RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As coronavirus strains continue to evolve, scientists say we should consider doing the same.
“The evidence right now is telling us that we should potentially update the vaccines because the virus is continuing to evolve,” said Dr. David Martinez, an immunologist at UNC Chapel Hill.
It’s why the Food and Drug Administration is re-considering its approach to COVID-19 booster shots. The agency is recommending a shift to an annual booster shot.
“The approach that the FDA is proposing is something that we already do for a virus that, again, continues to evolve from season to season like influenza. So, this is an approach that’s already tried and true,” Martinex said.
Dr. Nicholas Turner, an associate professor in the Duke Division of Infectious Diseases says it is more manageable than the six total shots some groups are approved for.
“I think it’s a recognition that the initial strategy that required a fairly large number of shots per individual is not a realistic thing to sustain over time,” said Turner.
In North Carolina, while 59 percent of vaccinated people have at least one booster shot — only 20 percent have received the most updated booster shot.
The FDA also proposes a new vaccine recipe be developed to match the next predicted dominant strain. Martinez says the match may not have to be completely spot on to be protective.
“That depends how we define protection. The current vaccines, even though they’re not closely matched to the circulating variants, are providing a high degree of protection against severe disease,” said Martinez. “I think if by protection we want to say potentially preventing infection, that’s a really high bar.”
An outside advisory group is tasked with voting on the formula and schedule change. On Thursday, they’ll vote whether the formula for the initial series and the booster should be the same.
“I think we’d all look forward to less shots, but we really don’t yet have that solid data to say that this is is absolutely going to be the ‘the’ final plan,” said Turner.
The advisory group faces big questions like who really needs a booster and how many strains it should target. Flu shots target up to four strains.
“I think one of the big goals in making this announcement well in advance of next year’s winter is to give a chance for that research to get done,” Turner said.