New COVID-19 vaccine aims to cut hospitalizations and deaths, especially among older Americans. Everything you need to know about the 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccine.

July 1, 2024
Older people and those who are immunocompromised are strongly encouraged to get their updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines when they come out this fall. Getty Images.
Older people and those who are immunocompromised are strongly encouraged to get their updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines when they come out this fall. Getty Images.

Federal health experts have authorized a new 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccine that they hope will reduce deaths and hospitalizations among the most vulnerable people in the country.

COVID-19 continues to sicken people and still is causing hundreds of deaths every week in the U.S. It’s especially dangerous for older adults, many of whom are not up to date on their vaccines.

That’s why medical experts who advise the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just approved new versions of COVID-19 and flu vaccines and are urging everyone ages 6 months and older to get their annual shots this fall and winter.

Why should people get the new 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccine this fall?

  • The peak season for COVID-19 infections and deaths now parallels the flu, with the highest number of deaths occurring during the winter respiratory virus season.
  • Nearly 2,600 people a week died from COVID-19 in January of this year.
  • That’s down from the worst days of the pandemic in January of 2021 — well before most people had received vaccines or built up any natural immunities — when 10 times as many people were dying each week in the U.S., or about 26,000 per week. But far too many people still are getting critically ill and dying from COVID-19.

The new 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccines will come out in August and September, and health experts hope a much higher percentage of Americans will decide to get an annual COVID-19 vaccine this fall and winter than did last year since vaccines protect well against hospitalization and death.

“Our top recommendation for protecting yourself and your loved ones from respiratory illness is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the CDC. “Make a plan now for you and your family to get both updated flu and COVID vaccines this fall, ahead of the respiratory virus season.”

What percentage of people have been getting updated vaccines in the U.S.?

The percentage of people who are up to date on COVID-19 vaccines is relatively low. Here’s a snapshot of the data:

  • Over the last year, only about 14% of eligible children received the recommended 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine, while only about 22% of adults received the newest dose.
  • For adults who had to be hospitalized due to a severe case of COVID-19, only 11% had received the most recent COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Vaccination rates have been lowest in rural areas and among people of color. They’ve been highest among wealthier people who have health insurance and live in urban areas.
  • Along with older adults, newborns also are at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 and even dying of the illness since they’re not able to receive COVID-19 vaccines. That’s why medical experts also are strongly encouraging pregnant women to get updated vaccines so they can pass their immunities on to their babies.

If you want to avoid being sick, get your vaccines

To learn more about the newest 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccines, we consulted with Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control.

“COVID-19 is behaving a lot like the flu now. We’re seeing increases in cases in the fall and winter months. The severity is usually worse in older people and those who have underlying issues with their immune systems. That’s also true for the flu, and all of these people can get very sick,” said Barron, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

She strongly encourages older people and those who are immunocompromised to get their updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines when they come out this fall.

She also encourages parents to get their children vaccinated, and younger people can stay up to date on vaccines to protect others and avoid getting sick themselves.

“These vaccines are very effective and preventing severe illness,” Barron said. “And who likes being sick? Not me.”

Dr. Michelle Barron provides information on the new 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Sonya Doctorian.
Dr. Michelle Barron advises people to get updated flu and COVID-19 vaccines when they come out this fall. Photo by Sonya Doctorian.

Which vaccines are available, and when will I be able to get them?

Updated COVID-19 vaccines will be available from Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer by August or September.

I thought the COVID-19 pandemic is mostly over. Why should I worry about getting a vaccine this fall or winter?

While the worst days of the pandemic are certainly in the rearview mirror, and most Americans have either some natural immunities or have received at least one or two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, people continue to get sick and immunities wear off. So, people can get infected repeatedly, and some are still getting critically ill.

Here’s a snapshot of how COVID-19 and flu are affecting people:

  • In 2023, according to CDC experts, more than 916,300 people were hospitalized in the U.S. due to COVID-19.
  • In 2023, more than 75,500 people died from COVID-19.
  • During the 2023-2024 flu season, more than 44,900 people are estimated to have died from flu complications.

Who should get the newest 2024-2025 COVID-19 vaccine?

Health experts are encouraging everyone ages 6 months and older to get the new COVID-19 vaccine.

“These vaccines are very effective. They keep people out of hospitals. They lessen infections and the severity of disease,” Barron said. “Even if you’re healthy, if you have family members or people around you who are vulnerable, getting an updated vaccine is a great way of keeping them healthy too.”

Which variants will the new 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccine protect against?

The newest vaccines will protect against the JN strains — which are descendants of the Omicron version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The newest variants that are circulating and causing infections now are known as the KP variants, and vaccine makers will try to create vaccines that also protect against KP variants.

How effective are the vaccines, and do immunities wane over time?

The newest vaccines are about 40 to 50% effective, which is not perfect. But they help a great deal in protecting against hospitalization and death. Immunities do wane over time.

Due to waning effectiveness, it’s possible that CDC experts will recommend an additional booster shot for older adults next spring as they did earlier this year.

What about flu shots? Who should get them?

CDC experts recommend flu shots for everyone ages 6 months or older. There are rare exceptions.

“When you’re deciding which vaccines you or family members need, it’s best to consult with your doctor so you can stay up to date on immunizations and avoid getting sick,” Barron said.

Can I get my COVID-19 shot at the same time as I get my flu shot?

Yes, it’s safe to get both your COVID-19 and your flu shots at the same time. In fact, medical experts recommend getting the two vaccines together since that’s most convenient for people.

And Barron says vaccine makers are currently testing combined flu and COVID-19 shots. If those prove to be effective, she’s looking forward to the day when people can get a single combined annual flu/COVID-19 vaccine.

“That would be very cool. They’re working on it now. It’s in clinical trials,” she said.

Are most people fully vaccinated for COVID-19?

No. The percentage of people who are up to date on COVID-19 has dropped dramatically from 2021 to this year.

The pandemic was a rough time for most people, and Barron thinks many people don’t want to think about COVID-19 or don’t see it as a major risk, so they’re skipping vaccines.

She strongly encourages people to get vaccinated, but of course, people have the right to make their own medical decisions.

Who is at the greatest risk of getting severely ill and dying of COVID-19? 

People ages 75 and older are at the greatest risk if they get a COVID-19 infection.

And health experts want to see many, many more of these people getting their updated vaccines this fall or winter.

Dr. Oliver Brooks is the chief medical officer for Watts HealthCare Corporation in Los Angeles and is a member of the CDC advisory committee for vaccines.

During a recent meeting of the advisers, Brooks urged health experts to do more to help get all vulnerable people vaccinated, especially older Americans.

“One out of 100 (people) ages 75 and older was hospitalized (due to COVID-19),” Brooks said.

While older Americans are vaccinated at the highest rates, COVID-19 infections can be very dangerous for these folks, and a higher percentage of them need to get the newest vaccines.

“We need them to be at 99%,” Brooks said.

COVID-19 can hit older adults hard. Here’s a snapshot of the newest data:

  • Two-thirds of adults who had to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 were ages 60 and older.
  • Only 11% of those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 had received a vaccine.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities persist. There are higher rates of COVID-19 infections and lower vaccination rates among Alaska natives, indigenous people, Blacks and Hispanics, CDC experts said.

Barron said it’s typical for people ages 65 and older to need more protection both because older people have immune systems that are not as strong as those in younger people and many older adults get exposed to more infections.

“That’s the age when grandkids start popping up,” Barron said.

It’s surprising to hear that infants are getting COVID-19 infections in high numbers. Why is that happening?

Newborns cannot receive COVID-19 vaccines. And babies can’t be vaccinated until they’re older than 6 months. The best way to protect newborns is for moms to get vaccinated during pregnancy. Immunities to COVID-19 and other illnesses also can pass through the breastmilk from mom to baby.

What is the best timing to get the 2024-25 COVID-19 vaccine?

Barron encourages everyone to get their vaccines in the fall or early winter.

During past respiratory virus seasons, COVID-19 infections have peaked in the period from January through March. But it’s very difficult to time a vaccine perfectly. So, Barron advises people to be practical.

“I’m a big fan of convenience,” Barron said. “If you’re already at your doctor’s office in mid-November, go ahead and get your flu and COVID-19 vaccines.”

She advises people not to overthink the timing. Just get it done.

“Everyone’s busy. Minimize the number of times you need to go see your doctor,” Barron said.

I hear some people may need more than one vaccine. What’s your best advice if people are confused about which vaccine to get and when to get it?

“Please discuss vaccines with your doctor. People who are immunocompromised may need extra doses. Your doctor may give one dose early and another three to six months later. The timing will depend on what medications people are on,” Barron said.

Earlier this year, CDC experts also recommended extra doses of the 2023-24 vaccine for older people because the new variants that were circulating made it less effective. That could happen next spring. So, if people have any questions, they should check with their doctors.

What if I have recently been sick with COVID-19? Should I still get a COVID-19 vaccine this fall?

You’ll want to get the updated vaccine. But people who have had a recent infection can wait about three months after their illness to get the newest vaccine.

“You can get your vaccine about 90 days after your last COVID-19 episode,” Barron said.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.