The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that seniors...

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that seniors and immune-compromised people get a second updated COVID-19 booster. Credit: AP/Rogelio V. Solis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday recommended a second dose of the updated COVID-19 booster for seniors and people with weakened immune systems while discontinuing the original vaccine formula, which provided protection against the original virus strain.

The changes, designed to simplify the CDC's often changing vaccine recommendations, allows for greater flexibility for people at higher risk who want the option of getting added protection from additional COVID doses. Members of CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices expressed support for the changes but have not yet voted on the measures.

Here's everything you need to know about why the CDC made the changes and who should receive the updated "bivalent" vaccine booster.

What were the CDC's recommendations?

The agency suggests that adults 65 and older receive a second dose of the bivalent vaccine from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, which protects against both the original virus strain as well as the Omicron variants, at least four months after their last dose. People who are immunocompromised can get their next dose at least two months after their most recent one, officials said.

The CDC also recommended that anyone 6 years or older receive their first booster dose, even if they never completed the two-dose regime of the original vaccine series, which will no longer be recommended.

Why did the CDC make these recommendations?

Dr. Andrew Wallach, ambulatory care chief medical officer at NYC Health + Hospitals, said the changes come as the number of eligible Americans who've received the bivalent booster has remained low, at about 17%.

"It's almost become to the point where you need a Ph.D. in COVID vaccinations to keep up with all [the CDC's] changes," Wallach said. "So part of the CDC's rationale for these updated recommendations is to simplify it, number one for the public so it's more clear of who needs what and when, as well as for providers. … The goal is that with this more simplified regimen it would encourage folks to get vaccinated."

Will the CDC eventually recommend an annual booster dose for most Americans?

That appears to be the direction the CDC is heading, Wallach said. 

The Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet again in June where they're expected to make a formal recommendation for an annual booster for most Americans. 

"Some European countries have already moved in that direction and we anticipate that we will do the same here," Wallach said, adding that the CDC could also endorse another new booster formula to keep up with the changing strains.

How effective is the bivalent booster at preventing severe cases of COVID, including hospitalization and death?

Despite comparatively few Americans lining up to get their bivalent boosters, which were reformulated in August, health experts contend the United States is in the best place with COVID-19 than it has been in several years.

"There are still deaths attributed to COVID. There are still hospitalizations attributed to COVID," said former Nassau County Health Commissioner Larry Eisenstein, who serves as vice president and chief public and community health officer at Catholic Health Systems. "But it's very clear at this point that people who are protected with vaccine are much, much, much less likely to be hospitalized or die. So why not protect people when you have the ability to do it?

Will the vaccine and booster continue to remain free?

The Biden administration this week announced a plan to continue making the shots available free for uninsured Americans through December 2024 via a public-private funding partnership. Most people with private health insurance plans, as well as those with Medicare and Medicaid, will be able to receive the shots for free.

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