Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top U.S. health officials said that COVID-19 vaccines will likely be administered yearly, similar to the annual flu shot, unless a “dramatically” different new variant of the virus appears.
At a White House press briefing Tuesday, officials said that one COVID-19 shot will be made available in the fall, once a year, that will be updated against the original strain of the virus and whichever strain is the dominant circulating strain that year.
The announcement came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized new updated booster shots that are designed to combat the most prevalent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. The FDA and the CDC recommend these new booster shots for all Americans ages 12 and above, although they have never been tested on humans.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that, looking forward with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the absence of a dramatically different variant, 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,” Fauci said Tuesday.
He added that particularly vulnerable groups may need more frequent vaccination against COVID-19 before stressing the safety and efficacy of the vaccines against severe illness and death from the virus.
“Barring those variant curveballs, for a large majority of Americans, we are moving to the point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year. That’s an important milestone,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said at the briefing.
He added that it is “a good idea” to get both the COVID-19 shot and the flu shot at the same time.
“I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot,” Jha said.
Officials said the Biden administration will ensure that vulnerable groups, including the immunocompromised and the elderly, will have access to additional shots as needed.
The Omicron variant continues to be the dominant circulating variant in the United States, according to the CDC.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday that the seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 4,500 per day, a decrease of about 14 percent over the prior week.
“The seven-day average daily deaths are still too high, about 375 per day — well above the around 200 deaths a day we saw earlier this spring and, in my mind, far too high for a vaccine-preventable disease,” Walensky said at the briefing.
She predicted that an uptake of annual updated COVID-19 vaccine doses could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths, in addition to saving billions of dollars in medical costs.
President Joe Biden said in statement the country is entering a “new phase” in our COVID-19 response.”
“The new vaccines provide the strongest protection from the new Omicron strain of the COVID virus, which did not exist when the original vaccine was developed. As the virus continues to change, we will now be able to update our vaccines annually to target the dominant variant,” Biden said.
“It’s simple, and it’s easy to understand: If you are vaccinated and 12 and older, get the new COVID-19 shot this fall. This once-a-year shot can reduce your risk of getting COVID-19, reduce your chance of spreading it to others, and dramatically reduce your risk of severe COVID-19.”