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Barring any “pandemic curveballs,” the newly authorized combination vaccines against COVID-19 will move most eligible Americans closer to just getting a COVID-19 shot once a year — the way routine flu vaccinations are done — White House and other public health officials said on Tuesday.
This fall, Americans aged 12 years and older can get the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and those 18 and older can get the Moderna vaccine at the same time as the flu shot, experts said.
“It’s actually a good idea. I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot,” Ashish Jha, MD, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, otc medicines said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team news briefing.
Rochelle Walensky, MD, agreed. If Americans get the updated COVID-19 vaccines early this fall in numbers similar to annual flu vaccine coverage, it “could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs,” said Walensky, director of the CDC.
People at higher risk for severe COVID-19 will likely not be included in annual vaccine recommendations, the experts said.
It remains unclear when Americans younger than 12 will be eligible for the more targeted combination COVID-19 vaccines, which the FDA authorized for emergency use and the CDC recommended as of Sept. 1.
For now, the primary series of COVID-19 shots features original vaccines, not the combination products authorized last week. A reporter at the briefing asked why.
“We know FDA is working on both updating the primary series and making booster shots for kids under 12, the bivalent, but that work is ongoing,” Jha said. Although the exact timeline for both remains unknown, “I expect that maybe updates on the booster for kids under 12 [is coming] at some point later in the fall,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, MD, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said there is a specific reason for not updating the primary series just yet.
“What I think people need to appreciate is although it’s very important that we are now matching the new updated vaccine with the circulating virus, the original ancestral strain vaccine created a very broad degree of coverage that did very well against many of the variants,” he said.
“So, we don’t want to deprive the population of getting that broad coverage at the same time as we give them the added benefit” of the specific booster against both the ancestral strain and the circulating Omicron variants, he said.
“I think it’s a very positive thing that when you get people to get their primary vaccination, you give them the benefit of that initial broad coverage,” Fauci said. “So, there’s a good reason to do that.”
News briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials, Sept. 6. 2022.
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