WASHINGTON, DC – US health officials want to make vaccines against COVID-19 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 mutant virus.
That means Americans would no longer have to keep track of how many shots they’ve received or how many months it’s been since their last booster.
The proposal comes as boosters have become a tough sell. Although more than 80% of the US population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, only 16% of those eligible received the latest boosters authorized in August.
The FDA will ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to intervene in a meeting on Thursday. The agency is expected to take their advice into consideration as it decides 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 the two. According to the agency, this baseline of protection should be enough to move to an annual booster against the latest circulating strains and make COVID-19 vaccines more like the annual flu shot.
For adults with weakened immune systems and very young children, a two-dose combination may be necessary to protect yourself. FDA scientists and vaccine companies would study vaccination, infection rates and other data to decide who should get a single injection versus a series of two doses.
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, eliminating the current complicated system of primary vaccinations and boosters.
The initial shots from Pfizer and Moderna, called the primary series, target the strain of the virus that first emerged in 2020 and quickly swept the world. The updated boosters released last fall were also tweaked to target the omicron relatives that had been dominant.
Under the FDA’s proposal, the agency, independent experts and manufacturers would decide annually which strains to target in early summer, allowing several months to produce and release updated shots before fall. This is roughly the same approach used for a long time to select strains for the annual flu vaccine.
Ultimately, FDA officials say, moving to an annual schedule would make it easier to promote future vaccination campaigns, which could ultimately increase vaccination rates nationwide.
The original two-dose shots of COVID have offered strong protection against severe disease and death regardless of variant, but protection against milder infections wanes. Experts continue to debate whether the latest round of reinforcements significantly improved protection, especially for younger and healthier Americans.