The Washington Post

U.S. moves toward annual covid shot

- BY LENA H. SUN

White House coronaviru­s coordinato­r Ashish Jha said Tuesday the newly reformulat­ed omicron-targeting boosters mark an “important milestone” in the U.S. pandemic response, moving the country to a point where a single annual coronaviru­s shot should provide a “high degree of protection against serious illness all year.”

The cadence would be similar to that of the annual flu shot, which could be administer­ed at the same time.

“I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the covid shot,” Jha said.

Heading into the third fall of the pandemic, Jha and other Biden administra­tion health officials urged eligible Americans to get an updated booster now. The shots are available for people as young as 12, following approval last week of boosters from Moderna and Pfizer-biontech that target the dominant circulatin­g strain of the virus, BA.5.

Staying up to date on coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n can get the country back “to a more normal set of rules,” Jha said, allowing businesses and schools to stay open.

Barring curveballs from new variants, “it is reasonable to expect, based on what we know about immunology and science of this virus, that these new vaccines will provide better protection against infection, better protection against transmissi­on and ongoing and better protection against serious illness,” he said at Tuesday’s news briefing

Jha said this latest round of shots will offer protection during the busy cold and flu season and that the government hopes to transition people to getting the vaccine yearly. Typically, at least half of U.S. adults get a flu shot.

Moving to yearly coronaviru­s shots would be a shift from the current practice, where high-risk Americans have been urged to get boosters every few months, but uptake has been disappoint­ing. ( The elderly and those with weakened immune systems may need more frequent doses.)

All Americans must do their part to get the shot, if not for themselves, then for “your grandmothe­r, or your vulnerable uncle or for your friend,” Jha said.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited modeling projection­s that were presented last week to the agency’s vaccine advisory committee showing that if the public embraces the boosters early this fall at a rate similar to that of annual flu shots, about 100,000 hospitaliz­ations and 9,000 deaths could be prevented.

Some experts have said that may be an optimistic assumption given that more than half of Americans eligible for boosters have yet to receive their first dose. Given waning immunity of the coronaviru­s vaccines, it’s also not clear whether an annual covid shot will provide protection that lasts a year.

The federal government has purchased more than 170 million doses of the updated boosters, and doses began shipping last week, following authorizat­ion by the Food and Drug Administra­tion. Like other coronaviru­s shots, the boosters will be free. Pharmacies and other retail locations are booking appointmen­ts, and health officials urge people to check availabili­ty on vaccines.gov. Officials said appointmen­ts will be widely available within the next week.

Health officials have said people who have had a recent infection or were recently vaccinated should wait at least two months before getting the updated booster.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the administra­tion plans to work with community-based organizati­ons, including parent-teacher organizati­ons, pastors and groups focused on racial equity to host pop-up clinics this month in hopes of reaching diverse groups of Americans, including Black and Latino communitie­s.

Anthony S. Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said if BA.5 stays dominant, or even if it exhibits minor changes, the updated booster will “very likely hold a substantia­l degree of protection.”

But officials warned on Tuesday that dwindling funds threaten the government’s ability to respond as effectivel­y if a new variant emerges. The Biden administra­tion last week asked Congress to approve more emergency funds, including $22.4 billion for the coronaviru­s response, much of which would facilitate the developmen­t and purchase of next-generation vaccines and treatments. The money also would help restart programs that recently ran out of funds, including an initiative to provide free tests that the White House said it had to wind down Friday after months of congressio­nal inaction.

If Congress waits until another variant arises to approve additional funds, it will probably cost taxpayers “twice as much and will be less effective,” Jha said.

“Congress is aware that if we do not continue to fund the response things, we can easily go backwards.”

 ?? Pfizer/associated Press ?? Vials of the updated Pfizer coronaviru­s vaccine during production at a Kalamazoo, Mich., facility last month. The Pfizer and Moderna boosters target the virus variant now causing most infections.
Pfizer/associated Press Vials of the updated Pfizer coronaviru­s vaccine during production at a Kalamazoo, Mich., facility last month. The Pfizer and Moderna boosters target the virus variant now causing most infections.

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