covid-19 coronavirus booster vaccination needle
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The Food and Drug Administration expects to authorize new, variant-targeting COVID-19 booster shots shortly after Labor Day. The White House plans to distribute the vaccines as part of a fall vaccination campaign, federal officials say. 

The FDA this summer asked drugmakers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to create new versions of their coronavirus vaccines that target top variants of concern. It’s a proactive move aimed at heading off a possible fall surge in infections. Each company has submitted new vaccine data to the FDA for review.

Striking two strains

The new, bivalent shots will target two ​​dominant strains: omicron subvariant BA.5, now responsible for 90% of infections, and BA.4, according to NBC News. The shots have not been clinically tested in humans, but have “extremely good” data to back up their safety and efficacy, the FDA’s vaccine evaluator, Peter Marks, MD, told The New York Times. 

Federal health officials have been concerned about the waning effectiveness of current vaccines in older, frail adults and the immunocompromised, among others. A panel of FDA advisers in June said that older and at-risk Americans likely should be first in line when they become available.

Coronavirus booster doses have been found to be effective in preventing severe illness in older adults. A study from Israel, which has been a leader in COVID-19 research during the pandemic, has reported that a fourth dose of the original Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine renews protection against omicron in seniors.

The Biden administration has not yet announced any official booster plan of action. In December 2021, it put a winter plan in place to help prevent and contain COVID-19 case surges as the United States grappled with the arrival of the omicron variant. 

Latest nursing home data

By the week ending Aug. 7, federally funded nursing homes reported that 85% of residents and 57% of staff had received at least one COVID-19 booster vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the meantime, fully 61% of previously vaccinated seniors aged 50 years and older are “very likely” to pursue vaccination with the upgraded shots currently in development, according to a poll from the University of Michigan. 

Related articles:

Moderna seeks FDA OK for updated COVID-19 booster

Fourth dose of Pfizer vaccine renews protection against omicron in seniors, investigators find

Omicron renders Pfizer vaccine less effective; variant surge to hit U.S. by January