TOP STORIES Summer boosters for people under 50 postponed in favor...

Summer boosters for people under 50 postponed in favor of updated boosters in the fall

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The Biden administration plans to offer upgraded boosters in the fall.

Mario Tama/Getty Images


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Mario Tama/Getty Images


The Biden administration plans to offer upgraded boosters in the fall.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Biden administration is dropping plans to let more young people get second COVID-19 boosters this summer. Instead, officials plan to speed up the availability of next-generation launch vehicles in the fall, three administration officials confirmed to NPR.

The new strategy comes after an administration debate about trying to balance protecting people this summer with keeping people safe next winter, when the country is likely to be hit by another surge, according to two officials familiar with the discussion.

Some officials wanted to launch a new booster campaign this summer to encourage more people to get boosted and more people to get double boosted to protect them from the highly contagious BA.5 variant that caused a surge this summer.

But others feared that it would hinder the fall’s booster campaign, which we hope will be a superb booster specifically aimed at BA.5.

One concern was that putting two boosters so close together could increase the risk of a rare inflammation of the heart called myocarditis. Another problem was that placing them so close together could weaken the protection against the second booster.

There have also been concerns that two booster campaigns run too close together would simply increase vaccine fatigue, making it difficult to convince people to get boosters.

The dilemma facing the FDA is that the immunity that many people have gained through vaccination or infection is slowly waning. At the same time, the most contagious version of the virus to have emerged, the omicron sub-variant of BA.5, makes people even more vulnerable.

So, as COVID starts to get more serious than a cold or flu again, most people under 50 are not eligible for fourth shots — second boosters — to protect themselves.

In response, the FDA considered making second boosters eligible for all adults. But allowing more people to be immunized with the original vaccine now could thwart plans to immunize them in the fall with updated, hopefully more protective vaccines to mitigate losses from the winter surge.

Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have already struggled to comply with the FDA’s request to have new “bivalent” boosters ready by October or November, targeting both the original strain of the virus and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants.

But the FDA has received assurances from the companies that they will be able to ship the new boosters even earlier in September, according to a federal official familiar with the situation, who is not authorized to speak about it publicly. The hope is to make the new boosters available to those aged 12 and over in early September, and then to children.

The possibility of a shift caused controversy earlier this week.

Some consider this to be the smartest strategy. Three shots still protect most young, otherwise healthy people from serious diseases, they said. And, according to some experts, buffing people again now and then again so soon in the fall could be confusing for people, potentially undermining their desire to get any buffs.

“I think it will increase confidence,” Dr. Monica Gandy, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in an email to NPR. “We can’t give a booster from time to time after 1.5 months or two months – this will reduce confidence.”

According to some experts, two shots too close together can backfire in terms of health.

“I think it’s the right call,” Dr. Celine Gounder, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said during an interview with NPR. “If you now get a booster with the original vaccine formula, it could actually be counterproductive. This could interfere with the second booster given this fall and prevent you from developing an immune response to that booster.”

But others are not so sure. They say the new vaccines may not be much better.

“People shouldn’t see them as some sort of magic bullet that gives them super-strong protection,” says Dr. A.S. John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. “These are not game-changing magic pills because they are not much better than vaccine boosters already available.”

It is also unclear whether the new boosters will be ready by September. And who knows if BA.5 will even be the main virus by autumn and winter?

“I don’t see the point in waiting for a BA.5 booster because the BA.5 could be in the rearview mirror and far past us by the time it’s available,” he says. Dr. Peter HotezDean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine.

People under 50 should at least be able to protect themselves now, especially with BA.5 already on the rise, some say.

“You’re talking about literally hundreds of millions of people who are at higher risk for months than they need to be,” he says. Dr. Robert WachterChair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“And that would mean potentially millions of preventable infections, certainly thousands of preventable hospitalizations, and probably hundreds of preventable deaths.”

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