What You Should Know About the New COVID-19 Vaccines

What You Should Know About the New COVID-19 Vaccines

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Hundreds of millions of people in the United States have been vaccinated. That number grows every day. We can all breathe a sigh of relief, right?

Not so fast. The vaccine story isn’t simple – at least not for coronavirus. And that’s because the Alpha variant – the first strain vaccines were created to fight – has changed.

Viruses do that. It’s part of evolution. It’s the way they survive and spread.

Just as the common flu virus changes each year, the COVID virus is changing, too – but much faster. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks these changes. So far, there have been 13 variants.

Omicron, the most recent variant is more infectious. It causes more severe symptoms and spreads more easily. When protection from the vaccine waned,  booster shots were created to offer more protection, but they didn’t seem to faze Omicron.

A New Focus on Omicron

For the first time, a COVID-19 booster has been formulated with elements from more than one variant. The bivalent booster has BA.4 and BA.5 spike proteins – subvariants of Omicron that make it so potent.

It also contains elements of the Alpha variant used in the original vaccine and boosters.  

“The updated COVID-19 boosters are formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variant. They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director (CDC) Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., explains in a media statement from the CDC.

A CDC study of the new bivalent booster reveals it offers about 40% to 60% protection against symptomatic infection. This means people may still be vulnerable to breakthrough infections.

“Unfortunately, the 90% to 100% protection was what we saw during the pre-Delta time,” says Dr. Ruth Link-Gelles, an epidemiologist with the CDC. With Delta, we saw it drop into the 70% range, and then for Omicron, we saw it drop even lower, to the 50% range.”

Link-Gelles encourages people to use a layered approach when fighting the virus. Along with vaccines and booster shots, rapid tests, quality masks and good ventilation in inside spaces can all help find off COVID-19.

Things to Know

The vaccine may be updated again in the future. New variants may need a different version of the vaccine, so stay up-to-date on news about coronavirus.

Safety is a top priority. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a set of standards to measure the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines are approved by the FDA. Talk with your doctor to see if it’s right for you.

You can get the vaccine at many places. COVID-19 shots are offered in many local health clinics, neighborhood pharmacies, and even some grocery stores. Ask your doctor or community health center if they provide vaccines. The CDC website – vaccines.gov leaving site icon – can point you to a provider. You can also text your ZIP code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233.

You may need more than one shot. Some of the COVID-19 vaccines call for two or more doses for the most protection. The safest plan is to get all of your vaccines in the series from the same provider. Once you get your first dose, ask about when you should get your follow-up doses.

What’s Covered

With a BCBSOK health plan, you can receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots at no cost to you. Talk with your health care provider about when you can get yours and any other questions you have about the vaccines.

Some self-funded groups may not waive the cost for the COVID-19 vaccine and its administration. If you aren’t sure what your plan covers, contact your company’s benefits administrator or call BCBSOK Customer Service at the number listed on your member ID card.

Members with pharmacy benefits through a BCBSOK employer health plan, individual plan and Medicare Advantage plan will be able to get the vaccines with no out-of-pocket cost at any provider or pharmacy during the public health emergency. Some grandfathered health plans may not cover preventive care like vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine. Check your plan benefits if you aren’t sure or call Customer Service at the number on your BCBSOK member ID card for help.

If you have pharmacy benefits administered by a pharmacy benefit manager other than Prime Therapeutics®, please call them for your pharmacy-related COVID-19 questions – including vaccine coverage.

If you don’t have insurance, there are programs that can help. Your doctor or a local pharmacy can tell you what your choices are.

Why Should I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Like the flu and other communicable diseases, you lower your chance of serious illness, hospitalization and death if you get a vaccine.

For other resources and information about COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 website.

The CDC leaving site icon and FDA leaving site icon have more information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sources: CDC Recommends First Updated Coronavirus COVID-19 Booster, leaving site icon Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 Vaccination, leaving site icon How Do I Find a COVID-19 Vaccine or Booster, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; New Boosters Add Limited Protection Against COVID-19 Illness, First Real-World Study Shows, leaving site icon CNN, 2022.

Originally published 1/26/2021; Revised 2022, 2023

Anonymous