Everyone ages 6 months and older should get the updated Covid vaccines this fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
The move follows a vote from the CDC's advisory committee earlier in the day in favor of the recommendation.
"We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from Covid-19," the CDC's director, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said in a media statement. "CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones."
The shots are expected to be available within the next 48 hours in some areas, the CDC said.
It's unclear whether most people will get them, however. Just 17% of people who were eligible for the last booster shot in 2022 got it, said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
The updated vaccines are rolling out amid a late-summer uptick in Covid cases. The week ending Sept. 2, 18,871 people were hospitalized with Covid, a number that reflected an 8.7% increase over the previous week.
Still, the number of Covid hospitalizations is nowhere near what was seen during the same week in 2022, at 34,546.
"Although hospitalization rates are currently low, we have seen rates increase in recent weeks and anticipate further increases as we enter respiratory virus season," Megan Wallace, a CDC epidemiologist, said during Tuesday's meeting.
The new Covid shots, made by Pfizer and Moderna, target a subvariant of omicron, called XBB.1.5. More than 90% of the Covid viruses circulating now are closely related to that strain, the CDC said.
The recommendation from the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices was broad, suggesting that everyone ages 5 and older get one dose of a vaccine this fall. The group voted in favor of the recommendation 13 to 1.
"A comprehensive recommendation is the easiest, most straightforward and simplest to communicate," said Schaffner, who is not a part of the committee. "I think the more people vaccinated, the safer our communities will be, the fewer people we will have in the hospital."
Some vulnerable groups may need multiple shots, including children 4 and younger who have never been vaccinated and people with weak immune systems.
In general, the elderly are most at risk for the most severe complications of Covid, including hospitalization and death.
But the CDC's advisers included younger adults and children in their recommendations, citing evidence that 54% of kids and teenagers hospitalized with Covid have no underlying health problems that would otherwise increase their vulnerability.
The advisers considered rare incidents of heart inflammation called myocarditis and pericarditis following Covid vaccinations. The risk was most notable, according to the committee, within a week of either of the mRNA vaccines among teenage boys.
Still, the committee said, the benefits of vaccination outweighed the risk of myocarditis even in this higher-risk group.
The CDC committee’s recommendations only apply to the updated Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which were greenlighted by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. The FDA is still reviewing data from another vaccine maker, Novavax.
For the first time, the cost of Covid vaccines will not be covered by the federal government, though most insurance plans, both private and public, will cover them. The list price will top $100 per shot.
Those who are uninsured will have access to the shots free of charge through community health centers, as well as a "bridge" program from the Biden administration through the end of next year.
But previous federal funds that went toward outreach, education and programs that assured vaccine access in vulnerable lower-income areas have dried up.
That worries Dr. Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former head of the Chicago Department of Public Health. "These groups may not know the vaccines are there, and they may not have the means to get to the shot locations," she said. Morita is not currently on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices but served on it from 2004 to 2008.
A study published Friday in JAMA Network Open found it is safe and effective to get the Covid shot and the flu shot at the same time. The vaccine combination is likely to continue in the coming years.
"Every year, we update our flu vaccine to match the flu strain that's circulating," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health and former White House Covid response coordinator with the Biden administration, said on NBC's "TODAY" show Tuesday morning.
"We're starting to do the same thing with the Covid shots," he said. "It's just your annual Covid shot at this point."