Omicron-specific COVID-19 booster could be available in a few weeks, officials say

Michael Stremfel, owner of the pharmacy, prepares a boaster shot of Moderna vaccine for Covid19 at Flintridge Pharmacy.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The new booster “will become available by early to mid-September” if the FDA and CDC authorize shots, a top White House official said this week.

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The Omicron-specific COVID-19 booster could be available in a few weeks, assuming federal agencies sign off on the new shot, a top White House COVID-19 official said this week.

The booster has been widely expected for months, especially since the latest dominant Omicron subvariant, BA.5, “looks really different in lots and lots of ways from the original strain that we built the vaccines against,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said this week in a forum with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“The good news is, our vaccines are still doing a remarkable job of keeping people out of the hospital, particularly out of the ICU and worse,” Jha said. “But the impact on these vaccines on preventing infection has declined over time because of this evolution” of the Omicron strain.

The new booster “should be arriving in the next few weeks,” Jha said. They “will become available by early to mid-September,” if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize the shots.

Jha said he expected the booster to be available for adults, whether they’ve received earlier boosters or not, and regardless of whether they’ve recently been infected. But it will be the FDA and CDC who ultimately set criteria on what age groups will be eligible for the booster.

The new Omicron booster will be what’s known as a bivalent shot, designed against both the original coronavirus strain and the BA.5 Omicron subvariant.

“These are substantial upgrades in our vaccines, in terms of their ability to prevent infection, to prevent transmission, certainly to prevent serious illness and death,” Jha said.

“And so it’s going to be really important that people this fall and winter get the new shot. It’s designed for the virus that’s out there. And, again, based on everything we have seen so far, all the data suggests it should be highly effective against the new variants,” Jha said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.