By Ellie Yun
LOS ANGELES — A newly approved booster targeting Omicron subvariants is forecasted to curtail a spike in COVID-related hospitalizations in the fall and winter while indicating a shift to annual COVID-19 vaccinations in the upcoming years.
The nation has gradually made efforts to recover from the economic and social repercussions of a worldwide pandemic. With states lifting mask mandates and dismissing prior COVID-19 safety efforts, many Americans are left wondering — what’s next?
On Sept. 1, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee voted 13 to 1 to recommend a bivalent COVID-19 booster produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. The Biden Administration has proceeded to purchase 105 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and another 66 million doses from Moderna.
The updated COVID-19 booster targets both the original strain and the highly transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. The shot will be administered as a 30 microgram dose and is predicted to be a valuable resource in curving forecasted spikes in COVID-related hospitalizations and cases nationwide.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), officially signed off on the recommendation later that day. “This recommendation followed a comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion,” Walensky explained.
In an American Medical Association (AMA) podcast covering updates on new Omicron boosters, Sandra Fryhofer, M.D., chair of the AMA Board of Trustees, clarified that to be considered eligible for the shot, one must have been inoculated with a primary COVID vaccine dosage. Moderna’s booster has been approved for those that are 18 years of age and older, whereas Pfizer’s booster has been approved for those 12 years of age and older.
As temperatures begin to drop during the colder respiratory seasons, both the flu virus and the COVID-19 virus will be spreading simultaneously. To combat this increased risk of weakened immunity, Americans must understand the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing virus transmission, protecting the community, and protecting oneself from the risk of long COVID.
Federal health officials point towards a nationwide average of 450 COVID-19-related deaths per day amidst an Omicron BA.5 outbreak, speculating that this number will likely increase as Americans spend more time indoors during the fall and winter.
This COVID-19 booster update is especially significant for students — with many universities relieving mask mandates and operating in-person classes for fall 2022, this age cohort is at high risk for contracting new subvariants.
As Omicron is constantly mutating and circulating, it is an important safety measure for students alike to receive this booster where possible. Biden Administration officials emphasize that it is urgent to inoculate the population within the weeks following the vaccine approval to “better equip adolescents and adults if cases surge again.”
This leaves the CDC with a complex question to resolve — is the general public willing to receive updated COVID-19 vaccinations every time a variant develops alongside annual flu immunization shots?
The Biden administration has already experienced difficulties in encouraging Americans to receive shots in addition to the primary COVID-19 vaccination series, as many individuals have lost their sense of urgency concerning the pandemic and hope to resume pre-covid life by any means.
According to the CDC, only two-thirds of the US population has received their primary COVID-19 vaccinations and less than one-third of the population has been inoculated with a booster. The New York Times reports that federal reimbursement for state COVID-related expenses has vastly decreased, provoking many regions to cut back on vaccination programs.
Thus, efforts must be made to further convince young adults, and not just those over 60 years of age or the immunocompromised, to receive the booster. The updated booster protects recipients from newly circulating Omicron subvariants and restores protection from prior vaccinations. The CDC predicts that boosters provided to adults in September “could prevent 137,000 more hospitalizations and 9,700 deaths” than if they were administered in November later this year, and hopes to administer vaccines as soon as possible.
On Sept. 6, 2022, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicated that the nation is likely to move “towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine.” Similar to how the flu shot is altered annually if new variants arise, the COVID-19 vaccine may be tweaked to “protect against whatever strains of the virus are likely to be circulating that season,” says NPR.
COVID-19 vaccinations are projected to become a routine medical health procedure alongside annual flu vaccinations for the foreseeable future. Officials hope to make this adjustment more manageable by suggesting that Americans receive their COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time as they receive their flu shots.
With the green light for the updated booster targeting Omicron subvariants, the United States appears to be moving forward towards a new normal — one where Americans leave their annual vaccination visit to the pharmacy with a flu shot on one arm and a COVID-19 shot on the other.