Finally, a simple strategy for Covid booster shots



The Food and Drug Administration is said to have a new strategy to roll out new reminders that should provide the clarity needed for Covid vaccination in the United States. Going forward, most Americans will receive the same advice on when to get vaccinated.

Currently, second boosters are only available to people over the age of 50 or with compromised immunity. The agency had considered offering boosters to people of all ages this summer.

Instead, health officials will accelerate the availability of next-generation vaccines suitable for the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants, and offer those vaccines to everyone at the same time in September. Moderna and Pfizer would be ready to meet this ambitious schedule.

This decision makes sense both scientifically and practically.

Scientists fear that the longer the FDA waits to approve a second booster for people under 50, the harder it would be to time the rollout of the updated injections. If people received a second booster in August, they would want to wait two to three months – until October or November – to let their immune response mature before receiving a new variant-specific vaccine. It is easier to have the new vaccine as the next vaccine for this group.

On a practical level, accelerating next-generation injections also simplifies public health advice on when people should get the new vaccines. Although media reports on the details of the rollout differ, the likely scenario is that the shots will be offered to all ages 12 and up. This will standardize what was previously disparate advice for different age groups.

Unfortunately, it will remain harder than ever to convince people that more Covid vaccines are needed. While vaccines have protected most people against serious diseases, their ability to prevent infection – never the intended purpose of injections, but certainly the key to returning society to normal – has weakened with each new variant. .

All of this has led to extremely slow uptake of available vaccines, which has been particularly worrying for the most vulnerable groups. Hospitalization rates for people over 70, for example, are now close to the peak last seen when the delta variant was circulating.

But offering updated snaps to all Americans in September could help get people on board by streamlining the process. Americans have a habit of rolling up their sleeves to get the flu shot every fall. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can suggest they just get the Covid shot at the same time. Assuming there are no more surprise major variants, this could be the start of putting the Covid vaccine on an annual schedule, as Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, recently suggested to me. from the FDA.

Of course, it’s essential that Congress invest now in the fall vaccination plan. The US Department of Health and Human Services said it signed a new contract with Moderna to purchase 66 million doses of an mRNA booster against BA.4 and BA.5. This is in addition to the roughly 105 million doses of Pfizer’s updated recall that the agency previously agreed to purchase.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that there won’t be enough clichés for the entire American population. Yet month after month, Congress continues to ignore White House requests for additional Covid funding. HHS said it took $10 billion from other pandemic efforts to pay for those vaccines.

What message are lawmakers sending about the importance of vaccination if they can’t guarantee that there will be enough shots for everyone?

The FDA came up with a sensible plan. To avoid another tough Covid winter, Congress should work quickly to ensure it gets the support it needs.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Don’t hold your breath for Covid nasal sprays: Raphael and Fazeli

• New Monkeypox tests are needed to contain the virus: Lisa Jarvis

• Biden’s Covid diagnosis is a wake-up call for the US: Tyler Cowen

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lisa Jarvis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. Previously, she was the editor of Chemical & Engineering News.

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