New COVID-19 vaccines are coming to Florida, where the surgeon general is once again at odds with federal health officials on whether people should get vaccinated or not against the disease.
The shots, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are expected to begin arriving later this week to select retail pharmacies, community health centers, doctors’ offices and other healthcare providers in the U.S.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to the vaccines on Monday, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Mandy Cohen recommending the shots for everyone 6 months and older to better protect against circulating variants in the country, following the advice of an independent advisory committee.
But Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who has previously clashed with federal health official’s on masks, vaccines and the state’s COVID-19 policies, says the federal government “failed to provide sufficient data to support the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.” He is recommending that people under 65 do not get the new vaccines and those 65 and older speak with their doctor.
Both the FDA, the CDC and scores of public health experts say the vaccines are safe, have undergone rigorous testing and monitoring throughout the pandemic and the benefits far outweigh their risks, especially with the possibility of another tripledemic of flu, RSV and COVID coming this fall and winter.
While the federal government is no longer footing the tab, most insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, are expected to cover the vaccine’s cost. Those who are underinsured or without insurance will be able to get the vaccine for free through select providers that are enrolled in “Vaccines for Children” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Bridge Access program.
Here’s what to know:
Who is eligible for the new COVID-19 vaccine? How many shots do I need?
The FDA authorized the shots for people 12 and older, with the vaccine under emergency use authorization for kids as young as 6 months. How many shots you need will depend on your age and the timing of your previous dosages:
▪ People 5 and older can get one dose of the new vaccine if it has been at least two months since the last COVID vaccine dose, according to the FDA. You can also get the vaccine if you’re unvaccinated.
▪ Babies and toddlers, 6 months to 4 years, who were previously vaccinated against COVID, can get one or two doses of the new vaccine. “Timing and number of doses to administer depends on the previous COVID-19 vaccine received,” the FDA said.
▪ Babies and toddlers, 6 months to 4 years, who are not vaccinated against COVID, can get up to three doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer or two doses of the new Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
▪ The CDC says those 65 and older and people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised can also get additional doses:
People 65 and older who get the new vaccine can get an extra shot at least four months later. Some people who are immunocompromised who get the new vaccine can get an extra shot at least two months later.
Speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Is the new vaccine effective against the dominant strains in the U.S.?
The vaccines were formulated to target Omicron variant XBB.1.5, which was the dominant strain in the U.S. earlier this year, in preparation for the 2023-2024 fall and winter season.
Federal health officials say the updated shots will provide good protection against the circulating variants in the country, including the current dominant strain EG.5, also known as Eris, which is a descendant of the omicron variant.
Where can I get the vaccine?
Here are some of the places where you can get a vaccine. Keep in mind some insurance companies might require you to get vaccinated at an in-network provider.
▪ CVS Health owns traditional CVS stores, Navarro Discount Pharmacies and CVS y más. All pharmacies are expected to have the new COVID vaccines for people 5 and older by early next week. CVS Health MinuteClinic locations will also offer vaccination for kids as young as 18 months in the coming weeks.
TIP: If you get the COVID-19 vaccine at a CVS Health location, you can get a $5 off $20 coupon.
▪ Walgreens said appointments will become available online by Monday, Sept. 18, though some locations might have appointments available earlier, pending shipment arrival. Walgreens has previously vaccinated kids as young as 3 for COVID-19. To schedule an appointment, visit walgreens.com/findcare/schedule-vaccine.
▪ Walmart also plans to offer the updated COVID-19 vaccines. Online appointments will become available once stores begin to receive shipments. Check walmart.com/COVIDVaccine for availability. Walmart has previously vaccinated kids as young as 3 against COVID-19.
▪ Winn-Dixie and Fresco y Más also plan to offer the new COVID-19 vaccines. Appointments will become available online as stores receive shipments. Check for availability online at winndixie.com/pharmacy/covid-vaccine and frescoymas.com/vaccines. Both stores have previously vaccinated kids as young as 3 against COVID-19.
TIP: If you get vaccinated at Winn-Dixie or Fresco y Más, you can get up to $20 for groceries. The store will give you $10 for your flu or COVID shot and another $10 if you get any other vaccine.
▪ Publix said it will offer the vaccine for people 12 and older as stores receive shipments. Appointments are recommended. To schedule an appointment, visit publix.com/vaccines.
Some community health centers, doctors’ offices and other healthcare providers may also have the vaccines. To find a location near you visit, vaccines.gov. If you have kids, speak with your pediatrician to see if they plan to offer the shots.
My insurance won’t cover the vaccine or I don’t have insurance. Where can I go?
If you don’t have insurance or your insurance won’t fully cover the cost of the new COVID-19 vaccines — which range in price from $120-$130 per dose — you have some options to get vaccinated for free.
Free COVID shots will be available through community health centers, state health departments and pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program, according to the federal agency. The program will give free COVID-19 vaccines to adults without insurance or whose insurance won’t cover all of the vaccine cost through 2024.
Both CVS and Walgreens, for example, are participating in the program. Kids eligible for the federal “Vaccines for Children” program can also get the COVID-19 vaccine for free through participating providers.
To find a health center near you, use the Florida Association of Community Health Centers online locator. You can also use the Health Resources and Services Administration’s nationwide health center online locator.
It’s worth noting that while state health departments are expected to offer the shots for free, it’s not clear if the new vaccines will be available through the Florida Department of Health. The health department’s office in Miami-Dade County did not immediately respond to the Herald’s inquiry.