Advisers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are concerned that rolling out annual COVID-19 vaccines, after already asking Americans to get three or more shots, might create the impression that the vaccines aren’t effective at all, according to a New York Times report.
The agency, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is meeting next month to consider whether to roll out variant-specific COVID-19 shots for the fall, similar to what regulators and healthcare providers do for the flu every year. But the head of the CDC’s vaccine working group told the New York Times that one downside to pushing annual, variant-specific shots is that people will think they don’t work.
So, CDC is worried updating vaccines might “create an impression that we don’t have a very effective vaccination program”.
Having vaccines available only for a long-extinct strain when we could easily update them would surely not be the answer here to fixing that “impression”. pic.twitter.com/V1JfViekpt
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) May 18, 2022
“Considering additional doses for a smaller and smaller return is creating an impression that we don’t have a very effective vaccination program,” said Dr. Matthew Daley, senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Colorado and head of the CDC’s vaccine working group.
Daley and other advisers warned that yet another national vaccination campaign could “needlessly exhaust” healthcare providers for minimal gain, according to the Times. They also worried that continually pushing Americans to get booster after booster and variant-specific shots could lessen the willingness of people to get another shot down the road, in the event a more dangerous variant emerges.
There’s some evidence Daley’s theory is true. Ninety-percent of Americans have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, according to the CDC. But the number who have been fully vaccinated, which in most cases requires two shots, is around 76%, and the portion who are boosted is just about 50%.
The FDA plans to offer variant-specific COVID-19 and flu shots together in the fall, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told the Times. Both Pfizer and Moderna are working on vaccines that specifically target the Omicron variant, the companies have said. (RELATED: Pro-Maskers May Be Laying The Groundwork To Bring Back COVID Restrictions)
Getting annual shots may reduce one’s protection against a viral infection, though. Studies have shown that people who get vaccinated two years in a row against the flu may have lower protection levels than those who only get one shot. Scientists have previously expressed concern that the high number of COVID-19 shots being pushed onto people in such a short time frame may be counterproductive.
All of this may be in jeopardy though, if the Biden administration does not get its requested $22 billion in COVID-19 funding from Congress, at least according to the White House. Biden administration COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said this week that without those funds, there may not be enough vaccines and therapeutics to go around this fall.