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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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FDA votes to add omicron-specific component to coronavirus boosters

booster shots
Posted at 4:12 PM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-29 17:41:11-04

(WXYZ) — The Food and Drug Administration’s independent panel of experts voted 19-2 in favor of updating COVID-19 vaccine boosters, recommending that an omicron-specific component be included.

7 Action News Chief Health Editor Dr. Partha Nandi talks about what this means for future COVID-19 vaccines.

The independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee discussed various formulations. However, they were not asked to vote on what sublineages to include.

Right now, omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are the dominant variants, together accounting for 52% of new cases. While there’s no crystal ball to tell us what might lie ahead, the FDA panel felt it was important for boosters to include some version of the omicron variant in an effort to broaden people’s immunity.

Not to mention, the longer that omicron dominates and spreads around the world, the more likely the next variant will be a descendant of it. Right now, our vaccines are based on the original SARS-CoV-2 strain that was first detected in 2019.

This is part of the reason why they’re not as effective at fighting off omicron and its circulating sublineages. Waning immunity is also an issue as is people’s reluctance to get boosted.

The advisory committee was not asked to vote on whether the booster should be a monovalent vaccine or a bivalent vaccine, which means the vaccine would include two strains. The FDA has not yet decided which route to go but is leaning toward a combination shot that includes the existing COVID-19 vaccine and one that targets omicron or its newer subvariants.

As for what the companies are working on, Moderna says its bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster, called mRNA-1273.214, contains the original vaccine plus one that targets Omicron. The company says it produces a “potent” immune response against BA.4 and BA.5.

As for Pfizer, it tested two COVID-19 vaccine boosters. One of them just targets Omicron and the other -- a bivalent booster -- contains the original COVID-19 vaccine plus an Omicron subvariant.

Both have shown a significantly higher immune response compared to Pfizer’s current vaccine. The vaccines could neutralize Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 strains, according to preliminary lab studies.

So, what’s next?

Once the FDA rules on the updated vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s panel of experts will look at the data and make their recommendations.

If the head of the CDC signs off on it, it’s possible we’ll have new boosters targeting omicron by the fall. This would be good timing because as well all know, fall and winter mean more people spending time inside and more chance for the virus to spread through our communities.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.