The new COVID-19 vaccines are almost here, marking a great opportunity for most Americans to protect themselves and their loved ones ahead of the winter virus season. Though the threat from the pandemic has waned, and Americans may be tired of hearing about the virus, getting updated shots is the best protection against more hospitalizations and deaths — not just for you but the loved ones you don’t want to infect.
The Food and Drug Administration approved two new shots on Monday, and on Tuesday, scientific advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone 6 months and up receive a dose of the reformulated vaccines, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The shots could be available to Americans by later this week.
Experts say the vaccines will provide much-needed protection as COVID cases continue to climb in some parts of the country. Though the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low, epidemiologists note that rates have steadily increased recently as the nation enters the fall and winter virus season.
Updated shots are a handy, useful — and in most cases, free — tool for protecting against the worst impacts from COVID. Vaccination remains the best defense against the virus, and as the virus evolves, updated shots reduce the chances of infection and of suffering from long-term health effects from COVID.
Those who received a booster offered last fall saw greater protection against illness and hospitalization than those who did not receive the shot, according to the CDC. Yet fewer than half of Americans aged 65 or over — and less than 20% of the population overall — took the booster over the 2022-23 season.
This doesn’t make sense for a vaccine that’s free to most Americans and soon to be widely available. Officials expect the updated shots to arrive at pharmacies and other outlets as early as this week. Talk about convenience; the vaccines are arriving as health officials are encouraging Americans to get their annual flu shot. And yes, it’s safe to get the COVID and flu vaccines at the same time.
It was reckless but predictable that Gov. Ron DeSantis and his hand-picked surgeon general recommended against the booster Wednesday for Floridians under 65. This is more bad advice from a governor who’s put politics ahead of public health as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination. No wonder cases of COVID-19 in Florida have risen over the summer, and no wonder that Florida far leads the nation in the rate of new COVID-related hospitalizations.
Whatever one’s view of how the pandemic was managed, COVID is still a public health concern and a danger especially to the most vulnerable, from older Americans to those with compromised immune systems. Those planning to travel during the upcoming holiday season also have a self-interest in getting the booster, whether to protect themselves or loved ones. So take advantage of the new vaccines. And use this opportunity to get doubly protected against both COVID and the seasonal flu.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.