WASHINGTON: The United States is likely to start recommending COVID-19 vaccines annually, health officials said on Tuesday (Sep 6), as new boosters designed to fight currently circulating variants of the coronavirus roll out.
By the end of this week, 90 per cent of Americans will live within 8km of sites carrying updated vaccines, US health secretary Xavier Becerra said at a White House briefing.
Officials said people could get the new boosters this fall or winter alongside their regular annual flu shots.
President Joe Biden said separately in a statement that for most Americans, “that means one COVID-19 shot, once a year, each fall”.
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr Ashish Jha said in the briefing that for “a large majority of Americans, we are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year. That’s an important milestone”.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said even with the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalisations down 14 per cent to 4,500 per day, annual shots could save thousands of lives.
“Modeling projections show that an uptake of updated COVID-19 vaccine doses similar to an annual flu vaccine coverage early this fall could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalisations and 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs,” she said.
Top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said unless a dramatically different variant emerges, annual vaccines should offer enough protection for most people, but that some vulnerable groups might need more frequent vaccinations.
“We likely are moving towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual, updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population,” he said.
The redesigned boosters, green-lighted by US health regulators last week, aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which account for more than 88 per cent and 11 per cent of circulating viruses, respectively, Walensky said.
The so-called bivalent vaccines also still target the original version of the virus.