Us suggests yearly COVID vaccinations for most Americans

The FDA will release data this week that suggests most Americans have enough protection against the coronavirus to move to a once-yearly vaccination.

WASHINGTON — U.S. public health officials want to make COVID-19 shots more like the annual flu shot.

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a simplified approach to future vaccination efforts, allowing most adults and children to get a shot once a year to protect against the mutating virus.

That means Americans no longer need to keep track of how many shots they’ve had or how many months have passed since their last booster shot.

The suggestion comes as boosters are hard to sell. While more than 80% of the US population received at least one dose of vaccine, only 16% of those eligible received the most recent booster shots approved in August.

The FDA will ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to comment at a meeting Thursday. The agency is expected to take its advice into account when deciding on future vaccine requirements for manufacturers.

In documents posted online, FDA scientists say many Americans now have “sufficient pre-existing immunity” to the coronavirus due to vaccination, infection, or a combination of both. This baseline of protection should be enough to move to an annual booster against the latest strains in circulation and make COVID-19 vaccinations more similar to the annual flu shot, the agency said.

Immunocompromised adults and very young children may need a two-dose combination for protection. FDA scientists and vaccine companies would examine immunizations, infection rates and other data to decide who should receive a single shot versus a two-dose series.

The FDA will also ask its panel to vote on whether all vaccines should target the same strains. This step would be necessary to make vaccinations interchangeable and to do away with the current complicated system of primary and booster vaccinations.

The first shots from Pfizer and Moderna – dubbed the Primary Series – target the strain of the virus that first emerged in 2020 and quickly swept the world. The updated boosters introduced last fall have also been tweaked to target the dominant Omicron relatives.

Under the FDA’s proposal, the agency, independent experts, and manufacturers would decide which strains to target annually by early summer, giving several months to produce and get updated recordings to market before the fall. This is roughly the same approach that has long been used to select strains for the annual flu shot.

Ultimately, FDA officials say moving to an annual schedule would make it easier to fund future vaccination campaigns, which could ultimately increase vaccination rates nationwide.

The original two-dose COVID vaccinations provided strong protection against serious illness and death, regardless of variant, but protection against mild infections is waning. Experts continue to debate whether the latest round of boosters significantly improved protection, particularly for younger, healthy Americans.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Us suggests yearly COVID vaccinations for most Americans

Laura Coffey

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