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The US federal drug regulator has approved new Covid-19 boosters from Moderna and Pfizer, as it moves to contain infections from spreading more quickly in the US.
Anyone 5 years of age and older will be eligible to receive an updated jab from either Moderna or BioNTech/Pfizer as long as it has been at least two months since a previous Covid-19 vaccination, the Food and Drug Administration said on Monday.
“The FDA anticipates that the updated vaccines will be available in the near future,” the regulator said, without giving a specific date. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel is set to meet on Tuesday to discuss its recommendations for who should receive the jab, and after its decision distribution could begin as soon as this week.
The FDA said that the updated jabs “are expected to provide good protection against Covid-19 from the currently circulating variants”.
The move comes as Covid-19 hospitalisation in the US have been trending higher since July, according to data from the CDC. There were 17,418 hospital admissions in the week ended August 26, almost three times more than the figure for the week ended July 8. Deaths have increased in the same period, with 658 in the week ended August 26.
“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of Covid-19, including hospitalisation and death,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
“The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality.”
More than 69 per cent of Americans have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. Only 17 per cent have received the updated bivalent booster jab, which was authorised in September 2022.
The FDA on Monday said Covid-19 vaccines “may need to be updated annually, as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine”, unless a “markedly more virulent variant” emerges, which could require swifter action.
The new wave of infections could reignite polarising debates in the US about how to manage public safety measures, which frequently split across partisan lines between Republicans and Democrats. State-level leaders during the pandemic had to set guidelines on mask-wearing, school attendance and vaccine passports, angering those who found them either too lax or too restrictive.
Last week, first lady Jill Biden tested positive for the virus, while US president Joe Biden, now in India for the G20 summit, tested negative multiple times, according to the White House.