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New COVID vaccines expected in Vermont as early as this week

A health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Lynne Sladky
New COVID vaccines will be available to Vermonters as early as this week. The updated shot is expected to provide protection against the new variants of the virus. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is urging residents to get the shot.

Updated COVID-19 vaccines aimed at protecting people from new variants of the virus could arrive in Vermont this week — and the state’s top health official, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, is urging residents to get the shot.

“The reality is that we know that people's immunity has waned over time,” Levine said on Wednesday. “And that's why this annual vaccine is such a good idea — because we want to boost up the levels of immunity as high as possible.”

A panel of advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the use of the shots on Tuesday. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get the new vaccine. The shots were developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The vaccines could be available in Vermont as early as this week, Levine said. People will be able to get the shot at pharmacies, health care offices and in some cases, district offices for the state health department.

“The state is not going to have those large vaccine sites,” Levine said. “The only reason that that would occur would be if something dramatic happened with the virus itself, and sort of returned us to the days of the early part of the pandemic”

The approval of the updated vaccines comes amid a recent uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths across the country, according to the CDC. COVID-19 hospitalization rates in Vermont are still low, the health department says.

The updated vaccines were formulated using a variant of the omicron strain of the virus, called XBB.1.5, according to NPR. Other variants have become more prevalent since the vaccines were developed, but health experts say the shots should still provide protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death.

More fromVermont Public:Answering your questions about COVID-19 in Vermont this fall

Only 35% of eligible Vermonters got a COVID-19 vaccine last year, according to state data. While that’s higher than the overall uptake rate in the U.S., Levine said he hopes more Vermonters will get vaccinated this year, even if they’re not in high-risk groups like older Vermonters or those who are immunocompromised.

“I still see the potential for this virus to cause serious outcomes,” Levine said. “I don't think most people are interested in having any of the kinds of symptoms people with long COVID complain about.”

The new shot should be covered by most health insurance plans. Uninsured or underinsured Vermonters will likely be able to get the shot for free through the federal Bridge Access Program, Levine said.

“There are select pharmacy chains that are part of that program, our federally qualified health centers and free clinics are part of that program — in some counties, there'll be EMS clinics,” he said. “Everybody should be able to get [the] vaccine in some way.”

Vermonters should also get their seasonal flu vaccine and those who are eligible should also get the RSV shot, Levine said.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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