The White House Just Made This Major COVID Booster Shot Announcement
The next round of shots may still be needed to control the pandemic.
The COVID-19 vaccines currently being administered in the U.S. boast high efficacy rates that have helped drive down case numbers in recent weeks. But because of the threat of new variants of the virus that emerge as it spreads, health experts and officials have said a follow-up shot will be necessary at some point to keep up the shots' effectiveness. And while the newest doses might be different in which strains they can help protect against, a major announcement from the White House has made it clear that the first COVID booster shot will still have at least one thing in common with its predecessor.
While speaking to the Senate Health Committee on May 11, David Kessler, MD, chief science officer for the White House's COVID-19 response team, said that the first round of booster shots would still be available to the public free of charge, The Hill reports.
"We are planning, and I underscore the word planning, to have booster doses available if necessary for the American people," Kessler said. "We do have the funds to purchase the next round and to assure if there are boosters that they are free just as the last round."
However, while responding to the question from Senator Maggie Hassan about how fairly pricing COVID-19 vaccines would work in the future, Kessler admitted that companies could add a price tag to booster shots years down the line. "Beyond 2022, I look to your guidance for at what point do you transition back to a commercial market, but I think for this coming round we are going to proceed as we have proceeded," he said.
The clarification comes as some officials have become concerned by comments made by pharmaceutical company executives that pricing on COVID-19 vaccines could increase sharply when the current public health emergency has been declared over. According to The Hill, Pfizer's vaccine currently costs $39 per two-dose regimen under the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) emergency use authorization, Moderna's costs about $32 for its double shot regimen, and Johnson & Johnson's single-dose costs $10.
However, there has been no official announcement that future shots will be required. While appearing via video conference at CNBC's Healthy Returns Summit on May 12, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, explained that the federal government was "planning for it just in case" boosters become necessary.
"Right now, if you have two doses of the mRNA vaccines, you are protected," Walensky said. "What we're talking about is thinking ahead. What happens if in a year from now or 18 months from now your immunity wanes? That's really our job is to hope for the best and plan for what might happen if we need further boosters in the future, the way we get flu vaccine boosters every year."
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But boosters may someday be different in one major way. Pharmaceutical companies have said that they're working on versions of the vaccines that won't require an injection. Instead, future doses may come as pills, nasal sprays, or a patch worn on the skin to make sure they can be administered more easily to those who need them.
"People who are immunosuppressed, who do not mount an immune response for a number of reasons or choose not to be vaccinated will continue to be vulnerable and we need options for them," Kessler told the Senate Health Committee. "The antibody treatments are one approach, but a simple oral antiviral can add to our armamentarium to bring this epidemic under control."