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September 7, 2022

Covid-19 boosters likely to become an annual shot, officials say

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    White House health officials on Tuesday suggested that Covid-19 booster shots will be necessary every year, similar to annual flu shots.

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    Officials say Covid-19 shots will be needed every year

    During a press briefing on Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus response coordinator, both said annual Covid-19 booster shots will likely be necessary.

    "It is becoming increasingly clear that, looking forward with the Covid-19 pandemic, in the absence of a dramatically different variant, we likely are moving towards a path of vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual updated Covid-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population," Fauci said.

    "I really believe this is why God gave us two arms—one for the flu shot and the other one for the covid shot," Jha said.

    Barring what Jha referred to as "variant curveballs," he said the majority of Americans "are moving to the point where a single annual Covid shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year."

    "If we continue to have an evolution of what we used to call, and still do call, an influenza adrift—not a major change, but just sort of drifting along the BA.5 sublineage," Fauci said. "I believe that would fit in well with what we're talking about, the likelihood that we'll get into a cadence that, on a yearly basis for most people, we'll be able to cover what is out there as the dominant variant."

    However, "[t]he wild card of a way-out, out-of-left-field variant coming, if that happens, all bets are off and we change," Fauci added.

    Jha said the Biden administration will make sure booster shots continue to be available to the public at no cost, adding that staying up to date on Covid-19 vaccinations can help get the country back "to a more normal set of rules," allowing businesses and schools to remain open.

    CDC Director Rochelle Walensky cited modeling projections presented last week to CDC's vaccine advisory committee that showed if the public embraces Covid-19 booster shots this fall at a rate similar to flu shots, around 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths could be prevented.

    However, some experts say they're not yet convinced that yearly boosters will be necessary. In addition, it's unclear whether updated booster shots will be significant because their effectiveness has not been tested in the same way as previous vaccine doses.

    "I think the risk here is that we are putting all our eggs in one basket," said Celine Gounder, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "We're only focusing on boosting with vaccines. I think the issue is people are looking for a silver bullet. And boosters are not a silver bullet to COVID." (Weixel, The Hill, 9/6; Sun, Washington Post, 9/6; Joseph, STAT, 9/6; Gardner, Politico, 9/6; Stein/Greenhalgh, "Shots," NPR, 9/6)

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