Many Americans may soon only need a once-a-year COVID-19 shot, like an annual flu shot, in line with the FDA’s federal plan to simplify immunizations.
An FDA advisory panel on Thursday will discuss streamlining the schedule, as well as whether the country should switch to a single vaccine for both initial and booster doses, which is updated periodically to deal with the latest strains of the virus.
Currently, the initial COVID-19 vaccine series is based only on the original strain of the virus, while the most recent booster is an updated bivalent vaccine that also contains newer versions of the omicron variant, but not the latest mutations.
The document, released by the FDA on Monday, said that “most people may only need one dose of an approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccine to restore protective immunity for a certain period of time.”
But two doses may be needed to provide sufficient protection against the virus for very young children who have not been exposed to COVID-19, as well as children with weaker immune responses, the elderly, and immunocompromised adults.
While there has been talk in the past that COVID-19 shots should be treated like annual flu shots, the FDA’s decision came as a surprise to some experts, including several members of the agency’s advisory panel, according to The New York Times.
Dr. Eric Rubin, one of the FDA’s advisors and editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, told the paper he would like to see more data “to try to determine if we’re doing the right thing.”
Rubin also added that he “definitely favors something simpler as that will make it more likely that people will accept it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that just over 15% of all Americans have received the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine available for children as young as 6 months of age, usually at least two months after the previous dose.
There are also fewer flu shots being given across the country, despite months of warnings about a “triple” outbreak of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV or respiratory syncytial virus. The flu vaccine is already updated annually to target specific strains.
There has even been talk of combining the COVID-19 and flu vaccines into one shot to increase coverage, although this does not appear to be on the agenda of the FDA advisory group.
The FDA is not bound by its advisory groups, although the agency generally follows their advice. But not always. In November 2021, the FDA recommended booster shots for COVID-19 for everyone, although an advisory panel said they should only be given to older people.