- The FDA authorized a second dose of the updated COVID vaccine for older adults
- The booster isn’t recommended for healthy people under 50
- More guidance could come in a few months
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week authorized another round of the updated COVID-19 booster shots for people 65 and older and for those with weakened immune systems.
The authorization comes just a few weeks before the end of the national emergency for COVID-19 on May 11, even as the virus continues to sicken and kill people, including 268 last month in Michigan. Overall, more than 1 million in the United States have died from COVID since 2020, including at least 38,000 in Michigan.
The FDA announced people who are 65 and older can get a second booster dose of the bivalent vaccine — one that protects against the original strain of COVID as well as omicron variants — four months after the initial dose.
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Those with weakened immune systems can get a bivalent booster two months after their original dose. The FDA also determined the bivalent formula will be used for new vaccines going forward, meaning that those who haven’t yet been vaccinated would get a single dose rather than multiple rounds of shots.
In a written statement, the FDA’s vaccine chief, Dr. Peter Marks, said the agency believes “this approach will help encourage future vaccination.”
“With the omicron variant in the vaccine, the idea is that it will breed your immunity better for protection against the omicron variants,” added Dr. Liam Sullivan, adult infectious disease specialist at Corewell Health in Grand Rapids.
“All of the circulating variants in the last year … are all in the omicron family.”
Omicron is now responsible for nearly 80 percent of COVID-19 cases nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthy individuals under the age of 50 currently are not recommended get multiple booster shots.
“People who have a multitude of health problems that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID infections, they are going to be strongly encouraged to get a [bivalent booster] shot every year to try to keep their immunity up, just like we do with influenza,” Sullivan predicted.
Like the older vaccines, the bivalent vaccines help prevent people from getting severely infected and hospitalized, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent people from getting COVID-19, Sullivan said.
The decision on additional boosters now goes to the Centers for Disease Control, which typically endorses FDA authorizations.
The FDA plans to meet in June to select a strain and update the vaccine so that it is available for the fall, according to a report the agency released in January.
At that June meeting, the FDA also may make a determination about vaccine schedules for those younger than 65, according to the New York Times.