US plans to offer updated Covid booster shots in September: NYT

Updated on Jul 29, 2022 10:44 PM IST

The new versions are expected to be more effective against Omicron subvariant BA.5, which is now the dominant variant in the United States

Currently, federal guidelines limit a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to people over age 50 and people over age 12 who are immunocompromised. (AP)
Currently, federal guidelines limit a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to people over age 50 and people over age 12 who are immunocompromised. (AP)
ByAgencies

Washington: The US government decided against expanding the eligibility for the second Covid booster because Pfizer and Moderna have said they will update their existing vaccines to perform better against a more transmissible Omicron variant, a New York Times (NYT) report said on Friday.

People familiar with the matter told the newspaper that the administration of President Joe Biden now expects to launch a new campaign for booster shots in September, by when the two vaccine makers have promised to deliver the retooled doses. The new versions are expected to be more effective against Omicron subvariant BA.5, which is now the dominant variant in the United States.

Currently, federal guidelines limit a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to people over age 50 and people over age 12 who are immunocompromised. Conversations about expanding the second booster recommendations to adults under 50 “have been going on for a while,” White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha said in early July, stressing that any final decision will be made by officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The decision is purely up to them.”

Some senior health officials, including Jha and top disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci, advocated that eligibility be expanded before the “reformulated version is ready because coronavirus infections are on the rise again,” NYT reported. Another suggestion included offering the shots to a smaller subset of “younger, at-risk individuals, such as pregnant women”.

But officials at the CDC and FDA recommended that the government focus on the next campaign in September after the booster shots are reformulated, the NYT reported, adding that both Pfizer and Moderna had assured the FDA that they would deliver the updated doses by mid-September.

The main concern around expanding eligibility is that it could mean some people would be get two separate booster shots at highly reduced intervals -- right now and then again in September with the updated shot. For some, young men especially, this could increase the risk of myocarditis, a rare heart-related side effect that has been linked to vaccines by both Pfizer and Moderna. Another concern is that it could reduce the efficacy of the updated booster if the shots were taken so quickly together as Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology told the NYT, “You can’t get a vaccine shot on Aug 1 and get another vaccine shot Sept 15 and expect the second shot to do anything.”

“You’ve got so much antibody around, if you get another dose, it won’t do anything.”

Officials are also “worried about the public’s patience with additional shots” with the number of people signing up to take the shot dropping with every subsequent dose offered. Only half of those eligible for the first booster opted to get them, while fewer than 30% eligible showed up to take the second booster, the NYT said.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press report on Friday said the Biden administration is launching a renewed push for Covid-19 booster shots for those eligible, pointing to the enhanced protections they offer against severe illness. The initiatives include direct outreach to high-risk groups, especially seniors, encouraging them to get “up to date” on their vaccinations, with phone calls, emails and new public service announcements.

Biden, who ended his Covid-19 isolation on Wednesday, also told Americans they can “live without fear” of the pandemic if they take advantage of booster shots and treatments, the protections he credited with his swift recovery after testing positive last week.

“You don’t need to be president to get these tools to be used for your defence,” the 79-year-old said in the Rose Garden. “In fact, the same booster shots, the same at-home test, the same treatment that I got is available to you.”

The pandemic has killed more than 1 million people in the US and it continues to disrupt daily life more than two years after it began. The BA.5 subvariant of Omicron was estimated to make up 81.9% of the circulating coronavirus variants in the country for the week ended July 23, the CDC said on Tuesday.

BA.5 has been driving a surge of new infections globally and has shown to be particularly good at evading the immune protection afforded either by vaccination or prior infection.

Omicron subvariant BA.4 was estimated to make up 12.9% of the circulating variants in the US, the data showed.

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