WASHINGTON. US health officials want to make COVID-19 shots more like an annual flu shot.
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a simplified approach to future vaccination efforts, allowing most adults and children to get vaccinated once a year to protect against the mutating virus.
This means that Americans will no longer need to keep track of how many shots they received or how many months have passed since their last booster.
The offer came because boosters were hard to sell. While more than 80% of the US population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, only 16% of those eligible for vaccination received the last boosters allowed in August.
The FDA will ask its panel of external vaccine experts to speak out at Thursday’s meeting. The agency is expected to take their advice into account when making decisions about future vaccine requirements for manufacturers.
In documents posted online, FDA scientists say many Americans now have “sufficient pre-existing immunity” against the coronavirus due to vaccination, infection, or a combination of the two. That baseline of protection should be enough to move to annual boosters against the latest strains in circulation and make COVID-19 shots more like an annual flu shot, according to the agency.
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Adults with weakened immune systems and very young children may need a two-dose combination for protection. FDA scientists and vaccine companies will look at vaccinations, infection rates and other data to decide who should get a single shot rather than a series of two doses.
The FDA will also ask its panel to vote on whether all vaccines should target the same strains. This step will be necessary to make vaccinations interchangeable, ending the current complex system of primary and booster vaccinations.
The first shots from Pfizer and Moderna, called the core series, target a strain of the virus that first appeared in 2020 and has quickly spread around the world. The updated boosters released last fall were also tuned to target the omicron relatives that were dominating.
Under the FDA proposal, the agency, independent reviewers and manufacturers would decide annually which strains to target by early summer, giving several months to produce and launch updated vaccines before the fall. This is roughly the same approach that has long been used to select strains for the annual flu shot.
Ultimately, FDA officials say moving to an annual schedule will make it easier to promote future vaccination campaigns, which could ultimately boost vaccination rates across the country.
The original two-dose COVID vaccines provided strong protection against severe illness and death regardless of the variant, but protection against mild infection is waning. Experts continue to argue about whether the latest round of boosters has significantly increased protection, especially for young and healthy Americans.
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