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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Do I need a COVID vaccine? What to know as the virus spreads in Conn.

    Connecticut is in COVID-19 limbo right now, that liminal space between a spike in cases and the availability of an updated vaccine.

    Connecticut, like much of the country, is experiencing in increase in COVID-19 cases, though it's far from as steep a climb as 2020 or even January of this year.

    "Historically, we've had summer waves before. We had this in 2022 with the BA.5 wave," said Scott Roberts, associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital. "We had a blip last summer as well, and that's not unexpected, because, similar to winter, everybody goes inside and so the windows are closed. It's kind of a similar situation, because it's too hot out."

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month recommended that "everyone ages 6 months and older receive an updated 2024-2025 COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 this fall and winter whether or not they have ever previously been vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine."

    That updated vaccine is not available yet, and won't be for months. "The 2024-2025 vaccines are expected to be available in fall 2024," the CDC wrote.

    Here are some common questions about COVID-19 vaccinations:

    What COVID variant is spreading right now?

    According to the most recent available data, three variants are currently dominant.

    "The new KP.3 variant is driving this, and what's happening in Connecticut is happening around the country as well," said Hartford HealthCare's head of infectious disease Ulysses Wu. "KP.3 is an offspring of the Omicron and the KP.1, KP.2 variants, if you read about them, they were called the 'FLiRT' variants that were around like a month ago. They never really took hold, but KP.3 seems to be the big one now."

    The CDC tracks the proportions of variants found in positive tests around the country and, as of July 5, 15 percent of tests showed the LB.1 variant, 24.5 percent were the KP.2 variant and 37 percent were the KP.3 variant.

    Are current COVID vaccines effective against these variants?

    The Food and Drug Administration said in June that its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee had unanimously voted to update the available vaccines to work against both the LB.1 and KP.2 strains.

    Updated vaccines formulated against the KP.3 variant won't be available until the fall, but Wu said the current vaccines "will offer some protection."

    "Right now we are seeing rising cases so if you are of advanced age or have an immunocompromised condition then it may behoove one to get the vaccine," he said.

    Juthani's advice was similar: "For adults aged 65 and older, if you received your last COVID-19 shot four months or more ago, you could receive another vaccine at this time to boost your immunity. All persons 6 months and older are recommended to receive an updated vaccine when they become available this fall."

    Are COVID vaccines covered by insurance?

    While the CDC suggests that policyholders check with their insurance carriers, most health plans will cover the cost of a COVID vaccine.

    "The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most insurance plans to cover most routine vaccinations," the CDC wrote, without cost-sharing for consumers by the plan year beginning one year after the recommendation."

    If the COVID-19 vaccine is administered by an in-network provider, those vaccines must be covered without cost-sharing.

    If you do not have insurance or if your insurance does not cover COVID vaccines, the CDC's Bridge Access Program will provide those vaccines, free of charge.

    Is this a booster?

    Yale Medicine explained recently that as the COVID-19 virus is evolving, so must the vaccines designed to fight it. For this reason,new vaccines are not considered a "booster."

    "A booster shot gives a 'boost' to the recipient's existing immunity from a previous vaccination," Yale wrote. "Updated vaccines are different in that they are expected to provide protection against currently circulating variants, helping the body build a new response to those variants."

    The FDA recently said that it expects new COVID-19 vaccines to be required at least annually: "Barring the emergence of a markedly more virulent variant, the FDA anticipates that the composition of COVID vaccines may need to be updated annually, as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine."

    Do I need a COVID vaccine appointment?

    It's probably a good idea. Not every pharmacy has the vaccines in stock at all times.

    Stamford Health, Nuvance, Walgreens, CVS, Yale New Haven Health and Hartford HealthCare all suggest making an appointment via their online portals.

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