MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It may be time to dig out your vaccination card. Today the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, signed off on the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines. The agency says the new shots are safe, that they are effective for anyone 6 months and older. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein is here. Hey, Rob.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: OK, tell me more about these new shots.
STEIN: So they're updated versions of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. They target a more recent omicron subvariant than the last booster. And the hope is this will be the first of what will now become an annual COVID shot - you know, like the flu shot - to shore up people's immunity as we head into the winter.
KELLY: OK, so key question - how well do they work?
STEIN: You know, they're not an exact match. The strain the new boosters target has been replaced by newer ones. But the latest vaccines look like they're probably close enough of a match to still do a good job. Here's Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown School of Public Health, who served as President Biden's COVID coordinator.
ASHISH JHA: The data so far suggests that the new COVID vaccine should be really quite effective against even the new emerging variants that we have seen come up in the last few weeks. So I'm actually quite optimistic this new vaccine is going to be protective.
STEIN: And cut the chances of spreading the virus, getting COVID and getting seriously ill.
KELLY: I mentioned the FDA says anyone aged 6 months and older is eligible for the new shot. Does that mean everyone in that age range should get the new shot?
STEIN: That's the question the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will answer tomorrow after a committee of outside advisers specifies who should get another shot. It's pretty clear the agency will recommend a shot for anyone who's at high risk of getting really sick from COVID, like, you know, older people and those who have other health problems. We'll have to see what the CDC says about younger, healthier people, including kids. Some independent experts say the focus should really be on the high-risk people since most younger, otherwise healthy people are still pretty well-protected against severe disease from previous vaccinations and infections. Here's John Moore. He's an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
JOHN MOORE: Protection against serious disease is already quite strong, so an additional booster doesn't add all that much extra protection against disease. So it's less important for healthier people compared to people in frail health.
STEIN: And others say everyone who's eligible should get boosted. Here's Dr. Jha again.
JHA: For younger healthy people, I say, now, look. Getting the vaccine will reduce your risk of being out of school or being out of work for a while. It reduces how much you transmit it. There are a lot of good reasons to get your annual COVID shot. I understand that, you know, it's been a long pandemic, and people want to move on. The best way to move on is just to get your annual COVID shot and know that that's going to provide a good amount of protection.
STEIN: But, you know, Mary Louise, we'll have to see how many people will want another shot. Only 17% of those eligible for the last one got one.
KELLY: OK, I am going to get another shot. That's my plan. When is it going to be available?
STEIN: Yeah, the shots should start to become available this week pretty quickly after the CDC recommendation. For most people, their insurance will pay for it, and some experts say you should get one at least 2 or 3 months after your last shot or infection. Others say it's best to wait a little longer like, you know, 4 to 6 months. You could also wait to time your shot to a couple of weeks before you're going to do something risky like traveling for work or the holidays. But that would mean, you know, risking catching the virus before then. I talked about this with Dr. Robert Wachter at the University of California San Francisco.
ROBERT WACHTER: To me, some of this gets to be like amateurs trying to time the stock market, which usually goes badly.
STEIN: And you know, Mary Louise, all the numbers are on the rise again right now.
KELLY: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thank you, Rob.
STEIN: You bet, Mary Louise.
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