The FDA is Too Little Too Late in Tinkering with Covid-19 Booster Schedules

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An article written in Yale Medicine notes that medical professionals across the globe are monitoring over 300 different subvariants of the omicron Covid-19 variant. The first known omicron variant infection in the United States was reported in late November 2021. 

Omicron mutates quickly, but this is not necessarily a cause for concern. Most omicron infections are mild, and very few infections result in hospitalizations or death. Many infected patients don’t have any symptoms. Further, the more Covid-19 mutates to become endemic; the more likely future variants will be mild.

But as the virus mutates, it becomes more transmittable. Consequently, future variants can still become a “variant of concern,” potentially leading to outbreaks and others. After nearly two years of pandemic conditions, millions of infections, and three widely available Covid-19 vaccines, the original omicron variant caused over 1 million new infections in a single day. 

To prevent a future “variant of concern” from causing excessive harm, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to motivate the public to continue getting booster shots. Most recently, the agency released a document outlining plans to simplify Covid-19 booster recommendations to allow for easier incorporation into standard healthcare practices.   

The FDA brief hopes to establish “a process for vaccine strain selection recommendations, similar in many ways to that used for seasonal influenza vaccines” and “simplifying the immunization schedule for future vaccination campaigns to administer a two-dose series in certain young children, and in older adults and persons with compromised.” Making Covid-19 shots as standard as vaccines received during childhood or getting a flu shot as an adult is an ambitious goal. But such aspirations are ill-timed and misguided. 

Recent estimates indicate about 69 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. However, the same data shows about 81 percent of Americans received a Covid-19 vaccine but are not considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Why the divergence? 

Americans are likely tired, frustrated, and skeptical of receiving more boosters to mitigate the risks of a severe Covid infection. They should be. As Omicron infections began outpacing Delta infections in late 2021, federal guidelines misleadingly suggested keeping up on Covid-19 boosters to mitigate disease spread. But medical studies strongly indicated booster shots then available did little to prevent omicron infection. 

The FDA began approving and granting emergency use authorization to increase vaccination rates to younger demographics, including infants and children. However, children have always been the least likely to transmit Covid. Clinical trials also indicate Covid-19 vaccines are less effective for children. 

More recent vaccine approvals are better suited against current variants. But given the FDA and other federal agencies’ reliance on outdated means to address Covid-19, there is little reason to believe continuing to push boosters and vaccinating younger patients will inspire public trust.