Wednesday, Oct. 04, 2023|
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The new COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out are a move away from the booster-shot models in use up to this point.
State epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said Friday the new vaccines, which should start arriving at Hawaii’s pharmacies in the coming week, are designed to be a yearly seasonal shot, like flu shots.
“I really think this is an opportune time to get a new shot that is targeted to currently circulating variants, to really maximize the protection,” Kemble said.
The new vaccines recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration address the XBB-lineages of the omicron variant that account for 99% of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii.
“These COVID vaccines have gone through the FDA approval process, which includes … a review of the evidence in terms of safety and efficacy,” Kemble said.
The new 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines replace the previously approved bivalent mRNA vaccines, which are to be immediately taken out of circulation.
Ron Balajadia, DOH’s immunization branch chief, said the “goal is to get the new monovalent vaccine out, as quickly as possible, to the community.”
Unlike previous COVID-19 vaccines, the new shots won’t be provided free of charge by the federal government.
“The vaccines are going to be covered by private insurance (and) by Medicaid and Medicare,” Balajadia said. “And for those … that are uninsured, there is a federal program called the Bridge Access Program, which will provide vaccines to those individuals.”
Balajadia said the first two primary providers of the new vaccine will be large pharmacy chains CVS/Longs and Walgreens.
“We do have additional providers in the queue … to get the vaccine to the uninsured,” he said. “Not all providers are going to be getting their vaccines all at the same time. And so, as vaccine supplies trickle in, providers will then be able to offer out those doses.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended the updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines for all people 6 months of age and older.
For those 5 and older, the new 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines are to be administered as a single dose, at least two months after a person’s last dose of any COVID-19 vaccine.
For people under the age of 5, the recommended doses and vaccination schedule will vary depending on the child’s previous vaccination history and vaccine brand administered.
For children 6 months through 18 years of age, the new 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines will be available through the Vaccines For Children program, as well as health insurance coverage for zero out-of-pocket cost.
The new vaccines should be available wherever children currently receive their other routine childhood immunizations.
Parents or guardians with questions should consult with their child’s physician for guidance.
“The authorization of the new 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines comes at a good time. We are seeing increased numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” said state Health Director Kenneth S. Fink. “By getting the new 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine, you are taking steps to help minimize the spread of disease in our communities.
“This is especially important as we approach the holiday season.”
Kemble echoed Fink’s assessment of the rollout’s timing.
“We’re now dealing with not just one respiratory virus, but several,” she said. “There’s sort of the big three that we’re thinking of now, which includes COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Last year, we saw some of these having somewhat convergent peaks. And that led to a pretty big respiratory surge back in the fall. We can’t rule that out again this year. CDC’s forecasting now that we may see a similar season to last year. And it does depend on exactly when the peaks of each of those hit.
“What’s fortunate now is that we have safe, effective vaccines for all of those. … So, we have the new COVID -19 vaccine, the flu vaccine is out, and RSV vaccine is now available for older adults. So, getting vaccinated against all three is actually the best way to reduce the chance of peak convergence where we see a really big surge in respiratory illness.”
Kemble said she hopes a higher percentage of eligible individuals will choose to receive the COVID vaccine shot when it becomes available.
“I know people have a lot of different reasons for whether they choose to be vaccinated or not. When we look at our statistics in Hawaii, only about 20% of our population got the updated bivalent booster that came out last fall. And there were additional shots recommended for certain individuals in the spring. So, that leaves about 80% of our population that hasn’t had a recent COVID-19 booster.
“A win would be for … those at higher risk, kupuna and children, to go get vaccinated. … But even if you’re a young, healthy adult, getting vaccinated does reduce your risk of having a bad outcome from COVID-19. And also reduces the risk of having a massive surge of infections that impacts our overall health system.”
To find a provider with the new vaccine, visit hawaiicovid19.com and choose “vaccines” from the drop-down menu at the top of the web page.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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