A panel of independent advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently recommended that all Americans aged 6 months and older should receive updated Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. This marks a significant step towards the distribution of these vaccines to the general public. The panel’s “universal” recommendation is aimed at preventing serious illness and death across all age groups, as vaccination has proven to be effective in preventing vaccine-preventable diseases.
While 13 advisors voted in favor of the universal recommendation, one member voted against it. The CDC Director, Mandy Cohen, still needs to approve the recommendation before the new shots become available at various healthcare centers and clinics nationwide. The CDC expects the initial doses to be available within 48 hours of the approval. Dr. Beth Bell, a clinical professor at the University of Washington and a member of the advisory panel, emphasized the importance of vaccination as a preventive measure against severe illness and death caused by Covid. However, some advisors argued that the CDC should only recommend the shots to individuals at high risk, such as the elderly, immunocompromised, and frail individuals.
The advisory panel’s universal recommendation comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the two mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna to target the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. These vaccines have also been approved for individuals aged 12 and older, while emergency use authorization has been granted for children aged 6 months to 11 years. The inclusion of updated shots in the vaccination drive is part of a broader strategy to adapt to newer strains of the virus, similar to the approach taken with the annual flu shot.
The distribution of the updated vaccines comes at a critical time when Covid hospitalizations have been on the rise for seven consecutive weeks. The latest data from the CDC shows that hospitalizations increased by over 15% to 17,418 for the week ending August 26. Although this number is lower than the peak seen in the summer of 2022, when hospitalizations exceeded 40,000, the CDC predicts further increases as the U.S. enters the fall and winter respiratory virus season. The circulation of Covid, respiratory syncytial virus, and flu is expected to reach higher levels during this time, making vaccination crucial in preventing severe illness and hospitalizations.
The updated vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax have shown promising results in clinical trials. Initial data suggests that these vaccines elicit strong immune responses against the dominant EG.5 (or “Eris”) variant and the related XBB.1.5 variant, which accounted for 21.5% of all U.S. cases as of September 2. Both Pfizer and Moderna have also reported efficacy against another omicron variant called BA.2.86. Novavax is currently conducting tests on its vaccine’s effectiveness against BA.2.86, which has attracted global attention due to its high mutation rate.
The arrival of the updated vaccines comes after the end of the U.S. Covid public health emergency. Consequently, manufacturers are now selling these vaccines directly to healthcare providers in the private market at a list price of over $120 per dose. Previously, the government purchased vaccines at a discounted price to distribute them to all Americans for free. However, the vast majority of Americans will still have access to the new vaccines at no cost through private insurance or government payers like Medicare. For the uninsured or underinsured, the Biden administration has introduced the “Bridge Access Program” that offers free shots through health centers, clinics, and eventually pharmacies across the country.
The recommendation for all Americans aged 6 months and older to receive updated Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna highlights the importance of vaccination in preventing severe illness and death caused by the virus. The approval of these vaccines by the FDA and the expected availability within 48 hours after CDC endorsement demonstrate a critical step forward in the fight against Covid. As hospitalizations increase and the U.S. enters the respiratory virus season, the updated vaccines are expected to play a significant role in minimizing the impact of newer variants. Although pricing may pose a challenge for some, the majority of Americans will have access to these vaccines at no cost, ensuring broad coverage and protection in the population.