U.S. health officials expect the new omicron boosters to provide better protection against infections and serious illnesses this fall because the new shots now match the dominant variant of the coronavirus.
The new omicron hits mark a milestone in the pandemic that will help the United States fight the virus more effectively, said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Covid Response Coordinator.
“For the first time since December 2020, our vaccines have reached the virus,” Jha told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
Jha said the US is nearing the point where most Americans will receive a single Covid vaccine each year that will provide a high degree of protection against the virus. People with serious medical conditions or a weak immune system may need additional injections.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week authorized new booster vaccines for people 12 years of age and older that target the dominant omicron BA.5 subvar as well as the original strain. Covid first surfaced in Wuhan, China, in 2019.
Jha said the FDA is working to make the new boosters available to children under the age of 12 and change the two-dose primary vaccine series to target omicron as well.
Pfizer’s new booster is available to people aged 12 and over, while adults aged 18 and over can get the option of Moderna. People can receive the new vaccine at least two months after the primary vaccination series or the last booster with the older vaccines.
Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the White House, said the new boosters should provide better protection against omicron than the original vaccines. He added that it is difficult to predict how best they will perform.
Fauci said Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical data on shots targeting the original omicron version, BA.1, triggered a stronger immune response against omicron and other Covid variants than the original vaccines. BA.1 is the variant that caused the massive wave of last winter.
Pfizer and Moderna were originally developing omicron boosters to target BA.1, but the FDA asked the companies to shift gears in June and produce shots that targeted BA.5 as the sub-variant rose to dominance.
Consequently, they did not collect human data specifically on BA.5 boosters. But FDA officials said the BA.1 shot data should provide a good indication of how BA.5 vaccines will perform because they are very similar.
“It is reasonable to expect, based on what we know about the immunology and science of this virus, that these new vaccines will provide better protection against infection, better protection against transmission, and continued and better protection against serious disease,” Jha said.
Fauci said clinical trials of BA.1 shots, which were given to more than 1,700 people, presented no new safety concerns.
A new variant of Covid may always emerge, but U.S. health officials will meet on an annual basis to consider whether vaccines need tweaking to keep up with the virus, Fauci said. He added that the new boosters should provide substantial protection even if BA.5 changes slightly to a new sub-variant.
First-generation Covid vaccines were over 90% effective in preventing Covid disease when they were first authorized in December 2020. But the protection provided by older vaccines, which target the original Covid strain, has declined as the virus has evolved considerably over the past two years into the highly immune evasive variant of omicron.
Members of the CDC’s independent advisory board last week expressed some concern over the lack of human data on BA.5 hits. However, they recommended the new boosters with an overwhelming 13-to-1 rating, reasoning that the potential benefits of vaccines outweigh any risk.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said the new boosters could prevent up to 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths. She added that the shots could save billions in medical costs if people received them at the same level of annual flu shot coverage.
These figures are based on a prediction from a consortium of scientists called the Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub. The model assumes that the new boosters will provide 80% protection against disease.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said health officials will focus on making sure people facing a greater risk of Covid, especially people aged 50 and over, are empowered with the new snaps this month. .
CVS and Walgreens began offering appointments for new snaps over the weekend. By the end of this week, 90 percent of Americans will live within 5 miles of a place where they can receive the new boosters, Becerra said.
You can visit vaccini.gov to find a place that offers injections.
Jha said the Biden administration has asked for additional funding from Congress to develop next-generation vaccines that can keep pace with the virus in the long term.