It looks like soon you’ll be able to get a new Covid booster along with your new flu booster. As the Covid pandemic evolves into a Covid endemic, just like influenza, this annual Covid booster was predictable.
Jared S. Hopkins, writing in The Wall Street Journal, tells us the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has cleared use of retooled Covid-19 vaccines that target the latest versions of Omicron variant, in preparation for a fall booster campaign that could start soon. This action by the FDA permits people 12 years and older to receive an additional shot of the vaccine from Pfizer, and people 18 and older to receive a Moderna booster at least two months after their most recent dose.
This marks the first changes to the composition of the Covid-19 vaccines since their distribution began in the U.S. in December, 2020. These new boosters are widely available, rather than limited to people who are at high risk of developing severe disease, as earlier booster authorizations had done. They are designed to better defend against the elusive Omicron variant dominant in the U.S. by targeting Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, as well as the original strain.
Should everyone get these new boosters?
No doubt many people will resist seeking another shot, partly out of weariness with getting repeat inoculations. Others may believe additional boosters are not necessary since the lethality of the disease has diminished and most people experience symptoms not much worse than the common cold. Yet influenza may seem to be similar in its presentation, but between 20,000 and 60,000 Americans die of influenza in an average year.
Another reason for hesitancy may be that the FDA cleared the doses without waiting for results from the kinds of clinical trials conducted before earlier authorizations. Experts say trials aren’t necessary to be confident the vaccines will work safely, because the changes simply update proven shots. The process is similar to the development of annual flu shots, which are given without testing them in people. “The FDA has extensive experience with strain changes for annual influenza vaccines,” said Peter Marks, who heads the FDA’s vaccines division. “We are confident in the evidence supporting these authorizations.”
Before people can begin to receive the shots, a panel of vaccine experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to meet soon to discuss the FDA’s authorization. If they approve, booster shots will soon be available in hospitals, doctor’s offices and pharmacies at no cost.
While these boosters may be a boon to protecting people from the latest Covid variants, skepticism about recommendations of health officials abound. Some 57% of vaccinated people surveyed in July said they wouldn’t get a booster because they believe their initial vaccination or a prior infection provided enough protection, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Meanwhile, 52% said they just didn’t want a shot.
Personally, I believe the decision about this Covid booster will be similar to the decision regarding the annual influenza booster. Those of us who are getting up in years, and those with significant cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, should probably get both boosters. I recommend you confer with your doctor before deciding what’s best for you.