An initial shipment of the enhanced Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines was expected to arrive in the territory by Friday, the V.I. Health Department announced this week.
This development follows last week’s commendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coupled with the approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the updated COVID vaccine, the department said in a press release.
The FDA authorized the updated vaccines on Sept. 11, saying in a statement that they are formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants and to provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.
The new vaccine is tailored to combat the XBB.1.5 variant and will be the only COVID vaccine available throughout the fall season, the Health Department said.
“The new vaccine will be accessible to all individuals aged six months and older, and we strongly urge those at higher risk of severe illness to prioritize receiving the updated vaccine at the earliest opportunity,” Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said. “Please note that the vaccine is available by appointment only. This will allow us to ensure that the updated COVID vaccine is replenished timely.”
To schedule an appointment for the new vaccine, visit https://www.covid19.usvi.care/, or call the Health Hotline at 340-712-6299 for St. Croix or 340-776-1519 for St. Thomas-St. John, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays.
Encarnacion emphasized that, “for those who have not yet received a COVID vaccine, now is the ideal time to take action.”
While infections have waned since the start of the pandemic, when they numbered in the hundreds at times, the virus is still circulating. The Health Department reported 30 new COVID-19 cases for the week ending on Sept. 17, the most recent figures available. There were 14 cases on St. Croix, 12 on St. Thomas and four on St. John. The positivity rate was 17.3 percent.
Vaccination remains the most effective protection against hospitalization and death stemming from the virus, Encarnacion said. After receiving just one dose of the updated vaccine, individuals will be considered up to date with their COVID vaccination, she said.
The CDC recommends that individuals who have recently contracted the COVID virus wait for a period of three months before getting the updated vaccine. Similarly, individuals who have recently received their final dose of any COVID-19 vaccine should wait at least two months before considering the updated vaccine, as per CDC recommendations.
The Health Department is also reminding the public that the flu shot and the COVID vaccine may be taken simultaneously.
Vaccine Cost and Accessibility
The updated COVID vaccine is available at no cost to Americans who are covered by private health insurance and Medicare. Individuals who are uninsured or underinsured can access free COVID vaccines at local health centers, pharmacies, and healthcare providers, in accordance with the Bridge Access Program initiated by the CDC, the Health Department said.
The Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 vaccines is designed to ensure that uninsured and underinsured adults continue to have access to no-cost COVID-19 vaccinations, it said. This temporary program is slated to conclude in December 2024.