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The Texas Tribune
The Texas Tribune
Ali Juell

Free COVID-19 tests and updated vaccines as the cold season approaches

American households can once again order up to four free COVID-19 rapid tests to be delivered to their doorstep. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services paused the program last May but will resume orders on its website starting Sept. 25.

Expired at-home tests shouldn’t be thrown out just yet, federal officials said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the expiration dates of several at-home tests, with many still good anywhere from months to a year longer than they were originally dated.

Increased coronavirus testing availability comes as 35 Texans died of COVID-19 last week. More than 1,500 Texans were hospitalized with COVID-19 last week, according to state data. Nationally, hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 are also trending upward, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data tracker.

Recently updated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now available and should better combat the most circulating strains, which are all Omicron-based. The CDC recommends anyone 6 months or older gets an updated COVID-19 shot as the fall and winter months begin.

Just as everyone is recommended to get their updated flu shot, people should plan on getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine, said Chris Van Deusen, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman.

“Viruses mutate over time,” Van Deusen said. “This new version of the vaccine is more closely matched to the particular strain of COVID-19 that we're seeing circulate over the last several months.”

People five years old and older who have been previously vaccinated will only need one dose of the new vaccine, but people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised may require multiple doses depending on their condition.

In the case of a recent coronavirus infection, CDC recommends delaying vaccination by three months.

According to the CDC website, children ages six months to four years old who haven’t been previously vaccinated will need two to three doses depending on which vaccine they receive. Children under five who have been vaccinated in the past may still require more than one dose.

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of the updated COVID-19 vaccine.

People without health insurance or those who have plans that don’t cover the cost can still get the vaccine for free by going to local health centers, local health care providers or retail pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program and other federally-funded public health programs.

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