FDA to Propose Annual COVID Vaccines Like Annual Flu Vaccines for Americans

The Food and Drug Administration proposed on Monday to approach vaccines against COVID-19 like the annual flu shot that many Americans receive to protect against mutations in the virus.

The proposal aims to simplify future vaccination efforts.

With this strategy, most adults and children would receive a vaccine once a year to protect against the mutant virus.

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They would no longer have to keep track of how many shots they’ve received or how many months it’s been since their last boost.

In documents posted online, FDA scientists say many Americans now have “sufficient pre-existing immunity” to the coronavirus due to vaccination, infection or a combination of the two.

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are ready to be shipped to the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, in December.  20, 2020.

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are ready to be shipped to the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, in December. 20, 2020.
(Paul Sancya/Pool via REUTERS)

That line of protection should be enough, the agency says, to move to an annual booster against the latest circulating strains and make the COVID-19 vaccines more like the annual flu shot.

The FDA will also ask its panel to vote on whether all vaccines should target the same strains.

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This 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 point to the strain of the virus that first emerged in 2020 and swept the world.

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The updated boosters released last fall were also tweaked to target the omicron relatives that had been dominant.

A patient receives a dose of vaccine during a flu vaccination campaign.

A patient receives a dose of vaccine during a flu vaccination campaign.
(Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belgium/AFP via Getty Images)

Under the FDA’s proposal, the agency, independent experts and manufacturers would decide annually which strains to target in early summer, allowing several months to produce and release updated shots before fall.

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This is roughly the same approach used for a long time to select strains for the annual flu vaccine.

More than 80% of the US population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, but only 16% of those eligible received the latest boosters authorized in August.

Nurse prepares vaccines against COVID-19 in Waterford, Michigan in April 2022.

Nurse prepares vaccines against COVID-19 in Waterford, Michigan in April 2022.
(REUTERS/Emily Elconin)

Ultimately, FDA officials say, moving to an annual schedule would make it easier to promote future vaccination campaigns, which can increase vaccination rates nationwide.

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The FDA will ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to weigh in at a meeting later this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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