CDC clears Omicron-fighting COVID booster, paving way for rollout next week

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday approved and recommended two reformulated COVID-19 booster vaccines designed to target the strains of coronavirus causing nearly all infections now, the Omicoron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. The Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Omicron-fighting boosters on Wednesday, and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave final approval on recommendation of an outside CDC advisory panel of experts that met earlier Thursday.

Anybody who received the original course of COVID-19 vaccines is eligible to get the new "bivalent" boosters — half the original formula, half the version designed to fight Omicron — at least two months after their previous booster shot, though experts said four to six months is better. If people get boosted too soon, The New York Times explains, their elevated antibody levels may neutralize the vaccine before it can build up a strong defense against the virus.

The new Moderna booster is for adults 18 and older, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people as young as 12. Doses of the booster shots began shipping on Wednesday, and they will be available as soon as this weekend, though supplies will be limited until next Tuesday, after Labor Day. You can get inoculated, at no cost, in the same pharmacies and clinics as previous vaccinations. It's safe to get the new COVID booster and annual flu shot at the same time, the CDC says.

The advisory panel weighed the lack of human trial data for this specific booster — it was tested in mice, as is done with the annual flu shot, and a nearly identical version geared to fight the Omicron BA.1 variant was tested in humans — against the prevalence of COVID-19 now and an expected uptick in infections this winter. Only one of the 14 panel members voted to wait for more human data before approving the vaccine. Data presented at the meeting projected that approving the vaccine for next week instead of mid-November will prevent 9,700 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations.

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