Recently, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) gave its approval for a new COVID-19 booster which will soon be widely available nationwide in the United States. This new vaccine comes at a crucial juncture as the rates of hospitalization due to COVID-19 are on the rise across the country.
Amidst the concern for the emergence of a potential ‘tridemic’ or ‘triple epidemic’ – involving the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 – health experts are taking comfort in the anticipation of targeted vaccines for each of these three respiratory viruses.
According to Michelle Doll, M.D., the system hospital epidemiologist for VCU Health and the medical co-director of the Virginia Infection Prevention Training Center, these include the updated COVID-19 vaccines plus the new RSV vaccines. The novelty mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, approved on September 11th, is projected to be accessible at various locations, including doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and others, before the month’s end.
The vaccine is being manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, both of which have been instrumental in the development of previous vaccines and boosters. Important to note about the newer COVID-19 vaccines are four key factors. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising everyone aged 6 months and above to get the updated vaccine. This, according to Dr. Doll, applies to those who have received the previous COVID-19 vaccinations, been infected with COVID-19, or yet unvaccinated.
The updated vaccines are esteemed for their superior protection against the newly circulating virus strains and potential to mitigate the long-term symptoms arising from the virus, commonly referred to as ‘long COVID’.
Secondly, irrespective of whether one had previously taken another COVID-19 vaccine or booster, they are eligible for a single dose of this new booster. If one had received an older COVID-19 shot recently, they could receive the new variant at least two months later.
Thirdly, the new vaccine is expected to exhibit formidable protection against ongoing COVID-19 variants. Previously, the dominant strain was the Omicron variant XBB.1.5. However, we see increased hospitalizations linked to a relative strain known as EG.5, or Eris, believed to be highly contagious. The updated mRNA booster includes a component corresponding to XBB.1.5 and is specifically designed to target current strains like EG.5.
Fourth and lastly, the creation of the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccine involved processes akin to those used for the annual flu shots. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines function by instructing our bodies to produce a specific protein to incite immunity against a virus. Leveraging technology with decades of research under its belt, these immunizations are widely considered safe. This technology has also been employed in making annual influenza immunizations.
However, like the flu shot, the FDA forecasts that COVID-19 vaccines will require annual updates in the future. This is due to the perpetual evolution of the flu and COVID-19, meaning new variants may emerge that scientists could not have envisaged during vaccine development.
Consequently, the new mRNA vaccines’ FDA approval led to the cessation of authorization for previous vaccines’ usage in the United States as of September 11. This guarantees those eligible for vaccination get the most recent version.
Going forward, the healthcare industry looks to tackle the climbing COVID-19 cases and extend its research into the manifestations and effects of ‘long COVID’ in affected individuals.