FDA and CDC to consider supporting annual COVID-19 vaccine

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023
FDA and CDC to consider supporting annual COVID-19 vaccine
Would a once-a-year COVID vaccine increase rates?

The FDA Advisory Panel is set to discuss proposing an annual COVID-19 booster during its meeting Thursday, in an effort to simplify messaging and increase vaccination rates.

"People are really tired of the frequency of shots that were part of all the initial regimens. And two, it's a recognition that after people have had their initial series or even had a prior bout of COVID, the response to a single-dose booster is actually quite robust," said Dr. Nicholas Turner, an Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases at Duke School of Medicine.

"All things COVID has been complicated and I think what the FDA is finally hearing is to get more traction with vaccines is you need to make it easier and simpler. So I think there's a lot of value in trying to make a schedule that everyone can understand and buy into as much as possible," added Dr. David Wohl, an Infectious Disease Specialist with the UNC School of Medicine.

According to the CDC, while 69% of Americans have completed a primary vaccine series, only about 15% have received their updated (bivalent) booster dose. It's a figure that nears 40% for those 65 and older, a group which is at higher risk for severe illness.

"If you haven't had the bivalent and you're 65 and older, you should go out - run, don't walk - get the bivalent," said Wohl.

Tuesday, people shared their reactions to the proposed changes.

"I think it wouldn't be as much of a hassle for people, especially for getting off work," said Denique Pickering.

"I get the flu shot every year, so might as well just do a 2-for-1 while you're there," added Carolyn Huddy.

Thus far, vaccine rollouts have targeted specific variants or subvariants.

"One, is the one-year interval appropriate? Does immunity last long enough in between? We're hoping so. Two, to your point about the right mix of vaccines, there's a bit of debate whether it's good to have the bivalent ones moving forward or if it's sometimes better to update with just the most recent circulating strain just so that your immune system isn't distracted by the older strain that's a part of this. Three, there's a lot of effort towards the universal COVID vaccine," said Turner.

"I think the questions that the FDA is going to grapple with is exactly what kind of vaccine. Will there be some circumstances where people don't need a vaccine? We don't know that right now," added Wohl.

According to the CDC, COVID hospitalization rates are more than three times lower this year than the same time period last year, a positive development after record-high case counts in the beginning of 2022. COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths are all trending downwards.

The CDC will discuss the issue during a meeting next month.