This story has been updated.
Sept. 12, 2023 – New COVID-19 vaccines, designed to target more recent variants of the virus, will be arriving in doctor’s offices, pharmacies and clinics this week after the CDC gave the new formula final authorization today.
Earlier Tuesday, a CDC advisory committee of doctors and nurses voted 13-1 to recommend all Americans age 6 and up get an updated COVID-19 vaccine designed to target newer versions of the virus. CDC Director Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, followed suit a few hours later, allowing the shots to be given. Vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have said they are the ready to make the shots available.
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19,” Cohen said in a statement. “CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones.”
Reports of a mutating virus and COVID hospitalizations of about 17,000people a week in the United States, according to the health protection agency, led to a 13 to 1 vote by the committee. With CDC action, Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance companies would be required to cover the cost of the vaccines with no charge to patients.
On Monday, the FDA approved the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech updated vaccines for people ages 6 months or older. In an announcement of the approval, the FDA stated that the new version of the shot better targets the currently circulating variants of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, and will “provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.”
With Tuesday’s CDC decision, the bivalent vaccine, approved last fall, will be discontinued. Close to 153 million doses of that version of the vaccine have been administered in the U.S. and now, vaccination rates are declining. It is a concern that was raised in the meeting with predictions showing hospitalizations are expected to rise again this year.
“I’m astonished by the number of people who are not vaccinated,” committee member Camille Nelson Kotton, MD, from the infectious diseases division of the Massachusetts General Hospital said at the meeting. “We need a universal recommendation to add clarity for people. Let’s keep America strong, healthy and do away with COVID,” she said before casting her vote.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices discussed current variants and virus lineages, vaccine effectiveness, an “economic analysis of COVID-19 vaccination,” safety, and a program that provides free vaccines to people without insurance or who are under-insured. There will also be a public comment period, according to the meeting agenda.
Opposing the decision was Pablo Sanchez, MD, from the Ohio State University Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. In the one lone vote against the universal vaccine mandate, Sanchez voiced his preference to focus vaccination efforts on the most at-risk groups of the elderly, immunocompromised and pregnant. “I’m not against the vaccines,” he said, “but I’m not in favor of a universal mandate this time and I’d prefer we wait for more data.”
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