Quick Take:

Authorities and local pharmacies on Wednesday began rolling out the updated Omicron-targeting booster shot in Santa Cruz County. Here’s what we know so far.

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The new Omicron-fighting vaccine is now available in Santa Cruz County, with those eligible now able to book appointments at local drugstores.

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccines target the initial COVID strain and the more-contagious Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which have sustained a continuing, though lower-level, pandemic. The new vaccine replaces the boosters that have been administered over the past year. Its availability follows last week’s approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Pfizer booster is available for all vaccinated people ages 12 and older, while Moderna’s booster is being offered only to vaccinated people ages 18 and older at this time. One must have completed a primary series in order to be eligible for the updated vaccine.

Vaccinated people are eligible for the updated booster only if it has been two or more months since their final shot of a primary series or previous booster.

Federal officials said there are benefits to launching a booster campaign right away. Studies indicate that distributing boosters starting this month could prevent 137,000 more hospitalizations and 9,700 more deaths compared with beginning a booster campaign in November.

Pharmacies and health care providers remain the best way to receive the shot, County Health Spokesperson Corinne Hyland told Lookout on Wednesday morning.

CVS locations in Scotts Valley, Capitola and Felton are currently scheduling appointments, with the earliest Santa Cruz County appointment among those locations available next Wednesday, Sept. 14, in Scotts Valley.

Safeway pharmacies on Mission Street, Morrissey Boulevard, and 41st Avenue are scheduling appointments, with limited slots available as early as this weekend at the Morrissey location. Availability at all of the locations will increase over the next two weeks.

Walgreens pharmacies will begin scheduling appointments Saturday at its Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and Freedom locations.

Horsnyder Pharmacy and its Westside Pharmacy location will be offering the jabs as well, but the timeline was unclear at publication time. Once available, Horsnyder will offer walk-ins on Mondays and Westside will offer walk-ins on Fridays.

Unlike with past vaccination campaigns, Santa Cruz County is not planning to conduct clinics itself.

Sutter Health will begin scheduling appointments for both Moderna and Pfizer jabs once it receives its supply.

According to a statement from Kaiser Permanente, the company will provide the updated boosters in all of the markets it serves by Sept. 20 at the latest. Availability is likely to be limited to begin with, but is expected to quickly increase in the following weeks.

In a media release, Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer David Ghilarducci put the new vaccine into perspective.

“Updating our booster vaccines to combat the circulating variants marks our transition to living with COVID,” he said. “The COVID-19 virus continues to change and adapt and so must we.”

Lookout will continue to update availability as information becomes available.

Max Chun is the general-assignment correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Max’s position has pulled him in many different directions, seeing him cover development, COVID, the opioid crisis, labor, courts...