FDA wants to make the COVID vaccine an annual shot just like the flu

  • The FDA is proposing an annual COVID shot similar to the annual flu shot.

  • The annual COVID jab would replace current booster recommendations.

  • Currently, only 16.2% of Americans over the age of five have received their bivalent booster.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a recommendation that Americans receive an annual COVID-19 vaccine each fall, similar to current recommendations for the annual flu vaccine.

A briefing paper released Monday shows that the FDA is suggesting that health officials stop using the original COVID-19 vaccine and use only the bivalent vaccine for primary and booster doses. The FDA’s advisory committee meets Thursday to discuss the future of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy.

An annual shot would be a major departure from current recommendations, which generally suggest Americans five and older receive the bivalent booster two months after their last COVID-19 vaccine. The recommendations around COVID boosters have been criticized for being confusing and difficult to follow.

“It should be a very lively meeting of the FDA advisory committee,” said William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

But why might the COVID-19 vaccine become an annual shot, and what do doctors think? Here’s what you need to know.

If the proposal goes through, how often would you get the COVID shot?

There’s a lot to sort out here since it’s just a proposal at this point, says Thomas Russo, MD, chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York.

However, the FDA’s briefing paper states that people only need one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine per year to “restore protective immunity for a period of time.”

There is a small caveat, however. The FDA notes in the briefing paper that “two doses of an approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccine may be required to induce the expected protective immunity in those with a low likelihood of previous exposure (the very youngest) or those who may not have a protective immune response (elderly and immunocompromised individuals).

Actually, it is not quite clear at the moment. “There is some uncertainty whether it will be done once a year or whether our most vulnerable will need more than that,” says Dr. Russo. “This is starting to develop the mood at a minimum, similar to the flu vaccine, which will be an annual booster the order of the day.”

Does this mean there won’t be any other boosters all year round?

Boosters will likely be available at other times of the year, depending on what the FDA concludes. However, availability may not be as simple as going to your local pharmacy and getting vaccinated. As the briefing paper points out, some people may need more than one booster to provide them with optimal protection. With that, the booster should be available to those people more than once a year, says Dr. Russo – you may need to go to your doctor’s office for that.

Under the plan proposed by the FDA, the composition of the annual COVID-19 vaccine would be chosen in June to try and help target the dominant variant in circulation.

Does the type you get matter?

It is very likely that more than one COVID booster will be available, similar to the current situation. While the briefing paper suggests using only the bivalent booster, Dr. Russo that you should still be able to choose your manufacturer.

“With flu vaccines, there are multiple manufacturers and different formulations,” he notes. “There are also variations for whether you are a senior or not. We may be moving in that direction with the COVID vaccine.”

How fast can this change take place?

A lot needs to happen between now and the recommendation that the COVID-19 vaccine should be an annual shot, says Dr. Russo. “I guarantee there will be a relapse,” he says. “There is no data yet that determines how often we need boosters for certain groups and whether the lowest risk groups even need it on an annual basis.”

The briefing paper did not set a timeline for rolling this out, but if the FDA decides that COVID vaccines should be an annual shot, the data should still be forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for current guidance. “This is going to be a very debated issue,” said Dr. Schaffner. “There are a lot of viewpoints here.”

What if you received a booster in the last 6 months?

That would be a question for the CDC’s advisory committee, says Dr. Schaffner. As of now, the CDC recommends that people get a bivalent booster two months after their last COVID shot, but it’s unclear if you would need another booster if the COVID vaccine becomes an annual thing and you had a booster within six months to get.

Dr. Schaffner is hopeful that people will only need to get one shot for the flu and COVID-19 in the future. “Manufacturers are now trying to make a combined flu and COVID vaccine,” he emphasizes. “The idea is that that might be more appealing to people because they only have to roll up one sleeve instead of two.”

At this point, Dr. Russo points out that “there hasn’t been any major adoption of booster.” According to data from the CDC, only 16.2% of Americans age five and older have received their bivalent booster. at least getting a yearly shot — even though that may not be optimal — is better than if they come out with vaccine recommendations every once in a while and there’s a lower uptake,” says Dr. Russo.

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FDA wants to make the COVID vaccine an annual shot just like the flu

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