LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The Biden administration has made a crucial but also controversial decision about boosters. Officials are shelving a plan to open up second boosters to all adults this summer. Instead, the administration is planning to offer the next generation of shots sooner than originally expected. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now to discuss. Hi, Rob.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: OK, Rob, a lot of people younger than 50, including me, were hoping they could get another booster this summer, but now that's not happening. Why?
STEIN: Yeah. So some administration officials were pushing to significantly expand eligibility for second boosters of the original vaccine, you know, fourth shots this summer. Right now, they're mostly only available to people age 50 and older. And some officials really wanted to get as many people as possible boosted this summer to protect them from the surge of the highly contagious BA.5 omicron variant that's hitting the country right now. They were even planning to launch a big, new summer booster campaign to try to boost more unboosted (ph) people and get more boosted people double boosted. But other officials were worried about that strategy. So the plan is to wait for new boosters that specifically target BA.5.
FADEL: So explain why they thought it was more important to wait.
STEIN: You know, there are a bunch of reasons. First of all, most younger or otherwise healthy adults are still pretty well protected against getting really sick from their first three shots. It's also not clear getting another one of the original shots would help all that much. And there are some concerns it might actually kind of hurt. For example, if people get another booster now and get one of the new boosters so soon in September, the short interval between the boosters may increase the risk for a rare inflammation of the heart called myocarditis. And even if it doesn't, there's some worry that getting two boosters so close together might kind of blunt the protection of the new, hopefully better boosters coming in the fall.
FADEL: OK. So tell us more about the new hopefully better booster.
STEIN: Yeah. Yeah. They're known as bivalent vaccines because they target both the original strain of the virus and the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. So they could provide stronger, longer lasting protection. And officials want to make sure people's waning immunity is boosted as much as possible before yet another possibly worse wave hits in the winter. Giving another booster this summer could also just make it - people even sicker of boosters than they already are, making it harder to get them to take the new boosters.
FADEL: Now, did everyone in the administration end up agreeing about this decision?
STEIN: Well, there definitely still seemed to be some lingering anxieties. For example, how well will the new boosters really work? You know, Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna are rushing to develop them after the FDA essentially sent them back to the drawing board because their first set of new boosters targeted an earlier subvariant that's been eclipsed by BA.5. What if it turns out the new boosters really don't work that great? Another worry is, will the companies really deliver the new vaccines that soon, by September? What if that slips to say, you know, October or November or even later?
FADEL: How big a worry is that?
STEIN: Well, some officials seem pretty confident the companies can deliver the new boosters by September. The tentative plan is to start offering the new boosters to everyone 12 and older in early September and then kids after that. But everyone obviously hopes this strategy will end up being on target, given how unpredictable this virus continues to be, how fast it's evolving and how many lives it continues to take.
FADEL: Yeah. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein, thank you so much.
STEIN: Sure thing.
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