By Ciara Linnane
New COVID-19 boosters that target the now-dominant omicron strains are set to begin soon, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the updated shots Thursday .
The decision by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky came shortly after the agency’s advisers said that if enough people roll up their sleeves the shots could blunt a winter surge, the Associated Press reported .
“They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection,” Walensky said in a statement.
The new shots made by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.07% and German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +0.62% and by rival Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +3.15% offer Americans a chance to get the most up-to-date protection at yet another critical period in the pandemic. They’re combination or “bivalent” shots — half the original vaccine and half protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants now causing nearly all COVID infections.
The original COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against severe illness and death, especially among younger and healthier people who’ve gotten at least one booster.
But as new strains of the virus emerge that are consistently more infectious, vaccine efficacy wanes. Since April, hospitalization rates in people over age 65 have jumped, the CDC said.
The new updated shots are only for use as a booster, not for someone’s first-ever vaccinations. The Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer’s bivalent option for people 12 and older, while Moderna’s is for adults only.
The U.S. government has purchased 170 million doses — the bivalent booster shots will be free — and the CDC said 200 million people could be eligible.
The news comes as known U.S. cases of COVID are continuing to ease, although the true tally is likely higher given how many people are testing at home, with data generally not being collected.
The daily average for new cases stood at 89,730 on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker , down 7% from two weeks ago. Cases are rising in 16 states and Washington, D.C., namely Georgia, Louisiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Illinois, Ohio, Nebraska, Alabama, Tennessee and Iowa. They are falling everywhere else.
The daily average for hospitalizations was down 9% at 37,453, while the daily average for deaths is up 8% to 513.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• The European regulator has given a positive opinion to the omicron-targeting boosters and will move to an accelerated authorization to get them rolled out across the EU, according to a statement. The European Medicines Agency said the vaccines “are important to protect Europeans against the likely risk of autumn and winter waves of infections. We need to be ready to face another winter with COVID-19.”
• Separately, the EMA on Thursday backed the use of Novavax’s /zigman2/quotes/202614340/composite NVAX +2.62% COVID-19 shot as a booster for adults, Reuters reported. The vaccine, Nuvaxovid, is designed to target the strain of the virus that originally emerged in China. The EMA’s recommendation is for people who previously were inoculated with the Novavax vaccine or any other.
• Parts of the southern Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen extended curbs on public activities on Friday but stopped short of a full lockdown, as cities across China battled COVID-19 outbreaks that dampen the outlook for economic recovery, Reuters reported separately. The news comes after the southwestern city of Chengdu on Thursday placed all 21 million citizens under lockdown. China has given little sign it plans to scrap its zero-COVID policy.
• Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study, the AP reported. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the history of the testing regimen behind the study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Education Department.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 603.1 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.49 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University .
The U.S. leads the world with 94.7 million cases and 1,047,183 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 224 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 67.5% of the total population. But just 108.8 million have had a booster, equal to 48.5% of the vaccinated population, and just 22 million of the people 50 and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 34% of those who had a first booster.