December 8, 2023

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccination during a free distribution of COVID-19 rapid test kits for those receiving the vaccine or booster shot at Union Station in Los Angeles, California, on January 7, 2022.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

An independent advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has questioned the need for “regular” updates to the COVID-19 vaccine, noting that it’s unclear whether the virus is as seasonal as the flu.

advisor thursday unanimous vote The new vaccines for the fall are supposed to be monovalent — meaning they’re designed against one variant of Covid — and target an omicron XBB strain.those are now dominant variant the whole country.

but original poll question Include language on whether the panel recommends “regular updates” to Covid footage.

After several advisers raised concerns, the head of the FDA’s vaccine division, Dr. Peter Marks, asked the panel chair to remove the wording from the question.

“The way it’s worded, it seems to be saying, do we agree that regular updates are needed? I don’t think that’s clear,” said Dr. Arthur Reingold, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The panel’s concerns point to uncertainty over the next few years about the shape of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite a decline in cases and deaths across the country.

These concerns are also the latest blowback against the FDA suggested change To the annual Covid shot earlier this year – a simplified approach to vaccination that includes an annual renewal of the vaccine. It’s similar to how the U.S. rolls out new flu vaccines each fall and winter, seasons when cases spike.

But several advisers cautioned against calling Covid a seasonal like the flu.

“It’s not clear to me that this is a seasonal virus,” said Henry Bernstein, a pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

Dr. Mark Sawyer, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, added that describing the new coronavirus as “seasonal” may end up confusing the public “when and where they should get vaccinated, and how often.”

“I would join the chorus here. I think using the word season is just as problematic,” said. Dr. Sawyer. “It links exercise to the flu shot. I know it’s probably more convenient and most effective to get vaccinated at the same time, but it’s only been a few years and we don’t really know when the Covid season is.”

Unlike the flu, the spread of the new coronavirus tends to be erratic. The virus is constantly mutating into new variants and has yet to develop a predictable seasonal pattern.

In response to the advisor, the FDA’s Marks stressed that the Covid lens may need to be updated again “at some point.”

“This is not going to be the final formulation of this vaccine forever,” he said.

A pharmacist prepares a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine during a Chicago Department of Public Health event at Southwest Senior Center on September 9, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

The move to an annual Covid vaccine has the backing of former White House health officials Dr Ashish Jha and Dr Anthony Fauci, who argue the country could benefit from adopting a similar approach to flu vaccination.

Each year, researchers assess circulating flu strains and estimate which strains will be most prevalent in the fall and winter before updating the vaccine.

“People go and get their annual flu shot if they think it’s part of their routine care. I don’t think — every time I get a flu shot, I don’t think, is it my 28th flu shot or my 29th The flu — I just thought, this is my annual flu shot,” Jha said in an interview Wednesday. interview On PBS News Hour.

“For most people, if they look at it as their annual COVID vaccine, they get it when they get their flu shot, and I think that’s going to make a big difference,” he continued.

Recent polls show the public is open to the idea.

More than half of about 1,200 U.S. adult respondents said they would likely get an annual Covid shot if offered a shot similar to the annual flu shot, according to an April survey. poll By the health policy organization KFF. That included 32 percent who were “very likely” to do so.

It’s unclear how many Americans will be rolling up their sleeves for updated shots this fall and winter.

The latest bivalent boosters – targeting the original Covid strain and the omicrons BA.4 and BA.5 – have been slow to take off.

only about 17% of the U.S. population — approximately 56 million people — have received Pfizer and modern The booster has been in use since it was approved in September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leading Covid vaccine maker Pfizer told CNBC last month that an annual Covid vaccination program could encourage more people to get vaccinated each year.

Dr. Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, said the shift may help people see the Covid vaccine as another “very natural part” of protecting their health.

Pfizer is already preparing to pivot to an annual plan by developing a “next-generation” version of its vaccine, designed to expand and extend the protection people get from the virus for a full year.