A group of experts decided that everyone should have access to the new COVID-19 vaccine updates. These updates should be widely available in just a few days.
This decision came shortly after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the updated vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also agreed with this decision.
After getting the FDA’s approval, vaccine manufacturers have already started sending out the new vaccines.
These new vaccines are designed to fight the newer versions of the COVID-19 virus, which has changed since it first showed up in late 2019. Even though the new vaccines don’t target the most common version of the virus right now, studies suggest they should still work against the current variations.
Are the new vaccines effective against the BA.2.86 variant? Should you worry about the latest COVID variant?
Right now, the most common COVID variant in the United States is EG.5, according to the CDC. However, it only accounts for about 22% of cases. There are several other variants, all part of the omicron family, each responsible for 5% or more of cases. These variants emerged around Thanksgiving in 2021.
Research discussed at a recent advisory committee meeting shows that vaccines continue to offer safe and effective protection against COVID-19.
The people who benefit the most from these vaccines are those at the highest risk of severe disease due to age, underlying health conditions, or medications that weaken the immune system.
COVID-19 cases have been rising since early July, with hospitalizations up by nearly 16% and deaths up by about 11% compared to the previous week, although the numbers are still lower than previous peaks.
The older bivalent vaccine, available since last year, is no longer recommended.
What the data shows about COVID vaccines?
As of now, over 700 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the United States, and CDC data indicates that they are generally safe. The only notable side effect is myocarditis, which is rare and occurs mainly in older adolescents and young men. This side effect has mostly been seen after the second vaccine dose and hasn’t been reported after recent boosters.
Another safety signal observed was a brief increase in the risk of stroke among people over 65 who received both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines last winter. It’s unclear whether this was due to the combined vaccines or other factors.
Severe allergic reactions to the shot are rare, with around 5 people per million experiencing them.
Among children hospitalized with COVID-19, a significant portion had no underlying health conditions. For babies hospitalized, 86% were unvaccinated, and for children ages 5-11 hospitalized, more than 60% were unvaccinated.
For adults hospitalized with COVID-19, many had multiple underlying health issues. Between October of the previous year and July of this year, more adults were hospitalized due to COVID-19 than the flu.
What the committee members considered
One committee member voted against recommending vaccines for everyone, suggesting they should be limited to those at the highest risk of severe disease. However, the majority of committee members believed vaccines should be accessible to all, especially since some people without specific high-risk factors still ended up hospitalized.
The FDA’s recent actions apply to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Both will be updated to target the omicron variant XBB.1.5, which was dominant in the spring and early summer. These vaccines are also expected to provide protection against other variants.
Unlike before, the government won’t cover the cost of all COVID-19 vaccinations. Those with insurance should have coverage, but uninsured individuals may have to pay $110 to $130 for each shot. Novavax also has a vaccine ready for delivery, with FDA consideration for emergency authorization for ages 12 and up.