered to hundreds of millions of Americans during the pandemic.
Q: What does it mean for our Active Duty, Reserve, and civilian populations?
A: It is expected that the updated Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will be available in late September. Until that time there will be a gap in the ability to administer the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The FDA has not yet authorized or approved an updated Novavax vaccine for 2023-2024. The existing Novavax vaccine may still be administered at this time.
Q: Can I get a shot and where?
A: According to the CDC, vaccines should be available commercially now. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is in the process of adding both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech updated vaccines to the pharmaceutical prime vendor. When that process is complete, the updated vaccine will be available at Coast Guard clinics and Department of Defense Military treatment facilities.
Q: Will there be a cost for getting an updated vaccination?
A: There is no cost to military members and their families. All insurance companies are required to cover the cost of vaccines that are recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), under the Affordable Care Act.
Q: Is the COVID vaccine mandatory?
A: No, the COVID vaccine is not mandatory for anyone.
Q: Where can I get further information?
FDA: FDA Takes Action on Updated mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines to Better Protect Against Currently Circulating Variants | FDA
CDC: Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Recommendations Now Available | CDC