Americans may need yearly shots to protect against COVID-19
(CNN) — Americans ages 12 and up are eligible to get their first updated COVID-19 shots now, and they probably won’t be their last.
Going forward, Americans may need to get a single, annual COVID-19 shot every year, White House health officials said on Tuesday, making clear the country will be living with the coronavirus for the foreseeable future.
“This week marks an important shift in our fight against the virus,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, who is leading the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “It marks our ability to make Covid vaccines a more routine part of our lives as we continue to drive down serious illness and deaths and protect Americans heading into the fall and winter.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says he expects this fall to be the beginning of annual shots for COVID-19, though he added that those who are immunocompromised might need more frequent protection.
“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.
Fauci said the updated boosters should continue to protect Americans as long as the virus changes incrementally, drifting away from the currently circulating BA.4 and BA.5 viruses.
He acknowledged that the plan to provide Americans with a single, annual shot against COVID-19 might need to be revised if the coronavirus makes a significant evolutionary leap, as it did when the Omicron variant surfaced around Thanksgiving last year. He likened this to an “out-of-left-field curveball.”
“There’s nothing we can do about that except know that we have vaccine platforms that will allow us to quickly move to address that,” Fauci told reporters on Tuesday.
But he stressed that barring any big changes to the virus, the updated boosters should continue to protect in the year ahead and could be updated annually.
“The BA.5 updated vaccine that we’re talking about very likely would hold a substantial degree of protection against a minor sublineage change from BA.5. So that’s what we’re talking about. If we can do that, at the end of each year for most of the population, and again to underscore what we said — for those who have underlying conditions, immunocompromised, we may need to do it more. But for the bulk of the population, we can look at it on a yearly basis and see, are we still close to what we’re doing now? Well, we match pretty closely, if so good. If not, then you’d want to make the modification,” Fauci said.
Jha urged Americans age 12 and above to take advantage of the updated boosters, stressing that it was the first time the country has had vaccines that match the currently circulating variants.
He also said people should get their flu shots at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccines.
“I really believe this is why God gave us two arms, one for the flu shot and one for the Covid shot,” Jha quipped.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters that “the benefits of being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines are clear.”
Omicron subvariants BA.5 and BA.4 are the dominant circulating variants of COVID-19, Walensky said. While hospitalizations are down 14% since last week, there are more deaths now than in the spring, she said.
“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.
Fauci said his message to Americans “is simple: Get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you are eligible in order to protect yourself, your family and your community against COVID-19 this fall and winter.”
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