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Is it time for yet another COVID booster? It’s complicated


 

On Twitter, as in real life, it’s a question on many minds: When should we think about the next COVID-19 vaccine? Or should we?

For some people who have received a two-dose primary series and all the recommended boosters, that could mean a sixth shot since COVID-19 vaccines became available. But is even that enough (or too much)?

At this point, no one knows for sure, but new guidance may be on the docket.

On Jan. 26, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting. On the agenda is discussion about plans for future vaccinations for COVID-19.The committee, made up of external advisers, evaluates data on vaccines and other products for the agency.

According to the FDA announcement, after the meeting, “the FDA will consider whether to recommend adjustments to the current authorizations and approvals, and the FDA will consider the most efficient and transparent process to use for selection of strains for inclusion in the primary and booster vaccines.”

From there, the CDC will take up the issue and decide on recommendations.

The issue is important, as more than 550 Americans a day are still dying from COVID-19, as of the week ending Jan. 13, the CDC reported. That’s up from 346 a day for the week ending Dec. 28.

Yet, uptake of the newest vaccine, the bivalent booster, has been slow. As of Jan. 11, just 15.9% of the population 5 years and up has gotten it; for those most vulnerable to COVID19 – those 65 and up – the number is just 39%.

COVID vaccines, 2023 and beyond

Meanwhile, infectious disease experts have widely differing views on what the vaccination landscape of 2023 and beyond should look like. Among the areas of disagreement are how effective the bivalent vaccine is, which people most need another shot, and what type of vaccine is best.

“I think we probably will need another booster,” says Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and codirector of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “The question is, what is it going to be? Is it going to be the same bivalent that we just got, or will it be a new bivalent or even a trivalent?”

The trivalent booster, he suggested, might include something more protective against XBB.1.5.

The bivalent booster gives “broadened immunity” that is improved from the original booster shots, says Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and editor-in-chief of Medscape, WebMD’s sister site for health professionals.

In his publication Ground Truths, Dr. Topol on Jan. 11 explained how new data caused him to reverse his previously skeptical view of how the FDA authorized the bivalent vaccine in September without data on how it affected humans at the time.

Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center and a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is a member of the FDA advisory committee for vaccines. He still takes a dimmer view of more bivalent booster vaccines, at least as a blanket recommendation.

While he acknowledges that boosters can help some groups – such as older adults, people with multiple health conditions, and those with compromised immune systems – he opposes a recommendation that’s population-wide.

“People who fall into those three groups do benefit,” he says, “but the recommendation is everyone over 6 months get the bivalent, and what I’m asking is, ‘Where is the data that a healthy 12-year-old boy needs a booster to stay out of the hospital?’ ”

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