ITHACA, N.Y.—Updated COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Tompkins County this week, as cases locally and nationwide increase once again.

Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa said while some providers may still be waiting on shipments, the county does not anticipate any supply issues with the new vaccine. 

“I think there will be some early demand, particularly in Tompkins County because our community has been really good about wanting to be vaccinated,” Kruppa said. “But I think over a relatively short period of time, the supply will equalize with demand.”

The updated vaccine is currently available at CVS, Wegmans and Tops pharmacies as well as at some doctors’ offices. Kruppa said other pharmacies and medical providers should be receiving shipments of the vaccine in coming days. 

“Folks will need to be patient,” Kruppa said. “I think part of the reason some of those appointments are out a week or two in the future is because they’re still waiting for supply.”

Federal, state and local governments are handing the reins back to the private market when it comes to administration of the new COVID-19 vaccine. Nevertheless, the vaccine is still effectively free.

Insurance plans, both private and public, are required to cover the new vaccine. A new temporary federal program from the Department of Health and Human Services will cover the cost of the vaccine for those who are uninsured, regardless of immigration status. That program will expire in December 2024 if it’s not extended.

The CDC recommends everyone over six months of age get the new vaccine before cooler weather sets in. The vaccine lowers the risk of severe infections, hospitalization and ongoing symptoms, or “long COVID.”

Given the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases across the county, Kruppa said people who recently tested positive should still go get the new vaccine, but should wait until they are no longer symptomatic.

The vaccine is available for anyone over the age of six months, as long as it’s been more than two months since the last COVID-19 vaccine or booster. 

For children under the age of four and for those who have never been vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting two doses of the new vaccine. For anyone who has been vaccinated and is over the age of four, only one dose is necessary.

The new shot is technically not a booster—rather, it’s a standalone vaccine. That means anyone, regardless if they’ve been previously vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, can get the updated shot.

The new vaccine was designed to be more effective against the current strains of COVID-19 compared with the original vaccine first rolled out in 2021. It was based on a more recent variant of COVID-19 called XBB.1.5, which has more genetic similarity with the strains behind the current uptick in cases. 

Pharmacies and other healthcare providers stopped administering older versions of the vaccine or booster earlier this month in anticipation of the new vaccine.

In a statement, Tompkins County Whole Health director Dr. William Klepack said the upcoming winter season could be particularly difficult with the combined “triple threats” of COVID-19, flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). RSV infections, while common and typically mild, can be life threatening in some cases, particularly for infants and older adults. 

“Please get your flu vaccine along with your updated COVID vaccine,” Klepack said. “Those age(s) 60 and older can now get an RSV vaccine as well. Vaccination is essential to protect yourself from these respiratory illnesses.”

Search for appointments to receive the updated vaccine here.

Megan Zerez is a general assignment reporter at the Ithaca Voice. Reach her via email or social media @meganzerez