CDC recommends updated omicron COVID boosters

The CDC is expected to accept the recommendation, the final step before recording can begin.

WASHINGTON — U.S. health advisers on Thursday endorsed new COVID-19 boosters targeting today’s most common omicron strains, saying if enough people roll up their sleeves, the updated shots could mitigate a winter surge.

The enhanced footage of Pfizer and rival Moderna promises Americans a shot at their most up-to-date protection as the pandemic continues to reach its peak. They are combination or “bivalent” vaccines, half the original vaccine and half the protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron versions that now cause almost all COVID-19 infections.

Advisors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have struggled over who should get the new booster shot and when – because only a similarly optimized vaccine, not the exact recipe, has been studied in humans so far.

But ultimately, the panel felt it was the best option, considering the U.S. is still seeing tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases and about 500 deaths a day — even ahead of an expected new winter wave.

“I think they’re going to be a powerful tool for disease prevention this fall and winter,” said CDC consultant Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Comparing the optimization that has been studied in humans to what the US will actually use, “it’s the same scaffolding, part of the same roof, we’re just putting in some dormers and windows,” said Dr. Sarah Long from Drexel University.

The CDC is expected to adopt this recommendation soon, the final step before recording can begin. Millions of doses are expected to reach immunization sites nationwide by Labor Day, CDC officials said.

The original COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness and death, especially in younger and healthier people who have received at least one booster shot.

But these vaccines were designed to target the virus strain that was circulating in early 2020. Effectiveness decreases as new mutants emerge and as time has passed since the last vaccination. Since April, hospitalization rates have skyrocketed among people over 65, the CDC said.

The new updated vaccinations are for booster purposes only, not for a person’s very first vaccination. The Food and Drug Administration has cleared Pfizer’s bivalent option for people ages 12 and older, while Moderna’s is for adults only.

One big unknown: exactly how much use people will get from one of those extra shots.

The CDC said more than 1,400 people were involved in studies of an earlier vaccine recipe optimization — targeting an earlier Omicron strain called BA.1. This Omicron-targeted combo shot proved safe and capable of boosting virus-fighting antibodies – and European regulators on Thursday recommended using this type of booster.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration wanted fall boosters targeting the currently circulating Omicron strains — and rather than potentially waiting until November for more human trials to be completed, the agency accepted mouse tests that showed the newer tweak a similarly good immune system elicited response.

This is how flu vaccines are updated every year, the CDC noted.

Still, several CDC advisors said people must wait longer between their last shot and receiving the new booster shot to get the maximum benefit than the two months the FDA has set as the minimum. It would be better to wait at least three months from the last shot or if someone had recently recovered from COVID-19, they said.

Prior to this new COVID-19 booster update, people aged 50 and over were already being encouraged to get a second booster of the original vaccine – and those who did saw extra protection, especially the longer it had been since their last vaccination, said dr Ruth from CDC Link-Gelles.

The new combination booster “should provide at least similar or better protection against Omicron as it is a better match for today’s virus strains,” she told the panel. CDC recommends updated omicron COVID boosters

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