During the autumn vaccination campaign, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory council is expected to advise whether the modified COVID-19 doses developed by vaccine producers should be administered widely or only to certain populations at higher risk.
The revised doses are a part of a campaign by public health authorities to make the following COVID vaccines more closely coincide with the actual circulating form of the virus, similar to how the yearly flu shot is made.
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved improved COVID vaccines produced by Moderna, Pfizer, and its German partner BioNTech SE. According to Novavax, the FDA was still considering its injection.
Since the global coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, it has been difficult for public health professionals to keep up with the most recent variations of the virus, with some showing more alarming traits than others. Specific variations can be the aim of a vaccine’s formulation. The subvariants of the virus’ so-called XBB lineage are currently spreading most commonly in the United States.
The question is whether the CDC advisors will recommend targeting particular groups for the new boosters, such as older persons or those with underlying medical issues, or if they would advocate for a campaign that has the general public in mind.
Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said, “I do think that a broad boosting strategy makes sense,” noting that even though the virus is not currently responsible for as many hospitalizations and fatalities as it once did, it is still present.
The experts’ recommendations are anticipated to be approved by CDC Director Mandy Cohen, enabling Americans to receive the revised immunizations.
Although COVID hospitalizations and infections have been increasing in the United States, Europe, and Asia, they are still well below past peaks. Although there have been 1.1 million COVID deaths nationwide since the start of the pandemic, U.S. mortality are currently at a comparatively low level, having been estimated at roughly 2,000 last month.
“The one group that I am curious to hear the committee’s recommendation on is young men, because we do see that, in rare cases, young men can develop myocarditis or related effects,” Rivers said, making reference to a rare condition in which inflammation develops in the middle muscular layer of the heart wall.
In 2020, the first COVID vaccinations were monovalent, or single-target vaccines, meant to protect against the virus’s original strain. Bivalent COVID booster doses that protected against both the original and Omicron strains were given afterward. As recommended by the FDA, the new updated shots are once more monovalent and target the so-called XBB.1.5 variety.
According to Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “I do believe that the XBB.1.5 vaccine will provide better cross protection against the current Omicron variants than the bivalent booster.”
Additionally, researchers are keeping a close eye on other Omicron subvariants that are in circulation, such as the dominant EG.5, dubbed Eris, and the severely altered BA.2.86 subvariant, which had prompted fears about an outbreak of infections.
According to Kuritzkes, some cross-protection across variations from the upgraded shots will be present.
Given the speed at which the virus has evolved, Kuritzkes said, “It’s obviously not the same as giving a shot of whatever the most common current variant is, but that is almost an impossibility.”
Manufacturers of the revised vaccines Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax claim that they provide adequate protection against the EG.5 subvariant, while Pfizer and Moderna claim that their vaccines produced positive results when tested against the BA.2.86 subvariant. On Monday, Novavax stated that it was still evaluating its BA.2.86 vaccine.