The Food and Drug Administration is asking an expert advisory panel to consider the frequency with which people should be boosted against COVID-19 and what those boosters should look like. The FDA also recommended that all vaccines, including initial and boosters, should address the same variants from now on.
These new recommendations align with what the Biden administration has been saying: citizens should treat the COVID-19 boosters in the same way as the flu shots. So, healthy people should be getting annual boosters for COVID-19 as well.
FDA also suggests bivalent boosters are better. Data from real-world studies “suggest that bivalent booster vaccination (mRNA) provides additional protection against symptomatic infection, emergency department/urgent care visits, and hospitalization,” reads the report the FDA released ahead of the committee meeting.
The FDA is looking for the expert’s opinion on that recommendation, as well as providing twice-annual boosters for people who are immune-compromised or over a certain age to improve their chances of avoiding a potentially dangerous infection.
However, not everyone is convinced that the original virus should continue to be part of the vaccine. They believe that including two variants in the vaccine means that everyone gets half a dose against each, which might mean less protection rather than more against the prevailing variant.
In an all-day meeting on Thursday, the committee will also consider simplifying the composition of vaccines and developing a process of selecting variants to be targeted with each round of shots. This process is necessary because the virus that causes COVID-19 keeps evolving. In the last three months, scientists identified three new variants in the United States alone. This means that remains effective; the vaccine will have to change, too.
The FDA is proposing a committee that would recommend variants for annual vaccines, typically in June. That will enable manufacturers to make doses available by late September, in time to get people boosted before a possible COVID-19 surge around the holidays. All the recommendations made by the committee will require the FDA commissioner’s ratification to be considered by an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its director.