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FDA Authorizes Updated COVID Booster Shots, Targeting Omicron Subvariants

Aug. 31, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 31, 2022 at 9:56 a.m.

Dr. Bob Lutz administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a student a vaccination clinic held by Spokane Public Schools on Friday, May 14, 2021, at North Central High School in Spokane. On Wednesday, the Federal Drug Administration authorized the use of two booster vaccines that target the omicron variant of COVID-19.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Dr. Bob Lutz administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a student a vaccination clinic held by Spokane Public Schools on Friday, May 14, 2021, at North Central High School in Spokane. On Wednesday, the Federal Drug Administration authorized the use of two booster vaccines that target the omicron variant of COVID-19. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Noah Weiland and Sharon LaFraniere The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first redesign of coronavirus vaccines since they were rolled out in late 2020, setting up millions of Americans to receive new booster doses targeting omicron subvariants as soon as next week.

The agency cleared two options aimed at the BA.5 variant of omicron that is now dominant: one made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for use in people as young as 12, and the other by Moderna, for those 18 and older.

Biden administration officials have argued that even as researchers work to understand how protective the new shots might be, inoculating Americans again in the coming weeks could help curb the persistently high number of infections and deaths.

“The idea here is not just to increase the antibodies right now, but also to hopefully give us a longer duration of protection” that will hold up through the winter, Dr. Peter Marks, the top vaccine regulator at the FDA, said at a news briefing Wednesday.

An average of about 90,000 infections and 475 deaths are recorded every day around the United States, almost three years into a pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans and driven a historic drop in life expectancy.

Only people who have received at least two shots will be eligible for the updated booster, and only those who have had two months or more after finishing their initial two-shot series or getting one of the previous boosters. The updated shot will replace the existing one and could be available in a few days.

Ample evidence suggests that many Americans will hold back from getting the updated boosters, either because they are weary of the pandemic or may not feel urgency about an additional dose. With each new shot offered, there are fewer takers.

The companies produced the retooled shots with extraordinary speed, a testament to the mRNA technology that Pfizer and Moderna have harnessed since the early months of the coronavirus outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration advised companies only two months ago on the formulation that they should adopt for the new vaccines. By later this week, millions of those doses will be delivered to states.

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