Two-Minute Tuesday – September 6, 2022

F.D.A authorizes updated COVID booster shots – targeting Omicron sub-variants 

The agency cleared two options targeting sub-variants that are currently dominant, hoping to curtail a fall or winter surge. Vaccinations remain the cornerstone of the government’s coronavirus strategy, even with tests and treatments widely available. 

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday, August 31, 2022, has authorized the first redesign of coronavirus vaccines since they were rolled out in late 2020, setting up millions of Americans to receive new booster doses targeting Omicron sub-variants starting this week.

What options will be available?

The two booster options are aimed at the BA.5 variant of Omicron that is now dominant: one made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, for use in people as young as 12, and the other by Moderna, for those 18 and older.

Biden administration officials have argued that even as researchers work to understand how protective the new shots might be, inoculating Americans again in the coming weeks could help curb the persistently high number of infections and deaths.

The idea with this booster is not just to increase the antibodies, but also to hopefully give us a longer duration of protection that will hold up through the winter. 

Booster shot production and release in the United States

An average of about 90,000 infections and 475 deaths are recorded every day around the United States, almost three years into a pandemic that has killed more than a million Americans and driven a historic drop in life expectancy.

But there are also hopeful signs. Even with high case counts, fewer than 40,000 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, a decrease of 10 percent since early August and far fewer than during the Delta-driven surge last summer or the Omicron-fueled wave last winter. Deaths have also remained somewhat flat in recent weeks, a sign that vaccines are helping to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19.

Production of the retooled shots have been made with extraordinary speed, a testament to the mRNA technology that Pfizer and Moderna have harnessed since the early months of the Coronavirus outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration advised companies only two months ago on the formulation that they should adopt for the new vaccines. Later this week, millions of those doses will be delivered to states.

The tight timeline meant that the companies went to federal regulators this summer with more limited data on the redesigned boosters and regulators authorized the vaccine without results from human trials, which have just started.

COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in the United States, today. The F.D.A is hopeful that as many people as possible will seek to receive the updated booster so we can continue to protect those who are at risk of having a terrible outcome.

Vaccinations remain the cornerstone of the federal government’s COVID strategy, even with tests and treatments widely available. Over 170 million doses have been ordered and officials do not expect shortages when they are rolled out.

How protective will this new booster be and which one should you choose?

Exactly how protective the shots might be is still unknown. The modest increases in neutralizing antibodies in vaccines have been tested this year and are targeted for the original form of Omicron. How antibody levels would translate to protection with the new vaccines is still uncertain. 

Experts warned against trying to choose Moderna’s shot over Pfizer’s or vice versa; with research in humans just beginning, scientists are months from knowing whether one brand offers better protection than the other.

Many Americans have recently been infected with variants in the Omicron family and have some protection from their bouts with the virus, a development that federal agencies may take into account when recommending how the new shots are used. An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to meet this week to make recommendations.

Why should you consider getting the new COVID booster?

The F.D.A.’s stance on boosters is simple – “if it’s freezing cold outside and you have children, you’re going to dress them warmly… if there’s a life threatening virus that continues to infect and cause death – you’ll want to head into the respiratory infection season with a booster immunization to avoid COVID-19 and sub-variant infections, that have sadly surprised us before.”
New boosters could potentially save lives among the elderly and those with immune deficiencies. Stay on top of the latest information from the CDC on where to get a booster shot, as they become available.

Still have questions?

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