Expect an Omicron Booster This Fall

COVID vaccines haven’t transitioned to annual shots like the flu vaccine, but regular boosters will likely continue.

Tara Haelle

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Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

It’s official: We’re going to get COVID-19 vaccines formulated against Omicron and its subvariants, which have continued to wreak havoc this summer. The FDA’s independent advisory committee met Tuesday to discuss a single question: whether to recommend that vaccine manufacturers produce a COVID booster that includes a component against Omicron. By the end of the meeting, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted 17-to-2 to recommend boosters that specifically target Omicron.

Even better is that both Pfizer and Moderna have already been testing Omicron boosters and presented data on them at the meeting. (Disclosure: I’ve received one since I’m enrolled in the Omicron booster shot trial for Moderna.) With trial data already available and the FDA’s blessing, there’s a good chance the Omicron-plus boosters should become available in October, according to remarks at the meeting by Peter Marks, MD, PhD, who directs the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

When I spoke with William Schaffner, MD, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), he said he anticipates that the COVID vaccine is on its way to becoming an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine, with a need to reformulate it based on expected circulating strains each year. In fact, some scientists are working on a combined flu-COVID vaccine, but that won’t be ready for testing for another couple years.

Whatever the case, there will definitely be new boosters in the fall at least for adults (the picture for kids is less clear), and it looks like they’ll include protection against the currently circulating BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron strains. (If you’re eligible for a booster now, however, that doesn’t mean you should wait since you can still get the new one when it comes out in the fall.)

For now, let’s break down what they found at the meeting and what we can expect in the coming months. The committee heard several presentations:

  • How the vaccines have been…

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Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle is a science journalist, public speaker, and author of Vaccination Investigation and The Informed Parent. Follow her at @tarahaelle.