WASHINGTON — The new coronavirus vaccines that received final approval last week mark a new stage in the fight against COVID-19, top health officials in the Biden administration said during a news conference Tuesday.
Originally released in late 2020, the coronavirus vaccines have now been updated to target the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the Omicron variant, which have been prevalent this year.
“For the vast majority of Americans, we are moving to a point where an annual COVID vaccine should provide a high degree of protection against serious disease year-round,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, coordinator of the White House pandemic response team. Tza called the new vaccine “an important milestone,” although he warned that “variant curveballs” could dash hopes for enhanced immunity.
“For the first time since December 2020, these vaccines – our vaccines – have been infected with the virus. Ja said, noting that the United States is the first country to develop a specific vaccine for Omicron. He added that the Biden administration is coordinating with states and municipalities to distribute the vaccine to “tens of thousands” of locations in the coming days.
As with previous coronavirus vaccination efforts, vaccinations will be free. All persons aged 12 and over are eligible.
“We’re probably headed for a course with a vaccination rate similar to that of the annual flu shot,” added Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top adviser on the pandemic. In the coming months, pharmacies are expected to offer the COVID-19 and flu shots in combination, hoping to avoid a “dydemic” caused by two respiratory viruses circulating at the same time
“I really believe that’s why God gave us two hands,” Dr. Tza said, “one for the flu vaccine and one for the COVID vaccine.”
Targeting the new vaccines to the strains on the market today is an implicit bet that the virus will continue to evolve along Omicron’s path, not in some new and unpredictable direction.
“Get your COVID-19 update as soon as you’re eligible,” Fauci said, recalling that vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective.
If the virus shows only what Fauci called a “small shift” from BA.5, the bivalent vaccine should be able to recognize the difference. But Fauci, who has been battling infectious disease for four decades, warned that the pathogen originally known as SARS-CoV-2 could evolve in ways that make current vaccines ineffective.
“If that happens, all bets are off — and we’re changing,” Fauci said.
Tza said the goal was to develop vaccines that did not require constant updates. “We have to get to the point where we have mutation-resistant vaccines, we have mucosal vaccines. We have to play the long game against this virus,” he said.
For months, the Biden administration has been asking Congress for additional funding to develop new vaccines and ensure pandemic preparedness. Those appeals were unsuccessful on Capitol Hill.