Top White House health officials indicated Tuesday the updated coronavirus booster shot will likely be the first in an annual series, similar to the flu shot.
The messaging from the White House is an attempt to sell the public on the benefits of the variant-specific booster dose that was authorized last week.
As the White House signals a shift from the emergency phase of the pandemic, officials are trying to ensure people stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.
“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,” Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases doctor, said during a briefing.
The “bivalent” booster shots from both Pfizer and Moderna are expected to be widely available this week, and officials said 90 percent of Americans will live within five miles of vaccination sites.
The administration will ensure the boosters remain available at no cost to the public, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha told reporters.
“The pandemic isn’t over and we will remain vigilant. And of course, we will continue to look for and prepare for unforeseen twists and turns,” Jha said, adding that “variant curveballs” could undermine plans, and the highest risk individuals will likely need more than just an annual booster.
“But this week marks an important shift in a fight against the virus. It marks our ability to make COVID vaccines a more routine part of our lives as we continue to drive down serious illness and deaths and protect Americans heading into the fall in winter,” Jha said.
Administration officials say the new vaccines will be key to controlling a potential fall surge, but they will need to convince an increasingly checked-out public to get the shots. Demand for vaccines has waned with each subsequent booster campaign.
The White House is simultaneously projecting that COVID-19 is now a disease that’s part of everyday life, while also urging people to be vaccinated.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said hospitalizations overall are decreasing, but increasing among older patients relative to younger ones. The virus is still killing an average of 375 people per day, a number that is “far too high for a vaccine preventable disease,” Walensky said.
The new shots could help prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths per year, she said.