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If the space on your vaccine card is running low, you’re not alone.
In the roughly two years since the first COVID-19 vaccines became available, millions of Americans have rolled up their sleeves multiple times: first for the initial shots, then for a booster, even two, followed by an updated version of the vaccine — what’s known as a bivalent booster.
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But keeping up with the COVID vaccine schedule could get a lot simpler. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing that many Americans get the COVID vaccine every year, just like the flu shot. So far, however, experts aren’t sure that’s the best way to go.
David Kaslow, M.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review, explained in a Jan. 26 FDA advisory committee meeting that at this point in the pandemic, the majority of the U.S. population has some form of immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19, either because they’ve been infected or vaccinated or both, “such that a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine would induce or restore vaccine effectiveness.”
Some individuals who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease because of their age, for example, may require more than one annual dose. The same goes for young children who have not been previously immunized.
Simplifying the booster schedule could increase vaccinations
Public health experts hope that simplifying the booster schedule to one shot a year could improve vaccination rates. More than 80 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine; about 70 percent have gotten two. But participation drops off when it comes to additional shots, which for adults have rolled out every six months or so. Only about 15 percent of Americans have gone back for the bivalent booster, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“If we recommend boosting too frequently, it won’t be accepted. And we’ve learned that; there’s vaccine fatigue out there,” says William Schaffner, M.D., a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “So we’re going to have to pick an interval that’s acceptable.”