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Pharmacist Aaron Sun administers the COMIRNATY® (COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA) vaccine by Pfizer, to John Vuich at a CVS Pharmacy in Eagle Rock, LA County.  Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Pharmacist Aaron Sun administers the COMIRNATY® (COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA) vaccine by Pfizer, to John Vuich at a CVS Pharmacy in Eagle Rock, LA County.  (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A New COVID Vaccine Dose Is Now Available for People Age 65 and Older. Where Can You Find a Shot Near You?

A New COVID Vaccine Dose Is Now Available for People Age 65 and Older. Where Can You Find a Shot Near You?

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Older adults age 65 and over can now get another COVID vaccine this spring, after the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) formally recommended an extra shot for this age group.

The additional vaccine being offered to this age group is another dose of the same updated COVID vaccine that became widely available last fall for everyone age 6 months and older. All people in this 65+ age group are now eligible to receive this extra vaccine, as long as it’s been at least four months since their last COVID vaccine. These new shots are now rolling out through health care providers and county public health departments, as well as at health centers and pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Safeway.

Keep reading for what you need to know about the new booster shots for people age 65 and older, and how to find a free COVID vaccine near you for yourself or a loved one.

Jump straight to:

Why should older adults age 65 and over get another dose of the COVID vaccine this spring?

The CDC’s recommendation, made on Feb. 28, acknowledges what the agency calls “the increased risk of severe disease from COVID-19 in older adults.”

“Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older,” said CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen in a statement announcing the approval of extra vaccines for this age group. “An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk,” she said.

There’s also a practical element to the CDC’s decision to recommend an extra vaccine dose for this age  group — because their recommendation means that now health insurers have to cover your extra 2024 COVID vaccine. This update means that older adults now join immunocompromised people in being eligible for an additional vaccine dose due to their higher risk levels.

Unlike previous rounds of the vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC aren’t calling the latest COVID vaccine a “booster” — so you probably won’t see that language online around appointments. Instead, they’re referring to it as a “new” or “updated” COVID vaccine for 2023–2024 that’s been updated to better target a more recent strain of the coronavirus than previous vaccines: This time, the omicron variant known as XBB.1.5.

Jump straight to:

Why have these latest COVID vaccine rollouts seemed so different this time? Do I have to pay for it now?

If you’re wondering why the new COVID vaccine took a while to become widely available back in the fall, or why you heard reports of some people with Medicare being charged over $150 to receive the new vaccine at a pharmacy back then, it’s because of one major change that started in 2023: The federal government has stopped footing the bill for COVID vaccines.

The shots have now transitioned into the traditional health care market. So for most people with health insurance, their insurer will now cover the cost of getting the new COVID vaccine direct, much like your plan might cover your flu shot — and this is why many county public health officials urge people to first seek out the new vaccine via their health care provider. (It’s also why those county-run vaccination sites that were so common at the height of the pandemic now no longer exist on the same scale, and will primarily be targeted toward folks without insurance.)

And if you’re one of those people who don’t have insurance, the White House will still cover the costs of your COVID vaccines through a federal program until December 2024. But this means you may now have a narrower choice of places to get it.

The bottom line is that your updated vaccine should still be free, the way COVID vaccines have been throughout the pandemic. But if you have health insurance, it’s still important to be extra sure you’re asking for your COVID shot somewhere that accepts that insurance — especially if you’re going to a pharmacy. In other words, you now have to think about all the potential costs and insurance wrangling that you didn’t have to consider for several years when it came to your COVID care.

Why can’t I get my new COVID vaccine at a pharmacy if I have Kaiser?

Another reason you might potentially be charged for your new COVID vaccine, or denied the shot if you refuse to pay out of pocket: if you get your health care through a health system like Kaiser Permanente.

Usually, if you have health insurance, you should be able to give your insurer’s details at a pharmacy vaccination appointment to have the cost of your shot billed to them. Health systems like Kaiser are the exception to this, and so you almost certainly won’t be able to get your new COVID vaccine at a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens, the way you can’t get your flu shot covered by Kaiser at a pharmacy either.

Instead, Kaiser Permanente has recommended members receive their updated COVID vaccinations at a Kaiser, where the cost of the new COVID vaccines will be covered “according to the coverage of routine vaccinations provided by members’ plan benefits when administered at a Kaiser Permanente facility,” a spokeperson told KQED in 2023. This has also meant that those who have health insurance through Kaiser have faced a slightly longer wait for their new COVID vaccine than folks with other types of insurance, unless you’re prepared to pay large costs up-front. CVS, for example, charges $190.99 for the new COVID vaccine “if CVS is not in network with your insurance plan.”

A Kaiser spokesperson told KQED on Feb. 29 that “we are updating our processes and systems to reflect the new CDC recommendation” for people age 65 and older, and that Kaiser expects to begin administering this extra dose “in most areas we serve in California by March 8, and possibly earlier in some locations.” Find a Kaiser location near you currently offering the new COVID vaccine.

Is the Novavax COVID vaccine available as well as Moderna and Pfizer’s new vaccines?

Yes: After a period of FDA review, the Novavax COVID vaccine was authorized in 2023 for people age 12 and older who have not already been vaccinated with the new Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccine.

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s new COVID shots, the Novavax vaccine is a non-mRNA, protein-based vaccine. One reason some people choose the Novavax vaccine is based on aftereffects from getting the shot — as Science has reported, Novavax “appeared less likely than mRNA shots to cause side effects like headache and fatigue” in clinical trials.

What’s the cost of the vaccine, whether I have insurance or not?

This is the first time during the COVID pandemic that the federal government isn’t footing the bill for these vaccines. Now that the White House’s public health emergency for COVID has ended, these COVID vaccines are no longer purchased or distributed by the federal government. Now, COVID shots have transitioned to the traditional health care market and will be increasingly considered the way that other preventative vaccines, like flu shots, are.

For most people with health insurance, their insurer will cover the cost of getting the new COVID vaccine, including Medicare.

A nurse gives a little boy a shot while his mother gives him encouragement.
COVID shots have transitioned to the traditional health care market and will be increasingly considered the way that other preventative vaccines, like flu shots, are. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

But if you don’t have insurance, the White House will still cover your COVID vaccines through a federal program called the Bridge Access Program, which lasts through December 2024. This means you’ll now have a narrower choice of places to get your COVID vaccine because you’ll have to make sure the vaccination location you’ve chosen participates in the Bridge Access Program.

The CDC says people without insurance will be able to visit the federal government’s vaccines.gov site to find a location where they can get the new COVID vaccine for free. When searching for a vaccination location near you using this site, be sure to check the box marked “Participating in Bridge Access Program.”

I’m 65 or older and I had COVID recently. Do I have to wait before getting my extra COVID vaccine?

Yes, the CDC advises that you “may consider delaying vaccination by 3 months from symptom onset.”(PDF) And if your case was asymptomatic, use the date of your positive test instead of the onset of your symptoms.

This means, that if you had a COVID infection after early December 2024, you may wish to delay getting your new COVID vaccine until you hit your three-month mark. But as with all matters relating to your health, it’s best to speak directly to your health care provider about the best option for you.

A man sitting on a large porch lifts up his sleeve as he awaits his vaccine, beside a woman in an orange safety vest preparing the vaccine.
A nurse prepares a first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for Jose Luis Sánchez at a clinic in Pasadena, on Aug. 19, 2021. The clinic was one of the first in the city to offer ‘supplemental’ third coronavirus shots to people with immunological conditions, according to organizers. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Where can I find an extra COVID vaccine this spring if I’m age 65 or older?

Don’t assume you’ll be proactively contacted about getting an extra dose of the updated COVID vaccine.

Remember that a certain location may only be offering a certain brand of the new vaccine, whether that’s Moderna, Pfizer or Novavax. So be sure that the location you’re walking into or making an appointment for offers the type of updated vaccine you need or want. Read more about “mixing and matching” COVID vaccines.

Also make sure the appointment you schedule for your new additional vaccine is at least four months after your last COVID vaccine shot, or three months after your last COVID infection. (When you’re making an appointment for a new vaccine, you’ll likely be asked for the date of your last COVID vaccine dose or booster dose for this reason, to ensure you’re not getting your shot too soon.)

A close-up of a hand gripping a vaccination card and writing on it with a pen.
A nurse marks a coronavirus vaccination card with a third booster dose of Pfizer at a vaccine clinic in Pasadena on Aug. 19, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images))

1. Find an extra COVID vaccine dose through a local pharmacy 

For future reference, pharmacies are usually the first place new vaccine shots become available when announced because pharmacies take their cue from the federal government, not the state. Several pharmacy chains, including CVS and Walgreens, are now offering online appointments for the new additional COVID vaccine dose for people age 65 and older, and some may also accept walk-in appointments with no prescheduling required.

If you have health insurance like Medicare, you should be able to give your insurer’s details at a pharmacy vaccination appointment to have the cost of your shot billed to them. One big exception to this: If you get your health care through a health system like Kaiser Permanente, you almost certainly won’t be able to get your new COVID vaccine for free (i.e., covered by your insurance) at a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens, the way you can’t get your flu shot covered by Kaiser at a pharmacy either.

Ultimately, if you are a member of a health system like Kaiser and are unsure about what your health insurance covers, reach out to your provider to check if you will need to obtain your new COVID vaccine through them, in order to have it covered. Read more about why you’ll need to get your new COVID vaccine at a Kaiser facility if you get your health care through Kaiser.

If you don’t have health insurance, some pharmacies will be offering appointments that don’t require health insurance. Visit the federal government’s vaccines.gov website to search for a location near you, and be sure to check the box marked “Participating in Bridge Access Program,” (the name of the federal program that’s funding new COVID vaccines for uninsured people). For example, a CVS spokesperson confirmed to KQED that the pharmacy chain is participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program.

2. Find an extra COVID vaccine dose through your health care provider, when available

If you have health insurance, check with your health care provider to see whether they can offer you an updated COVID vaccine.

If you don’t have health insurance but get medical care through a city- or county-run provider, you should check with that location to see whether they can offer you the new COVID vaccine.

In addition to trying to talk with your health care provider directly, check the website of your provider to see whether it’s offering the ability to make appointments, and sign up for their vaccine notifications if that’s an option.

3. Find an extra COVID vaccine dose through vaccines.gov 

Visit the federal government’s vaccines.gov website to see when appointments for the new updated COVID vaccine in or near your zip code become available. Right now, the majority of Bay Area appointments visible on vaccines.gov appear to be at pharmacies.

Using vaccines.gov is also the CDC’s recommendation for finding a vaccination site if you’re uninsured. When searching for a vaccination location near you using this site, be sure to check the box marked “Participating in Bridge Access Program,” because that’s the name of the federal program that’ll be funding new COVID vaccines for uninsured people.

4. Find an extra COVID vaccine dose through My Turn

Throughout the pandemic, My Turn has been the state’s site for all Californians to schedule vaccination appointments or find walk-in locations, regardless of health insurance status.

Because the new COVID vaccines are now being distributed through the traditional health care market, My Turn’s services are now geared primarily toward uninsured people. The site’s homepage says that “if you don’t have insurance or your plan doesn’t cover routine vaccinations, My Turn will provide a list of locations that offer vaccines at no cost for the uninsured.”

If you visit the My Turn page, select “Make an Appointment.” My Turn will ask for your information, and the ZIP code or location you’d like to use to search for vaccine appointments. You can give your home location, or input other locations to see which sites might be available farther away.

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If you can’t travel to a clinic for your new COVID vaccine because of health or transportation issues, you can note this when registering on My Turn, and a representative from the CDPH is supposed to call you to arrange an in-home visit or transportation.

My Turn will ask you to provide a cellphone number and an email address. The state says this is so you can use two-factor authentication to confirm your identity and make your appointment, and to prevent bots from automatically scooping up available appointments online.

If you don’t have an email address or a cellphone number, or you have questions, you can call the California COVID-19 hotline at (833) 422-4255 (Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.–5 p.m. PT) and sign up over the phone. Both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking operators are available. Callers needing information in other languages will be connected to a translation service that offers assistance in over 250 languages.

Blue-gloved hands administer a vaccine into a shoulder.
Rufus Peoples receives his booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine during an Oakland County Health Department vaccination clinic at the Southfield Pavilion on Aug. 24, 2021, in Southfield, Michigan. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

5. Find an extra COVID vaccine dose through your county (if available)

Visit your county’s public health website to learn if your county will soon be offering the new updated COVID vaccine to its residents, particularly those who are uninsured or under-insured.

Find your Bay Area county in our list.

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2024. We’ve published clear, practical explainers and guides about COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? What questions didn’t you have answered in this guide? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.

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