The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision makes new versions of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines available to most Americans, even those who have never been vaccinated against the coronavirus. This is part of a transition to treating fall COVID-19 vaccination updates as an annual vaccine, as is the case for the flu.
The vaccines, however, will need to be approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before being offered to the public. An advisory committee is expected to release recommendations Tuesday on who most needs the updated vaccines.
Vaccinations could begin later this week, when COVID-19 and flu vaccines can be administered during the same visit.
Hospitalizations on the rise
COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased since late summer. Thanks to a certain immunity attributable in part to vaccination and previous infections, cases remain fewer than at the same time last year.
Protection against the virus wanes over time and the coronavirus continually produces new variants that can evade previous immunity. It has been a year since the last time vaccines were changed.
As with previous vaccinations, the autumn vaccination is permitted for adults and children aged six months and over. The FDA said that starting at age five, most people can receive a single dose, even if they have never received a COVID-19 vaccine before. Younger children may need additional doses depending on their history of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations.
The most recent vaccines target the Omicron family variant called XBB.1.5. This specific strain is no longer dominant, but it is close enough to the coronavirus strains that cause most COVID-19 illnesses today that the FDA determined it would provide good protection.
These newer vaccines will replace vaccines that combined protection against the original strain of coronavirus and the first Omicron variant. Like previous versions, they should offer better protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, rather than mild infections.
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