On Thursday, September 14, LA County announced that updated COVID-19 vaccines will be available to local residents starting this week.
“With signs that COVID-19 is rising, we welcome this updated vaccine,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a press event for the announcement, noting that “one of the best things we can do right now is take advantage of the tools we have, including new updated vaccines to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.”
Ferrer said the updated shots are recommended for all people, ages six months and up, and that they’re specially targeted to the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant of the virus, which, along with its derivatives, currently accounts for more than 90% of sequenced cases.
According to the LA County presentation, there have been several lessons learned about COVID-19 vaccines over the last three years of the pandemic:
- Vaccines help protect all people over the age of three from serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
- Data now shows that vaccinations also help prevent post-COVID conditions such as “long COVID.”
- Vaccinating pregnant women can provide protection to their infants up to six months after birth (infants have the second highest rate of hospitalization after adults older than 75)
- More than 1 billion vaccine doses have now been given worldwide, and have proven “extremely safe” in all age groups.
- Immunity (from both vaccines and COVID-19 infections) wanes over time, so everyone needs to update their vaccinations to enhance and restore their protection against current COVID-19 variants.
- It’s expected that COVID-19 vaccines will prevent as many as 400,000 hospitalizations and 40,000 deaths over the next two years.
- The only people who should not receive the vaccine are those who had a severe reaction to previous doses, or who are known to be allergic to specific components of the vaccine.
Dr. Janina Morrison, the health department’s Director of Clinical and Preventive Services, said at Thursday’s event that the vaccines will likely be widely available in LA County by the end of this week, after a brief roll-out period during which health care providers and LA County get their scheduling systems set up.
Morrison said people likely hear from their doctors and/or pharmacies when the vaccines are available, or they can contact those providers for more information.
Also, said Morrison, it’s definitely OK to get the new vaccines at the same time you receive other seasonal vaccines, so you can schedule your COVID booster at the same time you get your annual flu and/or (for those over the age of 60) RSV vaccine. And there will be no out-of-pocket costs – if you have health insurance, it will cover the shot, and if you don’t, free vaccinations will be available at LA County sites. (See http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vaccines/index.htm for more information.) The County will also be setting up public vaccination clinics, including mobile vaccination options.
During the discussion, Ferrer acknowledged that many people are definitely feeling “vaccine fatigue” after receiving as many as five doses so far, especially if they’re fully vaccinated and have still come down with a case of COVID-19…as she herself has. But that shouldn’t deter people from getting the updated booster, she said. “I have vaccine fatigue, but I’ll be there getting vaccinated.” Also, she noted, getting tired of getting vaccinated “doesn’t change our reality that the immunity you get from vaccines, and from getting infected…is waning over time.”
Ferrer said that it is “super important” for older people, those who are immunocompromised, pregnant people, and those who live with folks in those categories to get the new vaccines, “because we really can’t afford getting ourselves infected.” And yes, she said, getting another booster is also important for those who consider themselves young and healthy, because we still can’t predict who will develop serious cases of the illness or long COVID. “There’s no reason to take the risk of not having that added protection,” she said.
Finally, Ferrer said that it does look like COVID will behave much like other seasonal respiratory illnesses, such as flu and RSV, with an annual surge in every fall and winter. So that means that, as with the flu, we will probably need an updated vaccine each year. Also, she said, we had an early flu season last year, and there are at least some indications that this year could be similar, so it will be good to get the vaccine early in the season. (And that’s true even if you’ve had a recent case of COVID – as long as you’re fully recovered, she said, you can get boosted without any minimum wait time).