The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given Moderna and Pfizer approval to update their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, in the hopes of tackling the latest variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Although deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are lower than in previous years, a recent summer increase in outbreaks of the virus – and, consequently, an uptick in illness and hospitalization – has been a cause for concern.
The emergence of new variants during this time, Eris (EG.5) and Pirola (BA.2.86), and the continued circulation of the Omicron variant, has led to calls for an update to existing vaccines. On Monday, September 11, the FDA authorized the update to Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, with the aim of better protecting people against the currently circulating variants.
Whilst the update only added a component aimed at targeting Omicron, the approval came after sufficient evidence supporting the updated vaccines’ effectiveness against Omicron, Pirola, and Eris. The success of the update in tackling a wide range of variants is most likely due to their similarities to Omicron.
The updated vaccines will be made available as a single dose to anyone over the age of five regardless of previous vaccination, as long as it has been at least two months since a previous dose. Unvaccinated children between 6 months and 4 years of age will also be eligible for a full course of either the updated Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement.
“The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated.”
Unless a starkly different, more virulent version of SARS-CoV-2 appears sooner, the FDA is aiming to update COVID-19 vaccines on a yearly basis, much like the vaccine for the flu.