Long Beach Department of Health & Human Services holds an evening COVID-19 vaccination clinic
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Health & Wellness

Updated COVID vaccine to hit Santa Cruz County providers within weeks following FDA approval

The Food and Drug Administration approved the newest COVID vaccine booster Monday, and it is expected to become available in Santa Cruz County by the end of September. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the shot for all Americans aged 6 months and older.

Santa Cruz County pharmacies and health care facilities expect to begin receiving shipments of a new COVID vaccine, targeting the latest variants, by the end of this month.

Residents will be able to book appointments when facilities receive their shipments. The shot is expected to be available locally by the end of September, coming as public health officials look to tackle a fresh wave of COVID cases and hospitalizations.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the reformulated COVID booster on Monday. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all Americans aged 6 months and older receive the new jab.

The new vaccines will not be bivalent shots — ones that target both the original “wild” type of the virus and the current dominant variant. Instead, the shot specifically targets Omicron subvariant XBB. 1.5., which is one of the most immune-evasive variants to date, meaning prior boosters are likely much less effective in protecting people from infection.

Health experts say the new booster will also be effective against any other subvariant that might be circulating, as they’re all descendants of Omicron.

“Pretty much everything that’s out there in the community right now is part of the XBB family,” said Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Cal Gordon. “They’re very similar and it’s our expectation that it’ll be a more effective vaccine against the current viruses in the community at this time.”

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According to the latest state data, Santa Cruz County had seven patients hospitalized with COVID last week, the same number as the week prior. Statewide, 1,722 patients were hospitalized with COVID last week. The county’s seven-day average positivity rate — a measure of the percentage of all tests that are positive — stood at 13.9% on Wednesday, up from below 4% in June.

For people with private insurance or Medicare, the vaccine will likely be covered.

But uninsured people looking to receive the jab may be subject to a fee, as it is the first time that the shots will not be covered by the federal government.

While the cost of the vaccine is still unclear, Gordon said that the state- and federally administered Bridge Access Program will be available. The program will temporarily provide free doses to the uninsured and those whose insurance will not cover the costs of the doses. The program runs through the end of 2024, and will be available at all of the usual places that offer vaccines, like pharmacies, federally supported health centers and health care providers. See a full list of providers offering free vaccines through the program here.

“For the most part, the majority of people will be receiving the vaccine through the commercial market, and there most likely won’t be a cost,” Gordon said.

The vaccine will be available at the major pharmacies in the area, like Safeway, Walgreens and CVS, as well as through local primary care providers. Horsnyder Pharmacy on Soquel Avenue will also offer the shot.

So when should you get the latest booster? Gordon says it’s better sooner rather than later.

“I would say anywhere in the next month or so, and by early November at the latest,” he said, adding that residents can receive the flu and COVID vaccine at the same time and get the same level of protection for both. “And it is both mine and the state’s public health recommendation that, if you’re eligible for the COVID vaccine, you should get it.”

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