New COVID booster could last a year: Federal official
The federal government is distributing new boosters for the fall, which are updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that can be modified.
The United States has reached a critical point in the pandemic, according to federal health officials.
COVID-19 could be treated more like the flu in the future, with a single annual shot providing most people with year-long protection against severe sickness.
"Barring any new variant curve balls, for a large majority of Americans we are moving to a point where a single, annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year," said White House COVID response coordinator Ashish Jha at a press briefing Tuesday.
The federal government has begun distributing new boosters for the fall, which are updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which target both the original coronavirus and the two omicron subvariants that are presently causing the majority of cases.
These vaccinations could be modified again if new variations become prominent in the future, as the flu vaccine does. Every fall, people are given a new flu vaccine that protects them against whatever forms of the virus are expected to be prevalent that season. The COVID boosters are expected to do similarly.
Jha underlined that elderly people and those with health problems that make them more susceptible to serious infections may require more frequent boosters. However, Jha believes that the present booster will be sufficient for at least another year.
Throughout the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 has been unpredictable and changing faster than anybody imagined, so officials say they will continue to monitor the virus and are prepared to reprogram immunizations if necessary.
"You've got to put the wild card of a way-out-of-left-field variant coming in," said White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, at the briefing. If that happens he says the recommendations may change. But, "if we continue to have an evolution sort of drifting along the BA.5 sublineage," the annual shot should be able to cover whatever is out there as the dominant variant, he said.
However, there is still significant dispute regarding how much of an advance the new boosters will be. Some infectious disease experts are skeptical that the revised vaccines will be a game changer because they have not been thoroughly studied to determine how well they function.
"I think the risk here is that we are putting all our eggs in one basket," Dr. Celine Gounder, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told NPR. "We're only focusing on boosting with vaccines. I think the issue is people are looking for a silver bullet. And boosters are not a silver bullet to COVID."
Following the poor demand for the initial booster shots, federal officials are concerned that a small number of people will sign up for the new boosters. Only 34% of persons over the age of 50 have had their second booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As we approach winter, the administration is urging everyone aged 12 and above to get vaccinated right away to help protect themselves and those around them who are more susceptible. People must wait at least two months after their last vaccination and three months after their last infection.
But they can sign up to get a COVID booster at the same time as a flu shot.
Because Congress has refused to grant additional cash to combat the pandemic, the new boosters are likely to be the last free COVID shots. People with insurance will be protected under their policies. The administration said it is striving to ensure that uninsured people have access to future COVID-19 vaccines.
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