Sep 6, 2022 - Health

Top health officials say COVID vaccines will likely become annual

A health care worker administering a COVID-19 vaccine in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, in August 2022.
Photo: Hannah Beier/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. health officials said in a White House press briefing Tuesday that COVID-19 vaccines will likely become a yearly occurrence, like the annual flu shot, unless a "dramatically" different variant of the virus emerges.

Why it matters: The officials said this likelihood was based on the new, updated bivalent booster shots authorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, which protects against the original strain of the virus and the currently circulating dominant strain.

  • The bivalent booster shots, which target the original strain and the now-dominant BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, will be widely available around the country this week.

What they're saying: "It is becoming increasingly clear that, looking forward with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the absence of a dramatically different variant, we likely are moving toward a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

  • "Get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you're eligible, in order to protect yourself, your family and your community against COVID-19 this fall and winter," Fauci added.
  • “Barring those variant curveballs, for a large majority of Americans, we are moving to the point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year. That’s an important milestone," White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said at the briefing.
  • Jha said it is possible and recommended getting the updated shot with the annual flu vaccine.

Yes, but: Jha said some particularly vulnerable groups of people, such as the immunocompromised, may have to get more frequent coronavirus vaccines.

  • "We will ensure in this administration that they get whatever protection they need," he said.

The big picture: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the seven-day average of COVID hospitalizations was down to around 4,500 per day, a 14% decrease over the prior week.

  • Walensky said the seven-day average of deaths was "still too high" at around 378 per day.
  • "Modeling projections show that an uptake of updated COVID-19 vaccine doses similar to an annual flu vaccine coverage early this fall could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs," Walensky said.

Go deeper: Omicron booster shots are right around the corner

Go deeper