With omicron-specific boosters hitting pharmacy shelves this week, health officials say the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has officially entered a new phase.
Barring any “new variant curveballs,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said the latest vaccine rollout may be the first of what will become an annual shot for Americans – like the flu shot.
“We are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year,” Jha said during a Tuesday briefing. “That’s an important milestone.”
The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization last week to a new bivalent vaccine that targets both the original virus and the BA.4 and BA.5 variants that now dominate the world.
Omicron continues to be the dominant variant, with the BA.5 sublineage accounting for more than 88% of cases and BA.4 accounting for more than 11%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The Pfizer-BioNTech booster was authorized for anyone aged 12 and up, while Moderna’s vaccine was authorized for adults only. Jha said the FDA is “looking at the evidence” for updated vaccines for children under 12, but it’s unclear when they’ll be available.
Both Moderna and Pfizer boosters were authorized for use at least two months after any previous COVID-19 shot.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said doses began shipping immediately after authorization and pledged that by the end of this week more than 90% of Americans will have access to the new boosters within five miles of where they live.
As the country enters flu season, health officials encouraged Americans to get their flu shot and COVID-19 booster during the same visit.
“I really believe this is why God gave us two arms,” Jha said. “One for the flu shot and the other for the COVID shot.”
Each day in the U.S. there are still about 80,000 reported COVID-19 cases, 5,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths. Cases are expected to surge this fall and winter, as in both previous years of the pandemic.
The Biden administration is prepared for this fall’s surge “with a whole host of capabilities,” Jha said, including the matched vaccine, life-saving treatments and widespread availability of testing. But health officials are keeping watch for any emerging variants that might derail their plan.
“We will remain vigilant and we will continue to look for and prepare for unforeseen twists and turns,” Jha said. “The pandemic isn’t over.”
Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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