CDC advisers back new booster shots to fight omicron : Shots - Health News CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has signed off on updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that target the original virus and the omicron subvariants.

CDC recommends new booster shots to fight omicron

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CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has signed off on the first updated versions of the COVID-19 vaccines. Earlier today, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the updated boosters with only one person voting no. Now, this is a crucial step towards making the new shots available starting later this week.

NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now. Hey, Rob.


CHANG: Hey. OK. So the Food and Drug Administration authorized the new boosters just yesterday. Who did the CDC advisers say should get them?

STEIN: Yeah. So just to remind everyone, the boosters are new versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that have been reformulated to protect people against the original strain of the virus and, for the first time, the omicron subvariants known as BA.4 and 5. That's what most people are catching these days. The CDC advisers endorse the new Pfizer-BioNTech booster for anyone 12 and older and the Moderna vaccine for anyone 18 or older. People would have to wait at least two months after their last shot. But some experts say people should really wait at least four months since their last shot or the last infection or the new shots just won't work very well.

CHANG: OK. And explain again, why are the new boosters being recommended?

STEIN: You know, it may feel like the pandemic's kind of ending, but hundreds of people are still dying every day. And yet another surge could hit this fall and winter, when lots of people are vulnerable because the immunity they got from their shots or infections has faded. Officials hope the new boosters will protect people better so life can continue to return to normal.

CHANG: But how well do the new boosters work? Do we know?

STEIN: Yeah, Ailsa, that's the big question. For the first time, the FDA authorized these vaccines without requiring that they get tested in people. To try to keep up with the rapidly evolving virus, the FDA relied on how well the shots stimulated the immune systems of mice and how shots targeted at earlier variants looked like they worked in people. No one doubts the shots are safe, and federal officials say they're confident the new omicron boosters will cut the chances people will catch the virus, spread it and end up with COVID or long COVID. The shots may also provide longer-lasting protection and even possibly immunity against new variants.

CHANG: Wow. OK. So all of that sounds promising, but without testing in humans, I imagine not everyone is fully on board.

STEIN: Yeah, that's right. That's right. Some experts are clearly uneasy about this. Let's listen to Dr. Pablo Sanchez from Ohio State University. He was the only adviser who voted against the boosters.


PABLO SANCHEZ: I'm just, you know, struggling with a recommendation. I understand that we need better vaccines, but to make a recommendation for a vaccine that has not been studied in humans, I'm just very - I just want to bring that up as a concern.

STEIN: But, you know, bear in mind, the flu vaccine is updated every year without testing them in people. And in the end, a majority of the advisers decided they were comfortable with starting to treat the COVID vaccines more like flu vaccines. Here's Dr. Jamie Loehr of Cayuga Family Medicine.


JAMIE LOEHR: This is the future that we're heading for, which is we're going to have more variants. And we should be treating this like the flu, where we can use new strain variants every year. So after thinking about it, I am comfortable. Even though we don't have human data and just animal data, I'm supporting the BA.4/5 variants booster.

CHANG: Well, I'm on board. When can people start getting these shots?

STEIN: You know, the shots could start to become available on a very limited basis starting as soon as tomorrow and then really start to become widely available next week.

CHANG: That is NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thank you, Rob.

STEIN: Sure thing, Ailsa.

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