Covid-19 Vaccine Information for 2024
Now is the perfect time to review the current senior COVID-19 vaccine options. With the COVID virus projected to peak in number this winter, availing ourselves (including children) of the new vaccine heads the list of anti-COVID strategies, especially during the seasonal ‘tripledemic’ threats of influenza, RSV and SAR-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
Here’s your “Need-to-Know” Covid-19 Vaccine information for 2024:
Similar to the flu vaccine, the new COVID monovalent vaccine is universally recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Although not expected to prevent all cases of COVID, the aim is less intense illness and hospitalizations. Vaccination is recommended spaced at least two months from any prior COVID vaccine, and administered now in the Fall for maximum immunity through the coming winter months.
The Good News is administration of one of the new COVID vaccines is generally all you need to be considered up-to-date, even if you’ve never had a previous COVID vaccine or booster. The 2023-2024 vaccines are Medicare-covered and include Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, both mRNA technology vaccines, and Novavax, a traditional protein-based formulation. Novavax, the only Non-mRNA COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S., was FDA-approved just this past October as a comparable alternative to the mRNA formulations. (The current 2024 Novavax vaccine requires one dose if previously vaccinated and two separate doses if never before COVID-19 vaccinated.)
Although COVID cases have become less common, we know that people age 65 and older, especially age 75 and beyond, are most at risk of severe COVID disease outcomes, including hospitalization and death. Important: Anyone with a weakened immune system or chronic conditions such as COPD, heart disease and diabetes, should seek individualized guidance from their doctor regarding the benefit of extra doses of any of the currently approved vaccines.
Waning immunity from past COVID infections and old boosters, as well as passing Covid along to your family and vulnerable others, are knowledgeable reasons to avail yourself of the current vaccine. If COVID booster fatigue or vaccine apprehension is an issue, further counsel with a healthcare professional may be indicated.
New Info -If you’ve recently had COVID, you no longer need to wait several months to get your next COVID vaccine; this is especially welcome news for older, and high-risk recipients. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for the optimal timing of your post-Covid vaccine.
The new COVID sub-variant, JN.1, has been accounting for a growing number of cases and predicted to dominate COVID-19 through Spring 2024. Although very fast-spreading, current evidence does not associate it with more severe illness than other strains and the risk of a significant U.S. COVID resurgence is still considered low. Home COVID diagnostic tests will detect JN.1 and antivirals such as Paxlovid remain effective for its rapid treatment. The usual mitigation methods of vaccination, masking, handwashing, social distancing, ventilation, and avoidance of face touching, remain exceedingly relevant through today as COVID, to quote the CDC from December 2023, “remains a serious public health threat”. The uptick in COVID hospitalizations has been linked to a dismal 18% of adults receiving the latest vaccine. Immunity from prior boosters and/or a past COVID infection dissipate over time and can no longer offer adequate viral protection. Interestingly, the severity of a case of COVID is more dependent on a person’s level of immunity than the actual ‘variant du jour’. Fortunately, the 2024 Covid-19 vaccine is providing protection against JN.1 and other emerging COVID mutations.
COVID virus protection kicks in about two weeks after the shot with maximum immunity occurring within the first 3 months following the injection. Although a final consensus is pending, there is exciting evidence that COVID vaccination may offer protection from the disabling symptoms of Long COVID.
Should you get more than one vaccine at a time? Studies show that two or even three vaccines taken at the same time does not lessen the potency of each individual vaccine. Our immune systems are designed to simultaneously react to and rout out millions of different invasive germs allowing for the convenient co-administration of multiple vaccines such as COVID-19, flu, and shingles. Two notable exceptions are the mpox (monkeypox) live vaccine which should be spaced apart from other vaccines by four weeks. And since this is the first season for the new RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccine, eligible recipients may prudently space out RSV administration by two weeks from all other vaccines (pending more experienced guidelines in the future). Pending any future updates, vaccination in one or both arms is a personal choice, as is the separation or bundling of most vaccines.
TIP: Those with a history of particularly uncomfortable or strong vaccine reactions may opt to individually space out each of their seasonal vaccines instead of getting two or three together.
Currently, all three 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccines appear to be equally effective. However, after four years of COVID, its multiple mutations, and irregular vaccination schedules, distinguishing true vaccine effectiveness from natural immunity, or even comparing one COVID vaccine to another, has become largely unverifiable. That said, the benefits of vaccination continue to outweigh the risks of developing a COVID-19 infection.
COVID vaccine side effects appear to be similar to the previous COVID vaccines with a sore arm as the most common effect. Serious allergic vaccine reactions such as anaphylactic shock are fortunately rare and occur in 1 or 2 people per one million doses. With the available mRNA formulations, and less prevalent with protein-based Novavax, there is a rare but serious risk of heart inflammation. Although improvement often occurs on its own without treatment, this side effect has necessitated an FDA warning, particularly for young males. It is important to note that a COVID infection can also lead to the same results with one study showing heart inflammation up to over five times higher from COVID infections than from the vaccine.
Pain and swelling at the injection site from both the mRNA and traditional protein vaccines can be eased with an ice pack. Systemic effects from all three formulations include headache, muscle pain, fever, and nausea which should subside in a few days and, as directed by your healthcare provider, treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol and generics), or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents) such as ibuprofen. Post-vaccine fatigue should respond to a few days of rest and relaxation.
For each vaccine, contraindications include a severe reaction to any of its components. Individual vaccine ingredients may be found at the FDA website https://www.fda.gov on their US Package Insert page and Vaccine Fact Sheet link.
As the current COVID-19 vaccines are increasingly administered to the public, associated data and recommendations are expected to evolve. This real-world phenomenon has been referred to as a ‘moving target’ of knowledge. As always, access the CDC and WHO websites and your healthcare provider for the latest, most accurate COVID-19 information.
This article was provided by Judi Shor, PharmD, ACP, CMC, Certified Care Manager, owner of Successful Aging Senior Care Management. Dr. Shor and her practice are Members of the ElderCare Matters Alliance and have a Featured Listing on ElderCareMatters.com– America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with the issues of Aging. She can be reached at ShorCare@gmail.com.
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