Enhanced Covid protection is on the way
A newly formulated vaccine offers the best chance of preventing severe illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cleared the path Tuesday for a newly formulated Covid-19 vaccine to ship out to pharmacies and clinics around the country. This followed the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. In its recommendation, the CDC said anyone 6 months and older should roll up their sleeve this fall.
Why everyone this round and not just people over 65 and the immunocompromised? “The vaccines are always designed to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and death,” said Ruben Zorrilla, M.D., medical director and family physician at the Health Center at Auraria and Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Everyone, including the young and healthy, can become seriously ill (or) hospitalized or die from this virus.”
The newest vaccine will offer “enhanced protection” against the latest mutations of the virus, Zorrilla said. This makes it even more important, for two reasons: Most vaccinated people have waning immunity from their last booster, for which shots were distributed last fall. Second, the virus has mutated, so the original vaccines that people received don’t protect as well against currently circulating versions of Covid.
“There have been many iterations of Covid over time, which is why last year the formula changed to bivalent to protect against the omicron version at the time,” explained Zorrilla. “Now, we have different offshoots of omicron, and this updated formula will offer the best protection against them.”
The new vaccine is formulated for the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which is already showing new mutations. The most prevalent mutation is EG.5. The new vaccine will afford good protection against it as well as the emerging BA.2.86 variant, Zorrilla said. This distinguishes it from most of the shots you’ve likely received, which were generally boosters to follow the original vaccine.
“The good thing about mRNA vaccines is that scientists can home in on specific spike proteins and reformulate them to stay current,” said Zorrilla.
When and where to get your shot
The last time reformulated vaccines were available, the public largely ignored the opportunity — uptake was around 20%. “I hope/believe that some of the myths surrounding the Covid vaccine are fading and that people understand they are safe and effective,” Zorrilla said. “But even so, uptake doesn’t seem to follow.”
With some shots shipping out almost immediately to larger pharmacies and clinics, people in a hurry to get the latest vaccine can potentially find appointments at places such as CVS or Walgreens. Zorrilla is uncertain when the Health Center will receive its vaccines, but the order has been placed. “We open our flu clinic on Sept. 25, and as soon as we have the Covid vaccines, they will be available there as well,” Zorrilla said.
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The vaccines will be free to students on the Auraria Campus, including those enrolled at MSU Denver, Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado Denver, regardless of insurance status. The out-of-pocket cost at pharmacies and doctor’s offices will be about $120, and most insurance providers will cover it.
When you should get your shots
“We’re seeing a small uptick in Covid now,” said Zorrilla, “but nothing like what we’ve seen in years past. But as the weather cools and people go indoors, it’s a good idea to get it by late October or November. The highest level of protection from the shot should last about four to five months.”
Exceptions include those with new or recent Covid infections and those who’ve recently had a booster. In those cases, people should wait up to three months before getting the new vaccine to ensure they get the most protection.
Zorrilla encourages everyone on the Auraria Campus to take advantage of the free clinic and get the latest Covid shot, along with the flu shot. “We want to protect our campus,” he said, “especially as the end of the semester and finals approach.”
The Health Center’s free flu clinic opens Sept. 25 and will include Covid vaccines when they arrive. Hours will be Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.