US approves updated COVID boosters targeting Omicron variants

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Drugmaker Pfizer said it has doses ready to ship and could deliver up to 15 million shots by the end of next week.

The United States has authorized booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines that target the most common Omicron strains, and shots may be available within days.

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The move Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the recipe for shots made by Pfizer and Moderna. Officials hope the modified boosters will blunt another winter boom.

“You’ll see me at the front of the line,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks told the Associated Press after his agency approved the new dose.


So far, COVID-19 vaccines have targeted the original coronavirus strain, even though wildly different mutants have emerged. The new US booster combinations, or “bicombiners”, are shots. They contain half the original vaccine prescription and half protection against the latest Omicron versions, called BA.4 and BA.5, which are by far considered the most contagious.

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The purpose of the combination is to increase cross-protection against multiple variants.

“It really offers a wide range of opportunities for protection,” Pfizer Vaccine chief Annalisa Anderson told the AP.

In a single-dose form, Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for people 18 years of age and older, while Pfizer’s bivalent candidate is for people 12 years of age and older.

The US government has purchased 175 million doses of booster shots from both companies in an effort to offset the worst effects of a potential surge in new infections as schools reopen and people spend more time indoors as the weather gets cooler . Pfizer said it could ship up to 15 million of those doses by September 9.

The FDA in June asked vaccine manufacturers to tailor shots for the two subtypes responsible for the most recent surge in infections worldwide. The BA.5 subvariant currently accounts for more than 88 percent of US infections.

Updated boosters are only for people who have already had a primary vaccination using the original vaccines, and are not to be used for initial vaccination.

There’s one more step before the next booster campaign begins: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should recommend who should get additional shots. An influential CDC advisory panel will debate the evidence on Thursday — including whether people at high risk for COVID-19 should go first.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Advisory Panel is scheduled to meet on Thursday to make recommendations for the use of the redesigned shots. [Pfizer via AP]

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said, “As we head into the fall and begin to spend more time indoors, we strongly encourage anyone who is currently using a vaccine to provide better protection against the circulating variants.” Eligible for consideration of receiving a booster dose with a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.” in a statement.

Now a big concern is whether people who are tired of vaccination will have their sleeves up again. Only half of vaccinated Americans received the first recommended booster dose, and only a third of those 50 and older were urged to receive a second booster.

University of Pennsylvania immunologist E John Vary said it is time for US officials to better explain why the public should expect an updated COVID-19 vaccination each time, such as the fall flu shot or tetanus booster. After stepping on a rusty nail.

“We need to rebrand it in a way that looks socially normal,” Wherry urged officials to “give a clear, forward-looking set of expectations,” rather than be a panic reaction to the new mutants.

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