Covid-19 vaccination: Americans may need annual vaccines to protect against the virus
Americans may need just one Covid-19 vaccine each year, federal health officials said Tuesday, saying the country will live with the coronavirus for the foreseeable future.
“This week marks a significant shift in our fight against the virus,” said Dr Ashish Jha, who leads the White House’s Covid-19 response team. “It marks our ability to make Covid vaccines a more routine part of our lives as we continue to drive down serious illness and death and protect Americans as we head into fall and winter.”
While Tuesday’s announcement comes as no surprise — the Biden administration has been hinting at such a shift since the spring — it’s an important moment as the government continues to de-escalate its response to the pandemic.
Jha said the newly authorized updated Covid-19 boosters would be free to anyone who qualifies and wants them, but future vaccines and treatments may not be as funding for the pandemic response dwindles and the government is beginning to move therapeutics to the commercial market.
Vaccine experts have said the move to annual shots signals that Covid-19 is not going away.
“Our great-great-grandchildren will be receiving vaccines against the coronavirus,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, who leads the vaccine research group at Mayo Clinic. “Just like you and me, when we get our flu shot this fall, one of the components we’ll get is derived from the 1918 pandemic flu virus, and over 100 years later we’re still getting immunized. against him.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, tweeted that now might be the time to move to annual boosters if we can answer some key questions, such as the quality of the updated plans work?
“What are you putting in the shots for next year?” Hotez tweeted. “What global surveillance mechanisms need to be in place to identify early strains? »
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that while he expects this fall to be the start of annual injections for Covid-19, those with a system weakened immune system may need more frequent protection.
“In the absence of a radically different variant, we are likely heading towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual flu vaccine, with annually updated Covid-19 shots matching the strains currently in circulation. for most of the population,” he said.
Fauci said the latest boosters should continue to protect Americans as the coronavirus gradually changes away from the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants currently in circulation.
He acknowledged that the plan to give annual injections may need to be revised if the coronavirus takes a significant evolutionary leap, as it did when the Omicron variant emerged around Thanksgiving. He likened it to a “curveball out of left field”.
“There’s nothing we can do about it except know that we have vaccine platforms that will allow us to move quickly to address this issue,” Fauci said.
But he stressed that unless the virus changes significantly, the updated boosters should continue to protect over the coming year and could be updated every year.
Tuesday’s announcement also marked a change in the way Covid-19 prevention is delivered.
“The biggest problem with vaccines today is that people aren’t getting them,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, who chairs the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
According to CDC data, only about 1 in 3 Americans age 5 and older have received a booster.
When planning for the announcement, Wachter said, the White House and CDC hoped to stimulate more people by removing some of the uncertainty about when they might need their next vaccines.
The overall goal, he said, was to make reminders more manageable by presenting them as something you do every year, like getting your flu shot.
“I think it’s a really smart way to rebrand and redesign,” Wachter said.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Jha urged Americans 12 and older to take advantage of the updated boosters, noting that this is the first time the country has had vaccines that match the variants currently in circulation.
He also said people should get their flu shot at the same time as their Covid-19 shots.
“I really believe that’s why God gave us two arms, one for the flu shot and one for the Covid shot,” Jha joked.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said “the benefits of being up to date on your Covid-19 vaccines are clear”.
BA.5 and BA.4 are the dominant circulating variants of Covid, she said. Although hospitalizations are down 14% since last week, there are more deaths now than in the spring.
“The seven-day average of daily deaths is still too high: around 375 per day, well above the roughly 200 deaths per day we saw in early spring and, in my opinion, far too high for a preventable disease. through vaccination,” Walensky said. .
Fauci said his message to Americans “is simple: Get your updated Covid-19 vaccine as soon as you are eligible to protect yourself, your family and your community from Covid-19 this fall and winter.”