Learn more about updated COVID-19 vaccines.

An updated COVID-19 vaccine is now available in the United States.

On Sept. 11, 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized and approved updated COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. On Sept. 12, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended all Americans 6 months and older get at least one dose of the vaccine.

The updated vaccines specifically target the XBB.1.5 variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The currently circulating variants are similar to the XBB.1.5 variant. In this way, the new COVID-19 vaccines resemble the annual flu vaccine — designed to protect against current circulating variants.

The updated vaccines became available in September 2023, replacing the previous bivalent vaccine.

Learn more about the vaccine, who’s eligible, and where you can go to get one.

How Is the New COVID-19 Vaccine Different?

The first COVID-19 vaccine and the bivalent booster doses from Pfizer and Moderna prepared the immune system for the original and subsequent virus strains. Because the virus is changing over time, the updated vaccines prepare our immune system to recognize a virus that looks different.

“It’s not exactly the same virus that we knew of three years ago,” says Donald Yealy, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president, Health Services, UPMC. “The virus finds a way to evade the protection that you got from immunity. Your immunity goes down over time; that happens to virtually everyone. This is why getting the new COVID-19 vaccine is so important.”

It is likely the COVID-19 vaccine will continue to adapt in future years to protect against the most widely circulating vaccine variants. This follows the process of the annual flu shot. The flu shot’s composition changes each year to protect against widely circulating influenza strains.

“This is the first time that we are shifting to that influenza model for vaccination,” says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director, Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology, UPMC. “This vaccine will be the first of what’s anticipated to be a seasonal COVID-19 vaccine in which the nature of the vaccine is redesigned for variants that are circulating.”

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Who Is Eligible for the New COVID-19 Vaccine?

Americans 6 months and older are eligible for the vaccine. The CDC recommends all Americans 6 months and older get vaccinated. The FDA’s updated eligibility guidelines include:

  • Americans 5 years old and up: Regardless of your previous vaccination status, you are eligible for a single dose of the updated vaccine. You can receive it two months after your previous vaccine dose.
  • Children 6 months to 4 years old who were previously vaccinated against COVID-19: You can receive one or two doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine. The number of doses and the timing of doses depends on the previous doses of vaccine you received.
  • Children 6 months to 4 years old who were not previously vaccinated against COVID-19: You can receive three doses of the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine or two doses of the new Moderna vaccine.

“The conversation is anticipated to be much like the flu conversation,” Dr. Snyder says. “The vaccine is recommended for everybody who is eligible to prevent serious complications. And that’s particularly true for people who are at risk for serious complications.”

Does the New COVID-19 Vaccine Work?

COVID-19 vaccines have been very successful in protecting against serious COVID-19 complications. They reduce the chance that a person will get sick when exposed to the virus.

The new vaccines protect against the SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating now. They should prepare the immune system to recognize the changing virus. Even if vaccination or infection has prepared your immune system, this seasonal dose may protect it further.

“Just like with the flu, where a new vaccine is developed every year to target the specific flu variants that are out there, the same is occurring with COVID-19,” says Tracey Conti, MD, chair, Family Medicine, UPMC. “The vaccine that’s out this year is targeting the most prevalent virus variants that are out today.”

The CDC recommends everyone who’s eligible should get the new COVID-19 vaccine, even if they’ve already gotten a previous variation of it. Vaccination is especially important for high-risk groups. That includes older adults, immunocompromised people, and people with underlying health conditions.

Is the New COVID-19 Vaccine Safe?

Like the previous COVID-19 vaccine variations, the updated vaccine can cause minor side effects. The most common side effects include pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site, headache, and fatigue. These side effects usually go away within a day or two.

Serious adverse effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine are rare. The risks of COVID-19 greatly outweigh any of the potential risks of vaccination.

“It is always a much better trade to get vaccinated than to just hope you’ll do well with the infection,” Dr. Yealy says.

If you had a severe allergic reaction to a previous vaccine dose or have a vaccine-related allergy, talk to your doctor about whether you should get this vaccine.

Why Is the New COVID-19 Vaccine Necessary?

The virus is still circulating in our community and making people sick. The number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 began to show an uptick in July 2023.

Although hospitalizations and deaths were lower than they were during previous COVID-19 peaks, they were higher than in the early summer. Vaccination is the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Vaccination is also important heading into the respiratory virus season. Other viruses, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), begin to emerge in the fall. Getting vaccinated against those diseases if you’re eligible can help protect you and the people around you.

“The flu and COVID-19 viruses can be dangerous,” Dr. Conti says. “For many of us, it’s just a miserable experience. But for others, it can cause a serious illness which can result in a hospitalization or worse. I personally recommend everyone to get their flu and COVID vaccines.”

The CDC recommends all Americans 6 months and older get both the flu vaccine and the updated COVID-19 vaccine. You can get both at the same time.

How Can I Get the New COVID-19 Vaccine?

The seasonal COVID-19 vaccines are now or will soon be available in the communities UPMC serves. However, nationwide supply challenges are delaying availability to all vaccine providers.

Many locations offer the COVID-19 vaccine. These include large retail pharmacies, your primary care office, and many UPMC Urgent Care locations. Check the location’s vaccine availability before scheduling an appointment.

Parents and guardians should speak with their child’s pediatrician or a UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics office for options on scheduling for children.

Visit our website to learn more.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.