FDA's advisers back plan to simplify COVID-19 vaccinations
The U.S. is poised to make COVID-19 vaccinations more like a yearly flu shot, a major shift in strategy despite a long list of questions about how to best protect against a still rapidly mutating virus.
The Food and Drug Administration asked its scientific advisers Thursday to help lay the groundwork for switching to oncea-year boosters for most Americans — and how and when to periodically update the shots' recipe.
“This is a consequential meeting to determine if we've reached the point in the pandemic that allows for simplifying the use of current COVID-19 vaccines,” said FDA's Dr. David Kaslow.
The advisory panel mostly agreed with the FDA's approach.
COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives and booster doses continue to help the most vulnerable even as more contagious variants have popped up. But protection does wane and the shots don't fend off milder infections for long.
People are tired of getting vaccinated. While more than 80% of the U.S. population has had at least one COVID-19 shot, only 16% of those eligible for the latest boosters — so-called bivalent doses updated to better match more recent virus strains — have gotten one.
That makes for tough decisions on how to move forward: Who really needs another shot, how often and what kind?
“We're still protected against severe disease, thank goodness,” even after the latest mutated omicron strains cropped up, noted FDA adviser Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
The first step: The FDA advisory panel voted unanimously that people should get the same vaccine formula whether they're receiving their initial vaccinations or a booster. Today, Americans get one formula based on the original coronavirus strain that emerged in 2020 for their first two or three doses — and their latest booster is a combination shot made by Pfizer or Moderna that adds omicron protection.
The FDA would have to decide how to phase in that change.
But “this isn't only a convenience thing” to ease confusion about different kinds of shots, said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of Chicago Medical School. Since the original coronavirus strain has disappeared, “moving towards the strains that are circulating is very important.”
Looking ahead, the FDA said most Americans should do fine if they get a once-a-year booster targeted to the newest variants in the fall.