The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 together accounted for the majority of U.S. COVID cases last week, while a panel of Food and Drug Administration experts recommended that booster shots be adapted to omikron variant to target.
The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 was responsible for 42% of cases the week ending June 25th. But the subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 together accounted for 52.3% of COVID infections, according to the CDC.
The FDA’s Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Related Biological Products met on Tuesday to discuss amended versions of COVID vaccines.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biological Evaluation and Research at the FDA, told the committee the U.S. is expected to face a challenge this fall, with half of Americans being vaccinated with only two doses vaccine and immunity declining in the population.
“That combination of dwindling immunity combined with the possible emergence of new variants during a time this winter when we will move inward as a population increases our risk of a major COVID-19 outbreak,” Marks said.
“For that reason, we need to seriously consider this fall to help protect an incentive campaign,” Marks continued.
Marks said vaccines that match the developing virus offer the best protection against deaths and hospitalizations.
“The better the vaccine matches the circulating strain, we believe we can match improved vaccine efficacy and possibly better durability of protection,” Marks said.
Members voted 19-2 in favor of recommending COVID amplifiers targeting omicron.
While the vote is not binding, the FDA usually accepts recommendations from its advisors.
“This does not mean that we say that boosters will be recommended for everyone in the autumn, but my belief is that it gives us the right vaccine in preparation for the potential need for boosters in the autumn,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn said after the vote.
Dr. Ofer Levy, another member of the panel, noted that the fall is only a few months away.
“We are facing a time-sensitive decision. “If we are going to have something better in the autumn, the decision must be made very soon and therefore I believe it was more likely than not that the benefit exceeded the risk of including an omicron component,” Levy said.
While committee members agreed that an updated amplifier was needed, they did not specify which omicron component would be targeted. The FDA favors a booster that will combine the original vaccine and also fight BA.4 and BA.5, according to The New York Times.
Moderna and Pfizer have been working on boosters that combine the original shot with the omicron variant, but not those subvariants.
In early June, Moderna said preliminary results showed that its updated booster offers an eight-fold increase in antibodies targeting omicron, according to The Associated Press.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced on Saturday that their booster also elicited a strong immune response against omicron.
Earlier this month, the CDC recommended COVID vaccines for children under the age of 5.
Researchers at Imperial College London have found that nearly 20 million lives were saved by COVID vaccines during the first year they became available.