Both Pfizer and Moderna bivalent boosters are expected to be distributed in September.
This bivalent booster consists of the old vaccine formula with a new one that fights against omicron variants including BA.4 and BA.5.
Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, said with the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant now dominant, the goal of minimizing the number of infections is “kind of lost,” but the new vaccines should help keep hospitalizations and deaths down.
“I do think, anytime you can introduce additional strains or variants into a vaccine, the human body’s immune response tends to be a little bit broader and more durable and potentially longer-lasting,” said Chang.
COVID-19 and omicron variants keep evolving, but these newly updated boosters will help to protect against current variants and any severe sickness.
“While it’s impossible for anyone to predict which variants will be circulating at the time, the goal as I see it is to add the subvariants that are most likely to give us that broad spectrum of antibodies that will hopefully prevent serious disease, which is really what we’re trying to do,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, a member of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.
Arnold Monto, who has served as acting chair of the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel, said that even though new variants seem to pop up, they all are along the omicron lines.
“While we know that the latest viruses that we are encountering that will go into the vaccine probably are not going to be the viruses in the coming fall and winter, the answer is not to chase them but to try and catch up and broaden them,” said Monto.
There may be new variants that will pop up in the fall, but scientists will continue to use the old formula and the new formula in the vaccines.
“For me, the most important thing we can measure right now is the breadth of immunity and not try to guess which strain is going to be there. That’s probably more important than trying to guess what comes up in the fall,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, who is also on the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee.
Dr. Rubin said it is very important to think about new approaches and more people should get vaccinated and boosted to keep cases, hospitalizations and deaths down.
The FDA still recommends adults 50 and older and those with compromised immune systems get boosted now with the current boosters and later get the updated booster.
“The current vaccines do a pretty great job at keeping people out of hospitals,” said Rubin. “I don’t really want to dismiss what we’ve got there. Of course, we always want better.”