FDA proposes updating COVID boosters annually

To simplify and streamline the COVID-19 vaccination process while pushing for increased vaccination rates, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed updating the COVID-19 boosters every fall like the flu shot.

The proposal comes, FDA noted, in light of “real-world evidence” from a variety of sources showing the effectiveness of the updated bivalent boosters. These boosters appear to protect against hospitalization and death, even against the highly contagious and immunity-evasive XBB.1.5 variant.

Health experts had expressed concerns about a potential “tripledemic” of COVID-19, influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), but fears are decreasing, thanks in part to the effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Washington Post.

“The immune systems of those who have been vaccinated or previously infected are still effective at keeping the cases mild, especially if they have recently received booster shots,” doctors told the Washington Post.

Why you should stay up to date with your COVID vaccine boosters
Getting vaccinated reduces the risk of hospitalization or death, even in the face of new variants. (Source: CDC)

FDA Advisory Committee will discuss the next steps on COVID vaccines

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) meets Thursday to vote on the recommendation.

The agency would assess COVID strains annually and, each summer, recommend the strain to be targeted by the fall booster.

“FDA anticipates conducting an assessment of SARS-CoV-2 strains at least annually and to engage VRBPAC in about early June of each year regarding strain selection for the fall season,” the agency said. “[C]irculation of a more pathogenic vaccine-escape variant of SARS-CoV-2 would likely prompt, on an as needed and emergent basis, an ad-hoc strain selection meeting of VRBPAC.”

By allowing a consistent, easy-to-follow message about getting vaccinated, FDA believes they can simplify vaccine administration and potentially increase vaccine compliance among Americans.

Simplified immunization schedules

To simplify the vaccine strategy, FDA also suggested healthy individuals “may only need to receive one dose of an approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccine to restore protective immunity for a period of time.”

This is similar to the influenza immunization recommendation.

Two doses may be needed “to induce the expected protective immunity for those who have a low likelihood of prior exposure,” such as some young children, older adults, and persons with compromised immunity, says FDA.

The annually updated formulas would replace the original COVID vaccines. The newest, targeted formula will be recommended to young children who have not received a vaccine yet, and older or high-risk individuals. Both groups would be advised to get two shots.

At the moment, most Americans need first to get two doses of the original COVID vaccine at least three to four weeks apart. The two doses should be followed by a booster dose several months later.

The health regulator hopes the simplified scheduling may contribute to less-complicated vaccine rollout programs and fewer vaccine administration errors. In return, this may lead to increased vaccination rates across the nation.

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