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Updated COVID Vaccines for Fall 2023: What to Know

Health officials have approved a new batch of COVID-19 vaccines that are making their way into pharmacies and health clinics throughout the U.S.

Here’s what you need to know about the new shots, from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, including who can get them and what to expect when you roll up your sleeve.  

1. The new vaccines target the XBB.1.5 variant

Over the summer, health officials made the decision to update the old COVID boosters to better target newer strains of the virus that were circulating. They chose to go with XBB.1.5, which was driving infections at the time.

While this strain is no longer particularly active in the U.S., many of its close relatives are, and data shows that the updated shots will help to curb infections and illness caused by them. This is important because the variants currently circulating — including EG.5, or Eris — are better at evading the immunity afforded by the older bivalent boosters. Plus, it’s been a year since those vaccines became available, so their protection has waned in many people who received them.

“The updated vaccines are very important in that regard, to assure that people do have adequate immunity to the newer variants that are evolving,” David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for HIV and COVID-19 Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center, said in a recent media briefing on the topic.

2. Almost everyone should get the new shot — especially older adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that individuals 6 months and older get the shot this fall. And while children are not immune to severe illness caused by COVID-19 — data reviewed by CDC advisers shows that individuals ages 6 months to 49 years with no underlying conditions are still being hospitalized for COVID-19 — experts say the shots are especially important for older adults who are at higher risk for severe illness.

More than 2,600 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each day with COVID-19 according to CDC data, and the rate among older adults towers over younger age groups.

“As we age, we all go through a process of what’s called immunosenescence, which is the sort of the stagnation of our immune system, or the forgetfulness of our immune system when it comes to remembering things that we were previously capable of fighting off and capable of having good immunity to,” says Cameron Wolfe, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health and an associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.

In addition to less robust immune defenses, older adults are also more likely to have chronic health conditions that can cause complications with COVID-19.  

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