The Food and Drug Administration is considering a major shift in the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy, NPR has learned.
The goal is to simplify vaccination against COVID and perhaps adopt an approach similar that used for the flu vaccine, with annual updates to match whatever strain of the virus is circulating. This is according to a federal official who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The FDA outlined the strategy publicly Monday when it released a set of documents in advance of a meeting Thursday of the agency’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. The committee will vote on the agency’s proposal.
Currently, people who want to be fully vaccinated against COVID have to first get their primary vaccinations — two shots of the original vaccine spaced weeks apart. That’s followed at least two months later by a booster, currently the bivalent shot that’s tailored to protect against omicron.
Under the new approach, most people would be advised to simply get whatever the latest version of the vaccine is annually each fall like the flu vaccine. They wouldn’t have to worry about how many shots they’ve already gotten and which one they got when.
Vaccine makers would update the annual shot through a process that would begin each spring to try a match the vaccine as closely as possible to whatever variant will likely be dominant in the coming winter. That’s how the flu vaccine is formulated each year.
Some immunologists and vaccine researchers say simplifying the process along the lines of the flu vaccine is appropriate at this point in the pandemic. However, many questions remain about emerging booster strategy.
“As far as the tools that we have right now, I think it just makes the most sense to plan to update each year as close as we can to the currently circulating variant,” says Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona. “So I think all the things the FDA is considering make a lot of sense.”
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