WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials want to make COVID-19 vaccinations more like the annual flu shot.
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a streamlined approach for future vaccination efforts, allowing most adults and children to get a shot once a year to protect themselves from the mutant virus.
That means Americans would no longer have to keep track of how many shots they’ve received or how many months have passed since their last recall.
The proposal comes as boosters have become hard to sell. While more than 80% of the US population received at least one dose of the vaccine, only 16% of those eligible received their last authorized boosters in August.
The FDA will ask its panel of external vaccine experts to address a meeting on Thursday. The agency should take their advice into consideration as it decides future vaccine requirements for manufacturers.
In documents posted online, FDA scientists say many Americans now have “sufficient pre-existing immunity” against the coronavirus due to vaccination, infection, or a combination of the two. That baseline of protection should be enough to move to an annual booster against the latest circulating strains and make COVID-19 vaccinations more like the annual flu shot, according to the agency.
For adults with weakened immune systems and very young children, a two-dose combination may be needed for protection. FDA scientists and vaccine companies would study vaccination, infection rates and other data to decide who should receive a single dose versus a series of two doses.
The FDA will also ask its group to vote on whether all vaccines should target the same strains. That step would be necessary to make vaccinations interchangeable, eliminating the current complicated system of primary vaccinations and boosters.
The initial shots from Pfizer and Moderna – called the primary series – target the strain of the virus that first emerged in 2020 and has rapidly spread around the world. The updated boosters launched last fall were also optimized to target omicron kin that had been dominant.
Under the FDA’s proposal, the agency, independent experts and manufacturers would annually decide which varieties to target by early summer, leaving several months to produce and launch updated doses before the fall. This is much the same approach that has long been used to select strains for the annual flu shot.
Ultimately, FDA officials say the move to an annual schedule would make it easier to promote future vaccination campaigns, which could ultimately boost vaccination rates nationwide.
The original two-dose COVID injections offered strong protection against serious illness and death, regardless of variant, but protection against mild infections decreases. Experts continue to debate whether the latest round of boosters significantly improved protection, particularly for younger, healthier Americans.