- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed Thursday the reformulated COVID-19 booster shots authorized by U.S. regulators one day prior, clearing the way for people to seek another shot before a potential winter surge.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on the boosters after agency advisers voted, 13-1, in favor of distributing the “bivalent” shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which target both the original strain of the coronavirus and dominant variants known as BA.4 and BA.5.

The shots should reach pharmacies and other vaccination sites around the country after the Labor Day holiday.

Officials say the retooled boosters will provide better protection against the strains that are dominant and can evade some immune defenses.

“They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants,” Dr. Walensky said.

“This recommendation followed a comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion. If you are eligible, there is no bad time to get your COVID-19 booster and I strongly encourage you to receive it,” she added.

While reported infections and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks, Biden officials are wary of the type of winter surge the U.S. saw in 2020 in 2021.

People are eligible for the retooled booster if it has been at least two months from their primary vaccination series or last booster.  There should be over 200 million Americans who will be eligible right away, presenters told the CDC advisers.

The Pfizer version is authorized for ages 12 and older and the Moderna one is authorized for 18 and up.

The FDA relied on real-world data from the use of prior COVID-19 shots and non-clinical data from the lab to authorize the variant-specific shots for emergency use, rather than waiting for full data from human trials.

The sole dissenter at the advisory meeting, Dr. Pablo Sanchez, cited the lack of full clinical data in declining to endorse the new shots.

U.S. officials say the shots contain the same basic ingredients as the first edition of COVID-19 vaccines but were updated safely to combat BA.4/5 the variants, akin to how scientists used a similar process to fine-tune the flu vaccines every year to match circulating strains.

Omicron and its spinoffs are fast-moving and have infected many Americans who avoided the virus earlier in the pandemic. Luckily, the global population has built up stores of immunity from prior infections and vaccine shots, which confer some level of protection against the new variants.

The CDC and FDA felt it was wise to update the vaccines, however, to better match them to circulating variants and ensure lasting protection.

For many, the fall campaign with BA.4/5 shots would be the second booster.

Americans 50 and older have been eligible for a second booster shot for several months but many younger persons haven’t had a booster since late 2021 or the first months of this year because of eligibility rules.

It is unclear how much of the general population will snap up the new shots. Slightly less than half of those fully vaccinated — or roughly a third of the U.S. population — have opted to get an initial booster shot.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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