US health advisers on Thursday endorsed new COVID-19 boosters targeting today’s most common omicron strains and said if enough people roll up their sleeves, the updated shots could mitigate a winter surge.
The streamlined footage from Pfizer and rival Moderna offers Americans a chance to get the most up-to-date protection at another critical stage in the pandemic. They are combination or “bivalent” vaccines – half the original vaccine and half the protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron versions that now cause nearly all COVID-19 infections.
Advisors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to AP, have wrestled with who should get the new booster shot and when, because only one similarly optimized vaccine, not the exact recipe, has been studied in humans so far.
But ultimately, the panel felt it was the best option, considering the U.S. is still seeing tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases and about 500 deaths a day — even ahead of an expected new winter wave.
“I think they’re going to be a powerful tool for disease prevention this fall and winter,” said CDC consultant Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
Comparing the optimization that has been studied in humans to what the US will actually use, “it’s the same scaffolding, part of the same roof, we’re just putting in some dormers and windows,” said Dr. Sarah Long from Drexel University.
The CDC is expected to adopt this recommendation soon, the final step before recording can begin. Pfizer said it expects to ship 3 million doses to vaccination sites across the country by Tuesday.
The original COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness and death, especially in younger and healthier people who have received at least one booster shot.
But these vaccines were designed to target the virus strain that was circulating in early 2020. Effectiveness decreases as new mutants emerge and more time has passed since the last vaccination. Since April, hospitalization rates have skyrocketed among people over 65, the CDC said.
The new updated vaccinations are for booster purposes only, not for a person’s very first vaccination.
One big unknown: exactly how much use people will get from one of those extra shots.
According to the CDC, more than 1,400 people were enrolled in multiple studies of a previous vaccine recipe optimization targeting a previous Omicron strain called BA.1.
In the US, the FDA wanted fall boosters targeting the currently circulating Omicron strains.
This is how flu vaccines are updated every year, the CDC noted.
dr Ohio State University’s Pablo Sanchez was the only CDC advisor who voted against recommending the recordings.
But “I just feel like this was a bit premature” given the lack of human data on how well it works, he said.
Several CDC advisors said people must wait longer than the FDA-required minimum of two months between their last shot and the new booster shot to get the maximum benefit. Waiting at least three months would be better, they said.
Another change: The FDA no longer allows the original prescription boosters to be used by anyone over the age of 12 — a source of potential confusion for people who had planned to get a regular booster this week and may now have to wait for the new kind to come out your local pharmacy or clinic.
It’s not clear how many people want an updated recording.
The US government has bought 170 million doses from both companies – shots that will be free – and the CDC said 200 million people could be eligible.