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Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023

Earlier this month, the federal government approved a new, updated COVID-19 vaccine designed to protect against the newest strains of the virus. Much like the early days of vaccinations, there are two vaccines available: one by Pfizer and another by Moderna. The two vaccines are very similar in terms of the immunity they offer.

The New York Times wrote a short piece after the vaccines were approved with answers to frequently asked questions. It’s a good place for some general information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also put out some information here.

A woman in scrubs sits next to a man in a white jacket in a medical office as he prepares to administer a vaccine.
Mesha Jones, a UVA nurse, receives her first COVID-19 vaccine from Charles Okine, a UVA pharmacist, in December 2020. Courtesy of Sanjay Suchak/UVA Communications Credit: Credit: Sanjay Suchak/UVA Communications

I spent the morning calling around to more than a dozen pharmacies and health offices asking about supplies. Basically, there are a handful of CVS Pharmacies that have the vaccine in stock this week. I could not get through to all the pharmacies I called in the city and I could not reach a single pharmacy outside of Charlottesville.

But, here are the places I know have vaccines as of Tuesday morning:

  • CVS Pharmacy, 1417 University Ave., has supplies in stock and will take walkins. For more efficient service, you can make an appointment here.
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1341 Long St., has limited supplies, available by appointment only. Schedule here.
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1700 Seminole Tr., has the vaccine, available by appointment only. Schedule here.

There are also a handful of places that told me that they expect to receive the vaccine soon:

  • CVS Pharmacy, 208 East Main St., is “expecting it any day.”
  • Top Notch Family Pharmacy, 943 Preston Avenue, says on its website it is expecting the vaccine Oct. 3.
  • UVA Medical Center is awaiting its shipment and “hopes to have it soon.”
  • Blue Ridge Health Department should have doses “in the next few weeks.”

The Wegmans Pharmacy has also ordered the vaccine, as has Walgreens, though I’m unclear on when they expect to have it.

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Now, if you’re reading this on a day that is not Tuesday, Sept. 26, this information is probably old. But you can do your own version of what I did this morning to find locations with the updated vaccine in stock. Just visit www.vaccines.gov and enter your zip code. It will take you to a map of all the locations that offer it. Each location includes a phone number. Just call and ask if there are vaccines available.

The other thing to be aware of as you venture out for the new vaccine is that they are no longer free. For the first few rounds of vaccinations, the government paid for all the doses. Now, the vaccines are going out through “traditional health care distribution channels,” per the Department of Health and Human Services. That means, it’s up to insurance to cover the cost. And, unfortunately, not all insurance companies are doing that. According to the HHS, thousands of people are being denied COVID-19 vaccination coverage everyday.

Many of these denials appear to be administrative errors. The federal government requires most plans to cover these vaccines. And the HHS sent a strongly worded letter to insurance providers last week saying as much.

“I would remind you that we should be completely aligned in our goals of getting everyone the updated COVID-19 vaccine,” the letter reads. “According to CDC, for every 10,000 vaccinations given to people 65 and over last winter, about 40 hospitalizations are prevented. With claims rejections in the thousands each day, we are missing opportunities to save lives together.”

That said, not all insurance plans will cover the vaccine. If you have such a plan — or have no insurance at all — there is a federal program offered by the CDC you can apply for to get the vaccine free. It’s called the Bridge Access Program. Hit that link to learn more about how to use it. There is also a similar program available for uninsured children called the Vaccines for Children Program.

A screenshot shows a graph with rising numbers between July and September. The top of the graph reads, "Number of Cases by Report Date for Virginia for the past 13 weeks.

While COVID-19 is not front and center of all our minds like it was during the height of the pandemic, it has not gone away. Cases locally are rising again. And the virus continues to mutate — quickly. This latest vaccine is designed to provide immunity for one of the latest variants.

As in the beginning, health professionals are encouraging everyone to get the latest vaccine. As the virus continues to mutate, it might not stop you from getting sick, they say, but it has a good chance of keeping you out of the hospital.

Stay safe out there everyone, and thank you to a reader caring for high-risk family members who asked for this information.

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.