Updated COVID Shots Part of Plan to Avoid 'Tripledemic'

Approval of updated vaccines expected within days, just in time for flu and RSV season
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 9, 2023 6:00 AM CDT
Updated COVID Shots Are Around the Corner
Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, receives a flu vaccine at the Atlanta Press Club on Wednesday in Atlanta.   (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Updated COVID-19 vaccines are coming soon, just in time to pair them with flu shots. Doctors hope enough people get vaccinated to help avert another "tripledemic" like last year, when hospitals were overwhelmed with an early flu season, an onslaught of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and yet another winter coronavirus surge, per the AP. COVID-19 hospitalizations have been steadily increasing since late summer, although not nearly as much as this time last year, and RSV already is on the rise in parts of the Southeast. Approval of updated COVID-19 shots is expected within days. They're among the tools the new director of the CDC says will help put the US in "our strongest position yet" to avoid another chaotic respiratory season. "There will be a lot of virus this winter. That's why we want to get ahead of it," CDC chief Dr. Mandy Cohen said.

Here's what you need to know about fall vaccinations:

  • Why more COVID shots? The ever-evolving coronavirus isn't going away. Similar to how flu shots are updated each year, the Food and Drug Administration gave COVID-19 vaccine-makers a new recipe for this fall. The updated shots have a single target: an omicron descendant named XBB.1.5. It's a big change. The COVID-19 vaccines offered since last year are combination shots targeting the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version, making them very outdated. Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax all have brewed new supplies.
  • Timeline: The FDA will soon decide if each company has met safety, effectiveness, and quality standards. Then the CDC must sign off before vaccinations begin. A CDC advisory panel is set to meet Tuesday to make recommendations on how best to use the latest shots. Earlier this month, European regulators authorized Pfizer's updated vaccine for this fall, for adults and children as young as 6 months.
  • Will they be effective enough? Health officials are optimistic, barring a new mutant. As expected, XBB.1.5 has faded away in the months it took to tweak the vaccine. Today, there's a soup of different coronavirus variants causing illness, and the most common ones are fairly close relatives. Recent lab testing from vaccine-makers and other research groups suggest the updated shots will offer crossover protection. Earlier vaccinations or infections have continued to help prevent severe disease and death, but protection wanes over time, especially against milder infections as the virus continually evolves. While the FDA did allow seniors and others at high risk to get an extra booster dose last spring, most Americans haven't had a vaccination in about a year. "The best thing people can do to maintain a normal way of life is to continue to get their booster shots," said Duke University vaccine expert David Montefiori.
  • Who also needs a flu vaccine? The CDC urges a yearly flu shot for pretty much everyone ages 6 months and up. The best time is by the end of October. Like with COVID-19, influenza can be especially dangerous to certain groups, including the very young, older people, and those with weak immune systems and lung or heart disease.
  • Can I get a flu shot and COVID shot at the same time? Yes. The CDC says there's no difference in effectiveness or side effects if people get those vaccines simultaneously, although one in each arm might be more comfortable.

More here, including on the new RSV vaccine.

(More coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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