The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed updated COIVD-19 boosters on Thursday, paving the way for a fall vaccination drive that could mitigate a winter surge if enough Americans roll up their sleeves.

New boosters targeting today’s most common omicron strains should start arriving in pharmacies and clinics within days.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s decision came shortly after agency advisers voted in favor of the recommendation.

The shots “may help restore protection that has diminished since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection,” it said in a statement.

Modified vaccines made by Pfizer and its rival Moderna offer Americans a chance to get the most up-to-date protection in another critical period of the pandemic. They are combination or “bivalent” injections: half the original vaccine and half the protection against the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 versions that now cause nearly all COVID-19 infections.

CDC advisers wrestled with who should get the new boosters and when, because only a similarly modified vaccine has been studied in people so far, not the exact prescription.

But ultimately, the panel felt the updated injections were the best option, considering the US is still experiencing tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases and about 500 deaths every day, even before a new wave. expected winter.

“I think they are going to be an effective tool for disease prevention this fall and through the winter,” said Dr. Matthew Daley, CDC advisor for Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Comparing the fit that’s been studied in people and the one the US will actually use, “it’s the same scaffolding, part of the same roof, we’re just putting in some dormers and windows,” said Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel . University.

The CDC recommendation was the last step before injections can begin. Pfizer said it expected to deliver 3 million doses to vaccination sites across the country by Tuesday.

The original COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness and death, especially among younger, healthier people who received at least one booster.

But those vaccines were designed to target the strain of the virus that circulated in early 2020. Effectiveness declines as new mutants emerge and more time passes since someone’s last injection. Since April, hospitalization rates in people over 65 have increased, the CDC said.

Catch-up shots are for booster use only, not for someone’s first shots. The Food and Drug Administration has cleared Pfizer’s bivalent option for people 12 and older, while Moderna’s is for adults only.

One big unknown: exactly how much benefit people will get from one of those extra injections.

The CDC said that more than 1,400 people have been included in several studies of a pre-prescription modification of the vaccine targeting an earlier omicron strain called BA.1. That combined shot targeting omicrons proved to be safe and capable of accelerating virus-fighting antibodies, and European regulators on Thursday recommended using that type of booster.

CLOCK: CDC Advisors Support New Boosts to Fight Omicron Variant of COVID-19

In the US, the FDA wanted knockout enhancers to target currently circulating omicron strains. Rather than possibly wait until November for more human studies to be completed, the agency accepted tests in mice that showed the latest modification elicited an equally good immune response.

This is how flu shots are updated every year, the CDC noted.

Dr. Pablo Sánchez of Ohio State University was the only CDC advisor who voted against recommending the injections. He said that he believes the bivalent vaccine is safe and that he will likely receive it.

But “I just feel like this was a little premature” given the lack of human data on how well it works, he said.

Several CDC advisers said that for maximum benefit, people will need to wait longer between their last vaccination and their next booster than the two-month minimum set by the FDA. Waiting at least three months would be better, they said.

One more change: The FDA no longer authorizes the use of original prescription boosters for people over 12 years of age, considering them obsolete. It’s a source of potential confusion for people who had planned to get a regular booster this week and may now have to wait for the new guy to arrive.

It’s unclear how many people will want an updated take. Only half of vaccinated Americans received the recommended first booster dose, and only a third of those over age 50 who were urged to get a second booster did.

The US government bought 170 million doses from both companies, injections that will be free, and the CDC said 200 million people could be eligible.

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