What to know about updated COVID-19 vaccines expected to be available soon in Wisconsin

New COVID-19 vaccines designed to target strains of the virus spreading now are expected to be available within days, amid an ongoing rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations across Wisconsin and the country.

On Tuesday, an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the updated vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, for everyone ages 6 months and up. The committee recommendation follows a Monday action by the Food and Drug Administration to approve the updated vaccines.

CDC Director Mandy Cohen signed off on the shots later Tuesday.

The recommendation comes as hospital admissions associated with COVID-19 continue to rise, though hospitalizations remain at levels far lower than they were at this time last year.

In Wisconsin, hospital admissions for COVID-19 have been rising since July, according to figures reported to the CDC. In the week ending Sept. 2, at least 205 people were newly admitted to a Wisconsin hospital with COVID-19, up from a low of 52 people in the week ending July 1, according to CDC data.

Here's what to know about the updated vaccines.

What is the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine?

The updated vaccines were formulated to target the omicron variant XBB.1.5, which was the dominant variant earlier this year.

The XBB.1.5 variant has since been replaced by other variants, but almost all of the variants circulating now are closely related to XBB.1.5, said Natalie Thornburg, of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during Tuesday's meeting.

How protective is the updated COVID-19 booster?

Early research shows the new vaccines should be protective against currently circulating variants, according to the CDC.

New data also suggest that the updated vaccines should work against a highly mutated COVID-19 variant that was first detected in the United States last month. That variant, labeled BA.2.86, has been found in small numbers and is not common in the United States now.

The new data have eased earlier concerns that the updated vaccines would not be so effective against the highly mutated variant.

When can I get the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine in Wisconsin?

CDC officials said Tuesday that they expect shots to be available within a couple of days. Local pharmacies expect to be able to provide shots later this week.

"We're ready," said Hashim Zaibak, CEO and founder of Hayat Pharmacy. "We’re just waiting for the vaccine."

Vaccine makers already have begun shipping supplies of the new vaccines, USA Today reported.

Where can I get the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin residents will be able to receive the vaccine at local pharmacies and health centers, including CVS and Walgreens locations and, for Milwaukee area residents, Hayat Pharmacy.

Can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine for free?

People who have health insurance should be able to get the updated vaccine from in-network providers for free.

Adults who are uninsured or underinsured will be able to get the updated vaccine for free through a federal program, CDC officials said Tuesday. Those shots are expected to be available within a couple of days at participating health care providers, including pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens. Some community health centers and local health departments are also participating in the federal program, which is designed to maintain access to free vaccines for the uninsured through 2024.

Uninsured children are able to receive COVID-19 vaccines for free through the federal Vaccines for Children program. More information on the program and a map of participating health care providers can be found online at www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/immunization/vfc-provider.htm.

Karen Weintraub of USA Today contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What to know about new COVID vaccines, when they will be in Wisconsin