The United States on Wednesday approved an updated COVID-19 vaccine to target the Omicron version of the virus.
Injections could be available within days.
The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approved the new shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Officials credit the two vaccines with saving millions of lives. And the agency says it hopes that the new shot will prevent another increase in infections this winter.
“You’ll see me at the front of the line,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks told The Associated Press shortly before his agency approved the new vaccines.
Until now, COVID-19 vaccines had targeted the earliest version of the coronavirus. Since then, several versions, or variants, have appeared. The new shots are called “bivalent.” They are designed to protect against both the earliest and newer versions of Omicron called BA.4 and BA.5. These two are considered the most contagious.
“It really provides the broadest opportunity for protection,” Pfizer vaccine chief Annaliesa Anderson told the AP.
The updated shots, called boosters, are for people who have already received the earlier vaccine. The FDA said the shots are not to be used as a first vaccination. And they should be given at least two months after people receive the last shot of the earlier vaccine version. The updated shots from Pfizer-BioNTech may be given to anyone 12 years old and older. The ones from Moderna are for adults.
The U.S. has purchased more than 170 million treatments from the two companies. Pfizer said it could ship up to 15 million of the vaccines by the end of next week.
Before the vaccination campaign begins, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet Thursday. Agency leaders are to decide whether people at high risk from COVID-19 should receive the updated shots first.
U.S. health officials have urged Americans to receive a three-shot vaccination against COVID-19. So far, only half of vaccinated Americans have gotten the third shot. And only a third of those 50 and older have received an extra fourth shot.
The earliest vaccines still offer strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19 for generally healthy people. It is unclear whether some Americans will take the updated shots at all.
E. John Wherry is an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania. He said health officials should explain to the public that getting the updated COVID-19 shot is just like getting the yearly flu shot. Wherry said, “Give a clear, forward-looking set of expectations.”
The FDA’s approval of the updated vaccines is the first step toward dealing with COVID-19 vaccine updates like yearly flu shots. The agency ordered vaccine makers to make changes and to target the latest Omicron versions. The FDA did not wait for additional tests on humans. Marks said animal tests showed the latest update brought “a very good immune response.”
Even as the updated shots are being produced, Moderna and Pfizer are still conducting studies. They are studying the vaccine’s effectiveness and whether it protects against new versions. Pfizer plans to ask the FDA to permit updated shots for five- to 11-year-olds in early October.
The U.S. is not the only country with plans to update COVID-19 vaccines. Britain recently decided to offer adults over 50 a different booster from Moderna. It is ‘bivalent” and targets the earlier BA.1 version of Omicron. European health officials are considering whether to approve one or both updated vaccines.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Lauren Neergaard reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
contagious –adj. able to spread easily from one person or one animal to another
opportunity –n. a situation or set of conditions in which something ban be done
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