Chicago’s top doctor is urging residents to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine “as soon as possible.”
Dr. Allison Arwady said the new booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna are currently “the best possible match” in combating the dominant omicron subvariants — and the more Chicagoans who get the reformulated vaccine now, the less likely a seasonal surge will be.
“I am just so pleased with the timing of this updated vaccine — it couldn’t be better,” she told WBEZ’s Reset.
Nearly 80% of Chicagoans over the age of 12 are now eligible for the new shot. Arwady said there is plenty of vaccine to go around, and people should not wait to make an appointment.
Below are answers to some common questions about the updated COVID vaccines, from who is eligible to where to find a shot.
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What makes this vaccine different?
Until now, COVID-19 vaccines have targeted the original coronavirus strain. The new updated vaccine is a “bivalent” shot, which means it provides both a boost of protection against the original strain — the way other booster shots have done — but also provides protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants.
How effective are the shots?
Arwady has repeatedly praised the new formula for how well it protects against the omicron subvariants that are most prominent right now.
“If we can get a lot of people protected right now from the variant that’s circulating, we’ll see fewer transmissions and hopefully less emergence of new strains, which is what we really are concerned about heading into fall in winter,” she said.
Who is eligible for the new COVID booster?
The Pfizer-BioNTech booster is available for people 12 years and up, while the Moderna booster is only for adults 18 and older.
In order to receive the new booster, individuals need to have completed an initial vaccine series — meaning two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People should wait two months after getting the initial vaccines or another booster before receiving the updated shot, according to the FDA.
Where is the shot available?
The reformulated shot is expected to be available at 90 retail pharmacies, like Walgreens and CVS, across the city during the first full week of September.
The public health department will also make use of its mass vaccination sites at city colleges, which have recently been more focused on monkeypox vaccines, to meet demand for the new COVID-19 shots. The city will host vaccination events at city colleges.
The updated vaccine will also be offered to people at home, especially residents who are older than 65, homebound or live in a neighborhood with low vaccination rates.
How much vaccine will Chicago receive?
The city received 150,000 doses of the redesigned vaccine during the first week of September, which Arwady said is about 20 times the amount of vaccine Chicago received in the initial rollout back in December 2020.
In addition to the doses coming to the city, hundreds of thousands more doses are expected across the state.
The U.S. has purchased more than 170 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna.
Is the vaccine still free?
Yes, the updated vaccine remains free. But, Arwady said she expects this to be the last COVID vaccine to exist outside of the regular insurance system.
Can you still get the previous booster?
No. Arwady said the new booster replaces previous boosters.
What if you haven’t received other booster doses?
You don’t need to have received previous boosters in order to get this new booster — you just have to have completed an initial vaccine series.
What if you just had COVID?
While you do not have to wait to get the booster, the CDC says you can wait up to three months after being infected with COVID before getting the new shot.
Arwady, who herself recently had COVID, said she is planning on waiting a while before getting the new shot, however, if a new variant emerges, she said she will get the booster sooner.
Can you mix and match?
You can get either Pfizer or Moderna, regardless of which vaccine you received initially.
“Obviously the Pfizer is going to be for those 12 and up and the Moderna for those 18 and up, but they are roughly similar in terms of dosage and content,” Arwady said.
How long will the new booster offer protection?
For those with “vaccine fatigue,” Dr. Mia Taormina, an infectious disease specialist with Duly Health and Care in Chicago, told WBEZ’s Reset she doesn’t anticipate we will be lining up to get another shot three to four months down the line.
“I think that we should get six to 12 months out of this booster if all goes well,” Taormina said. “The hope would be that this newer, improved booster dose will continue to give some efficacy against further variations of omicron that haven’t been seen yet and we might have more durability in this booster.”
Federal officials said this week they expect going forward to have annual updated shots for COVID, much like the flu.
Is the new booster safe?
“We have worked closely with the vaccine manufacturers to ensure the development of these updated boosters was done safely and efficiently,” Dr. Peter Marks with the FDA said in a statement.
Can you get your flu shot at the same time as the updated booster?
The new booster can be administered in the same visit as a flu shot.
Arwady said the city is planning to offer both the flu vaccine and the updated COVID vaccine at their larger clinics, since they “anticipate a lot of people will probably want to get this together.”
What are side effects of the vaccine?
Taormina said you can expect to have some soreness at the injection site and some people may develop a fever, body aches or other flu-like symptoms, which can take about 24 hours or so to go away. While “not necessarily a cup of tea,” she said it still beats coming down with COVID.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.