The coronavirus vaccine could soon become an annual shot like the flu vaccination, protecting most people from serious illness throughout the year, White House Covid advisers have announced.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Ashish Jha, the Covid response coordinator, said the transition to a single annual shot was an “important milestone” in the pandemic – which has killed more than a million Americans, leaving at least 250,000 children without a parent or primary caregiver.
Moving to annual vaccination depends on the mutation of a virus that has so far delivered numerous curveballs.
“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,” said Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser who will step down in December.
Even if the virus behaves as experts hope, annual shots are unlikely to provide enough protection for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Some criticised the transition as a “capitulation”, arguing that next-generation improved vaccines must first be developed – given that protection from current shots wanes after four to six months.
Tuesday’s announcement came as the administration began rolling out the first updated Covid boosters, which are designed to protect against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants as well as the original strain of the virus.
The administration plans to “ramp up” education and outreach over the next few weeks, in the hope people will get the new booster together with flu shots in October, said Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary.
Only two thirds of the US population is fully vaccinated, including 92% of over 65s who are most vulnerable to serious illness and death from Covid.
The updated booster is free to everyone over the age of 12, but this could change soon as Congress has yet to approve new funds to pay for vaccines, tests and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Jha said: “Congress is aware that if we don’t continue to fund response, we can easily go backwards … Should there be another surge, we will not have that [PPE] stockpile.”
More than 400 Americans continue to die from Covid every single day.