Updated COVID vaccines headed to overseas US military bases next month
Stars and Stripes September 28, 2023
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. bases overseas are due to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine sometime next month, military health officials said.
The vaccine is already available at Tricare network retail pharmacies in the United States. Shipment of the vaccine to U.S. military medical clinics and hospitals from the Defense Department’s vendor is expected to begin at the end of this week, said Peter Graves, a spokesman for the Defense Health Agency.
Vaccines will go out to installations based on when orders were received, he said.
“No shortages are anticipated,” Graves said.
In Europe, the new vaccine will be made available to all those eligible who want it, said Kirk Frady, spokesman for Medical Readiness Command, Europe.
In general, only one dose of the reformulated vaccine is needed, whether as a booster or a first-time jab.
“For most people 5 and up, this is all that’s required to be up-to-date with your COVID vaccine,” Graves said.
The one-dose recommendation comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued guidelines following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval earlier this month of the latest mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.
It’s a monovalent vaccine, meaning it’s designed to protect against only one strain of coronavirus, in this case XBB.1.5, a subvariant of the omicron strain.
None of the variants circulating now are exact matches to the vaccine, but they’re all closely related to XBB.1.5, according to Andy Pekosz, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
Studies so far show the new vaccine is effective against the variants currently causing the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, he wrote in a Q&A on the university’s website.
Last year’s bivalent vaccine, which is no longer available in the United States, targeted the original COVID-19 virus and two omicron variants.
The FDA also no longer calls the shot a booster for those already vaccinated, Pekosz said.
“The change in wording reflects that we’ve begun treating COVID like we treat influenza, with annual vaccination,” he said.
Besides boosting existing immunity from previous shots, the vaccine builds a new immune response to variants that are circulating, he said.
More than 40,000 locations in the United States and U.S. territories are in the Tricare network, including national and grocery chains and independent pharmacies.
Health officials at Ramstein Air Base said this week that the vaccine has been ordered and that the arrival time will depend on the shipping schedule and availability. The public will be notified when it’s available, a base spokeswoman said this week.
Though one dose is recommended for most people, unvaccinated children ages 6 months to 4 years should receive two or three doses, depending on the manufacturer, according to CDC guidelines.
Those with compromised immune systems may receive more than one dose of the updated shot whether they were previously vaccinated or not.
Experts recommend that everyone who is eligible get the updated vaccine by mid-October, ahead of cooler weather and more indoor gatherings, Pekosz said. Those at higher risk of severe illness should get vaccinated as soon as possible, he said.