New COVID-19 boosters are here, mask guidance changes

— Still frame from Sept. 7 press conference

Double shots: Photographers shoot pictures of Governor Kathy Hochul at a press conference in East Harlem Wednesday as she is given a booster shot tailored to protect from Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The governor received a new kind of COVID-19 booster shot Wednesday after a press conference in which she stressed their importance and also announced that the state’s mask guidance is being changed.

“We have to restore some normalcy to our lives,” said Kathy Hochul, speaking at the Boriken Neighborhood Health Center in East Harlem.

“For the first time …,” said Mary Bassett, the state’s health commissioner, speaking at the press conference, “we have a booster tailored for the dominant variant that is circulating … We have a lot of confidence this will bring people much more protection.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the region that includes New York and New Jersey, currently 87.1 percent of COVID cases are of the Omicron subvariant BA.5 while 10.5 percent are BA.4.6,and 2.3 percent are BA.4.

The new boosters target BA.5 and BA.4.

Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Protections have approved emergency use authorization for the messenger RNA boosters, which haven’t undergone human trials.

The Pfizer-BioNTech booster is for anyone 12 or older while the Moderna booster is for anyone 18 or older.

“It doesn’t matter how many boosters you’ve had before,” said Bassett, “if it’s been two months since your last shot, you should look into getting another booster.”

She said the boosters are being shipped out to the “quite ubiquitous” chain pharmacies. New Yorkers are also being advised to contact their regular health-care providers or county health departments for the boosters. 

New Yorkers can also visit, text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.

Hochul cited the latest numbers showing new infections of COVID-19 and resulting hospitalizations have “stabilized.”

She said that people who are boosted may still contract COVID “but you’ll have a less severe case, you’ll be less likely to end up in the hospital and certainly much less chance of death.”  

In Albany County, 61.8 percent of eligible residents have received booster shots, according to the state’s dashboard.

“Thank God there’s no shortage,” Hochul said of the new bivalent boosters. 

The original monovalent messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines are no longer authorized for use as boosters for people 12 and older, according to the updated federal guidance.

Scheduled appointments to administer monovalent Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna boosters to people 12 years of age or older must be rescheduled for when locations have the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines available.

The CDC has indicated that it expects to recommend updated COVID-19 boosters for younger pediatric groups, as well. Until then, the monovalent messenger RNA Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine remains authorized for use as boosters in children ages 5 through 11 and for all primary series vaccinations.

Bassett urged people to get vaccinated against the flu as well, noting that Australia has had a difficult flu season.


New mask guidance

“Starting today, masks will be optional,” Hochul said at Wednesday’s event, referring to their use in “shelters, correctional facilities, detention centers, and mass transit.”

“Masks are encouraged, but optional,” Hochul said, adding, “Let’s respect each other’s choices.”

New Yorkers will continue to have to wear masks in hospitals and other health-care settings, in nursing homes and at adult-care facilities, said Bassett.

“In other settings,” Bassett said, “we urge people to pay attention to their community levels.”

The CDC labels each county in the nation as having a low, medium, or high community level of COVID-19. In counties with a high level, masks are recommended when indoors in public regardless of vaccination status.

Albany County has been labeled with a “medium” level for 10 weeks.

While, during the past two winters, COVID cases have surged as people returned indoors, Bassett concluded, “I’m confident we are heading into a winter where we will be able to contain COVID.”

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