Politics

HHS secures millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses ahead of a fall booster campaign

The Biden administration said Friday it secured 66 million doses of a reformulated COVID-19 shot from Moderna ahead of a fall booster campaign that will further place America on a path toward managing the virus like the seasonal flu.

The purchase adds to the 105 million doses the U.S. government secured from Pfizer of its “bivalent” booster that targets both the original strain of the virus and the BA.5 variant that is ripping through the country.

The variant has been able to evade certain immune defenses in people who were infected previously or received the vaccine. Government officials this year opted to reformulate the shots in the hope of producing a better antibody response.

“We must stay vigilant in our fight against COVID-19 and continue to expand Americans’ access to the best vaccines and treatments,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “As we look to the fall and winter, we’re doing just that — ensuring Americans have the tools they need to stay safe and help keep our nation moving forward.”

The decision to procure tens of millions of doses ahead of a big booster campaign, which should begin by September or October, effectively rules out offering a second booster of the existing versions to persons younger than 50.

There had been an active debate in the White House around giving younger Americans the option to get boosted again, given fears of new variants and the fact it advised persons over 50 to get a fourth shot. But officials worry that allowing younger persons to get the existing shots now would upend efforts to give another round of shots only several weeks later.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to review data from the companies and sign off on the reformulated boosters before the rollout begins.

Biden officials say they continue to take COVID-19 seriously but they are trying to treat the virus as a manageable problem akin to other diseases, pointing to Mr. Biden’s mild case after getting twice boosted and using Paxlovid, a leading antiviral treatment.

Health experts say the booster campaign could become a yearly feature designed to stave off the type of cold-weather COVID-19 surge the country saw in the first two years of the pandemic.

Many Americans have moved beyond the virus and see it as a threat akin to the seasonal flu. Offering a yearly shot would make it a companion to the flu shot that officials strongly recommend each year.

Only around half of the U.S. has gotten a flu shot in recent years, however, and the COVID-19 campaign could suffer from low uptake.

Among fully vaccinated Americans, only about have opted to receive at least one booster shot.

Also, the CDC says only 30% of Americans who are 50 or older and eligible for a second booster have gotten one.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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