The United States is preparing for the possible need to update its Covid-19 vaccines.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is set to meet Tuesday to discuss whether the composition of Covid-19 vaccines should be modified to target a specific coronavirus strain, and if so, which strain should be selected.
That means the Covid-19 vaccinations that people receive in the future could be somewhat or completely different formulations than what are administered now. The current vaccines are based on the coronavirus that emerged in late 2019, but the experts will discuss Tuesday if vaccines should also target the Omicron variant.
In their meeting, VRBPAC members will vote on the question: “Does the committee recommend inclusion of a SARS-CoV-2 Omicron component for COVID-19 booster vaccines in the United States?”
This is a moment of transition for the approach to the coronavirus vaccines. Anticipation is mounting that vaccinations could be needed annually – similar to how seasonal flu shots are administered each year.
“There’s anticipation that we would need a fall booster and what that framework would look like and if a vaccine is needed due to a different variant,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN.
“This becomes challenging, because is it really a booster if it’s not the same formulation? And should we be talking about it in that way or is it simply a new vaccination?” Freeman added. “We don’t discuss that we have received boosters of flu shots over the years. It’s just part of getting your flu shot every year. So this transition is an important one.”
In May, a trio of top FDA officials wrote in the medical journal JAMA that the United States might need to update its Covid-19 vaccines each year and “a new normal” may include an annual Covid-19 vaccine alongside a seasonal flu shot.
“By summer, decisions will need to be made for the 2022-2023 season about who should be eligible for vaccination with additional boosters and regarding vaccine composition,” wrote Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research; Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock; and FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf.
“Administering additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to appropriate individuals this fall around the time of the usual influenza vaccine campaign has the potential to protect susceptible individuals against hospitalization and death, and therefore will be a topic for FDA consideration,” they wrote.
‘This is going to be … a transitional year’
The FDA’s vaccine advisers previously met in April to discuss how the composition of Covid-19 vaccines could change to target any new and emerging coronavirus variants. The committee agreed that there needs to be a framework for how and when such changes take place.