The U.S. should pursue a COVID-19 booster strategy that focuses on developing new shots that better protect against omicron and its subvariants, according to a recommendation from a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee. The group of independent medical experts on Tuesday voted 19-2 that the COVID-19 boosters should include omicron and its subvariants.
They did not decide whether a bivalent vaccine, which is designed to equally protect against the original strain of the virus and omicron, or a monovalent shot, which would comprise only one strain, will be used going forward. COVID-19 vaccines like Moderna’s
Spikevax and BioNTech
Comirnaty are based on the original strain of the virus, which was first detected in 2019 in Wuhan, China. The currently available boosters also rely on the same ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2. However, the emergence and staying power of omicron has raised questions about whether a new generation of COVID-19 vaccines is necessary. Already this year, the U.S. has watched the rise and fall of omicron subvariants like BA.1, which is no longer circulating, and BA.4 or BA.5, which made up more than half of all U.S. cases last week. “Although it’s been pointed out that the current omicron-related strains are less severe in general, even a less severe strain, if it’s more transmissible, can lead to more deaths because of the sheer number of people who get infected,” Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious-disease physician at Rady Children’s Hospital in La Jolla, said Tuesday during the meeting. “So I think given that state of evolution, we’re going to be behind the eight ball if we wait longer.” The day’s discussion at the all-day meeting also highlighted the challenge of guessing what a virus that has evaded predictions will do next, particularly for regulators and vaccine makers. “None of us has a crystal ball,” Marks said, “and we are trying to use every last ounce from predictive modeling and from the data that we have to try to get …